After World War II there was an urgent need for housing to replace buildings damaged by German bombing, house the growing population, and do away with dense urban slums. This led to the creation of ‘garden cities’ in rural or semi-rural areas.
Garden cities were built in three waves: in the late 1940s and early 1950s, the early to mid-1960s and the late 1960s to 1970.
Milton Keynes is the most well known of these towns. Its location in a sparsely populated part of Buckinghamshire was chosen because it was relatively close to London, Oxford, Birmingham and Leicester.
The hope was that this would make it attractive to people who worked in these cities. Contrary to popular myth, the name for the new town was based on a small village in the area, and had nothing to do with the economists Milton Friedman and John Maynard Keynes.
After the town was formally designated in 1967, a team of planners drew up guidelines for a city designed around an American-style grid pattern, rejecting more traditional alternatives.
The combination of this layout and modernist architecture has led to Milton Keynes being characterised as soulless and boring. Indeed, many people see it as an example of what can go wrong when governments try to micro-manage urban development without respect for past traditions.
Despite this, it has been a modest success, with the population of the town growing from under 50,000 in the 1960s to nearly 250,000 today. With a national shortage of housing space, many people think it should serve as a model for the future.