Viewing Milton Keynes as it approaches its 40th birthday is a little like observing someone who has been given every advantage in life, hasn’t really made the most of it, but has been given a second chance.
It’s undoubtedly been an economic success. But Milton Keynes still has the problem that pervades pretty much all new towns, rightly or wrongly: an image which ranks alongside that of a rusting Lada. That’s unfair. Perhaps a Citroen 2CV, functional but it takes forever to get anywhere and you wouldn’t want to be seen in it.
Artificial and soulless are words visitors most frequently come away uttering and much has been written on the pitfalls of new towns, probably too much.
For anyone considering adding their own wisdom to the analysis, save yourself some time and just read Bill Bryson’s frequently quoted verdict in Notes from a small island instead. In little more than four pages he sums up what’s wrong with Milton Keynes. To paraphrase Mr Bryson: they forgot they were building it for people.
‘They’ had a blank canvas to work with and filled it with something they’d presumably seen in the United States. Now their successors – the good people of what we now call the regeneration world – have a chance to prove life does indeed begin at 40 by turning Milton Keynes into a model of sustainability. Given the plan is to double the size of the place, they had better get it right. The rhetoric surrounding the advent of new towns was all about avoiding the mistakes of the past, which they largely did. The trouble is they invented some new ones.
In this brave new world of sharing best practice, genuine consultation and community empowerment there can be no excuses. The soundings coming from those leading the expansion of Milton Keynes are encouraging and it appears everyone involved is as concerned about the implications of their actions in 40 years’ time as the present.
Austin Macauley, New Start Online magazine