Friday 21 October 2016

Historian Dan Cruickshank discovers whether the governments proposed new Garden Cities programme - hailed as an idyllic alternative to generic commuter towns - is the answer to our housing crisis or a toxicblight on lifestyle and landscape.

Excellent contributions from Katy Lock of the TCPA and John Davis from Burlington CLT and Philip Ross from the New Garden City Movement

Future Jamboree in Wroclaw Poland

We have taken part in the #FutureJamboree in Poland. We have promoted the garden city model as one that can be sustainable in economic, social and ecological terms.

Delegates from Poland, Western Europe, Eastern Europe, Russia, Africa, South and North America.

A (non-)conference of activists and urban innovators from all over the world. 90 leading urban activists, representing all continents will gather in Wrocław to share their knowledge and experiences regarding the development of the city, and to inspire each other during a meeting, spanning two days. This interaction will support their efforts in thinking up a better city – inclusive, fair and even more respectful towards the quality of life of its residents.
15-17 October 2016, Zajezdnia History Centre, Wrocław

Burlington and Vermont CLT

Interesting article about the land trust movement in the USA and the links Bernie Sanders has to it.
We have good links with Burlington, they drew inspiration from Letchworth and we have much to learn from them in return

Tuesday 10 March 2015

Speech to the New Garden Cities Alliance at the House of Lords


I want to thank Lord Glasman for hosting us here today.

He and I have been talking together about garden cities for the last few years and in that time the idea of garden cities has moved from being a historical footnote to again becoming part of our contemporary debate.

All political parties have talked about garden cities. Two new ones have been announced and we have had the Wolfson prize competition on the subject. During these processes people have been asking ‘what is a garden city?’ or worse still we’d see the media making a rash attempt in trying to define it.

As you can probably appreciate, as the former Mayor of Letchworth I was always being asked ‘What is a garden city?’ so it was nice to see others suffering on this too.

Once I shared a taxi with a man from Hong Kong airport and he said where are you from? I am England? Whereabout? You won't have heard of it I said, try me he said, Letchworth. The garden city? I'm from Chengdu and we want to be a garden city! What do we have to do?

Others have asked

Is it just a marketing term? A better name for a new town? A smoke screen to disguise thousands of new houses? The name for a posh or gated committee? Is it about flowers in the roundabouts? Does it mean a town built in a green field site?

Indeed that debate was as fierce in Letchworth as it has been everywhere else.

Apart from the part about flowers, I have said no to all of these explanations.

I have written my book which details 12 principles for a garden city not being a planner or architect my focus has been on the invisible architecture.
I see a Garden City as being about being fusion of social and architectural principles, the visible and invisible architecture.

As for the Garden City suffix originally it meant something to Howard when he built Letchworth, though it was watered down on subsequent developments. But interestingly mainly only the settlements associated directly with Howard, Unwin and Parker took on the suffix, as others lacked confidence to use it.

But there was a dream that was Letchworth, and that was rooted in its 
invisible architecture which manifested itself in it plans and building.

The focus was on land value capture. Howard’s goal for GC was to capture the ‘unearned increment’ of the rise in land values. To capture that value for the local community not the absent landlord.

Indeed what would Howard say of today’s buy-to-let market?
In LGC today the freehold for much of the commercial, industrial and agricultural estate is held by a trust and has assets of some £127m generating an income of about £7m a year, put back into the committee of only 35,000. Not a bad model to follow and surely a fundamental principle for a future garden city.

Picking up on this issue in September last year at a conference in Letchworth, we took up this issue and published the Letchworth Declaration. Which many of you have seen.

The aim of the Declaration was to task us to create a movement and organise a consensus on garden cities, to set up the mechanisms so that an agreed definition of what a garden city is can take root and to give new and existing settlements the confidence to call themselves ‘garden cities’, ‘villages’, suburbs or towns.

The Declaration mooted an accreditation scheme and a body called a New Garden Cities Alliance to operate it.

The Declaration is a page long, but to summarise it in two sentences would be to say :

The key principle is and the question we are asking is do we want the term garden cities to mean something? And you do how can we make it happen?
I do.

I thank those who has signed the declaration, which has given us a mandate to take things forward.

To those who haven’t signed and for organisations I know this can be harder than it is for individuals.

We aren’t asking for endorsements yet only support for this principle and for
·               participating,

·               encouragement and
·               Enthusiasm.

I am encouraged and enthused because....

There is something happening when significant numbers people and organisations, planners; institutes are gathering around the banner; gathering around the belief that garden cities need to be more than just a marketing term; or be just places for the rich

There is something happening when politicians of all parties coalesce around an idea;

There is something happening when planners,  architects; community groups; ecologists and environmentalists can see the hopes that they all hold in common.

The garden city torch as it is passed to our generation That is what is happening.

It can light our way ahead as we approached the cross roads for 21st century garden cities, and decide what path we want to take.
·               We could take the path to just talk about numbers – 200,000 homes a year or however many.
·               As Maurice has talked before about the danger of just building ‘Brezhnev style homes’
·               Or path of gated committees taking on the appellation

Or leads us down the path of building
·         Socially, Economic and Ecologically sustainable settlements and communities.

Soon the opportunity to define this clearly will pass as the market takes hold and with a new government of what ever colour can press ahead with a building programme.

If we choose to act, then we need to choose to act NOW.  CARPE DIEM

We know we must learn from the past, learn what happens when there is rush to build, a disregard for people and communities.

We remember that in the 60s and 70s we saw the destruction our urban communities, our urban assets, the great town halls, railway stations and communities.

We recognised that today risks lay before us and it the focus must be to preserve and not destroy our rural architecture, but to build in harmony.

Our proposal is that before the first brick is laid, we make it clearer what a garden city. We give people something they can trust in.
So, if we can start to build some consensus today, put together the first steps towards a plan for New Garden Cities Alliance and an agenda for a defining and endorsing what will make a garden city settlement.

If it isn’t done by us, who will do it? Where will it end?
Government can’t do this, shouldn’t do this, but together and only together can we all credibly do this.

But we won’t need to knock anything over..
Our goal isn’t to be troublesome or awkward. Our goal isn’t to prevent things from happening but to make them happen and make them happen in the right way.

The reason for the Declaration is to try and facilitate co-operation and collaboration.

 We believe in garden cities.

 Our  goal is to a vision to bear, build clarity over confusion and offer hope and optimism in place of  cynicism and despair.
 I see the benefit not being just for the people who might live in garden city settlements, but those existing and affected communities, for planners; the architects and the housing developer.

It can be done by harnessing the ingenuity of our architects of buildings and of landscape; our planners and our house builders and our community groups and their values. It can be done by combining together the visible and invisible architecture as one.

That creates the virtue of a garden city.

Which brings us back to the Declaration and to today.
·       Should the term Garden Cities mean something?
·       How can we make that happen?

The aim of today is take that forward.

This we believe can be achieve by setting up an accreditation process which would focus on an agreed set of social, planning and architectural criteria.
We can’t solve it all today, but we can begin the conversation….

So, three things to do :-
1)      Agree what a garden city should be like by looking at values, principles and methods and practises
2)      Work out how a place could be accredited
3)      Work out how this could be managed and organised

Those are our three aims. To discuss today and to give to working parties to take forward.

We have some speakers and discussions areas.

TCPA will talk on their principles to get the conversation started. Nick Falk with talk on how garden cities don’t need to be green field.
We will then discuss the principles.

We will talk also about accreditation.
Robin Murray on fair trade and Liz Wrigley on her experience from Building for Life

And then on how to run a New Garden Cities Alliance which we see as a new body to organise this through.

The goal of today will be to get a mandate – not necessarily an endorsement – to continue working in this area through the establishment of working groups to look at each of these areas.

I hope you enjoy today and it can be stepping stone for the future.
We look forward to your
·       Participation
·       Encouragement and
·       Enthusiasm
Let’s see what we can build today…

Thank you

Monday 22 September 2014

Message from Chengdu...

1.     Thanks for the help and collaborations from the friends (John Lewis, Philip Ross, David John Ames , Michael John King, YVES CABANNES……) and institutes (Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation, New Garden city Movement, Letchworth, Hertfordshire, United Kingdom, Welwyn Garden City Heritage Trust. Parks Trust of Milton Keynes,  University of Hertforshier,  Building Research Establishment, Islington offices,  Allies Morrison,  Greater London Authority) in UK.
2.     The central government of China has made positive progresses in eco-civilization town construction after the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China. Garden city principles developed very well. It will play a positive role in the process of eco-civilization town construction in Sichuan province even in China.
3.     Based on Garden city related studies from the this world , we hope more and more people is intended to join and push Garden city development.
4.     Hope we have more chances to collaborated and share our interests in future.
5.     Best wishes for the rewarding and successful workshop.
Baofeng Di from Sichuan University.

Wednesday 10 September 2014

Place Making conference posits creation of a garden cities alliance

The Place Making conference held at Letchworth Garden City has posited the creation of a 'New Garden Cities Alliance' through the adoption of a 'Letchworth Declaration'.

The Declaration was proposed to the conference by former Letchworth Mayor Philip Ross and was supported by the following speakers,

The Declaration can be read here and signed there too, It is garnering support from an alliance of planning professionals, academics, architects and community activists.

It proposes the creation of a New Garden Cities Alliance that will safeguard the garden city brand by bring clarity and certainty to the definition of what a garden city is.

Philip Ross told the conference : '

"There is political agreement that garden cities should be community-led and that is to be welcomed.
I believe too that the definition of the garden city needs to be community led.

No one trusts the government to do, they don’t the developers to do. They need a promise,  a social contract – to put their faith and trust in.

We need to come together forge that social contract, that promise, through a shared definition of what a garden city is. In doing so we can provide clarity and certainty to both the public and to developers and government".

Thursday 4 September 2014

A New Garden City Alliance?

The visible and invisible architecture of garden cities :
Built on an alliance of values and practice

Garden Cities are again in the news in the UK with the recent Wolfson Economics Prize and its submissions on building new garden cities as well as the DCLG prospectus inviting expressions of interest in building community led garden cities. As ever planners and architects and politicians are all looking at the spatial aspects of a garden city, where one can be built and what it will look like. There remains though a need to look at the third and potential most important aspect, the invisible architecture that will form that community. This is the social values and principles upon which it will be built as well as its invisible architecture of finance, ownership and control

Plans have also been announced to build a ‘garden city’ at Ebbsfleet. But what do they mean by garden city? What definition of a garden city is it planning to follow? It is an important question. Even back in the days of the first garden city movement the only places to get the suffix ‘garden city’ or ‘garden suburb’ were those mainly that Ebenezer Howard and Raymond Unwin were connected with – Letchworth and Welwyn Garden Cities and notably Hampstead and Brentham Garden Suburbs. Other places, like many of the post war new towns, simply suggested that they were being built along ‘garden city lines’. 

The legacy of that first garden city movement itself has its own trinity. The birthplace and spiritual home of Garden Cities is Letchworth Garden City, the home of the movement is within the Town and Country Planning Association (which is the successor organisation to the original Garden Cities Association). Ebenezer Howard wasn’t a traditional planner or architect but a community architect interested in the social reform that garden cities could deliver. It is fair to say that that legacy of the third part of that trinity is also held today by the social and pioneering organisations in the co-operative movement, rural groups, environmental groups, housing associations, residents and tenants associations, the “transition town” movement, faith groups of all denominations, cultural groups, families and individuals of all ages. Howard’s original ideas chris-crossed the political divide just Garden Cities do today.

It follows that having a community-led garden cities starts by having a community-led definition of what a garden cities is. It needs to be one that belongs not to one organisation and is not one that is thought up in Whitehall but is one that is reflective of community values. It needs to be born of a partnership and a great alliance between social, design and architectural values and principles. The ambition must be to deliver a sustainable community, a community proving inter-generational equity that is socially, economically and ecologically sustainable. We will know we are successful because it will create a sense of place, purpose and a stake in their community, in one word ‘citizenship’.

Building and working from the legacy of the first garden city movement we need to build a tripartite alliance of planners, architects and community to deliver a definition of a 21st century garden city. Together they must deliver both a master plan for the visible architecture with the social and invisible architecture. Together they will provide the basis for establishing a sustainable society.

Just as the Wolfson Prize has engaged economists to come up with a multitude of ideas of about how to raise finance for a garden city the TCPA is making excellent progress drawing together the best planners and architects and providing strong thought leadership. On the invisible architecture a great deal of work has be done by co-operative movement with both a large and small ‘C’. Elsewhere groups like Respublica have made a very positive contribution. The BSHF reports on planning new settlements and their ability to also build a strong coalition of interests through their Windsor based consultations have made a huge contribution.
In November 2012 a conference in Letchworth saw a gathering of the social movement and planners and architects including the TCPA. The result was the subsequent Commons-Sense report which outlined a plethora of innovative ideas and documented existing practise such as community land ownership programme and district and co-operative heating and power solutions.

The TCPA have also published 7 principles for garden cities which all centre of the principle capturing land value for the good of community which are complementary to the 12 principles defined by Cabannes and Ross[author]  in their book ‘21st Century Garden Cities of To-morrow’. How this land value capture can be done remains the subject of debate. The debate itself is an old one with the original suggestion of a land value tax being made by Henry George which was championed by Churchill in his early days. The issue centres around that as land values rise who captures that unearned increment should it be the land lord or the people living there? Garden Cities propose that it is the community that lives there. A mechanism of collective land ownership and administration exists through the use of a Community Land Trust to manage estates. But where is the land to come from? The interesting thing about creative variants of land value taxation or the Co-operative Land Bank model (CLB) are that they could make the capture of the land self-financing.
Today’s agenda with new garden cities offer us chance to get it right afresh. But to do so we need to combine the best of the visible and invisible architecture together. It means getting the trinity of planning, architecture and social values to work together. In doing so community-led garden cities can have a community led definition, that can inspire planners, architects and be the contract and covenant between them, the community surrounding new settlement and for future citizens.

To achieve this there should be no doubt what makes a garden city. We need to have a shared and agreed definition of garden cities that comprises of the visible and invisible architecture that community groups and leaders, economists, planners and architects can all work from. We believe that at the heart of this will be the principles for land value capture for the community and commitments to be socially, economically and ecologically sustainable.

This is the goal of the September conference in Letchworth where we hope to issue and agree the ‘Letchworth Declaration’ of the goals and put in motion the mechanism to put this into action.
Our proposal is to create a New Garden Cities Alliance or Association as a Community Interest Company (limited by guarantee) owned by this trinity of users and groups. The goal of the company will be to agree a definition of garden cities (perhaps with gold, silver and bronze standards). We will draw inspiration from the Fair Trade movement, Transition Town movement and the Building for Life standard. We would expect all these accreditations to paint part of the picture of a Garden City. The Alliance will license different organisations to undertake audits and provide accreditations to allow towns and neighbourhoods to get the garden city mark. In the long term even an ISO standard could be developed for garden cities. The vision is here and details will be worked out collaboratively. We don’t see the Alliance or Association as employing staff or being bureaucratic.

The principles of garden city design, architecture and social can be drawn from the TCPA, other planning groups, the RIBA and community and activist groups to ensure that final definition will provide a foundation to build upon that will be Socially, Economically and Ecologically sustainable.

It would provide reassurance and a social contract for communities and guidance for architects and developers. In doing this we can jointly build the platform upon which successful and community-led and garden cities can be built and inspiring second garden movement that we can all be proud of.

Philip Ross, Letchworth Garden City.
10th July 2014