Context 162 - November 2019

C O N T E X T 1 6 2 : N O V E M B E R 2 0 1 9 11 Editorial Learning from new towns N E W T O W N S Opposite: Milton Keynes in 2000 (Photo: Historic England Archive) Throughout history some urban settlements have developed organically but many others have been planned as new towns. Londonium was designed in Rome as a new town on an uninhabited forested site, as the capital city of the Roman province of Britain. After the Romans left and Londiniumwas abandoned, theAnglo-Saxons founded another new town, called Lundenwic, a mile to the west. Ludlow, Shropshire, on the border with Wales, is one example of a Norman town planta- tion. Liverpool was laid out by King John’s surveyors in 1207 as a base for launching attacks on Ireland. King David I of Scotland, who reigned from 1124 to 1153, laid out 30 new towns (burghs). In Scotland alone more than 100 planned towns and villages were built in the late 18th and early 19th century.Thirty-three newtowns were designated in the UK between 1946 and 1970. Other ‘new towns’ have been planned extensions to a town or city: the NewTown of Edinburghwas constructed between 1767 and 1890 in seven phases, each called NewTown. Those examples are in the UK. The name of Carthage, which became the centre of an empire dominating the Mediterranean Sea in the first millennium BC, means ‘new town’ in the Punic dialect of Phoenician. And the rest of the world has been equally active in building new towns. In the UK in recent years, though, building new towns has been politically unpopular, even when they have been euphemistically called new communities, new settlements, sustainable urban communities, eco-towns or new garden cities. This is partly because they require land, planning powers and infrastruc- ture, and that needs political courage. The unpopularity of the idea is also a consequence of the popular view of what a new town is, which is itself influenced by the history of the post-1947 examples. TheUK newtownswere destined for remark- able success, but theTreasury robbed themof their financial assets, leaving them without the money to invest in their upkeep, renewal and the continuous process of town-making. The early post-war new towns were built at a time of acute national shortage of high- quality building materials; the later ones were designed in the age of car-dependent urban- ism. They needed to be allowed to develop in ways that would overcome thoseweaknesses. Just when the new towns needed support as examples of what state intervention in planning, public services and innovative design could achieve, the rug was pulled from under them. New towns around the world have had a similar experience, withmany now standing as no more than poignant reminders of bold experiments. Lacking newtowns to provide the necessary infrastructure, new development sprawls at the edge of existing settlements and on car-dependent, carbon-hungry, former airfields in the middle of nowhere. History seems to showthat urban civilisation depends on building new towns. In rediscover- ing howto do it we need to celebrate and learn from the examples around us.