Michael Palin's town-planning dreams

Published May 16, 2017

Working my way through Michael Palin’s first collection of diaries, and stumbled across this paragraph – a dream of utopia that is still relevant today, even though we’re further away than ever.

I’m glad that there are cars and planes and television and washing machines, and I think we cannot suddenly pretend that they have not been invented – but I feel we must control their use, and that they should be used not to dictate but to stimulate.

Any urban planning should include an open play area at least twice the size of the car park, instead of the opposite; there should be severe restrictions on cars in central London – but above all, in every area there should be greater encouragements for people to meet and talk – not in official meetings or on two nights a week, but all the time.

There should be space indoors and outdoors, where people would want to stop and gather. At the base of every block of flats there should be a big, well-furnished well-equipped coffee shop or restaurant, a big foyer with papers, magazines, books on sale – and even a few fairground attractions.

It would mean a radical redirection of funds available for housing, but one quarter of the vast wealth in the hands of private property developers would, I think, help to equalise a system which at present is doomed – the colossal difference in living conditions which is being widened every day as new council estates are built on the cheap – and with them is built boredom, jealousy, repression, anger…

Michael Palin, 1972

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