How might we design Garden Cities in the 21st century to support economic growth in regional areas? How will new technologies, particularly the internet and renewable energy, influence future settlement patterns? Can circular economy principles enable economic activity that has a positive impact on the land and on people?
Not since Ebenezer Howard mobilised the Garden City movement some 120 years ago has there been a more exciting time to be a town planner. Howard’s objective in planning for Garden Cities was to find ways for “redistributing the population in a spontaneous and healthy manner”.
Joel Kotkin in The Coming Age of Dispersion argues that “one possible consequence [of the COVID-19 pandemic] is an acceleration of the end of the megacity era”.
Similarly, Charlie Gillon suggests that the response to COVID-19 has accelerated the transition to remote work arrangements, enabling many to relocate to regional centres.
There are other reasons for moving out of cities, including a shorter work commute, more affordable housing and closer connection to nature. Gillon also notes that push factors away from cities must be complemented by the pull of regional areas.
Regional Councils seeking to “capture the benefits of young people on the move” should, in addition to Gillon’s suggestions, be planning for modern versions of the Garden City.
The Garden City as a network of villages
Figure 1 illustrates Howard’s proposed self- contained, satellite cities with a population of 32,000 on 9000 acres, linked by road and rail to a major centre reflecting the mechanistic thinking of his time.
What might a Garden City of the 21st century look like? The technologies and business models available today allow new settlements to be both more connected virtually, while being more self-contained in the physical world, affecting both the design of individual settlements and the organisation of a network of settlements.
Population centres of the scale proposed by Howard represent major initiatives that would necessarily need to be managed by a government-owned development corporation.
Instead, a much smaller development scale is proposed, a precinct or village for a small community, perhaps just 200 people. Developments of this scale can be delivered by a larger cohort of developers and development professionals. Rather than a large population in one place, scale and complexity would be achieved through the organic networking of settlements across a broader area.
A network of villages in a bioregion would still deliver significant population growth, while also retaining the rural landscape character treasured by these communities. Such development units would also allow for a more incremental development of rural landscapes, allowing communities to determine and…