Letchworth Garden City: Day twenty-nine
I didn’t think I would say this, but Letchworth Garden City is perfectly pleasant, and is probably a lovely place to live. But there’s no way I could live there.
The open spaces, parklands and commons are great. On the Saturday morning of my visit, there were old people, young people, families, kids and couples all out and about. But although lots of the shops were open, no one was doing anything exciting, or even interesting. It was all just very nice.
Turns out that my first impressions are not entirely original, or unique. As I prepared to head back to Letchworth station by ducking through what I thought was a largely unused retail arcade, I discovered the window display of an interesting, albeit temporary tenant.
The Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation in partnership with Allies and Morrison Urban Practitioners (planners, I presume) were using this space to consult residents about putting together a Masterplan for The Wynd, and a Town Centre Implementation Plan* (interesting name). Under a banner proclaiming “Letchworth YOUR Garden City”, it appeared that I’d stumbled across something impersonating stage 1 of a public planning consultation.
Although the shop/exhibition was closed, I could read the display boards though the window. “We don’t need more shops, we need more shoppers!” was one of the comments left by a respondent. Another requested; “Can we have a cafe on Broadway Gardens with some tables to make it seem more part of the town…” I understood these responses (and others) to mean that even the residents think Letchworth is mostly, a nice place to be.
The planners facilitating the consultation themselves identified part of the problem in some of their own recorded observations. The Garden City principals on which Letchworth was founded overwhelmingly emphasised residential amenity above the towns other needs. Consequently, the town centre itself developed in a more “piecemeal” way. So it’s no surprise then to discover that a town built on utopian principals is not immune to the pressures of change in response to the needs and desires of it’s residents. I expect that when it’s finished, Letchworth Garden City’s new masterplan (although I doubt they’ll end up calling it that) might create excitement among the locals unlike anything the town has seen in the last 50 years – and not necessarily of the good kind.
I was rather relieved to get back to London.
*Learn more about the changes proposed for Letchworth Garden City at www.thenextsteps.co.uk