Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Big data is adding a whole new dimension to public spaces – here's how

Silvio Carta, University of Hertfordshire
Most of us encounter public spaces in our daily lives: whether it’s physical space (a sidewalk, a bench, or a road), a visual element (a panorama, a cityscape) or a mode of transport (bus, train or bike share). But over the past two decades, digital technologies such as smart phones and the internet of things are adding extra layers of information to our public spaces, and transforming the urban environment.

Traditionally, public spaces have been carefully designed by urban planners and architects, and managed by private companies or public bodies. The theory goes that people’s attention and behaviour in public spaces can be guided by the way that architects plan the built environment. Take, for example, Leicester Square in London: the layout of green areas, pathways and benches makes it clear where people are supposed to walk, sit down and look at the natural elements. The public space is a given, which people receive and use within the terms and guidelines provided.

While these ideas are still relevant today, information is now another key material in public spaces. It changes the way that people experience the city. Uber shows us the position of its closest drivers, even when they’re out of sight; route-finding apps such as Google Maps helps us to navigate through unfamiliar territory; Pokemon Go places otherworldly creatures on the pavement right before our eyes.
A virtual world. https://paintimpact.com/ (Flickr)., CC BY

But we’re not just receiving information – we’re also generating it. Whether you’re “liking” something on Facebook, searching Google, shopping online, or even exchanging an email address for Wi-Fi access; all of the data created by these actions are collected, stored, managed, analysed and brokered to generate monetary value.

Data deluge

But as well as creating profits for private companies, these data provide accurate and continuous updates of how society is evolving, which can be used by governments and designers to manage and design public spaces.

Before big data, the architects designed spaces based on mere assumptions about how people were likely to use them. Success was measured by “small”, localised data methods, such as post-occupancy evaluations, where built projects are observed during their use and assessed against the designers’ original intentions, as well as fitness for purpose and performance. For the most part, the people who used public spaces did not have a say in how they were designed or managed.

Now, public space is becoming increasingly dynamic. Information about consumption is being used to shape production, in a hybrid process called “prosumption”. One example of this is TV competitions where viewers have an active role in deciding who is going to remain or leave the show. In an urban context, there’s the TfL Open Data system, where all data produced by Oyster Card holders are made available for people to raise awareness, develop new programmes, visualise data or analyse statistics.

Digital cities

And this is just the beginning. A growing number of projects are demonstrating the potential impacts of big data on our experience of public spaces. For instance, engineering firm Arup came up with a “net” of public data which allows individuals to see their direct impact on urban data in real time. And designer Keiichi Matsuda offers a strong visualisation of possible future scenarios, where the digital and physical aspects of space are synthesised.

If it is true that cities are increasingly becoming spatial social networks of interaction, we are all in front of a crossroad: then we can either continue to unthinkingly produce a deluge of data that will result in the space we live within, or we can start taking control of it. If we all use the power and potentiality of big data and ubiquitous computing in a clever way, we can actively contribute to the making of the public realm, by inputting data and generating information consciously.

By being aware of, say, the wider impact of our Twitter feeds, Facebook responses or personal information sharing, we can make data analysts and brokers go in one specific direction or another. For instance, the code-animated graphics on the giant LCD screens in Times Square respond to the time of the day, the amount of people in the square and the events happening in a specific time. People in the square can change the configuration of the backdrop by moving around the different parts of the public space.

If members of the public are aware that their (data-producing) actions are listened to, collected and used to shape decisions, then they can become an active part of that process. Projects such as Live Singapore! – which provides a platform for the collection, elaboration and distribution of real-time data about what’s going on in the city – show how people can use the urban data they help to create, to better understand their city and inform their actions.

We still are quite far from the day when public spaces are shaped as the people desire, in real time, with a high level of customisability. Becoming more conscious of how individual actions can shape public spaces is just the first step.

The Conversation
Silvio Carta, Senior Lecturer and Chair of the Design Research Group, University of Hertfordshire
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Studying with Dyslexia

My name is Lucey, I’m 19 years old, I study BA (Hons) photography at The University Of Hertfordshire and I have dyslexia, dyspraxia and Asperger's syndrome. In this blog post I am going to be talking about how dyslexia can interfere with my studies but also how I try to get around these difficulties. 

Dyslexia is a specific learning difficulty that mainly affects the development of literacy and language related skills. Dyslexia is not a disease, it is something you are born with and it often runs in families. For example, both my Dad and Brother have it as well as me. My dyslexia wasn’t diagnosed until half year through year 12. This meant I went through my GCSE’s and some of sixth form with no help. This really annoys me as I feel it should have been spotted by my many teachers over the years. But it also makes me proud of myself because, even though I have only recently started getting proper support for my learning disabilities, I have made it through half of my degree.

Close up of a hand writing

Some of the things I struggle with are: remembering key dates and key words including their spellings. Spelling in general so I tend to use spell check quite a lot, which can’t be used in exams. Keeping calm when I get something wrong as it can be quite upsetting for me and therefore sometimes it just makes me want to cry. Structuring my written work so that it makes sense. Remembering what I was going to say/write as I will have a good point in my head and then it will go if I get distracted. 

Getting/using the wrong word meaning I will have a word in my head to use but something goes wrong between my head and my hand so I write something else meaning it doesn’t make sense to other people. Concentrating on anything because background noise such as talking can really distract me. Organising my work so that I get things done on time as I am not very good with my time and I tend to abandon my work. Understanding what a question is asking me. Making notes and re-reading my own writing.

However, I have found quite a few things that help me: Using colour coding in my work, I will write one sentence in black, one in blue and one in red for example, this is because if I write a whole paragraph in black it tends to all merge together when I look at it. I type my work up so that I can actually read it when it comes to things such as revision. Sometimes simple rhymes can help to remember key information, as long as they are short. 

Diagrams can also be quite useful as I am a visual learner so if I can see the information in a picture it can help. Putting text onto coloured paper can help me to read it, blue paper really helps me to read and on my computer, I have software that changed the colour of the screen so I can read it better. Mind maps can sometimes help me but not always.

Page of a dictionary with the word focus highlighted

If you feel that you have dyslexia, you can visit Student Wellbeing in the Hutton Hub on College lane for advice. They offer a testing service where you can be tested for dyslexia (this does come at a cost). If you find out that you do have dyslexia, then you can apply for DSA (disabled students allowance) meaning you may be entitled to equipment and software to help with your studies. You may also be entitled to a study skills tutor or/and mentor. These are people who are able to help you keep on track of your work, help you understand your briefs as well as making sure you are generally well. 

There is also more information available on the British Dyslexia Association website. I also created a YouTube video a few years ago about my dyslexia that may or may not be useful (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UTEiqhl9dm0&t=7s). I hope you have found this blog post helpful and if you do have dyslexia, remember, it does not hold you back because you can do anything you put your mind to!


Hi, I’m Lucey, a member of the social street team at The University Of Hertfordshire. I am a 2nd year studying BA (hons) photography. I usually live in Cornwall, so I have come a long way to the uni but I feel it’s worth it. Come say hi if you see me around campus.

How music benefits children

Dawn Rose, University of Hertfordshire
Popular ideas, such as the “Mozart effect” – the idea that listening to classical music improves intelligence – has encouraged the belief that “music makes you smarter”.

This interest in the relationship between musical aptitude on ability and intelligence has been around for some time. But despite these beliefs being pretty widespread, there is still no conclusive evidence to actually prove that listening to certain types of music really can improve your intelligence.

In 1974, music researchers Desmond Sergeant and Gillian Thatcher said that:
All highly intelligent people are not necessarily musical, but all highly musical people are apparently highly intelligent.
And “apparently” is the key word here, because the evidence regarding musical listening in itself is mixed. Research has shown that listening to music shows an improvement in certain kinds of mental tasks. But these are specifically short-term improvements involving “spatial-temporal reasoning” skills – puzzle solving type tasks.

Listening vs playing

But while listening to music is all well and good, what about actually playing it? Research that focuses on how or if playing a musical instrument can impact on intelligence, often looks at how learning in one area can lead to improvements in other areas – an idea known as “transfer effects”.
This is the idea that learning to play the violin, or the drums, could help children to do better in their spellings or a science project. And this is in part the reason why some parents naturally encourage their children to learn an instrument – because of a belief that it will in some way make them more intelligent.

While some studies have shown how musical training can shape brain development. And that improvements in small motor skills and general intelligence have been linked to musical training. A recent review suggests that actual evidence supporting this idea of “transfer effects” is limited at present.

But despite these finds, there is still a wealth of evidence suggesting musical learning is beneficial. And with this in mind, drawing from my experience as a professional musician (drummer), music teacher and performing artist, I decided to investigate the effects of individual musical instrument learning on aspects of cognitive and behavioural development.

I also looked at the impact on “socio-emotional” development, which includes the child’s experience, expression, and management of emotions, as well as the ability to establish positive and rewarding relationships with others.
Not just a racket. Shutterstock

All the children who took part in the study had typical school group music lessons, but half of them had also chosen to learn an instrument individually for the first time that year.
The results showed that children who had started individual music lessons developed a better awareness of their “aim” and “force” in relation to their own motor skills as well as improving their “fluid intelligence” – which is the ability to solve new problems, use logic in new situations, and identify patterns.

This suggests that musical instrument learning encourages the development of a physical sense of self in relation to the how we use objects in the world around us, as well as developing a specific kind of intelligence that is used in problem solving.

Music and social development

As part of my research, I also wanted to understand whether parents and teachers noticed any changes over the year in terms of the children’s socio-emotional well-being. The results showed that the children who had chosen to learn an instrument were considered by both their parents and teachers to be less anxious than those who had received only group lessons.

These children were also thought to internalise their problems less compared to the children who had only received the group sessions.
Music can help children to develop skills such as nonverbal communications. Pexels.

This is also reflected in my research looking at adult musicians, who explained that the “social structures” surrounding musical learning are the bits that they most appreciate, and have had the biggest impact on their lives.

This includes the opportunities to travel, the exchanges of culture among friends around the world, and their ongoing ability to be foster creativity in their lives through music.

Musical learning

It is clear then that music can have a big role to play when it comes to children’s learning. Not necessarily just in terms of intelligence, but also in term of their physical development and social well-being.

Research also shows how musical learning can help children to apply themselves, as well supporting the processes involved in teamwork and appreciation of working towards shared goals.

Valuing music education includes nurturing the development of these abilities, and these skills and mindsets. Which is why developing a culture of creativity and musical learning in our schools should be a key part of children’s lives.

The Conversation
Dawn Rose, Researcher in the Psychology of Music and Dance, University of Hertfordshire

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Friday, 17 February 2017

This new treatment could make pancreatic cancer a manageable disease

Deborah Ogbeni, University of Hertfordshire and Louise Mackenzie, University of Hertfordshire
Cancer is among the leading causes of death worldwide. There were approximately 14m new cases diagnosed and 8.2m cancer related deaths in 2012. This figure is expected to rise by about 70% over the next two decades.

Pancreatic cancer is the eighth most common cause of cancer-related mortality worldwide, with incidence almost equalling mortality – that is, almost as many die from the disease each year as develop it. There are several types of pancreatic cancer, but more than 90% of cases are pancreatic ductal adenocarcinomas (PDAC). PDAC has one of the lowest five-year survival rates as well as a general resistance to chemotherapeutic approaches. As a result, the treatment of PDAC remains a major challenge in oncology.

There is a common theme in some of the most prolific aggressive cancers, and that is a protein known as S100P. This protein is highly expressed in pancreatic cancer and once this protein is activated it results in signalling changes that tell the cell to grow and divide remarkably quickly. This induces the cells to spread and create new cancerous growths around the body. This makes S100P a great target for developing new drugs to prevent the spread of aggressive cancers – and pancreatic cancer in particular.

Seeking a fix

Scientists at the University of Hertfordshire, in collaboration with Dr Tatjana Crnogorac-Jurcevic of Barts Cancer Institute, Queen Mary University of London, used computational chemistry methods to design new compounds that would in theory prevent S100P from being activated.
Photomicrograph of CT (CAT) scan-guided fine needle aspirate (FNA) cytology of a pancreatic mass showing malignant cells indicating adenocarcinoma. Shutterstock

In a project funded by the charity Worldwide Cancer Research, Dr Stewart Kirton of the University of Hertfordshire designed the structures of new drugs based on Cromolyn, a drug that can be used to prevent allergy-induced asthma. These new compounds were then synthesised by Hertfordshire’s Dr Sharon Rossiter and her team of chemists. I started my PhD with the aim to identify the lead compounds that could be further developed as a suitable drug that would present the further spreading of the cancer. My supervisory team included scientists with a wide variety of disciplines: Dr Louise Mackenzie (pharmacologist), Dr Sharon Rossiter (chemist), Dr David Chau (cell biologist) and Dr Pryank Patel (biochemist), whose expertise had helped to focus my research.

I then used molecular biology techniques to screen a bank of 93 synthetic compounds for their ability to prevent the activation of S100P. From that work, 18 potential drugs were identified and then tested to see how toxic they are to cells.

The compounds themselves did not kill the cancer cells, but they did prevent them from migrating. This is an excellent profile for a drug to treat this type of cancer, since in theory any drug that worked in this way would both slow down the progression of the cancer and make it more vulnerable to chemotherapy.

The next stages are to look at ways to make sure that there are as few side effects possible by making small changes to the structure of the most promising candidate drugs. If successful, it might make a difference for patients between no survival – and a prolonged life. One day, pancreatic cancer may even become a manageable disease.

The Conversation
Deborah Ogbeni, PhD candidate, University of Hertfordshire and Louise Mackenzie, Senior Lecturer Pharmacology, University of Hertfordshire

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Women were to blame for the South Sea Bubble (according to men)

Anne Murphy, University of Hertfordshire
So just how do you reduce the risk of crisis in financial markets?

In the aftermath of the South Sea Bubble of 1720, contemporaries reached a firm but controversial conclusion: keep women out.

The South Sea Bubble was one of Britain’s first stock market manias. The South Sea Company was established in 1711 and, despite a remit to trade to South America, its main activity was converting the state’s expensive and difficult to manage debt into Company shares. The Bank of England had set the precedent in this kind of operation. And the conversions were very effective. They reduced costs for the state and brought easy profits to both the Bank and the South Sea Company.
Indeed, the schemes proved so profitable that, at the end of 1719, the South Sea Company hatched an ambitious plan to convert all outstanding government debt – except that held by the Bank of England – to Company shares. The difference in 1719 was the scale and a scheme that incentivised the South Sea Company to push share prices as high as possible.

As a consequence, over the spring and summer of 1720 prices rose, speculation became fashionable and anyone who was anyone wanted to own South Sea shares. Dozens of other new joint-stock companies sprang up in its wake and encouraged new investors into the market. By the autumn, of course, the bubble had burst – the speculators lost their illusions of immense wealth and parliament was trying to bring criminal charges against the directors of the South Sea Company.

After the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008, the then French finance minister (later to become head of the IMF) Christine Lagarde suggested that it could not have happened if the bank had been Lehman Sisters. In the wake of the South Sea Bubble, the opposite conclusion was reached. The financial market was certainly male-dominated – but the passions that gripped it during 1720 were commonly described as feminine: hysterical and irrational.

The mania, they believed, had not resulted from increased testosterone levels. It had, in fact, “unmanned” investors – robbing them of their masculinity and hence the ability to act rationally. In his pamphlet A Learned Dissertation Upon Old Women, Thomas Gordon ranted:
We are enchanted by a stupid kennel of Stock-Jobbers, who cheat us out of our money and our sex.
He advised his countrymen to “either properly and patiently put on Petticoats; or resume our Manhood and shake off this shameful Delusion, this filthy Yoke…”
The South Sea Company was likewise feminised as a way of demonstrating the transgressions of its directors. In another pamphlet, written in 1720 and entitled The South-Sea Scheme Detected, the author – who went by the pen-name “A Lover of his Country” – suggested:
The Chief Managers of a certain Stock, may dress up their Darling Mistress once more, and send her into the World not without a tempting Aspect; but People who have already been Sufferers by their Schemes, will look upon her with a cautious Eye. A fine Lady, who had deceived a Man once, will for the Future be treated as a common Prostitute.

Monstrous regiment

Women investors – and there were plenty of those – were subjected to the same criticisms. One newspaper, The Weekly Journal, reported, as the bubble collapsed: “We have been ruined by Whores; nay what is more vexatious, old ugly Whores!”
A True Picture of the Famous Skreen describ’d in the London Journal (1721) © The Trustees of the British Museum.

The king’s mistress, the Duchess of Kendal, was implicated in the cover-up of the company’s activities that followed. In this satire, she is depicted handing papers to Robert Knight, the South Sea Company’s cashier and the man who knew where all the bodies were buried, to facilitate his escape to the continent.
Female investors, far from being regarded as a stabilising influence, were characterised as manipulators of the market. They enjoyed playing the markets and sought out the independence and power that might come from successful speculation. In William Chetwood’s play, The stock-jobbers, or, The humours of Exchange-Alley, a group of women rent a shop in order that they might pursue their business in the markets away from the interference of men. These women would let no man into their company since, as one of the characters, Lady Love-Picket, declared:
I do not see why these Wretches should monopolize the Pleasure of Business to themselves, it is only to keep us in Ignorance of all that’s Charming in Life.
The aim of their speculations was to make enough to take control of their lives. In the Original Weekly Journal of August 1720 the undoubtedly fictitious Florentina demonstrated just how that might be achieved. She wrote of her success in the South Sea Scheme and her determination that her profits would be used to “purchase” a husband – a “South-Sea match”. She simply lacked advice on how much to pay and where to find one that was worth the money.

The history of the South Sea Bubble reveals many women who made money and a good many who lost out. In the end, the objections directed against them in newspapers and satires reveals little about their trading prowess and much more about a patriarchal society’s fear of powerful women whatever the source of their power or the ends to which it was directed.

They also tell us that explanations for booms and busts that rely on the condemnation of particular personalities are shaped by the anxieties of the times and, as such, have little value. If we seek to control financial markets, we need to look beyond the character traits of their participants.

The Conversation
Anne Murphy, Reader in History, University of Hertfordshire

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

The lock of love: how leaving padlocks became a modern-day romantic ritual

Ceri Houlbrook, University of Hertfordshire
Cities as distant and varied as Moscow and Manchester, New York and Newport, Beijing and Blackpool all have one striking feature in common. Masses of padlocks, engraved with the names or initials of love-struck couples, bedeck notable landmarks such as bridges and fences – sometimes to the ire of local authorities.

The exact origins of the “love locking” practice are unknown, but it rapidly gained global momentum after emerging in Rome and Paris during the 2000s. The locks have become romantic tokens – universal symbols for the commitment, strength and constancy of a relationship.

Yet this symbol of unity has proven ironically polarising. Many authorities view the custom negatively, and collections of love locks have been removed from bridges following safety concerns. Such worries are not misplaced: in 2014, a railing on the Pont des Arts in Paris collapsed under the weight of its love locks.
Pont Des Arts: smothered in love. Nik Boiv/Flickr, CC BY

The following year, the bolt-cutters were out in force, and over one million padlocks (weighing 45 tonnes), were removed from the bridge to prevent further damage. Similar responses have been seen worldwide, from Leeds to Melbourne.

Forbidden love

But in many cases it’s not concern about a bridge’s structural integrity that sees authorities reaching for the bolt-cutters – it’s anxiety over aesthetics. In many cities, love locking has been classified an act of vandalism. Signs are erected on bridges to discourage the practice.

In Florence, the city’s council went so far as to criminalise it, sparking controversy in 2005 by threatening a fine of €50 for anyone caught attaching a padlock to the Ponte Vecchio.

Residents of some cities also disapprove of the practice. In Paris, two US expats founded the vociferous No Love Locks campaign, pushing for a ban on what they called a “destructive force”. And recently, in Bristol, an anonymous local resident fronted an online crowdfunding crusade to “lose the locks” on Pero’s Bridge.

Members of the media have likewise boarded the anti-love lock bandwagon, with The Guardian’s Jonathan Jones proving particularly disparaging. The world’s cities, he lamented, are suffering from a “plague of padlocks”, thanks to a custom which he cuttingly condemns as “one of the shallowest, stupidest, phoniest expressions of love ever devised”.

And yet.

The one million love locks removed from the Pont des Arts amount to two million people who disagree with Jonathan Jones. And this is just the figure from one site – there are hundreds, probably thousands, around the world. Rather than regarding love-locking as a vapid act of vandalism, I’d argue that it’s a form of modern-day heritage.

Lock it down

Since 1972, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has defined sites of world cultural heritage as being “of outstanding universal value from the historical, aesthetic, ethnological or anthropological point of view”. Surely, these masses of love locks – which represent what is probably the most widespread ritual deposit of the 21st century – constitute sites of outstanding universal value. So, why aren’t ethnographers, anthropologists, and cultural heritage specialists clamouring to preserve this custom, either in practice or in print?

Ageism is the likeliest culprit. Antiquity is often viewed as a virtue, lending “authenticity” and “value” to any object with a good few centuries behind it. The only thing that distinguishes love locks from other ritual objects such as Bronze Age river deposits, votive offerings on the Athenian acropolis, or Roman coin hoards is age. Patina ensures protection.
Love is timeless. Sharada Prasad/Flickr, CC BY

Yet UNESCO claims that “heritage is our legacy from the past, what we live with today, and what we pass on to future generations”. The objects and sites of today are just as much a part of our heritage as those of the past – perhaps even more so. The global spread of love locks makes them a part of everyone’s heritage: not exclusive to particular regions, cultures or classes, love locks can be attached anywhere, by anyone. Surely, this is culture at its most democratic.

I’m not suggesting that we encourage the practice – especially where it poses a safety risk – but we should be doing more to preserve this unique piece of our global cultural heritage. Heritage specialists should be engaging with love lock sites on a case-by-case basis; contemporary archaeologists should be cataloguing these ritual deposits before they’re disposed of. Rather than waiting for love locks to develop the heritage “value” that comes with age – so that future generations will have nothing to ponder over but remnants – we should be engaging with this custom now, while it’s still thriving.

The Conversation
Ceri Houlbrook, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of Hertfordshire
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Friday, 10 February 2017

Why are garden villages in the news?

Susan Parham, Head of Urbanism at the University of Hertfordshire and the Garden City Institute’s Academic Director, has a closer look at the recent media coverage of garden villages and where they sit in relation to the UK’s housing and settlement plans. 

[This post was first published on the International Garden City Institute's webiste]  

So what’s special about garden villages?

As a new round of ‘garden cities’ starts to take shape in the United Kingdom, there has also been growing interest in ‘garden villages’ as a possible place-shaping form to help meet our need for new settlements in a sustainable and appealing way. The government has just announced some fourteen new such villages to be built in places around the country of which later in this piece. Of course this begs the question: what are ‘garden villages’?  And is the thinking right that they can be part of a place-making solution for the United Kingdom? To explore those questions I am going to start by looking at what we might define as a ‘garden village’ and then turn to more about why garden villages are very much in the news.

Did our heritage of model and garden villages influence today’s perspectives?

This is not a new concept or settlement reality. The United Kingdom has a long and fascinating history of settlements with connections to the idea of ‘garden villages’. These places have been developed as models of good place-making by enlightened industrialists to house their workers; include examples of utopian settlements like Robert Owen’s New Lanark; encompass a series of model villages for coalminers, like Creswell, New Bolsover and Woodlands; and even represent a few very early examples developed by landed estates for agricultural labourers. Thus, places such as Bournville developed near Birmingham by George Cadbury; Port Sunlight on the Wirral by the Levers; New Earswick by Joseph Rowntree; and Saltaire by Titus Salt (both places in Yorkshire), are all justly famous ‘villages of vision’ in Gillian Darnley’s (1978) notable phrase, drawn from her terrific book of the same name.

Letchworth Garden City AttributionShare Alike Some rights reserved by Peter O'Connor aka anemoneprojectors

More recent developments explicitly called garden villages can be found from the early part of the twentieth century, including in places like the Summergangs area of Kingston upon Hull. Here the garden village was built by Reckitts (of starch and laundry products fame) for their workers through the Hull Garden Village Company and was consciously influenced by the garden cities movement in social, architectural and layout terms. Similarly, places including Wrexham’s Garden Village had direct garden city principles connections although was laid out at a smaller scale and with more of a suburban cast to its design. Interesting mid-twentieth century examples include the Merville Garden Village built on the edge of Belfast in 1947-48 as one of the developments of Thomas McGrath, a builder who started the Ulster Garden Village Company in 1946. These Northern Ireland examples reflected garden city rather than new town principles in their design and architecture. The Mitcham Garden Village in Surrey meanwhile was rather different. It was established as a charitable concern and opened in 1930 to provide housing for elderly people; a purpose it continues today. It is designed as a ‘village’ with vernacular materials in its domestic architecture and a focus on a kind of village green, but is still essentially a housing development in a suburban mode.

In fact historically what most garden villages shared, whether charitable concerns or developed by private companies of various kinds, was that they were effectively dormitory areas of larger towns and cities or ‘company’ villages beholden to one major owner. Academic experts on garden cities have sometimes taken the view that the garden village or garden suburb mostly represented cases a diminishment or distortion of garden city ideals because it was often not based on Howard’s value capture and land stewardship model, it was generally single land use (housing) rather than allowing the development of a complete place; and it did not sufficiently have a focus on improving the health and life opportunities of people who were poor of suffering bad living conditions.

So where does that leave the idea (and reality) of the garden village today?

I’d argue that concepts with connections to the garden village has been revived in a number of ways over the last twenty years; well before the explicit focus on ‘garden villages’ as part on new garden settlements hit the news recently. For instance the ‘urban village’ concept that emerged in the late 1980s and early 1990s through the Urban Village Group among others had at its heart the idea that urban villages could be the basis for shaping space. This would be especially the case for reviving areas as part of urban regeneration efforts, replacing bland, characterless, zoned and single land use dominated places. These urban villages would - broadly - be places that had diverse, mixed land uses; be reasonably densely developed; be public spaced focused; and pedestrian friendly. If you look at academic work on ‘urban villages’ from the 1990s and early 2000s when these ideas and urban village inspired developments were most influential you can see they had a mixed reception as foreshadowed in an interesting article by Mike Biddulph, Malcolm Tait and Bridget Franklin that posited itself as an ‘obituary’ for the urban village.

Work I have been close to through The Herts Guide to Growth (2008) written by Andres Duany shows how an urban village model works in place-shaping terms (see Image 1) and argues very cogently for this as a basis for good quality development. My co-author James Hulme and I reminded people about this in our research, The Herts Guide to Growth - Five Years On (2013), suggesting the urban village model still made sense as a way to help make places socially, economically and environmentally sustainable. Reviewing development in Hertfordshire in the five years since the original document was released, we judged that ‘Much of the current good practice within the county can be seen to owe a debt to the Hertfordshire Guide to Growth’s urban village model’ (Parham and Hulme, 2014: 26).

But how far do new ‘garden village proposals reflect these urban village principles?

Among my questions are whether new garden villages are just housing-only developments dressed up with a new name? And can they help fix the argued housing crisis in the UK? To try to get a bit clearer about that, let’s look at the policy and advocacy documents that are floating around and then at a couple of examples from practice. In a commended entry for the 2014 Wolfson Prize on making new garden cities today, my fellow authors Anthony Downs, Gavin Murray and Pablo Fernandez and I argued that we have the opportunity to develop a number of different forms of garden settlements including garden suburbs and garden villages. We argued that place-making principles stemming from the urban village model were still very meaningful and we contrasted such ’21st century’ urbanism, including garden inspired approaches, to the problems we saw as inherent in ‘20th century urbanism’ (see Image 2). We also noted some good specific examples of garden villages in planning stages in Hertfordshire and I will return to that below.

In 2015, the think tank, Policy Exchange, released a report written by Matthew Taylor about garden villages in 2015 and its editor, Chris Walker argued at the time that garden villages could help solve the housing crisis: ‘Our report Garden Villages recommends a network of new village communities in predominantly rural areas to help solve the housing crisis. It suggests that if each and every one of the 200 mainly rural councils built a new garden village, then a million homes could be built in England over 10 years – many affordable.’ The report was pretty clear on what a village would expect to contain in ‘catchment’ terms:
‘A community of 1,500 homes would typically be a village built around a hub of primary school, sports hub, and local centre with household recycling facilities. It would hope to attract a cafĂ©/small shops/a post office; with some live/work opportunities too, but it will clearly function in relation to nearby larger settlements for facilities like hospital healthcare, main retail shopping, etc.’ (Taylor and Walker, 2015: 32).

It also advocated for land value capture (as at Letchworth) which as we know is fundamental to the robust future of the garden city. And it took the view that lots of smaller developments that were locally led and advocated could get us the same scale of place making results (and much needed housing starts) but in a better way than trying to do a few large, top down and highly unpopular ones. In other words: ‘Create communities at a small scale but in sufficient numbers that allows a rapid increase in housing delivery without the huge upfront infrastructure and delivery issues of very large new communities (Taylor and Walker, 2015: 36).

Private sector developers around the UK are already master-planning, designing and starting to build garden villages. In a recent paper, Garden Cities – Why Not?, my co-author, Keith Boyfield and I pointed to garden village examples ‘of place-making from Wales to Cornwall to Aberdeenshire that we think are very much in sympathy with Garden City principles. What is more, they show that enlightened landowners and developers can get on with the job of building new urban extensions, towns and villages of exceptional
 quality and livability. Furthermore, there is plenty of opportunity
for developing variations on the Garden City model, depending
 on circumstances. Cities, towns, villages and reconfigured suburbs could all be part of the mix.’

So where to next for garden villages?

To return to where I started with this think piece, there is already quite a lot happening in relation to garden villages. National government has just announced plans for various groups to build at least 48,000 homes in garden village developments around the country. This was foreshadowed by the release in March 2016 of a government Prospectus seeking proposals for locally led garden villages, towns and cities. In this it defined garden villages as being between 1,500 and 10,000 homes and configured as discrete settlements rather than the extension of existing towns or villages (Prospectus, 2016: 7). As of March 2016 it didn’t have one defined model for development in mind but said that the garden village must respond to local housing need, where possible make use of local brownfield land; show how infrastructure would be developed; and be led by local authorities, while support from private sector players including developers was encouraged. It would need to be ‘well designed, built to a high quality and attractive’ although what kinds of designs might meet any of these criteria was not made clear.

Then for the urban villages announced in January 2017 the government has said that:
            In an expansion of the existing garden towns programme, these smaller projects of   between 1,500 and 10,000 homes continue the government’s commitment to support locally-led development and make sure this is a country that works for everyone.
            The 14 new garden villages – from Devon to Derbyshire, Cornwall to Cumbria – will have access to a £6 million fund over the next 2 financial years to support the delivery of these new projects (Gov.uk, 2 January, 2017).
According to the government’s website announcement the fourteen garden villages are in the following places:
  • Long Marston in Stratford-on-Avon
  • Oxfordshire Cotswold in West Oxfordshire
  • Deenethorpe in East Northants
  • Culm in Mid Devon
  • Welborne near Fareham in Hampshire
  • West Carclaze in Cornwall
  • Dunton Hills near Brentwood, Essex
  • Spitalgate Heath in South Kesteven, Lincolnshire
  • Halsnead in Knowsley, Merseyside
  • Longcross in Runnymede and Surrey Heath
  • Bailrigg in Lancaster
  • Infinity Garden Village in South Derbyshire and Derby City area
  • St Cuthberts near Carlisle City, Cumbria
  • North Cheshire in Cheshire East
Reporting on this move The Guardian notes that ‘Sites for new villages include green belt land and spread from Cornwall to Cumbria, but local opposition is strong in some areas’. It cites concerns relating to individual village proposals including the proportion of affordable housing, location on green belt, that it is actually top down development rather than locally led, potential pressure on infrastructure, and fears that local villages and hamlets would be swallowed up. Notwithstanding these proffered anxieties in relation to specific schemes, as I read it, the coverage in the media has been largely positive or at least taking an implied ‘let’s wait and see how well it goes’ tone.

For example, if we generate more movements by car that won’t really help us become more sustainable so really good planning to make it as easy as possible to cycle and walk and to focus on live-work opportunities in villages as well as local food growing, shopping and services will all be critical. Villages near rail lines and good bus routes might help and perhaps this is a way to help reopen some rail lines closed in the Beeching era? I would very much like to see that happen.

Summing up

So to sum up, it seems to me very likely that the new garden villages already announced - and possibly more to come - can add to our stock of new places in rural and semi-rural locations in a small scale but cumulatively substantial way that is likely to be judged more acceptable and less intrusive than bigger developments. 48,000 new homes is not an enormous number when you look at the scale of the unmet housing needs we seem to have but it will make a contribution and possibly an increasing one if this tranche of schemes goes well. Good design and place-making, as much value capture as possible, and engaging with people to maximise local acceptability, all seem to me to be really crucial elements to making these garden villages work well. One measure of this will be how far garden villages really stick to garden city principles.