Letchworth Conference success

Thank you to all who came to the NGCA Garden Cities conference in Letchworth last week. We were not only fortunate to have avoided Storm Doris by one day but also to have got so many good people together in one place.

There was a huge amount of passion and enthusiasm and I felt that it could have easily have been a two day conference.

I am grateful to our morning speakers Richard Bacon MP and David Ames from the Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation.

Also to our morning workshop leaders who also said a few words : Michael Holmes, National custom and self build association, Nicole Lazarus, Bioregional Development Group, Luke Engleback, Landscape institute, Toby Lloyd, Shelter, John Devaney, British Standard Institute and Christiane Lellig, Wood for Good.

In the afternoon Lord Taylor was able to articulate what many of us were thinking about the state of the housing market and the need to have belief and courage to create great places. As he said there is a need to ‘seize the moment’.

Bastian Wahler-Zak from the Federal Institute for Research on Building, Urban Affairs and Spatial Development gave an excellent German perspective. The original garden city movement was developed hand in hand with that in Germany and the new movement may well do too. Bastian I know learnt a great deal from the workshop discussions that we were having in the hall.

The afternoon workshops built on those of the morning and examined in greater detail those of sustainable build and self build, land value capture and governance.

The conclusions of the day was the agreement by a show of hands of the Garden City Declaration on agreeing an articulate of what a garden city is. (Socially, ecologically and economically sustainable).

Also it is proposed to write up the results of the workshop for a small pamphlet which I will organise. I shall be asking separately the workshop leaders to send me some photos of their notes or if they can some typed up notes.

Finally my thanks to Thomas Hoefner and Liz Wrigley of the NGCA, to Letchworth Heritage Foundation and all our sponsors.


Passed Garden City Declaration

Agreement to create pamphlet from conference – aim to publish early April

NGCA to send out a paper on formalising membership

Plans to hold a conference next year open to offers

Investigate idea of a simple garden city training course on basic principles


Garden City Declaration

Initial Workshops briefs

Twitter feed with pictures – thanks to Mingfei Ma for tweeting on the day



12 Principles from – ’21st Century Garden Cities of To-Morrow’

What makes a 21st Century Garden City?


These are the 12 principles discussed in the book ‘21st Century Garden cities of To-Morrow’ by Philip Ross and Yves Cabannes.

A Garden City is a fair, just and harmonious community. It is not restricted to new cities or towns or those built following traditional Garden City town planning, architectural or design principles. A Garden City is about community, not merely about architecture and urban design.

It is about building a harmonious community, balancing the best of town and country together to a community where the measure of success is ultimately the happiness of the people who live in it. Below are listed twelve principles that we believe underlie a Garden City. Some are methods and others are objectives. In effect these principles represent doorways into the Garden City; you can enter using one of the many doorways. But contradict or deny any of the principles, then they will also prove themselves to be exits. We declare that any town, city or neighbourhood can be considered as a Garden City if it embraces the following principles:

  1. Residents are citizens.
  2. The Garden City owns itself.
  3. The Garden City is energy efficient and carbon neutral.
  4. Provides access to land for living and working to all.
  5. Fair Trade principles are practised.
  6. Prosperity is shared.
  7. All citizens are equal, all citizens are different.
  8. There is fair representation and direct democracy.
  9. Garden Cities are produced through participatory planning and design methods.
  10. A City of Rights that builds and defends the Right to the City
  11. Knowledge is held in common, shared and enhanced.
  12. Wealth and harmony measured by happiness.

1. Residents are citizens

Residents consider themselves to be citizens of the Garden City. This includes people who also work, participate and use the Garden City. They are aware that the town truly belongs to them. There is a culture of rights, duties and responsibilities that comes through citizenship. The town is run for the common good, reflecting and representing the common will with a belief in equality and fraternity as the city is run for the benefit of the many, not the few.

2. The Garden City owns itself

The Garden City is ultimately owned by its local community and not by a series of landlords. This ownership and governance is derived from the people who live and work in the city and who are its citizens acting for the common good. If the Garden City is its own landlord then it is answerable to and controlled by its citizens, ideally as a Community Land Trust managed by democratic structures that make it both inclusive and accountable.

3. The Garden City is energy efficient and carbon neutral

A Garden City has a harmonious relationship with nature and is energy efficient. A Garden City is a carbon neutral city and does not pollute; its planning, design and resources are deployed to achieve this goal. Citizens and the government in the Garden City have a collective responsibility in their daily lives to design and implement such policies. This could be ensuring the provision of clean, safe and efficient public transport, the ability to navigate the Garden City by walking or cycling on one hand and the ability to reduce waste, recycle and reuse resources by citizens on the other.

4. Provide access to land for living and working to all

The Garden City promotes urban agriculture, the ability for citizens to grow most of their own food, even in an urban area. There is a right of free and fair access to the land for all residents to grow their own food whether it is through common allotments, common land, farms, productive streets and parks or private gardens. Alongside this is the right to affordable housing and also the right of access to resources in urban areas to build or run their individual or collective businesses or workshops.

It is a productive city that aims at its own self-sufficiency providing opportunities for agricultural work, crafts, commerce and industry. Rents are provided to encourage self-sufficiency and regeneration, provided in partnership with tenants, not just for tenants. The goal is for the City to be productive and sustainable in its own right, not as a dormitory settlement or a place of mere consumption.

5. Fair Trade principles are practised

The Garden City is committed to the practises and ethics of Fair Trade implementing the credo that its prosperity is not built upon the suffering of others, whether inside its own city limits, inside its own country or internationally.

6. Prosperity is shared

The prosperity of the Garden City is shared in practise among all its citizens, not just among the rich, wealthy and establishment. Participatory budgeting through which citizens decide on the priorities for public and community investment is one of the key mechanisms in practise. To secure the wealth and trigger jobs among the community, it can create local or a complementary community currency and set up community banks.

7. All citizens are equal, all citizens are different

All citizens in a Garden City are equal regardless of how long they have lived there or how many generations of their family has lived there. There are no special privileges for anyone. A Garden City provides support, treats with dignity those with mental and physical disabilities and values each citizen, irrespective of their religious or sexual orientation.

8. Fair representation and direct democracy

There is a right to participate in the Garden City, in what the city does, how it is run and who does what. A Garden City can be made up of many cities and towns but each of these will be comprised of different neighbourhoods and communities, each with differing needs and aspirations. The prosperity of the Garden City is employed to help those in greatest need. Each community and neighbourhood should be empowered and encouraged to form its own free and open association, council or forum to represent and engage the views and needs of that local community. The Garden City will share its decision making. It will devolve some to representatives but also by engage directly and meaningfully with the citizens so all can have an informed say and collective decision making power on the priorities for the Garden City.

9. Garden Cities are produced through participatory planning and design methods

A Garden City is in harmony with the landscape, water, air, nature and the surrounding countryside. New developments and housing have Garden City space and design characteristics and aim to promote the health and wellbeing of its citizens, current and future and are developed through participatory methods on fundamental issues, not just cosmetic ones. Public spaces are widely available as an important concept as they provide the means for people to meet and share views and to integrate. These public spaces and facilities bring together young and old, rich and poor, those of different races, religions and backgrounds as a community that celebrates and rejoices in its diversity and exercises tolerance and freedom.

10. A City of Rights that builds and defends the Right to the City

In the Garden City there are universal rights for all citizens such as the right to clean air, the right to nutritious food, the right to adequate housing, the right to work and fair wages. There are not only individual rights but collective rights such as the collective right to enjoy the city and its majesty as well as collective civic and political rights. In traditional terms, as the City is held in common there is a collective right to these commons. The Right to the City is a superior Right as it is both individual and collective.

11. Knowledge is held in common, shared and enhanced

A Garden City is a mutual city that builds a culture of production, sharing and co-operation, not just in terms of its prosperity and governance but also in terms of the knowledge it acquires and generates. It shares and co-operates for the good of the City while still operating competition to create innovation and development.

12. Wealth and harmony measured by happiness

The wealth and harmony of the Garden City is measured in the happiness its citizens. It is the only true measurement of a successful city. Their happiness is not based upon the suffering or expense of others.

These are the characteristics of a Garden City. Not all can be present but the guiding principles of a new Garden City will be to: Share, Enjoy and Prosper.

What turns the sharing of the Garden City’s prosperity from an act of paternalism or charity to one of empowerment and citizenship? It is people not just having a share in the City’s prosperity but a share – an active say – in how it is spent and what and where it is spent on. It means people having a chance to participate and speak for themselves and make informed decisions.

Roundtable Meeting 9th March 2015

The first New Garden Cities Alliance round-table meeting has proved a great success and the prospects of producing an accreditation system for garden cities moved a step closer.

Lord Glasman welcomed a packed room of architects, planners and community groups and institutions. Attendees included Wolfson prize winners and shortlisted entries – Urbed, Shelter, Barton Willmore, Golding Homes and Wei Yang & Partners.


Lord Glasman outlined that he considered the garden city agenda to be bigger than any single political party and the goal is to build on the cross party consensus that is already forming.


Philip Ross, the former Mayor of Letchworth Garden City, and co-founder of the New Garden Cities Alliance spoke about the Letchworth Declaration. The Declaration, he explained had been published back in September and in summary asked the question “do we think that the term garden cities should mean something? and if so how can we make that happen?”. He said “ we do think it should stand for something and the goal of this meeting is to put us on the road to making it happen”. Philip delved into the roots of the garden city vision and the ‘dream that was Letchworth’. Explaining the success of Letchworth was in the combination of both its visible and invisible architecture with a particular focus on the issue of land value capture.

He said that there was a degree of urgency to create a protected definition of a garden city and that if the group failed to act then the government or the market would define it.

Debate on the subject suggested that a strong definition would raise standards for a place.

Next up Katy Lock from the TCPA outlined the TCPA garden city principles and explained how they had been derived and that the language used to communicate will vary depending on the audience. Basically if outlined to the general public and to a room of architects and planners, the principles would be the same but they way they are articulated would be different.


One of the myths around garden cities has been that they are all on green-field sites and this is why URBED’s winning entry for the Wolfson prize was so significant as it talked about extending an existing settlement and controversially invading some of the green belt. Nick Falk from URBED explained this in more detail.

A wide ranging discussion followed on both the garden city principles and the need for democratic structures and so some debate about the difference between getting a garden city and how to run it.

Time constraints meant that the chairman moved on to a presentation about how an accreditation process could work. Liz Wrigley explained how the ‘Building for Life’ scheme had been established and was operated. Unfortunately Robin Murray who had been scheduled to talk about the fair trade accreditation scheme had been taken ill. He sent some notes to Philip Ross who précised them to the meeting. Philip added that the strength of an accreditation scheme to garden cities was in its desirability and commercial implications to developments that couldn’t get it. This would be a driver to developers to seek to gain it. It was noted from the floor that such an accreditation process could be linked to finance and that would make it very powerful (the NGCA will try to arrange further discussion on this area). It was noted also that Howard had raised money from insurance companies to help finance Letchworth on the basis that new home owners would all need insurance.

In terms of how the Alliance could operate Thomas Hoepfner outlined that the New Garden Cities Alliance had been established as community-interest company. That the steps going forward were to agree on how the organisation should operate and that it should be complementary to existing institutions and not in competition with them.


Chairman Patricia Nevins outlined the next steps which were to establish three working parties to look at the areas of ‘Principles and evolution’, ‘Accreditation’ and thirdly ‘operations’. An email would be sent out to attendees inviting them to join the groups which would operate through on-line discussions and physical meetings.

The Chairman asked those present if there was general agreement to the proposed course of action and on a show of hands it was overwhelmingly endorsed. The Chairman encouraged those present to raise any reservations, dissension or adverse comment and none were raised. The meeting agreed that the Working Groups were therefore fully mandated to bring their proposals to the next meeting of the alliance , which it is hoped will take place in June.

It was noted that Lord Glasman offered to host a further meeting of Alliance which was mooted for late June (to give any new government or coalition a chance to settle in).

The chairman thanked everyone for their attendance and for what had been a very successful event.

The meeting closed promptly at 16:30.


A New Garden City Alliance?

The power of the visible and invisible architecture of garden cities :
Built on an alliance of values and practice

Garden Cities are again in the news in the UK with the recent Wolfson Economics Prize and its submissions on building new garden cities as well as the DCLG prospectus inviting expressions of interest in building community led garden cities. As ever planners and architects and politicians are all looking at the spatial aspects of a garden city, where one can be built and what it will look like. There remains though a need to look at the third and potential most important aspect, the invisible architecture that will form that community. This is the social values and principles upon which it will be built as well as its invisible architecture of finance, ownership and control.

Plans have also been announced to build a ‘garden city’ at Ebbsfleet. But what do they mean by garden city? What definition of a garden city is it planning to follow? It is an important question. Even back in the days of the first garden city movement the only places to get the suffix ‘garden city’ or ‘garden suburb’ were those mainly that Ebenezer Howard and Raymond Unwin were connected with – Letchworth and Welwyn Garden Cities and notably Hampstead and Brentham Garden Suburbs. Other places, like many of the post war new towns, simply suggested that they were being built along ‘garden city lines’.

The legacy of that first garden city movement itself has its own trinity. The birthplace and spiritual home of Garden Cities is Letchworth Garden City, the home of the movement is within the Town and Country Planning Association (which is the successor organisation to the original Garden Cities Association). Ebenezer Howard wasn’t a traditional planner or architect but a community architect interested in the social reform that garden cities could deliver. It is fair to say that that legacy of the third part of that trinity is also held today by the social and pioneering organisations in the co-operative movement, rural groups, environmental groups, housing associations, residents and tenants associations, the “transition town” movement, faith groups of all denominations, cultural groups, families and individuals of all ages. Howard’s original ideas chris-crossed the political divide just Garden Cities do today.

It follows that having a community-led garden cities starts by having a community-led definition of what a garden cities is. It needs to be one that belongs not to one organisation and is not one that is thought up in Whitehall but is one that is reflective of community values. It needs to be born of a partnership and a great alliance between social, design and architectural values and principles. The ambition must be to deliver a sustainable community, a community proving inter-generational equity that is socially, economically and ecologically sustainable. We will know we are successful because it will create a sense of place, purpose and a stake in their community, in one word ‘citizenship’.

Building and working from the legacy of the first garden city movement we need to build a tripartite alliance of planners, architects and community to deliver a definition of a 21st century garden city. Together they must deliver both a master plan for the visible architecture with the social and invisible architecture. Together they will provide the basis for establishing a sustainable society.

Just as the Wolfson Prize has engaged economists to come up with a multitude of ideas of about how to raise finance for a garden city the TCPA is making excellent progress drawing together the best planners and architects and providing strong thought leadership. On the invisible architecture a great deal of work has be done by co-operative movement with both a large and small ‘C’. Elsewhere groups like Respublica have made a very positive contribution. The BSHF reports on planning new settlements and their ability to also build a strong coalition of interests through their Windsor based consultations have made a huge contribution.

In November 2012 a conference in Letchworth saw a gathering of the social movement and planners and architects including the TCPA. The result was the subsequent Commons-Sense report which outlined a plethora of innovative ideas and documented existing practise such as community land ownership programme and district and co-operative heating and power solutions.

The TCPA have also published 7 principles for garden cities which all centre of the principle capturing land value for the good of community which are complementary to the 12 principles defined by Cabannes and Ross[author] in their book ‘21st Century Garden Cities of To-morrow’. How this land value capture can be done remains the subject of debate. The debate itself is an old one with the original suggestion of a land value tax being made by Henry George which was championed by Churchill in his early days. The issue centres around that as land values rise who captures that unearned increment should it be the land lord or the people living there? Garden Cities propose that it is the community that lives there. A mechanism of collective land ownership and administration exists through the use of a Community Land Trust to manage estates. But where is the land to come from? The interesting thing about creative variants of land value taxation or the Co-operative Land Bank model (CLB) are that they could make the capture of the land self-financing.

Today’s agenda with new garden cities offer us chance to get it right afresh. But to do so we need to combine the best of the visible and invisible architecture together. It means getting the trinity of planning, architecture and social values to work together. In doing so community-led garden cities can have a community led definition that can inspire planners, architects and be the contract and covenant between them, the community surrounding new settlement and for future citizens.

To achieve this there should be no doubt what makes a garden city. We need to have a shared and agreed definition of garden cities that comprises of the visible and invisible architecture that community groups and leaders, economists, planners and architects can all work from. We believe that at the heart of this will be the principles for land value capture for the community and commitments to be socially, economically and ecologically sustainable.

This was one of the goals of the September Common Good Place making’ conference in Letchworth where participants discussed the idea of a ‘Letchworth Declaration’ to be the mechanism to put this into action. Speakers included Lord Maurice Glasman, Robin Murray from the LSE, Ed Mayo from Co-ops (UK), Nick Falk – the Wolfson prize winner, Stephen Hill, Katy Lock from the TCPA and many others and the participants at the conference saw a gathering of trade bodies, architects, planners and community organisers. It is a gathering that would have put a smile on the face of Ebenezer Howard and the other garden city pioneers.

The Letchworth Declaration is a proposal to create a New Garden Cities Alliance as a Community Interest Company (limited by guarantee) owned by this trinity of users and groups. The goal of the Alliance will be to agree a definition of garden cities (perhaps with gold, silver and bronze standards). The Alliance will draw inspiration from the Fair Trade movement, Transition Town movement and the Building for Life standard. We would expect all these accreditations to paint part of the picture of a Garden City. The Alliance will license different organisations to undertake audits and provide accreditations to allow towns and neighbourhoods to get the garden city mark. In the long term even an ISO standard could be developed for garden cities. The vision is here and details will be worked out collaboratively. We don’t see the Alliance or Association as employing staff or being bureaucratic.

The principles of garden city design, architecture and social can be drawn from the TCPA, other planning groups, the RIBA and community and activist groups to ensure that final definition will provide a foundation to build upon that will be Socially, Economically and Ecologically sustainable.

It would provide reassurance and a social contract for communities and guidance for architects and developers. In doing this we can jointly build the platform upon which successful and community-led and garden cities can be built and inspiring second garden movement that we can all be proud of.

Join in, read and sign the declaration by visiting : https://gardencities.info/the-letchworth-declaration/

Philip Ross, Letchworth Garden City.