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How they gawped and gesticulated...
by Katy Purviance on 04/11/08 @ 09:13:07 pm
Categories: Articles | 497 words | 1656 views

I just read this article called “The eco-town has not landed” by Jonathan Glancey in Building Desing: The Architects’ Website.

In its earliest years, Letchworth was a magnet for sensation seekers. Cheap day excursions by Great Northern from London would bring gaggles of Cockneys up for a laugh to the leafy ways of this idealistic garden town.

How they gawped and gesticulated as they watched the new model Letchworth citizenry go about its business of growing beards, wearing sandals and knitting yoghurt while reading progressive journals and attending lectures on eurhythmics, theosophy and beekeeping. What larks.

Will the new generation of government-imposed eco-towns be treated in much the same way? Farce, it seems, is never far away. Build some spec houses with wind turbines on the roof, add some quango-style jargon about “sustainability” and, hey presto, the New Jerusalem will magically appear in what used to be Dullsworth Palaver, Much Barking and the former RAF Boxkite-on-the-Floodplain. Uncritical, clap-happy reports in the national press of how these instant “communities” have already been matched by the school of “I say this/Make no mistake” commentators. They smelled a rat as soon as “eco-town” slipped from the politicians’ mouths.

The potty thing about “eco-towns” is the unnecessary pother surrounding them. All towns used to be “eco-towns” in one way or another before the arrival of the car. We could house many people by gently extending and infilling existing towns and, if we had the confidence, by building even just one intelligently thought-through and beautifully realised new town.

Meanwhile, the prescriptions issued for central government-enforced “eco-towns” make them sound as risible as Letchworth was to jeering daytrippers. No one, knowing England, will ever expect to find instant, environmentally friendly new towns lived in by saintly Jonathon Porritt types. Nor decent public transport. Nor good schools. Nor, especially, post offices. Tesco, maybe.

The decline and fall of the post office should remind us all of the implausibility of the “eco-town” project. On the one hand, government barks away about “sustainability”, while on the other, it does nothing as we lose a public service that is so much a part of the very “community” spirit ministers are so keen on, even if the only “community” they know is tax-eating, expense-claiming Westminster. Every time a local post office closes, something of true community spirit dies with it, and people reach for the keys of their cars to drive to a non “eco-town” some miles away.

Architects will do their best, I’m sure, to make these “eco-towns” work in terms of individual buildings, but surely we should be able to plan and build new homes wisely without wrapping them in the wallpaper of fashionable jargon while despoiling land best left to kingfishers and water voles.

Nor should any of us celebrate such things while the very same people forcing us to accept “eco-towns” are binning public services, common sense, plain speaking and all the things that help to make a truly sustainable world.

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