Academic Director's research news - December 2016

The run up to Christmas is always a rather hectic one and December was a busy period for the Institute and in the wider world of garden cities. As winter really set in, and the wonderful Christmas trees and lights started to appear everywhere, instead of hibernating I travelled to Grenoble to work with French colleagues interested in garden city issues, funded by the ERASMUS academic exchange programme.

As foreshadowed in my last news (November 2016), the trip was hosted by the Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture de Grenoble (ENSAG) and was undertaken in conjunction with my colleague from the University of Hertfordshire, Professor Wendy Wills. ENSAG is one of the International Garden Cities Institute’s chief academic partners and we work closely with them on teaching, research and supervising doctoral students on garden city themes. Its good to report that it was a really terrific teaching and research trip hosted by friend of the Institute, Dr Stephane Sadoux who runs the Research Laboratory into Building Futures at ENSAG.

As an urbanist, I can’t resist saying a few words about the ‘planned settlement’ setting. Grenoble itself is a fascinating town of around 160,000 people: partly a traditional settlement with pre-Roman antecedents, but also much more recently with planned 20th century neighbourhoods around its edges, and scattered farming villages along the rivers Drac and Isère which reach their confluence at Grenoble. The weather was sunny but extremely cold as you might expect in late December in the Alps, in a city ringed by spectacular snowy mountains. One of the advantages Grenoble has is its extensive tram system and travel was free while I was there, but sadly because of high pollution levels and the idea this would help get people to leave their cars at home.

As you might have seen from some of the think pieces on our website, I am very interested in food and garden cities and I was asked to talk to the students there about how food and planned settlements interconnected historically, now and potentially into the future. so I reflected first on garden cities and then later on new towns. I presented some of the research work about garden cities and food from chapter six of my book Food and Urbanism (Bloomsbury, 2015) and told the students about the findings of a recent research report ‘Making Space for Food in Hatfield’  (UH Press, 2016) which I completed recently with a research colleague, Ben McCabe.

One of the broad conclusions I drew in comparing garden cities and new towns is that garden cities, towns and villages have generally worked better in food terms than have new towns. Firstly, this was because Ebenezer Howard really thought hard about food and made it central to his planning ideas and secondly in my view because garden city residents themselves were and remain very interested in food growing and local productivity. I concluded that in both cases we have plenty we could do now to make both kinds of places bring food much more to the fore in a sustainable way: in growing, processing, retailing and food waste related aspects. One of the very pleasing aspects of the trip was to reinforce a sense of how keen students there are to look at the lessons to be learned from garden cities (in food and many other ways). As I said last month, Dr Sadoux will be working with both Grenoble and my University of Hertfordshire students on garden cities in 2017 as part of their architectural and planning studies and we can expect to see the Grenoble students on a fieldtrip here in March 2017 to look at Letchworth and other relevant places in great detail. So more details then!

I was also able to catch up with the PhD student I’m advising there who is looking at garden cities and energy, and it was pleasing to see how much progress Nicolas is making in his studies. We should be able to report back on some of that in 2017 as Nicolas begins his write up. Also on doctoral study news it appears there will be two further funded doctoral scholars, one funded through sources here in the UK and another with French funds. Again I will tell you about those in next month’s blog when I can provide the details.

On other research news, do look out for a think piece from me in the next week or so on garden villages in the light of recent events and announcements from government in relation to those.

I hope like me you had a restful and enjoyable Christmas and are looking forward to a productive and peaceful 2017 despite some of the turbulence we seem to be experiencing at a broader level in the world right now.

Finally, I would like to wish you all a very Happy New Year!