Sunday, 28 September 2014

The 7 Wonders of Milton Keynes: Part 4

Following on from Part 1Part 2 and Part 3

6. Green spaces
Photo by myself

Milton Keynes has a reputation for being a man-made concrete jungle lacking in character, but this is not entirely truthful – it is certainly not lacking for green spaces. Yes, the town as a whole was formed from scratch, building in a linear grid-like system but the Milton Keynes Development Corporation (or the MKDC) had no intention of building a concrete city. Milton Keynes, taking its name from the village of the same name, was to be a ‘city in the trees’. They had planned for no building to be higher than the highest tree – which is still the case for most of Milton Keynes, although not Central Milton Keynes. This was at a time when high-rise flats and towering office blocks were common in most inner cities and towns. Milton Keynes, however, was designed with garden city ethics in mind and an integrated green landscape throughout the town.

Milton Keynes is a town built around its parks, lakes, rivers and woodland. From the popular central Campbell Park to the many different lakes and river valley parks, the town is not short of natural places. The roads are lined with trees and there are even hundreds of plants inside the shopping centre! In Newlands, near the Willen Lakes, there is a cathedral but not your typical cathedral – it’s made of trees. Designed by a landscape architect named Neil Higson in 1986, the tree cathedral uses different species of trees to form the different sections of a traditional cathedral. For example, the Chapter House is a tapering mound, dressed with laurels and from the top of this, the tree cathedral can be viewed.

Much of the parkland and green spaces within Milton Keynes, around 5,000 acres of rivers, valleys, woodlands, lakes, parks and landscaped areas, are cared for and managed by The Parks Trust. The Parks Trust is an independent charity, separate from the council which means that green spaces can be managed and protected without having to compete for council funding. Parks Trust managed green spaces include: Caldecoote, Furzton, Lodge and Willen lakes, Linford and Shenley woods, Campbell Park and Ouzel Valley Park, Stony Stratford Nature Reserve and the Great Linford Brick Kilns.

However, it’s not just the trees and parks that help to make Milton Keynes a green place. The award-winning eco-homes at Oxley Woods in the south west of Milton Keynes, are a prime example of green living at its best – and that goes for the UK in general, not just Milton Keynes. Designed by one of the architects behind the iconic Pompidou Centre in Paris, Richard Rogers, Oxley Woods homes have an innovative, energy-saving design. They exceed the government’s sustainability targets and have carbon emissions 50% lower than other new properties in the area. Milton Keynes is also a ‘plugged in place’ aiming to increase the use of electric cars within the town. There are several charging points in Central Milton Keynes, with hopes to install more. And it’s not just the cars in Milton Keynes that are electric, eight new electric buses – the first of their kind in the UK – are now running between Wolverton and Bletchley. How is that for a green city?

Photos by myself

7. Culture
Photo by myself

There is a saying that goes something like “What’s the difference between Milton Keynes and yogurt? Yogurt has culture.” Which, while mildly amusing, is both completely untrue and insulting. There is in fact a lot going on; from theatre and art to live music, museums and more, Milton Keynes is not short of non-shopping based things to get involved in.

The Point, named because of its red metal pyramid frame, in Central Milton Keynes was home to the UK’s first multiplex cinema. It opened in 1985 and included 10 screens, however, when the Xscape opened with its own more deluxe multiplex cinema in 2002 cinema fans went there instead. The Point did continue to house a cinema, first with easyCinema – think easyJet but with films instead of flights – and now with Odeon. But, in March 2014, it was announced that Milton Keynes council had voted in favour of demolishing the building. It will be sad to see such an iconic building go – a pyramid shaped one too! – but never fear, there is plenty more to do here…

Milton Keynes is home to a 1,400 seat theatre showcasing a variety of small and large West End productions, touring opera, ballet, drama and classical music concerts as well as the seasonal pantomime in December. In addition to this, there are also performance spaces in Bletchley, Leadenhall, Stantonbury and Wolverton. Next to Milton Keynes Theatre is a public art gallery presenting free exhibitions of international contemporary artwork. The Milton Keynes Gallery also hosts Friday film nights and often has live music on Saturdays. As well as the art within the gallery, Milton Keynes has several art trails and is home to one of the largest collections of publicly-sited art in the UK, with more than 200 pieces of public art.

The National Bowl is an open-air venue for large scale music events, with a capacity of 65,000. Previous performers have included Bon Jovi, Eminem, Robbie Williams, Green Day and The Prodigy. On a smaller scale, The Stables in Wavendon, provides high-quality jazz, blues, folk, classical and world music across two stages. The venue also hosts workshops and an annual summer camp for young aspiring musicians. Up until about 2010, The Pitz Club at the Woughton Centre in Leadenhall hosted gigs for less mainstream tastes, with music ranging from punk and ska to heavy metal. Now The Craufurd Arms in Wolverton caters to those with a more alternative music taste as well as hosting a comedy club once a month.

Milton Keynes has two main museums: Bletchley Park – which holds both the museum of wartime cryptography and the national museum of computing – and the Milton Keynes Museum – which includes collections of rural life that existed before the new town. As well as these museums, Milton Keynes has a Discovery Centre at Bradwell Abbey which, along with providing a wealth of information in its library, is also the location of several medieval buildings including a Grade 1 listed chapel. Also nearby, in Bancroft – also home to the famous concrete cows – are the remains of a Roman villa. One of the original mosaics from the villa is displayed in CMK shopping centre.

The town has also been home to the Milton Keynes International Festival, since 2010, which takes place once every 2 years and is spread over ten days in July. Featuring a world-class programme of extraordinary events in unusual places and public spaces, incorporating music, dance, comedy, cabaret and more. 89% of people, asked in 2012, thought that the International Festival was helping to raise the profile of Milton Keynes and 98% felt that it had a positive impact on their opinion of the town.

So, do you still think Milton Keynes has no culture?

Photos by myself

This project has been a long time in the making – mainly because I don’t actually live in Milton Keynes anymore (to take any more photographs) but also because life is busy. So, I am sorry to the people that I intrigued way back in March (?!) with this idea and then wasn’t too quick about pursuing it.

There is an [e-]booklet version of this, coming soon, with more photographs – plus it actually makes use of my editorial design skills – but first of all I wanted to post my words in a series of blog posts…

1 comment:

  1. Great article. Just a small point to correct IF: Milton Keynes International Festival takes place every two years. It has had three editions 2010, 2012 and 2014 with the next scheduled for July 2016.