Imaginative and bold solutions are urgently needed to meet Britain’s future housing needs, with population growth alongside increases in the age of the population and in the number of single-person households. The Wolfson Economics Prize for 2014 has been awarded to town planner David Rudlin for his proposal to create new garden cities surrounding 40 existing towns and cities, doubling their size over the next 30 years, building 86,000 new homes and housing 150,000 people in each new community.
The Wolfson Economics Prize which was founded in 2011 by Lord (Simon) Wolfson, is the second-largest economics prize in the world after the Nobel Prize, with a prize of £250,000. This year’s competition attracted 279 entrants, including 20 entries from children under 16. Five firms were shortlisted as finalists and are currently on display at the Building Centre in London.
The challenge to this year’s entrants was to provide a 10,000 word essay answering the question: “How would you deliver a new Garden City which is visionary, economically viable, and popular?”
Taking inspiration from 18th century answers such as Edinburgh New Town and Bloomsbury in central London – both of which were built on agricultural land – David Rudlin’s proposal is to build new communities in the green belt surrounding cities such as York, Norwich, Stafford, Cheltenham and Northampton to protect existing villages and towns from ongoing expansion which will otherwise nibble away at their edges.
“We propose grafting our garden city on to the root stock of an existing city rather than growing it from seed,” said Mr Rudlin, the managing director of Urbed. He said the new garden cities had “the potential to make a significant contribution to meeting our housing needs as well as creating places that are attractive and popular, and that fulfill their economic potential”.
Lord Wolfson said: “We urgently need to build more houses and great places in Britain…David’s entry is a tour de force of economic and financial analysis, creating thinking and bold, daring ideas.”
Shelter was awarded a prize as runner-up. Given that the Mayor of London’s proposal for a new London airport in the Thames estuary is considered too expensive and environmentally intrusive, perhaps the question is why not create a sensitive new community there? Shelter responded to the competition with a proposal to build a new garden city with a population of 150,000 on the Hoo Peninsula in Medway, Kent.
The proposals provide bold planning solutions. It would be appropriate to now have a debate about the design of such communities and what they contain. They visual images shown with some of the schemes are of the stereotypical village rather than city that everyone is said to aspire to? Surely we can do better, taking inspiration from the past such as the New Town of Edinburgh? We need imaginative urban design that creates great spaces with imaginative buildings, such as Leon Krier’s plan for Seaside in the Florida panhandle where tall buildings frame generous public spaces at the centre falling in height towards the edges, and where the car is not king.
Secondly, do we know what the city of the future should accommodate? Yesterday, MACE hosted a workshop with the Bartlett School of University College London on the changing demographics to 2050 and how that might impact future planning for housing, health and education, also taking into account inevitable changes in technology and working practices. There are no easy answers, but the frightening statistic is that the population of London is projected to grow by another 2 million people by 2050.
How can new initiatives such as the garden cities and transport improvements, linked with technology, change our cities to disperse future population away from London? How can housing, healthcare and education be more integrated and more locally focussed, with imaginative planning and coordinated private and public funding? What will be the balance of home for more concentrate working and office or coffee shop for more social working? How can we provide for people in their homes as they grow old and need less space but more support? How can education balance the use of new technology against the physical provision of schools, colleges and universities? It was a great workshop and it would be good to bring the garden cities initiative together with the MACE/UCL discussion and have a real debate about the future planning of our cities with integration of living, social, education and health needs linked to future technologies we can perhaps not even think of yet.
One final question – can we afford to wait 30 years to build the new cities, given the rate of population growth?