Saturday, April 21, 2012

The International New Town Institute

When I was planning UniverCity at SFU, I spent a lot of time checking out other New Towns around the world. I even went to Ottawa to interview Bill Teron who created the very successful satellite city of Kanata before becoming President of CMHC. I vividly remember his advice. "Do the first phases yourself. If you let others do them and they screw up, you'll never recover!"

Unfortunately, at the time I wasn't aware that there is an organization devoted to the study of New Towns around the world. It operates out of a modest storefront office in Almere, a major New Town in Holland. However, it plans to set up in other locations around the world since New Town development has essentially stopped in Western Europe.While I know very little about its background, I was very impressed with Michelle Provoost, a Dutch architectural historian, who has been the director of the INTI since 2008. A passionate woman with bright reddish hair, she defined New Towns as cities that are master planned at one moment in time and autonomous; that is to say, not just an extension of another municipality. In this respect SFU's UniverCity would not qualify, but Disney's Celebration outside of Orlando would.Michelle was very critical of many of the New Towns being built throughout Asia, and if you have been to some of them, I'm sure you are too. Too often they incorporate the worst aspects of American city planning, with building forms that are very foreign (if you'll pardon my pun) to the local setting. Others can be quite ridiculous when they try to mimic towns and cities from other parts of the world. For example, nine New Towns surrounding Shanghai have themed centres that use historic European architectural styles as a means to create identity.

I visited the English town with its cathedral and attractive neighbourhood pub (only to discover that you couldn't get a pint of beer and steak and kidney pie in the pub since it was just a facade with a hollow concrete shell inside). I also visited a contemporary German Eco-Town that flaunted its sustainability; however, I missed the Holland Village that was designed by a consortium of Dutch firms and looks remarkably like some of the places I saw in the Netherlands, except for the large Chinese neon signs.The Institute has recently published a wonderful book called Rising in the East: Contemporary New Towns in Asia. The author is Rachel Keeton, an American architect, writer and researcher, who studied in the Netherlands, and the book is published by SUN. It is very well written and illustrated, and deals with a very important topic, especially when one considers the dramatic movement of people from rural areas to urban areas including these New Towns, not only in China, but also in India, Cambodia, Viet Nam, South Korea and of course the middle east.

For anyone with an interest in large scale planning of either New Towns, or new communities adjacent to existing towns and cities, I highly recommend that you try and get a copy of INTI's book and check out other material on their website. They can be found at

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