The Risk of ‘Powerpoint Cities’ in the Oxford-MK-Cambridge Corridor

The Geographer Sarah Mosler has a great phrase ‘Powerpoint Cities’ for Planned new cities that never proper;y get off the drawing board.


In the past two decades, some two dozen new city projects were announced in the Middle East. About half remain ‘power point cities’ existing only on websites, said Sarah Moser, an urban geography professor at McGill University in Montreal. Others are well behind schedule.

She said builders of new cities often underestimate challenges, including raising huge sums of capital and finding the necessary expertise. In such for-profit enterprises, plans for less lucrative public transport systems often remain on paper

The failure have been twofold.  Publicly led cities failing to attract private investment and capital – as in the Saudi economic Cities, and privately led new cities failing to attract capital, failing to get masterplans past pre concept stage and failing to invest in public transport.

The same risks lie with the 5 new Garden towns (city scale ) announced in the budge for the Oxford-MK-Cambridge Corridor.  It has now become apparent that the masterplanning will be locally led with no land value capture other than from strategic transport investment (i.e. only around 1/5th of uplift).  Land value capture helps however the middle east shows that even where land is free new cities can fail when there is a lack of up front planning and investment.  Internationally New Cities have only worked where the initial planning investment has been publicly led and this has provided the momentum for longer term  private capital investment. Is this a lesson the Government has learned? If locally led and undercapitalised we may simply get large garden villages, risk minimising, rather than Garden Cities of sufficient scale to justify their own dedicated transit systems.