I wrote my Urban Design Masters dissertation on Milton Keynes, the last major new town built in the UK, in the 1970s. Like all new towns back then, it was designed around the motor car, the assumption being that the height of civilisation was when everyone owned their own private vehicle. There is again right now in the UK a lot of talk about new towns and how they might solve housing crises in our major cities.
We have come up with a design for a model 21st-century new town for around one million inhabitants. We did this partly because it reflects some of the work we have been doing over the past few years in Australia, Asia and the UK; partly, though, we wanted to stimulate debate. As architects, we can often be too reactive, waiting for a client to come and give us a brief; in the 1920s and ‘30s, architects wrote manifestos – Le Corbusier, for instance, wrote papers on how societies should be organised. But all his designs for new cities were built around the car. So we wanted to come up with a new manifesto for the future and to design a new town that harnesses all the innovations and new technologies of our age.
Instead of being built around the motor car, our new town has at its heart high-speed rail and public transport. The focal point of the town is a high-speed train station and around that is everything residents need to live, work and relax.
We have taken a lot of lessons from Southeast Asia, where often the journey between train, shopping and the office is seamless and integrated. The town centre is also completely free of privately owned cars, served instead by public trams and buses.
The crucial point is that around the world billions of dollars are being put into building high-speed rail lines connecting big cities to one another. We’ve been working on the plan for one between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, and on one between Sydney and Melbourne. Lines connecting Mumbai to New Delhi and Los Angeles to San Francisco are also being considered. Often these lines go through the countryside, where there is space to build, but few people are joining the dots and looking at developments along the lines.
My argument is that new towns could and should be built around stations on these high-speed lines. This would give people with jobs in the bigger cities a choice of where to live and would alleviate housing shortages in those cities. Our model town could be south of Birmingham on the planned high-speed line into London (HS2) or between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur or on the corridor between Mumbai and Delhi. The design would obviously be site specific but the principle is the same.