When is A City Not A City?

Our search for our little spot of Britain to feather as our own snug nest consistently reveals the way the past and present sit side-by-side attempting to cohabit in harmony.  This is particularly true in this unique new town that is Milton Keynes, 34 square miles populated with 230,000 people.

Map from Wikipedia
Milton Keynes shown within Buckinghamshire

Milton Keynes is not one of the 51 communities of England granted city status by the monarch of the United Kingdom. Traditionally a city was the seat of a cathedral so a small community such as Wells with about 10,500 people was first designated a city in medieval times. Milton Keynes recently celebrated a mere fifty years  as one of England’s newest towns.  MK as the area is known is the heart of a slightly larger area, the Borough of Milton Keynes.   

You might conclude at this point that MK is all new construction reflecting the technology and architecture of the past 50 years. Not so, this is rich archaeological territory with the earliest human history dating to 2000 BCE. In the midst of motorways and roundabouts are villages like Simpson listed in the Doomsday Book of 1086. The ancient Roman road north from London still exists on some of the motorways and high streets of MK.  Stony Stratford‘s high street still follows the historical coaching road to London. Newport Pagnell was once one of the largest towns in Buckinghamshire.  Olney, a historic market town still holds markets in the square.  The Grand Union Canal  built in the 19th century for transporting goods to London makes way through the heart of MK and through the swinging lock of the old market town of Fenny Stratford. Fenny Stratford and our own Bletchley have two of the train stations in MK and their high streets are  separated by less than a ten minute walk.

photo by Tom Walker, 23 Sept 2010
Queensway, Bletchley’s High street

While the historic villages and towns benefit from the history that binds them as a community within a larger urban area, the designers developed an urban plan that pulled those villages and towns into the grid designs with new housing estates, parks, footpaths, community centers, roundabouts, a multipurpose  Central Milton Keynes of highrise business and MK government buildings, housing, shopping, entertainment and restaurants.

It is all here together ancient and contemporary, traditional and modern, stone and aged wood next to steel and glass.  It is quirky, vibrant, diverse, envied, scorned, admired and thriving.

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