Eco-towns will be devoid of personality unless the government builds sufficient local amenities for its inhabitants
The film Stepford Wives described the goings on in a small Connecticut town which, for reasons kept secret by the men of the community, is maintained in a state of isolation from outside influence. The homes are beautifully presented, the gardens well manicured and the public spaces inviting. Ostensibly it is a picture of suburban perfection. But deep down it is a town without substance.
A completely manufactured suburban utopia, personified – or mechanised in this case – by the Stepford Wives themselves whose husbands have replaced their human partners with automatons.
We’re not suggesting that the placement of eco-towns is likely to spark a wave of extreme social engineering but there is a very real risk that if sites are poorly selected we’ll end up with beautifully designed and constructed homes in towns devoid of personality, where residents only come home to eat and sleep, driving off during the day and at weekends to work, shop and relax elsewhere.
We’re not suggesting that the placement of eco-towns is likely to spark a wave of extreme social engineering
To avoid this situation the Government must ensure successful proposals go beyond environmental targets, in addition meeting the following three criteria; the towns must have strong public transport links to other major metropolitan centres, sufficient local jobs to support the majority of the town’s population must be within a reasonable distance of the development and the town must offer a broad range of recreational activities.
Failure to meet these criteria will lead to the creation of isolated towns that encourage silo living. Just as importantly the environmental credentials of the development will be severely undermined because residents will be encouraged to spend more time behind the wheel of their car, heading off to more vital, enticing or convenient locations.
It is also of vital importance that these criteria are met before work on residential development gets too far down the line. It’s no good saying this town will have a train station at some point in the future, or that jobs will develop in the area as the population grows.
It’s important that the towns are desirable places to live, not just places to sleep and eat.
Residents will make lifestyle decisions based on the choices they are offered when they move in and their habits will form around those choices, so it is important that environmentally sustainable options are available from the beginning. Habits can be difficult to break once established.
The aim must be to develop towns which are environmentally sustainable not just in terms of the carbon output of the homes but in every aspect from transport and recreation to shopping and employment. And it’s also important that the towns are desirable places to live, not just places to sleep and eat. Anything short of that should be considered a failure.
Rynd Smith is the director of policy at the Royal Town Planning Institute