Will Garden Cities alleviate the housing crisis?

Britain has a housing shortage, and what is available is highly priced. Space in the city is at a premium; perhaps the answer is to create new residential areas with more space, and to locate them outside the cities instead of trying to squeeze them into already congested urban landscapes. This line of thought has given rise to the 'Garden Cities' movement.

The origin of Garden Cities

Garden cities are not a new concept, having originated in Victorian times when shorthand typist Ebenezer Howard proposed an alternative to the urban squalor brought about by industrialisation. He believed that establishing small, self-sufficient residential communities - with large expanses of greenery - could prevent the kind of poverty and homelessness that we see portrayed in famous Victorians works such as Charles Dickens' Oliver.

Letchworth and Welwyn, the earliest products of his vision, were aesthetically appealing but neither affordable nor self-sustainable, and ended up becoming what the Guardian refers to as “commuter dormitory towns”. But the movement has recently reemerged in response to the UK housing crisis, with Chancellor George Osborne announcing plans for a 15,000-home garden city in Ebbsfleet, Kent.

This is one of many planned garden cities, which will be built to house low-density populations, leaving plenty of space available that could be filled with lush greenery. They will have their own shopping centres and work complexes to avoid becoming glorified suburbs with residents commuting to cities for work anyway. Unlike the earlier models driven by Ebenezer Howard's theories, the new garden cities would have a greater degree of community input in planning and implementation.

Do Garden Cities have public support?

In 2011, the Wolfson Economic Prize challenged entrants to design a garden city. The shortlist has been narrowed down to submissions from five contestants, including planning consultants Barton Willmore, housing development expert Chris Blundell and urban design specialists URBED. According to the Wolfson Economic Prize director Miles Gibson, if the five proposed garden cities were to be built, they would create homes for 400,000 people and jobs for 400,000 construction workers.

Furthermore, a survey conducted at the same time to promote the competition found that:

  • 72% of Britons felt that the UK was suffering from a serious housing shortage
  • 74% of Britons felt that garden cities were a viable means of addressing the shortage
  • 78% of Britons felt that private gardens were an important addition to new homes

Some argue that garden cities wouldn’t help solve the housing crisis because it would take too long to build them. In fact, Liberal Democrat Lord Taylor claims it would take too long for the project to even get off the ground, considering the process involved in finding suitable sites and obtaining the cooperation of local communities in establishing garden cities. But Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg sees the garden city movement as one of the best measures to combat the housing shortage.

If you’re not desperate to sell your house and give up city living just yet, hold on for a few more years and you could move into a new lush garden paradise – with all the conveniences of a modern city at a fraction of the hassle.


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