Where would you look for inspiration if you were planning a new town? If you are Prince Charles or the Shanghai Planning Commision, the past would seem to be the answer; or to be more precise, the English past. The town of Pounbury in the south of England, designed by Prince Charles, is an answer to what he calls the 'hertless urban planning' of the 1960s. It was here that he could offer an alternative to 'ugly' high-rise apartment blocks, large housing estates and zonal planning - where industry, shops and homes are all separated into different areas of a city.
Poundbury's buildings imitate the quaint cottages and grander houses of 18th-century Dorset. All are built with local stone, helping the community take root in familiar surroundings. 'What I was trying to do,' the prince said, 'was remind people that it is pointless to throw away the knowledge and experience of what has gone before.'
If you find such reproductions of the past artificial, then you will certainly not enjoy Thames Town, a new development just outside Shanghai. Rarely do you find Nostalgia taken to such extremes. But this is not nostalgia for traditional Chinese living. Thames Town is modelled on the English town of Dorchester, not far from Poundbury, and is part of a plan to create a new suburbia for Shanghai's richer classes. It boasts a pub, a fish and chip shop, and a 19th-century church. Nine such replica towns are planned around Shanghai, each based on a different Western style: Italian, Austrian, etc.
But are these model towns a success? As far as friendly urban planning goes, Poundbury does seem to work. Business are placed close to residential buildings, enabling residents to walk to work. A third of the houses are 'affordable housing', giving the town a good social and economic mix. They have small gardens, but there is plenty of communal green space, making it easy to get to know your neighbours.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Thames Town. It is popular with day visitors and Chinese couples wanting to recreate western-style weddings, but, going there, you get the distinct feeling you are in a museum rather than somewhere lived in.