Welwyn Garden City centenary: The future of garden cities

PUBLISHED: 16:07 29 April 2020 | UPDATED: 16:14 29 April 2020

First houses in Handside Lane, Welwyn Garden City

First houses in Handside Lane, Welwyn Garden City

Supplied

As Welwyn Garden City turns 100 today, what lessons can we take from Garden City design, to ensure new garden towns planned along the ‘knowledge corridor’ are successful new places, not merely homes along motorways?

Coronation Fountain in Welwyn Garden City. Today - April 29 - marks the official 100th birthday of WGC. Picture: Andrew BrookesCoronation Fountain in Welwyn Garden City. Today - April 29 - marks the official 100th birthday of WGC. Picture: Andrew Brookes

Martin Williams, director of WGC-based practice Saunders, discusses.

Welwyn Garden City, as its name suggests, is a garden city, founded by Sir Ebenezer Howard in the 1920s following his previous experiment in Letchworth Garden City, and designed by Louis de Soissons.

At the time, Howard had called for the creation of new towns of limited size, planned in advance, and surrounded by a permanent belt of agricultural land, as a role model for lower-density urban development.

He believed that such Garden Cities were the perfect blend of city and nature.

Welwyn Garden City CentenaryWelwyn Garden City Centenary

READ MORE: Happy 100th birthday Welwyn Garden City!

A fundamental part of this concept was also the principle of land ownership on behalf of the community so a Garden City is a blend of many factors.

As we celebrate 100 years since the creation of Welwyn Garden City, what lessons can we take from Garden City design, to ensure new garden towns planned along the ‘knowledge corridor’ are successful new places, not merely homes along motorways?

Post-Brexit we could see the Oxford, Milton Keynes to Cambridge corridor progress very quickly, and this knowledge corridor could well be the UK’s answer to Silicon Valley.

However, creating ‘new towns’ and vibrant neighbourhoods along it will need a steady steer, careful and thoughtful planning if they are to become sustainable, attractive and viable places in the long term.

READ MORE: Article from 1970 wonders what Welwyn Garden City is like in 2020

The Welwyn Garden City master plan was designed as a zonal framework.

Workplace, retail, leisure and housing are separated, disparate which can create places that are unpopulated and lifeless at certain times of the day.

Retail centres and light industrial areas can become quiet during the evening leading to anti-social behaviour and crime due to lack of passers-by and natural surveillance.

Fast forward a 100 years, and the original concept of the Garden City is unlikely to be suitable for modern urban planning policy and thinking.

The new towns will require adaptable and flexible master-planning with an emphasis on getting people out of their vehicles, with robust housing, retail, leisure and workplace integrated and sustainability and renewable energy principles essential within the new towns.

Strong east-west transport links will be integral to help address challenges, but it must be properly aligned with sustainable public transport solutions and cycle routes as well as a comprehensive strategy for new homes and communities, not developed in isolation.

Garden Cities were never meant to be just about housing alone and had an emphasis on better living conditions, the principle of land ownership on behalf of the community, as well as ecology and nature.

Welwyn Garden City perhaps didn’t turn out to be the ‘utopian city’ it was meant to be in which people live harmoniously together, yet some of its design principles with an emphasis on creating facilities for the community were very successful and did have the right ingredients for inclusive liveable places.

The challenge lies in connecting people and communities with opportunities for work and leisure, a carefully thought out, adaptable master plan will be key to its success.


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