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Five Exciting Designs Chosen for New Garden Cities

Simon Wolfson talking to journalists ahead of the announcement

A shortlist of five exciting entries has been announced for a British competition for proposals for new garden cities. Called The Wolfson Economics Prize, its judges are looking for new thinking about how garden cities could help ease the country's chronic housing needs.

Right: Simon Wolfson talking to journalists ahead of the announcement.

The competition was set up Conservative peer Lord Wolfson to look at ways of solving the housing crisis. The five finalists for the prize, chosen from a whopping 279 entries, offer a wide variety of potential solutions to the problem:

  • Barton Willmore, the UK's largest independent planning led town-planning and design consultancy, for a ten-point plan for the delivery of a new garden city, arguing for the development of a cross-party consensus and the production of a National Spatial Plan to identify suitable locations for new garden cities. Garden City Mayors, heading up Garden City Commissions, would be appointed to champion garden cities and find specific locations for development.
  • Chris Blundell of Golding Homes, for a city south east of Maidstone for 30,000 and 40,000 people (about the size of Letchworth), led by Garden City Development Corporations;
  • David Rudlin of Urbed, an urban design and research practice, for the near-doubling of an existing large town in line with garden city principles, to provide new housing for 150,000 people (about the size of Oxford);
  • Shelter, the housing and homelessness charity for a new garden city on the Hoo Peninsula (Medway, Kent) commencing with a settlement of up to 48,000 people (about the size of Welwyn Garden City) at Stoke Harbour, as part of a larger cluster of settlements eventually totaling 150,000 people; and
  • Wei Yang & Partners, for a proposal for an 'arc' beyond the London Green Belt (stretching from Portsmouth to Oxford to Cambridge to Felixstowe), and that the Government should publish a New Garden Cities Strategy identifying broad 'areas of search' for suitable locations, with a 30 year timescale.

Right: James Gross of Barton Willmore sets out his ten point plan for delivering a garden city.James Gross of Barton Willmore sets out his ten point plan for delivering a garden city

Making the announcement, Simon Wolfson told his audience that: "Older people want to live in homes similar to those they grew up in."

He said that the reason why he launched his garden cities prize was because the UK has the most expensive, smallest housing in Europe. A solution is needed which is both sustainable and provides healthy, happy places to live, where there are jobs, proper facilities and good contact with nature, as opposed to the soulless dense housing often constructed by standard housing providers.

According to a poll run by the Wolfson Economics Prize, three out of four Britons think it is a good idea to meet the UK's housing need by building new garden cities. Thepoll is the largest ever conducted into attitudes towards the garden city concept, and it challenges the conventional wisdom in almost every respect. We found widespread support for new garden cities especially among older people and homeowners.

The finalists will be given until 11 August to refine their submissions and resubmit for re-judging. A decision on the overall winner, is expected in September. The proposers of the winning designs stand to win £250,000.

In March, the UKgovernment confirmed a new development of a new 15,000-home garden city in Ebbsfleet in Kent. In May it announced that it wishes to see three new garden cities built in the south of England. It has pledged £1 billion of funding and created a new body, the Urban Development Corporation to drive forward their development. 

Below: A detail of the Maidstone proposal.

 A detail of the Maidstone proposal

Below: Detail from Urbed's proposal.

Detail from Urbed's proposal

All of these proposals are bold, exciting and dramatic. Wolfson said that the advantage of running the prize was that it opened up the debate, took it out of the hands of politicians and their endless bickering, and provides an opportunity for the public to get involved.

The fact that there were 279 entries, many of which must also have contained terrific ideas, shows the enthusiasm for this approach. Historically, properties in garden cities have always been desirable and, whilst often being built for the workers, have subsequently found that they have fetched higher than average prices when resold.

There is no guarantee that any of these proposals will see the light of day as actual constructions. But there is no denying the support that they potentially have. This is about a new kind of urbanism, placemaking for the people, for nature and for the future.

It's worth reading all of the proposals linked to above. Several of them reference existing cities such as Copenhagen and Freiburg, well known to readers of this website. It's good to know that they are inspiring these designers and architects. Their ideas deserve to spread widely.