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Garden state

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In 2014 the Garden Cities debate reached fever-pitch

Long championed by the Town and Country Planning Association, a revival of garden cities was first mooted by the government over two years ago.

Since then, nostalgic references to Ebenezer Howard and leafy images of Letchworth have filled the broadsheets. The coalition has now allocated funding for three ‘garden cities’ of 15,000 people each, one in Ebbsfleet, one in Bicester, with a third location yet to be announced. Richard Rogers weighed in to the debate, arguing that the priority was to site new housing in brownfield inner-city sites.

The second annual Wolfson Economics Prize raised the stakes, offering £250,000 for the best ‘visionary, economically viable and popular’ blueprint for new garden cities. Attracting 279 entries, it was won by Manchester-based urban design and sustainability consultancy Urbed.

Its submission proposes extending and increasing density in existing cities – places like Oxford, Rugby, and Reading.

In each, more than 80,000 homes would be built through infilling vacant sites in the existing town and building three urban extensions of 20-25,000 homes each on the surrounding green belt.

Do we really need to build on the green belt? Despite the outcry, the answer is not clear-cut. In some places green belt may need to be reappraised to determine whether it supports or inhibits sustainable urban development.

What is clear is that any approach to garden cities must start with green infrastructure – corridors of biodiversity – as a guiding principle. Garden cities are not an either/or proposition. Be it in the city or in a new garden city, we desperately need more housing.


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