Academic Director's blog - September 2017

Hello! September has come and gone already – with some gorgeous autumn leaves about – but also, as we enter October, there’s been some oddly warm weather as we experience the tail end of hurricanes which have devastated other parts of the globe. For urbanists this has to make us think about urban resilience and what we can do to adapt places and mitigate these terrible effects from extreme weather.

How quickly the last month seems to have gone by and what a lot has happened. At the end of September it was reported that Facebook’s founder is proposing to develop a new ‘company town’ in the USA, but curiously the patrimony of the garden city was not mentioned as part of the backdrop to this initiative. I wonder how successful such a place will be if good town-making principles embodied in the garden city are not recognised in its development.

Closer to home, we have just been in party conference season again but I did not hear very much about garden cities at any of the conferences – although housing did crop up as a big topic. This was especially surprising, given the cogent argument that younger people are increasingly cut out of the housing market. I see garden settlements as part of the solution to creating housing opportunities and options, so I do hope that will continue to be recognised in the political sphere, public policy and actual settlements on the ground.

I noted in my July-August blog (on the IGCI website) that we were working on a number of things, including research bids. I’ve just submitted one on food poverty and resilience in fact. This one is about testing ‘retrofitting’ design ideas about food including in garden city and new town contexts. I hope to get through to the next stage on that. There is also another larger bid still in the pipeline that I am working on with research colleagues from other institutions. These bids are often very complicated so they do tend to take a while to put together. I hope they will yield positive funding results that allow us the resources to delve into aspects of garden cities in more depth in future.

Our new doctoral student looking at the food economy in a garden city context is due to start at the end of October and again I am very much looking forward to welcoming the scholar and to working together on this vital issue. The first year of her work will have a very applied ‘Knowledge Transfer’ focus on food economy issues. There is plenty of scope to explore, in an applied way, how Ebenezer Howard’s very localised food system ideas could generate economic benefits for a garden city today and in future. Our scholar will be researching these food related garden city business and commercial ideas in close conjunction with the Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation and with us at the University of Hertfordshire. More details soon!

I am very pleased to report that we will soon publish an excellent new piece on our website: ‘Are Garden Cities good for you?’ by Nicholas Boys Smith and Laetitia Lucy from Create Streets. This excellent paper in our Garden City Perspectives series sets out the findings of their research into links between urban form and wellbeing and asks if garden cities fit the model of wellbeing optimisation. Please look out for that as it’s a great read!

Another great read I must mention is the new book by Hugh Ellis, Kate Henderson and Katy Lock on ‘The Art of Building a Garden City: Designing new communities for the 21st century’. This offers a very applied look at creating new garden cities and I can highly recommend it.

Finally a ‘save the date’. The TCPA’s annual conference is coming up soon (23rd November) in London on the theme of ‘Better Homes, Better Places’. This is a very topical garden cities theme and I am sure the conference will be well worth attending.