From Garden Cities to People-First Places

“People-first places” seek to focus on the needs of people who live, work and play in the built environment rather than on structures or infrastructure. Many people think this is a new concept or one which has been with us for only a short period of time, when in fact, nothing could be further from the truth.

My first job (more years ago than I care to admit!) was in one of the New Towns in the UK. 27 New Towns were built in the UK from 1946 onwards as a reaction to cities which suffered from overcrowding, poor planning, a need for de-centralisation and for people to work near to where they live.

These ‘New Towns’ were not the start of this thinking. The idea travels even further back to the development of the Garden City movement championed by Ebenezer Howard at the end of the 19th Century. Garden cities sought to remove slums and overcrowding and create communities surrounded by “greenbelts”. The first garden city was Letchworth soon followed by Welwyn, both in Hertfordshire England. 

Many other garden cities (or suburbs) have been developed throughout the world. Hellerau in Dresden, Germany, Jardim America in Sao Paulo, Brazil and of course, Canberra, Australia. The examples we have seen all addressed the problems of slums and overcrowding however, this was often at the expense of the “soul” of the town. 

The challenge we now face is to take the best of the garden city ideas and philosophies together with many others that have been developed since, to adapt the concept of “people-first places” to the 21st century.

People-first places will go beyond green belts and proximity to transport to consider the broader wellbeing of a community considering such things as social cohesion, promotion of healthy lifestyles and addressing digital needs.

We don’t proclaim to have the answers (and even if we did, they would soon need to be adapted to a new set of needs) but we have learnt who knows best; the communities themselves. As the developer, we bring a wealth of learning from history, both our own expeience, that of our counterparts in the industry, and that which we have learned from Ebenezer Howard in the 19th Century. But people-first palces are driven by the very people who inhabit them, and those people change and evolve too.

The challenge we set ourselves is to always put people first in our decision making. To ask ourselves what this particular community needs to make their life easier and more fullfilled but ultimately, to engage with people. 

The legacy we strive to create might soon too be outdated. I look forward to reflecting on the foundations we have laid today in the latest iteration of what we like to call ‘people-first places’.