Saturday, 26 August 2017

Healthy new towns for a healthy new breed of man

This week, NHS England announced its plans to build 'healthy towns' and pay people to go jogging. I had a bit of fun writing about this for Spiked.

There is something about new towns that excites the type of person that Adam Smith called ‘the man of system’. The idea of starting a living space from scratch, without regard to the untidy preferences of human beings, has been like catnip to every top-down organiser of society from Nero to Corbusier. The resulting settlements in such places as Brasilia, Milton Keynes and Canberra must have looked smashing when they were models on an architect’s desk but they are notoriously soulless when experienced in full scale.

They nevertheless retain their allure for dreamers and bureaucrats – new towns for a new breed of man – and it is no surprise that they feature prominently in the NHS’s Five Year Forward View. The five-year plan includes proposals for ‘Healthy New Towns’ which were unveiled on Tuesday and made frontpage news, largely thanks to the suggestion that people be paid to go jogging.

One of the NHS’s mantras is ‘health in all policies’, a phrase that probably sounds better in the original German, and its wonks are salivating at the idea of ‘designing in’ physical activity to the handful of housing developments that the Campaign to Protect Rural England has somehow failed to obstruct.

How do you design a town to encourage physical activity without banning cars and chairs? I don’t know, and neither does NHS England, so it held a ‘design for life’ competition to get some ideas. When the winners were announced this week, the chief executive of the NHS, Simon Stevens, said: ‘The NHS makes no apologies for weighing in with good ideas on how the built environment can encourage healthy towns’. There was no need to apologise because the ideas were not good. On the contrary, they were so fantastically bad that the mind boggles at the thought of what the losers came up with.

Click here to read the whole thing.

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