Sorry Milton Keynes your Not a Garden City #NPPF #urbanplanning

MK News reports that

A petition to rename Milton Keynes has been launched after the disappointment of the city status campaign.

Should the petition eventually be successful, Milton Keynes Garden City would become the third garden city after Welwyn and Letchworth.

The online petition was launched by MK Central railway station worker Charles Ashbury, from Neath Hill, after Milton Keynes lost out to Chelmsford in its bid to officially be called a city last week.

He said: “Quite a lot of us who work at the station are proud of Milton Keynes and we thought it was an awful shame we lost out.

“We thought a way around that would be to go along the same lines as Welwyn and Letchworth and change to Garden City.

Mr Ashbury feels that, because of Milton Keynes’ parks and other aspects, it rightly deserves to be called a garden city, and he also thinks it will change outside perceptions.

Although a counter-petition has already been launched, David Foster, chief executive of The Parks Trust which is responsible for green spaces, said: “What an interesting idea and it’s not a silly one. Milton Keynes is actually the culmination of the garden city movement and many of the principles that were employed in the original garden city of Letchworth have in fact been used with great success here.”

Sorry but rather than being the ‘culmination of the garden city movement’ it was expressly masterplanned as its anthesis.

Walter Bor its masterplanner was greatly influenced by Melvin Webber.  Indeed MK is very much the spatial expression of Webber’s ideas.  For Webber the car meant we no longer needed spatial closelness.  In his 1964 paper 1964 paper Urban Place and the Non-Place Urban Realm introduced the idea of ‘community without propinquity.

Howard, Unwin and John Nolen (who built more Garden Cities, in Florida, than anyone else) envisaged a community with propinquity, where facilities were within walking distance, and of walking distance of public transport and where regional highways were separated out.  Don’t think for a moment that Unwin belonged to a pre-car age.  Much of his work is about managing the car and parking, indeed he is one of the first architects to take this issue seriously.  For example Letchworth has the world’s first roundabout (though it was a French idea).

By contrast Milton Keynes was designed on a rigid grid, rather than a deformed grid with radial roads like Garden Cities.  Rather than placing community facilities at the centre of neighbourhood units they were designed to be placed on their corner, so you might have to cross lanes of traffic.  As masterplanned Milton Keynes was not a pedestrian friendly place.  Of course like any town implementation principles changes and in later phases grid squares were much more ‘urbanist’ in their design principles.

There are many good thinks about MK today. notably its parks system and its management.  The Parks Trust through have been wrong in my view at attempts to update the masterplan rules of the city to include more smart growth and urbanist principles.

If MK was a Garden City would not Walter Bor have christened it one?  Indeed MK is highly influential to those that reject most forcefully new urbanist and Garden City principles, the landscape urbanism school (Koohaus and the Harvard Crowd) who dream of giant cities of roads designed to view parks as you drive past at speed.

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About andrew lainton

International Urban Planner

Posted on March 22, 2012, in National Planning Policy Framework, urban planning. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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