The Recommission for New Towns is an open forum on the history, present and potential of new towns across the UK; it produces online information and public events involving residents, experts and amateurs.
The Recommission launched in summer 2016 with a day of tours, talks and debate in Stevenage to mark 70 years of the Herts new town, and the 1946 New Towns Act.
A future event is planned to mark the 70th anniversary of Harlow, Essex in 2017 (date/venues to be announced).
Preface by Owen Hatherley
Every few years, a government or a think-tank or whoever proposes to build some New Towns. Sometimes, they even get built. They don’t call them New Towns, however. New settlements, Garden Cities, most often, but never New Towns. One reason for this is an advertising matter. It is presumed that those who might be moving to them would be put off by the name of, say, Poundbury New Town, Cambourne New Town, Ebbsfleet New Town. New Town means bad things – council estates, ‘concrete cows’, ugly town centres; New Town equals Crap Town. On the other hand, another reason is that New Towns were carefully considered things, where architects, planners and governments meticulously set out precisely what they wanted the town to be like. Aside from the common factor of nil public participation, this is not how Poundbury, Camborne or Ebbsfleet, to name three recent New Towns have come into being. The first, notoriously, is the Prince of Wales’s attempt to put his enthusiastically reactionary architectural tastes to the test of a ‘living’ existing settlement; the second is an attenuated, developers’ version of the same, catering to the ‘Silicon Fen’ around Cambridge; the third is a scattering of houses around a motorway and a high-speed railway. But all of them are loath that they might be compared to Stevenage, Harlow, Cwmbran or Cumbernauld.
The big secret about New Towns, however, despite their apparently poor public rep, is that they were very popular.