Paternalistic social engineering or make-Britain-great-again utopianism? A new archive film compilation takes a look at the UK’s controversial postwar towns
“People sometimes say to me, ‘You must get a terrific kick out of having been responsible for a huge thing like a new town,’” said Sir Frederick Gibberd in an interview in 1982, 35 years after he created the new town of Harlow. “Well, I get a lot of misery out of it, in fact. I go around and think, ‘My god, that’s unbelievably bad, and it could have been so good.’”
If that was what the designer thought, imagine how everyone else who moved to Harlow felt. The interview comes in a short film at the end of New Towns, Our Towns, a new compilation of archive films chronicling Britain’s pioneering postwar new town movement – and our ongoing love-hate relationship with it. Paternalistic social engineering or make-Britain-great-again utopianism? Textbook example of the failures of macro modernism, or the type of bold, ambitious government initiative we need more of?