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Revelling in the past and embracing change? Poundbury can't have both


There is a way of telling the Poundbury story that makes it sound progressive. The Prince of Wales' intervention, at a moment back in the 1980s when Dorset District Council was eyeing up a great swathe of Duchy of Cornwall-owned land to meet its immediate housing needs, was prompted by a genuine desire to prevent the mindless suburban sprawl that would have inevitably ensued.

The first phase of Leon Krier's Poundbury was relatively high-density, with 40 houses per acre, compared with 20 in the neighbouring council estate, and challenged the perceived wisdom that customers want their houses to be detached. Buyers quickly cottoned onto the fact that the more efficient use of space meant that the terraced housing offered far more internal space for the same asking price. Poundbury also proved that edgeof-town communities can be tailored to pedestrians, and that highways can play second fiddle to courtyards, squares and lanes.

As the Urban Design Group's Robert Cowan declared in the AJ in 2003 (AJ 3.7.03): 'There is no reason why Poundbury's basic structure could not be the basis for development built in a variety of styles, which might or might not draw on Classical or local vernacular models.

The traffic could circulate in the same way, the building could enclose space in the same way and uses could be mixed in the same way'.

The duchy's willingness to introduce a high-density residential development into the Poundbury mix (see page 13) reinforces the contention that it is more interested in developing and evolving a functioning community than in simply creating an essay in nostalgic pastiche.

But aesthetics cannot be cast aside so easily. The fact that the residents object to the building comes as little surprise. Given that they have been trained to forgo clothes dryers, television aerials and satellite dishes and to ask permission to change the colour of their own front door, they could be forgiven for believing that 'keeping things the same' is a goal in its own right. You cannot make a town look like a Christmas card and expect its residents to be receptive to change.

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