hidden europe 12

In praise of good planning

by Nicky Gardner


The finest cities are an appeal to order. We survey some of the highpoints of European city planning - from ecclesiastical cities to Utopian communities.

There is something very pleasing about planned urban settlements - places where the usually haphazard patterns of urban growth and development are suspended in favour of a more ordered approach to life. Whether it be in England's prototype Garden City at Letchworth, in planned industrial communities such as Robert Owen's New Lanark in Scotland (and its American cousin, the Owenite settlement at New Harmony in Indiana), in architectural whimsies such as Port Grimaud (on the Provençal coast of France) or Portmeirion (in Wales), or in the polyhedral precision of Palmanova (near Trieste), the perceptive visitor quickly realises that someone, somewhere had a plan for these places. Heavens on earth they may not be, but one has a sense that the affairs of life have somehow been gathered and ordered in these places - in a way that contrasts with the chaotic normality of most urban settlements.

That same sense of order is evident in many central European spa towns - places like Mariánské Lázne (Marienbad) where pristine boulevards and contrived elegance somehow programme the behaviour of visitors and residents alike.

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