Milton Keynes and the Liquid Landscape, 1967–78

Lauren Piko


Language describing planned landscapes has often relied on organic imagery; however, it is less common to analyse  the political functioning of such symbolism. This paper analyses metaphors of flow, liquidity and drought used to describe idealised landscape forms in early national print media responses to Milton Keynes.  Designated in 1967, this large-scale, low-density, explicitly post-industrial city sought to improve on previous models of urban development by actively pursuing a non-deterministic plan. In these early responses to the town, drawing on the longer context of post-war discussions of ‘overspill’, urban landscapes were interpreted as determining receptacles for an inert population mass that, when left unbounded, would flood and subsume the surrounding countryside. By 1978, however, informed by escalating national political crises, these preoccupations had evolved into an indictment of the town as overtly deterministic, interpreting its newness as a rejection of historically legitimated landscape forms. Even as the specific values associated with these metaphors shifted under changing political circumstances, definitions of ‘good landscapes’ consistently used fluid metaphors that opposed the nourishing capacity of water with the potential catastrophes of flood and drought. Tracing the evolving politics of metaphorical representations of ideal landscapes in British print media helps challenge essentialist readings of Milton Keynes while locating them within the chaotic ideological context of 1970s British politics.

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