The UK's largest new town, Milton Keynes, is the product of a Transatlantic planning culture and a plan for a relatively low-density motorised city generously endowed with roads, parklands, and the infrastructure of cabling for communications technology. At its heart was the charismatic and influential Richard (Lord) Llewelyn-Davies. A Labour Peer with various personal and professional interests in the USA, he drew upon the writings of American academics Melvin Webber and Herbert J. Gans, who were also invited to advise on social trends in relation to the urban context in the preparation for the Plan. The Plan bristled with an understanding that motorised transport and communications technology would shape the city of the future, and influence the nature and reach of ‘community’ and social interactions beyond the localised realm.
Prepared by Llewelyn-Davies, Weeks, Forestier-Walker and Bor, for Milton Keynes Development Corporation, and presented to the Minister for Housing and Local Government in 1970, the Plan for Milton Keynes is a vibrant expression of Sixties’ idealism and forward-thinking. In creating the ‘Little Los Angeles in North Buckinghamshire’, a low-density city whose citizens mostly rely upon the private motor car for their mobility, the Plan has become increasingly unfashionable as agendas for sustainability have called motorisation into question. Yet the gridroads and the gridsquares within them have been very popular with the people of Milton Keynes.
The expansive thinking behind the Plan has important lessons for the limitations of current urban transport policy, and that cosy notions of neighbourhood and locally-driven community have little resonance for understanding the character of social relations in the twenty first century. The planning of Milton Keynes was more realistic and nuanced than much urban policy formulation today.
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Mark Clapson is Reader in History at the University of Westminster
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