A philosophy gaining a good deal of popularity in the early 20 th century arguing that the problems of cities could be overcome by a central vision. An idea that struck a chord with the architects and planners espousing modernist design to create their utopian new towns. Some theorists argued that the physical problems of cities were an indication of a wider social malaise, others, that by reconstructing the physical space, the social problems could be overcome.
Utopian visionaries included Le Corbusier, and his invention of ‘machines’ – high rise towers in beautiful landscapes where we would all live and work, changed the modern landscape for ever. Many of architects designing the the New Towns of the1960’s were hugely influenced by Le Courbusier, and in Skelmersdale New Town, Lancashire we see a rather uncomfortable mixture this and of the garden cities of Britain created by Ebenezer Howard.
Part of the Skelmersdale Basic Plan for the centre of the town
ALPHABETICAL ADDRESSES in SKEMERSDALE NEW TOWN
All the addresses in Skelmersdale are in alphabetical order for the ease of the postal service, (Ennerdale followed by Elmrigde, followed by Elmstead etc. ) if not for the ease of the locals – adding to the sense that everywhere looks the same
Although the Skelmersdale engineers demolished the existing hamlets, for example Windy corner and Summer Street, and overlook the natural shape of the local environment, they did not suggest that this demoliton was part of a master plan, instead they called it a ‘basic plan.’
SOME PERSONAL THOUGHTS ABOUT MASTERPLANNING
- Assumes a top down approach to population and social management
- Economically convenient, but whilst it might look good initially to the accountants, the longer term implications may not be worked through at a cost to individual inhabitants and the wider community
- Tends not to be an organic bottom up approach which allows the community to genuinely have a say in what happens and flourish (all a bit vegetative that analogy)
- Tends to be driven by a dominant ideology which may be at variance with the beliefs of different members of the community – and therefore problematic (think of the issues in Northern Ireland here). This is very different to a shared purpose or belief system
- If people are obliged to live in a housing environment where everything looks the same – (and they ‘don’t like it’ irrespective of their genuine feelings about it. will they want to rebel against this by the most direct means possible by defacing it? I don’t like it, so I trash it
- However, in times of housing crisis, and the need to produce a considerable amount of accommodation very quickly, it is a difficult task to genuinely engage all of the community all of the time. And the trouble with community involvement, it is usually the few politically minded, assertive individuals who shout loudest.
FROM NEW TOWNS TO GROWTH AREAS – JIM BENNETT, IPPR, 2005 provides an in-depth analysis of history of new towns and their impact on present development.