2022 – Want to see where Britain’s political future will be decided? Drive to Milton Keynes | John Harris

aAmid celebrations marking the 70th anniversary of the Queen’s accession to royal power, the sporadic rite of upgrading towns into towns once again has ended. As always, the winners and losers of the Jubilee Civic Honors don’t necessarily make much sense. Reading, for example, lost to Douglas in the Isle of Man. In the era of promotion in particular, the exercise seems to remain true to the national tradition of pinning flags and badges to objects, but almost nothing changes: city status can boost local morale, but it does not bring new money, jobs, or powers. But this time, in the case of at least one of the winners, it is worth putting aside all cynicism and acknowledging his achievement.

Milton Keynes – or “MK” as many locals call it – has been trying to achieve the city’s status for over 20 years. Born in 1967 under a “New Town Naming Ordinance” – just 33 minutes by train from London – this large part of Buckinghamshire is now home to 230,000 people and the population continues to grow. Like new post-war cities like Stevenage, Harlow, East Kilbride, and Telford, it remains a curiously odd creation in a country arguably more nostalgic than ever. What struck me on my first visit was the aspiration of progressive thinking that Milton Keynes once embodied: politicians, planners, and architects envisioned a new kind of British city, then implemented it as a place full of people who brought everything back to life.

Rentals in Milton Keynes were cheap. Gradually, as housing construction faltered during Margaret Thatcher’s tenure in power, the Sales Act for Public Housing was pushed aside. but When you talk to people who were among the first to arrive from London, they often remember admiring the amazingly spacious homes purposely surrounded by greenery. “I’ve always lived in an apartment,” proud cunning told me last year, and the first house we saw stunned my father away—it was a three-story house with a garage and garden. “This breathing feeling keeps the space. Milton Keynes is now filled with so-called red lanes: “common lanes for pedestrians, cyclists, cyclists and motorcyclists” where traffic is often not visible. Contrary to the notion that its modern architecture and street-based system The network somehow makes it “soulless”, as it is a lively community place, with an estimated volunteer population of 84,500 people.

As you may have guessed, I’m a fan. MK has obvious problems: rents and house prices are often impossibly high, homelessness, knife crime, and in its old corners a sense of decline that is recently remedied by a renovation programme. But for thousands of people, the founding promise of a better life still matters. Those who run the place have serious aspirations to increase its population to 500,000 by 2050. Demand seems to justify such a goal, coincidentally – just as it provided a better life for Londoners in the 1960s and 1970s in the beginning, Milton Keynes continues to do so, and this is reflected in the demographics constantly evolving. For example, between 2010 and 2020, the proportion of school students classified as black, Asian, and minority ethnic increased from 31% to 45%.

The MK’s modernity is also reflected in her politics. Despite voting for Brexit on the many occasions I’ve spoken to MKers, being so close to the country as a whole, I have rarely felt the anger and resentment that boiled over 2016 on the national surface. In most of the years before Blair Brown, boundaries shifted and consecutive Conservative Party victories, as Milton Keynes had two Labor MPs, though his constituency remained fiercely contested. To hint at Britain’s potential political future, the Borough Council is currently leading a divided coalition between the Labor Party and the Liberal Democrats, which both parties have described as a progressive alliance. In a way, MK was an early example of the newly built modern Britain exemplified today by all the recent housing developments surrounding our towns and cities, whose political makeup is still poorly understood. There are seldom loyal leftists, but they are not in the market for the culture wars and bigotry of Brexit: none of the major parties in England seem confident in speaking to this growing electorate, but they are likely to decide our political future.

In this sense, the UK is increasingly populated with neighborhoods that have at least some of the original upbeat spirit of MK. But they don’t come close to a story of great ambition and determination. In 2018, the government said it wanted the area between Oxford and Cambridge – including Milton Keynes – to become a “new Silicon Valley” said to house up to a million homes, but as with many large projects on Boris Johnson’s desk he coughed Looks like the idea is dead. There are plans for so-called “garden communities” in areas such as Merseyside, Cornwall and the South Midlands. But the overall budget is a meager £69m and would cover ‘up to’ 16,000 homes a year from 2025 – and in any case, the usual talk of only some of them being categorized as ‘affordable’ suggests millions of people will get a prize from.

Aside from the Conservative Party’s inherent distaste for large state-led projects, the smallness of current efforts to create new communities highlights many unfortunate national features. As the endless cynicism of our new cities proves, we still have a strange aversion to innovative architecture and modern urban planning. As Brexit showed, many of us now find the future so terrifying that we shy away from it, preferring to cheerfully celebrate the old rather than focus on the new. But we can do things differently if we somehow find the will. Imagine the money being spent on London’s new Elizabeth railway – £19 billion at last count – being used to create places with community, sustainability, strong transport links and spacious public spaces. In the age of teamwork from home, when so many people seize the opportunity to leave our biggest cities, this idea certainly shouldn’t have unlimited appeal.

According to the government’s official announcement, the new MK’s status as a city rests in part on “the Royal Societies and Cultural Heritage,” making it look like a place whose significance is mostly linked to its history: a display perhaps a thing of the past with post-war optimism. Amid the housing crisis, the post-pandemic feeling of many people changing their lives radically, and the urgent need to design new urban environments, it remains, despite its flaws, a shining example of how to chart our way into the future. We did it once. Why not again?