From architecture to cultural life: how would you design a city from scratch?

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From architecture to cultural life: how would you design a city from scratch?
© Alessandro Rizzi/Getty Images

The government’s plan for 14 garden villages across the country offers a fantastic opportunity to create ideal living spaces. But where do you start? Here, five writers set out their architectural, cultural, transport and political visions

Cities define modern life. They make more money than other places, demand more of the people who live in them, and provide more for them too. Except for the people who aren’t making money; and if you are the kind who does make money, you probably know little about them. Several million humans penned together in an unfeasibly small space, and compelled to make life work. “There is no logic that can be superimposed on the city,” Jane Jacobs, the urban activist, once said. “People make it, and it is to them, not buildings, that we must fit our plans.”

Her words are pertinent given the government’s intention to build up to 14 garden villages, plus larger garden towns across England, each created as “a new discrete settlement”. Here at last is a theoretical blank page that gives communities the chance to think about what a city or town should look like.

Cities developed in the UK as a result of the industrial revolution, and some things have changed surprisingly little. A traffic jam, that modern peril, could wreak havoc for hours in 1749. Nearly three centuries on, streets are still cleaned mostly by a human with a broom and there are still more people than places for them to live. But now stop the clock. Design a city from scratch.

Here is the necessary acreage, and here is a serviceable budget. Where would you start? Would you build roads straight or curved and how many coffee shops would your high street have? Come to think of it, does a city need a high street? Just for a minute, imagine what you would like to see. […]