Pre-Brexit, Milton Keynes was lobbying for the title of European Capital of Culture. If we did end up staying in, they'd be a deserving receiptantby Owen Hatherley / July 19, 2018 / Leave a comment
Published in August 2018 issue of Prospect Magazine
“Capital of Culture, you’re having a laugh” was a misplaced terrace chant aimed at Liverpool fans while their city was European Capital of Culture in 2008.
If an eminently cultured, historic city earned this jibe, just think what would have been directed at Milton Keynes if it had become—as, pre-Brexit, it aimed to—European Capital of Culture.
Milton Keynes was always intended to be the diametric opposite of everything the dense, intimate, architecturally diverse “European City” stands for—with its handsome spires, domes and towers, smooth public transport, and street life in pedestrian squares.
Milton Keynes was instead designed as a “non-place urban realm,” built around a non-stop road system, and with its (often-superb) architecture hidden by a rule that no building be taller than the tallest tree. It is not Florence. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t “culture” here.
The original scheme was for a sort of socialist Los Angeles; it remains egalitarian, green (with more extensive cycle paths than, say, Bristol), even slightly hippy, with its steel-and-glass boulevards running along Ley Lines.
All this is often lost in the town’s current buff, bland, businesslike image.
A dose of “European-ness” could do wonders. By emulating exemplars of post-war architectural conservation in continental new towns like -Hoogvliet in the Netherlands, a utopian Milton Keynes could still be rescued from a carapace of Prets and office parks.
If Britain remains, one of Britain’s most-maligned towns could finally receive the appreciation it is due.