The missing link – Town Planning | Brussels Blog

The missing link – Town Planning

posted by on 23rd Jul 2022
Shanghai interchange

Economic polices are not enough

Economic policies can cut greenhouse emissions: The UK government could reinstate the fuel price escalator or subsidise renewable power generation, or tax beef consumption. These policies would reduce greenhouse emissions but they would not create new lifestyles, which are low carbon and pleasant.

To bring greenhouse emissions down quickly, it is necessary to do more than tinker with taxes. Radical changes to the way we live are necessary: in our rooms, houses, streets, neighbourhoods, villages, towns and cities. Innovation and design are required. Although, some of the necessary innovation can be made by architects and builders, the missing link is town planners who have vision.

Enhancing town planning

In describing their role, the Royal Town Planning Institute writes:

A planner’s main aim is achieving sustainability. This means balancing different social, environmental and economic issues when official decisions are made on whether a piece of land is built on or not.

This describes a profession with limited vision. Perhaps it’s not their fault. They occupy the slot designed for them by the politics and balance issues forced on them by others. That’s not what Ebenezer Howard or Robert Owen did. They designed new towns and new ways of living.

The role of town planning must be expanded to find ways of living that are pleasant and do not destroy life as we know it: Until a better term is found call it “enhanced town planning” (ETP). The problem is there are no ETP practitioners, no ETP academics and no degrees or certificates in ETP. There is little vision that shows how town planning could be extended.

A new vision needs input from engineers, economists, climate scientists, agronomists, house builders, architects, transport planners, town planners & all of us – including economists. Most of all it needs people with ideas and capable of vision who can understand the evidence of our current situation and design a way out of it.

It does not require people who simply balance requirements. The requirements that they balance now simply suck.

Visions for the world to follow

The UK is a small nation of fast-diminishing importance but there is still the off-chance that visions started here can spread through the world. This has happened before – from William Wilberforce to the Beatles.

In the field of town planning the UK has a rich history, like the model villages of Victorian philanthropists: New Lanark, New Earswick, Saltaire, Port Sunlight and Bourneville. These were followed by the garden cities of Letchworth and Welwyn, conceived by Ebenezer Howard.

Ebenezer Howard’s plan for a garden city

Garden cities or green suburbs?

Building completely new towns does not change the old towns, which won’t be abandoned quickly. New build should aim to help existing neighbourhoods transform to low carbon living. This means building next to existing settlement to provide low carbon facilities for nearby neighbourhoods. New settlements should provide services which can spread ‘greenness’ to its neighbours. These will be new ‘green suburbs’.

More local services – but no cars

Typical cars cannot be part of a low carbon lifestyle – For decades to come, they will use carbon emitting electricity, but the big hit is the large amount of greenhouse gas emission in the manufacture of electric carsr manufacture. See “Cars to drive or a planet to live in? A numerical assessment.

Green suburbs must be car-free, with minor exceptions. This will bring great benefits: Banning cars will make local services viable, such as buses, shops, pubs, schools and cafes.

Innovation in personal transport must be encouraged for these developments. For example, the development of light weight personal vehicles. See #68: Are Battery EVs better than ICE cars?

Local market gardens

Drone footage of Les jardins de la grelinette, the farm founded by JM Fortier and Maude-Hélène Desroches in St-Armand, Québec, Canada. The internationally recognized micro-farm’s methods are the subject of The Market Gardener, JM Fortier best-selling book.

Food production should also be more local, with local market gardens. Place 54 Architects say of their Market Garden City proposals:

The Market Garden City has existed before, where localised food production has enabled cities to prosper and survive for centuries before globalisation, yet its importance has been forgotten during the 20th century. This is not because the Market Garden City is impossible to achieve, rather because local food production for local people has not been seen as a long term investment, has not been valued highly enough, or given incentives to compete with alternative global economies.

Place 54 Architects, Market Garden City

Why use 70mph vehicles in cities where speeds drop to walking pace?

Developments with no cars and local food production will create facilities which nearby neighbourhoods can share. These developments could be ideal for trialing new forms of personal transport. For example much lighter and slower vehicles than the present 70mph, 1+ tonne city killers, which cause the congestion that is slowing them down to walking pace.

The study by In-car Cleverness analysed nearly 400,000 journeys over the same three-month period in 2016 and 2017 and found London the average speed within a mile of the city centre dropped 1.22mph from an average of 6.35mph in 2016 to just 5.13mph in 2017 – a fall of 19% .

Average driving speeds plummet in UK’s major cities

New slower, lightweight vehicles would reduce congestion because of their more efficient use of road space. In any case in no-car developments there will be many less of them. If well designed, their environmental footprint could be the same as an electric bike.

The provision of local services will lead to the creation of new jobs, mostly “green jobs”.

Let’s get serious

Let’s get serious and found an Institute of Enhanced Town Planning to bring together the relevant expertise and a new government department to use this expertise with the power to change local laws and local taxes for prototype settlements. These could spread expertise and experience throughout the world.

A New Ministry of Works will have the power to override the rules and regulations of several government departments – but will not replace the existing system wholesale: It will be for the new settlements only. For these settlement to be successful, they need the intellectual space to think outside the box, without being over burdened by existing regulation.

A New Ministry of Works

It’s not just the spatial layout that needs redesign, local economies, local laws and political institutions need to change. We also need prototypes to test new spatial solutions and new local economies. See New economies for new estates.

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