British urban design consultancy URBED (Urbanism, Environment, Design) have been announced as the winners of the 2014 Wolfson Economics Prize for their proposal to reenergise the Garden City (GC) movement, first conceived by Sir Ebenezer Howard in 1898. David Rudlin and Nicholas Falk's submission argues that forty cities in England, including Northampton, Norwich, Oxford, Rugby, Reading and Stafford, could benefit from 'GC status'. The award comes in the wake of polling conducted for the prize showing that 68% of the 6,166 Britons polled thought that garden cities would protect more countryside than the alternatives for delivering the housing we need.
Read about URBED's submission, and the fictional town of Uxcester, after the break.
The submission proposes that the near-doubling of these forty existing large towns would provide new homes for 150,000 people per town, built over 30 to 35 years. The entry imagines a fictional town called Uxcester in order to develop the concept. It argues that expansion of existing towns is the best way to accommodate growth, regenerate town centres, and protect much-loved countryside and the setting of surrounding villages. The manifesto suggests that:
- Towns should be permitted to bid for GC status and should not have expansion imposed upon them; the processes for bidding would be set out in a new Garden Cities Act
- This Act would allow the Government to confer new delivery tools upon successful bidders – including financial guarantees (but not subsidy) and modernised land acquisition powers; and the power to create local Garden City Foundations to promote each GC. The Act would also include a new statutory requirement to plan responsibly for housing development at the local authority level, with garden city status being one of the options that local authorities could draw upon to meet that need
- Expansion would take the form of town extensions connected to the city centre by a tram or bus rapid transit (similar to that operating in Cambridge, UK), with each extension consisting of green, walkable neighbourhoods with primary schools, business uses, and local shops, drawing on modern Scandinavian, Dutch and German models
- Development of flood plains would be entirely avoided in the design of the settlement and extensions would be surrounded by country parks, allotments, lakes and other low impact uses
- The expanded GC would provide a new population who would use the town centre, helping to regenerate its shopping facilities and protecting it against out-of-town retail
- 20% of new homes would be affordable housing
In an appendix to the entry, Dr Nicholas Falk applies the Uxcester concept to Oxford (which had a population of 150,000 in 2011) as a case study. The study argues that if Oxford does not grow, Oxford University’s position as one of the top three in the world could be lost. It describes the County Council’s acceptance that 100,000 new homes are needed in the county by 2031 with Oxford itself in need of 28,000 new homes by 2026. It notes that Oxford City Council has recently published an informal assessment of the potential to release Green Belt land, but proposes an alternative strategy involving no use of flood plains and the protection of some smaller villages near Oxford which would otherwise be developed.
David Rudlin has said that he is "delighted that our distinctive approach to building Garden Cities has been recognised by the judges, as will the good people of the fictional city of Uxcester that we created for the submission. We believe that the expansion of existing places like Uxcester to create Garden Cities has the potential to make a significant contribution to meeting our housing needs as well as creating places that are attractive and popular, and that fulfil their economic potential."
Founder of the Prize, Lord Wolfson, said that "we urgently need to build more houses and great places in Britain. I am delighted that this year’s Wolfson Economics Prize has generated so many powerful and creative proposals for new garden cities. David’s entry is a tour de force of economic and financial analysis, creative thinking and bold, daring ideas. I congratulate him and his team on a fantastic contribution to the debate on how we can deliver great new places for future generations to live, work and play in.”
David Rudlin and Dr. Nicholas Falk's (URBED) entry was prepared with Pete Redman (TradeRisks Ltd.) and Jon Rowland (Jon Rowland Urban Design), with input from Joe Ravetz (of the University of Manchester). The Wolfson Prize, for which URBED have been awarded £250,000 for their successful proposal, was initiated by Baron Wolfson of Aspley Guise in 2012, with this year's competition specifically asking competitors to explore "the best delivery plan for a new garden city."
As the decision was very close, Lord Wolfson has agreed to award a £50,000 runners-up prize to Shelter, the national housing and homelessness charity, in recognition of the many merits of their submission. Shelter’s entry was led by Toby Lloyd and was prepared in collaboration with PRP Architects, with advice from KPMG LLP, Laing O’Rourke plc and Legal & General. The other three finalists will receive £10,000 each.
Read URBED's proposal in its entirety here (PDF).