Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Come Into My Yard (I've Got So Much Love to Show You)

There is an intelligent and informative post on the phenomena of the Eco Town (or more precisely the phenomena of antipathy to the Eco Town) at Kosmograd. I particularly liked the table linking the celebrity protesters associated with each proposed Eco Town site. What hope for Middle Quinton with the combined forces of Bergerac and Jilly Cooper up against it?

Nimbyism is deeply ingrained in UK culture, the default setting for almost anyone faced with proposals for anything from a change in the bin collection routine to the building of new towns and villages. In fact, even if the development is nowhere near your back yard it is usually assumed to be an unwelcome intrusion into the normal order of things. The mantra that links all the Eco Protesters is not that they are not against new houses per se, you understand, just not on this particular site. That this particular site also happens to be where they live is purely coincidental. No doubt Dame Judi Dench is passionately committed to new housing rather than acting out of pure self interest in protecting her beloved Stratford.

Having said all that, it's true that the architecture of most of the proposed towns is fairly banal and genuine issues of transportation and infrastructure may render their sustainability claims dubious at best. What I do question though is the assumption that all new housing can be contained within existing cities on brownfield sites. Less than 10% of the landmass of the UK is currently built on and the tired spectre of developers concreting over the countryside does nothing to aid debates about how to provide new housing.

That housing is provided by developers who, almost uniquely in our Late Capitalist times, are the only people demonised for making money doesn't help either. Alright, that might sound a bit naive but, frankly, if the Government were to disband their Delivery Vehicles and Regeneration Agencies and simply build the Eco Towns themselves I still can't see Dame Judi welcoming them with open arms.

Kosmograd's post is far more sceptical of Eco Towns than I have been here. I do not quite share the adversity to places like Poundbury of my profession, in many ways preferring it to the Esperanto of light modernism churned out by supposedly more contemporary architects. If the Eco Towns do not conform to a professional notion of what constitutes Good Design, then that may ultimately matter less than the current inequalities of the housing market. It could equally be said that the entirely negative culture within which new housing is discussed feeds into the generally low standard of architecture expected.

Also, surely anything objected to by both Tim Henman's Dad and the Top Gear team must have some merits?* Less facetiously, I cannot help thinking that any attempts to build new housing in this country outside of some isolated spots in the east end of London are met with derision and an entirely selfish desire to keep everyone else out. Discuss.

* Check out the website for Weston Otmoor here and the developers for it here, although it won't encourage you much.

1 comment:

Kosmograd said...

Thanks for your comments. I was intrigued when I started trying to find out more about eco-towns that they all seem to have a 'celebrity' objector, and this was also a common hook that all media coverage seemed to use when talking about the subject.

It seems the cult of celebrity in Britain has now reached the point where even town planning cannot be debated without soliciting the opinions of the likes of Ben Fogle or John Nettles. I'm sure Kevin McCloud is to blame for it.

I don't have a problem with Poundbury per se, but the idea that it represents some kind of ideal 'model' town for other development is worrying. But Leon Krier would be the first to agree with you about the Esperanto of light modernism, and that architects are infatuated with the Modern Movement to the exclusion of almost everything else.