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13/11/2017

Why letters to the editor are not always written in green crayon

Words:

Chris Shepley finds a righteous anger about the state of things on the letters page of his local paper

Ebenezer Howard lived in a different world when he developed and advocated the principles for garden city living. He sought an alternative housing solution to city centre slums, pollution and overcrowding and proposed his model, with the aim, I believe, of providing a more affordable and equitable means of development. 

Garden cities are referenced in the government’s January 2017 announcement to support 14 new garden villages and three ‘newish’ garden towns. 

But the extent to which development on these sites will align with the original garden city principles is questionable, mainly because the DCLG does not stipulate which principles must legally be met.

I believe that the original garden city principles can provide solutions to many current planning issues we are discussing at this year’s Young Planners’ Conference: sedentary lifestyles, climate change, and the decline in well-being, to name a few. 

We therefore need to be mindful that we are promoting the original garden city values – providing public transport infrastructure, capturing land values, and providing mixed-tenure communities etc, to implement healthier, more resilient new settlements. 

"People think, probably more than ever, that the planning system is skewed in favour of developers"

We should not confuse this with the many car-oriented, low-density garden suburb-type developments that I believe skew consumer views on what garden cities are about and create an unsustainable sense of entitlement surrounding new development.

I would urge my fellow planners to stand up for the original garden city principles and question clients, surveyors, engineers and colleagues who think more about the ‘garden’ part and less about the delivery and management of these new settlements. 

Yes, we may get a few more of the homes we desperately need to curb house prices, but how happy, healthy and resilient will these communities be?

Big houses with multiple garages and long manicured lawns will not provide the compact, walkable neighbourhoods and densities necessary for viable public transport solutions and we all know where we should look for inspiration (case studies from the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany) and we also need to get better at promoting higher density and apartment living. 

Research shows that accessible, walkable, mixed-use and socially active communities equal happier, healthier people, so be sure to advocate for the right type of garden city (in the right location) and call out those who are merely using the garden city agenda to rebrand unsustainable sprawl.

Chris Shepley is the principal of Chris Shepley Planning and former Chief Planning Inspector

Image credit | Oivind Hovland

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