The shock of the New Towns.

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Author: Gillian Darley
Date: Jan. 2022
From: Apollo(Vol. 195, Issue 704)
Publisher: Apollo Magazine Ltd.
Document Type: Article
Length: 1,114 words
Lexile Measure: 1310L

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The first wave of British New Towns was an extraordinary achievement driven by an acute post-war housing need, particularly around London, and defying the critical shortage of building materials. Fourteen were designated in three years. Introducing his New Towns Bill in the House of Commons in May 1946, the Minister of Town and Country Planning Lewis Silkin MP drew on Thomas More's Utopia. This was practical idealism, 'building for the new way of life', in Silkin's words.

Stevenage in Hertfordshire was the first of the New Towns: to mark the 75th anniversary of the New Towns Act, Historic England has published a careful and revealing study of its genesis. The authors have concentrated on the 'pioneering new town centre' of the subtitle. At its heart is a pedestrian square, still quietly radical to the modern eye, organised around a pair of raised platforms: one bears a skinny clock tower, its toes in a shallow pool (Fig. 1), and the other a bronze sculpture, Joy Ride, by Franta Belsky, in which a mother happily swings her son on her back--symbols of old and new. Rising beyond is a lofty campanile, a concrete open-frame design marking Seely and Paget's vast new parish church (Fig. 2).

Yet a traffic-free central space in Stevenage was highly contentious. Gordon Stephenson, author of the 1946 draft plan, was proposing a solution that had been tested in America but in Europe only in rebuilt Coventry and Rotterdam. He appointed Clarence Stein as his deputy, Stein having been responsible for Radburn, New Jersey, a pioneering 1929 design separating cars and people in residential areas. Opposition to Stephenson came from the ministry as well as from Stevenage...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A695613004