Focus Work
New Towns: Their rise and decline

Focus Work
Laura Büchi


This Vertiefungsarbeit examines the phenomenon of New Towns, their rise and decline, focusing on one particular town, Basildon.

The New Towns were built in England directly after WWII (between 1946 and 1970) when London faced a desperate housing shortage after the Blitz. As Britain’s existing urban centres had become highly polluted and dysfunctional, the damage of the war was seen as an opportunity for a fresh start. Undeniably, the New Towns Programme augured well for healthier living conditions for millions of people. It offered affordable houses for the working classes who had hitherto been confined to overcrowded slums.

In the two decades that saw the most dramatic rise in the number of cars and television sets, the New Towns illustrate the changing nature of urbanism in the twentieth century. The rising capitalist culture focusing on consumerism had an influence on the way people lived or were expected to live. The New Towns engraved on their urban fabric, all the features that were, at the time, subject to a radical rethink: the roads, and the changing way of getting from one place to another, from ‘walk-to-work’ to ‘full motorisation’, the role of shopping and entertainment in British society, affordable houses, and ultimately peoples’ relationship to green, open spaces.

However, fifty years later, when strolling around Basildon, one of the first New Towns, one sees desolation, houses falling apart, broken windows, empty shops and deserted office buildings, a far cry from its auspicious, revolutionary beginning. In recent years, the town has even acquired a bad reputation in the media. So, what happened? what led to the failure of a town which was only constructed fifty years ago with such high hopes?


Dr. Matthew James Wells