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Your thoughts about the Garden City idea 

In September 2021 the TCPA launched an online survey which explored people’s views on the garden city idea, it means to people and what are other examples of people living in a fairer and more sustainable way. It asked specific questions about the foundational elements of the garden city idea set out on the project website. The survey does not claim to be representative and was designed to stimulate conversation about what the garden city idea means today, collect a snapshot of views on the emerging themes of the project, and signpost the project team to case studies and further information to explore. The responses have fed into the interim report and will be drawn on throughout further stages of the project.

The survey was open for eight weeks and received 42 responses. This page seeks to highlight some of the views of what people think about the Garden City idea, but it is by no means an attempt to summarise the responses of every single individual. You can find all the anonymised responses to the survey following this link. The TCPA is grateful to all those who took the time to respond.

Survey respondents had very different backgrounds, albeit primarily from within the built and natural environment sectors, which gave us a flavour of a variety of views and perspectives related to planning.  This variety is limited by the fact that most of the respondents appeared to have some relationship, through practice, study or geography, with garden cities or new communities. 

The survey starts by asking people the simple question of “What does the Garden City idea mean to you”. Many saw the Garden City idea positively, as a model for places that enable healthy and sustainable lifestyles where affordable housing is surrounded by green spaces. However, others also felt that the idea seemed out of date and that it needs to be updated to reflect modern lifestyles. Below we have gathered some of the key words that have been used to describe those views. 

Some people thought of the Garden City idea positively and gave their opinions on how it could be adapted to fit with the current needs of society and the climate crisis. Highlighting how the original Garden City idea was to make places people and environment centre.

“I believe the Garden City concept it is still as relevant today but integrating biodiversity, climate change and health have to be emphasized and planned in as part of new and housing renewal, and funding mechanisms for delivering development have to change”

However, others did not believe the Garden City idea to be adaptable or transferrable to present day, due to changes in family structure and routines, therefore concluding it was out of date.

“The nuclear family household model is less prevalent than in Howard's time, so the types of housing provided would need to be different, as well as environmental goals requiring higher densities. The potential for self-reliance of small cities is also much weaker in a globalised economy dominated by large corporations.”

We also sought views about democracy and power, a core aspect of the Garden City movement, reflecting on Howard’s views about the power of bottom-up community self-organisation. Respondents’ views varied in relation to the extent self-organisation was possible, particularly, how this relates to people’s awareness of their wider environment and their interest in public participation. Some also recognised the limitations of the planning system to engage with people. 

“People need to learn about and understand planning, this is a major gap, even in garden cities. Often councils pay lip service to community involvement - and don't learn from mistakes. Councillors can reinforce or challenge this. Lack of appropriate skills can be a hindrance bit this can all be learned if enough time is set aside.”

"Public interest in their place is limited. Housing stock is limited, so people choose to live where they can afford and where is available - and therefore aren't able to be too selective over where that is (particularly the most vulnerable in society) which takes pressure of those responsible for developing or managing places”

“the general public may not recognise how the place in which they live, work, learn etc. influences their life - be that their happiness, relationships/social connection, health, the environment. If they're not aware of the impact, or acutely aware of how they can take or support action, they won't engage."

Following on Howard’s ideas about the democratic control of the community through municipal organisation rather than handing out all the power to central government, we asked about the role of central government in enabling the creation and renewal of places. A large proportion of the respondents recognised that central government had a role to play but that the current environment did not enable it. Some suggested that central government should play a role in setting targets and leading through best practice, but they should also set the right conditions for local authorities to succeed, mainly by giving them more power.

“To achieve development of sufficient scale I think it inevitable that central government will need to play a role in land assembly and will necessarily have an enabling role in how the Garden City is developed and managed, likely through a development corporation. In this respect I think government should have that enabling role. Even more fundamentally, government should have an enabling role in terms of co-ordination with infrastructure provision and the creation/renewal of other Garden Cities through strategic national and regional spatial strategies.”

“Central government should strategically withdraw from dictating public service delivery and return resources and responsibilities to the local level, perhaps with competitions to reward localities where locals are most energised to get involved, to get the ball rolling. 40+ years of urban regeneration policies has delivered some good material gains but done little to reverse decline or to raise political engagement levels.”

“As little as possible except in providing funding and providing supportive legislation”

As part of this project, we want to set a vision for a better future, to design places that meet the human need to connect with nature, art and others. We think it is powerful to look at existing examples of successful places, in the UK and internationally, that are achieving it. People gave us fantastic answers from different places around the world. 

Some of the places that you suggested were rather unusual and exciting, others were more familiar examples:

Image one, clockwise from top left: 

Milton Keynes City Centre; Milton Keynes Festival; Welwyn Garden City; Bournville Village; Letchworth.

Image two, clockwise from top left:

Botanical Garden Curitiba; Cohousing, Vauban Freiburg; Bournville Village Trust at Lightmore; the Matrimandir in Auroville, Tamil Nadu, India

In line with creating that vision, we decided to look ahead and asked, “If the Garden City idea is no longer relevant to the C21st century, what is our next big idea?”. This was your opportunity to inspire us and set the scene for our future work, what are the dos and don’ts of what the future could look like. Yet again there were varying views. A lot of people thought that the Garden City idea was still relevant but needs to be adjusted to modern life, others suggested ideas along the lines of the garden city principles including car free cities, focussing on health and nature and the implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals in new developments. 

Below we have gathered some of the key words that have been used to describe those views. 

Learning about 'The Challenges'

The TCPA and countless other organisations and individuals have produced evidence about the challenges we face and why they are happening. From the climate emergency, the housing crisis, the biodversity and health crises, we have know for some time what the problems are. In many cases, we have also known what the solutions are. However, as set out in ‘Two Teabags to Utopia’ we have failed to make the changes we need, a reality. 

For that reason, Tomorrow 125 will focus on solutions rather than reiterating the challenges. To provide context, you can read about the climate, health, housing, equality and biodiversity challenges on the TCPA's website

As with all parts of this website, content will evolve over the course of the project. 


Here you will find some great links and resources to download

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