Old school new towns
Ian Martin knocks up a 21st century new town
MONDAY The ‘silly season’. An ideal opportunity to clear that irritating backlog of unfinished signature new towns from my tottering to-do pile.
They’ll never get built, so I can make them as ambitious and deranged as I like. No cultural context. There hasn’t been a genuine ‘new town’ since 1972, when the experimental Spumley in Hertfordshire was completed and immediately began to look old-fashioned.
Designed by radical naturists Alison and Dick Fabble in their trademark ‘Arts, Crafts and Heavy Groove’ style, Spumley caused a sensation at the time.
The bold combination of Corbusian grid and social nudity was dismissed as ‘flapping, dangling gimmickry of the very worst kind’ by influential style magazine Architecturalisme Et Couture Oui Oui.
Urbanists now come from all over the world, disembarking at Spumley’s ‘park, disrobe and ride’ stations to see for themselves how Perspex, Formica, rough concrete and mulleted genitals have survived four decades of indifference and gentle mockery.
Many of us remember this most emphatic of Britain’s new towns from Michael Portillo’s documentary Shock Of The Nude, in which the broadcaster and former Tory minister strode authoritatively through Spumley’s healthy and efficient streets, his probity blazoned by a comprehensive railway timetable and a quizzical expression.
TUESDAY When politicians moot a 21st century new town it’s either to distract us from something or to promote themselves. If you’re a Liberal Democrat, both.
I’ve been asked to knock up a generic new garden city by Lib Dem Policy Hot Tank. ‘Basically, we don’t give a shit what it looks like’ says the refreshingly honest brief. ‘What we’re after is something that appeals to the affordable housing brigade, so could you put some rough-looking types in the pictures, with tattoos, holding carrier bags?
‘Also something that appeals to homeowners, so maybe also some semi-detached villas with Ocado vans and little girls in straw boaters?
‘We just want to float it in general terms really so we can dangle compensation to any Tories living next to it. That way everyone’s happy when it doesn’t get built and we’re very much part of the next Coalition government, yes?’
Solution: photoshop some Googled residents of Newcastle into cut-ups of Berkhamsted.
WEDNESDAY Controversial billionaire artist Dorian Gubb is a genius, of course he is. You can’t argue with Charles Saatchi. Not in public, anyway.
The leading light of ‘Britprop Art’, Gubb revolutionised painting by getting other people to do it for him, then revolutionised installations by getting other people to do those too. He’s made a fortune and for tax purposes wants to convert a sizeable lump of it into a new town.
That’s where I come in, with my intuitive understanding of the artistic mind. I’ve sketched out an ‘affordable settlement’ where all the houses are cut in half, the community centre’s full of flies swarming round cow carcasses, the roads are covered in dots and swirls and even a garden shed NOT encrusted with diamonds costs £750,000. We’ll submit this to planning, whip up scare stories in the press and get it rejected. Then Gubbo will shrug extravagantly somewhere in The Maldives, agree to have it redesigned in the style of a luxury starter home estate and bosh, job done.
THURSDAY The SCOTLAND AYE campaign wants me to design eight new towns to ‘help avert a potential housing crisis’. Maybe they’re expecting severe overcrowding when everyone on the mint-spectrum from ‘oligarch’ to ‘benefits tourist’ moves to the smartest region in New Europe. Or maybe they’re being conjured up in order to be ‘at risk’ if the other lot wins the referendum.
Solution: a mixed eight-pack of new towns. Tartanauld, Cragaloof, Heatherloch, Peaty Edge, Glengrimmond Glen Ben, Polyunsaltire, Aarg and Ecklesprechenangettaefuchan.
FRIDAY Now I’ve told them about the SCOTLAND AYE new towns plan, the SCOTLAND RATHER NOT people suddenly want some new towns as well. Fine with me. Special rate for cash. Not those Scottish banknotes though, thanks very much, people in parts of London don’t ‘believe’ in them.
Solution: Hogwhim, Sahberdeen, Jacobeanory, Grecian Urbis, Upper Hackney, Type 2 Tablet, Kiltmist, Ooterienanny.
SATURDAY Develop the idea of ‘new town’ into the idea of ‘newt-owned’. Curse the piddling megalomania of newts. Curse everything they stand for.
SUNDAY Imagine a new town called Newtone, and wonder if it might be time to change our whole attitude to ‘housing’ people, in the recliner.