Thursday, April 30, 2009

Newfields Planning: Milton Keynes in Ohio?

Although there is evidence that the ecological planning concepts of Ian McHarg were used in Newfields, a more direct antecedent was the last and most radical British New Town, Milton Keynes.
Milton Keynes

Located off the M1 motorway halfway between London and Birmingham Milton Keynes was named after a local village, not (as sometimes thought) the poet and the economist. It was designed by Sir Richard Llewellyn Davis in 1967-1968 and was published in planning and architectural journals in 1969 through 1973, so would be exactly contemporary with McHargs’ Design with Nature as an influence. Llewellyn Davis would be retained to do the first plans for Newfields, probably in 1971-72, so Milton Keynes can be seen as a direct precursor.

Llewellyn Davis was influenced by US thinking on planning and architecture (including the example of Los Angeles, which was quite an interest item with UK design theorists) and by the avant garde concepts coming from the UK-based Archigram Group.

“Got to Have a Loose Fit”
(apologies to the Happy Mondays)

This led to the Milton Keynes incorporating the concept of “loose fit” and indeterminacy. Form was indeterminate, with development (including the town center) loosely plugged into “grid squares” formed by a 1km square net of access roads draped across the landscape. Height was low (“buildings no higher than the highest tree”), and the town was to merge into the landscape.

There was also the concept of City as Forest, with generous plantings along the road net, the motorway, the housing areas, and in the park belts in the river bottoms. The idea was to make the city more wooded than the surrounding countryside (which is, interestingly enough, how Dayton and its older suburbs look from the air). Essentially this was a merger of US suburbia and UK new town planning, assuming an automobile-oriented society.

Llewellyn Davis apparently was aware of land use suitability planning as topography and drainage, along with the road system, was used to locate open space, resulting in two north-south open space systems based on river valleys and the motorway. Ecological considerations came into play in species selection for the forest planning. Tree belts were also planted along the net roads. The town center was on the highest elevation, but acted as a connecter between the two north-south open space systems…

….which one can see in this aerial rendering, showing what almost looks like a US style suburban office park bisected by boulevards connecting the two open space systems, flanked by landscaped 1km net roads.

In real life it does look rather fetching, and one can see how the depressed highway concept for Newfields may have had a Milton Keynes precedent.

Though designed primarily with the automobile in mind, Milton Keynes was also designed with an extensive bike/pedestrian system, the “Redway” (named after the red tarmac paving material), which acts as a secondary transportation system grade-separated from the net roads. The 1km dimension for the grid squares was selected to permit walkability to bus stops, so public transit was a consideration in planning.

Milton Keynes in Ohio?

In Ohio, Llewellyn Davis already had a road grid to work with, which was distorted a bit in the plan. One can see some similar concepts, like a town center (and community college) set in parkland but accessed from a freeway, and the use of the topography and drainage to generate the open space system, which determines the blocks of developable land.

It seems there is a “net” concept operating in the Newfields deisgn, too, but one of greenways rather than access roads. Which implies a version of the Milton Keynes ped/bike Redway system.

A missed opportunity was the incorporation of Old Town Trotwood into the scheme (which would have been easy to do). Country villages were incorporated into the Milton Keynes plan, but this didn’t happen here.

The concept of convenience centers was an innovation, where schools and recreation centers would occasionally be paired with neighborhood shopping (shown as red boxes) to provide community focal points throughout the scheme, with larger schools (junior highs, two red boxes) paired with larger shopping areas. In generic US suburbia schools and retail are quite separate.

An unusual feature of the plan is the “panhandle” extending to the east, This was envisioned as a mostly industrial area, but was mainly driven by political considerations. More on that later.

Newfields Plan Development

The initial plan was quite schematic and envisioned most of the land under the control of the developer. In reality ownership was quite fragmented, with some property held as life estates and others remaining as in-holdings, not purchased at all. So the planning was altered to address this reality.

But not altered too much as one still sees the town center/community college, and the Wolf Creek valley and tributaries as the organizing feature of the scheme. (Purple is shopping and blue are schools). The Wolf Creek Expressway appears, arcing its way along the panhandle into Dayton.

Another scheme has more of a village center concept, with three village centers (dashed circles and oval) comprised of housing of various densities, shopping, and schools. In this case one can see industry along the railroad line, which was still active at that time.

One of the goals of the Title VII new communities was socioeconomic integration via mixing apartments and townhouses in with houses. This was a radical feature for suburban Dayton, where single family housing is usually quite separate from multifamily, leading to socioeconomic segregation and social exclusion. One can see that mix in the above graphic, where orange denotes high density housing snaking through the new town, following the greenways.

The Design Think Tank

All this was in outline. Detailed design of the new town was to be done on a case-by-case, subcommunity-by-subcommunity basis via a design think tank made up of design consultants, the staff ecologist, and residents. The intention was not to have a predetermined form, but to take a more ad-hoc, participatory approach. This seems to be a reflection of the 1960s interest in process, letting the process determine the form. Which once again relates to the concept of indeterminacy, eschewing a comprehensive, top-down detailed master planned approach.
One can see this in action with this preliminary study, which provides a generalized outline, but also locates how various housing densities would mix, color coded in shades of red. Yellow would be single family and dark red, perhaps, a high-rise.

The label says study, but Village 1 was, believe it or not, partially built. Subject of a future Daytonology thread.

No comments: