Regarding southern 'new towns', I can confirm that they were one of the most utterly dumb-arsed ideas to come out of the '50s. I can understand the whole space-age idealism that thought concrete and beige-brick expanses were the future, but the fact that they kept on trying to make them work, decades later when it was obvious how god-awful they were, socially, economically and aesthetically, is unforgivable.
I had the misfortune to be born and raised in Stevenage. In its favour, it has a really clever and intelligently-planned cycle-track network. That's it. When I was young, the Old Town area (where I lived) was still a nice-looking place with character and soul, despite the monstrous sprawl to the south, but they've been chipping away at it ever since, and it now looks like a sick parody of an historic High Street. I could just about stomach the fact that the friendly local indy hardware shops and grocers have been replaced by wine bars and gastro-pubs, but the way that the centuries-old coaching inns now have trendy stainless-steel and glass office blocks looming over them just turns my stomach. I used to respect the fact that even though most of the town was utter sh1t, they kept it looking green, with every estate and office block broken up by trees, parks and flower-beds; now they're laying foundations on every square foot of land they can find. I used to think the Town Centre looked a wee bit crap, with stained concrete and cloudy glass everywhere....... but then the big-name stores pulled out, followed by the smaller & more interesting shops, to be replaced by pound shops, sandwich bars, slot-machine arcades and boarded-up facades - and because anyone with half a brain cell now shops elsewhere, it's full of human detritus waddling around with slack jaws and stained tracky bottoms, variously either screaming at their bastard children or lusting after the nearest overspill of back-fat and VPLs, depending on gender. In the words of Morrissey: "come, come, come nuclear bomb."
Wow, that was quite therapeutic. Apologies to anyone who still lives there and likes it.
MK: Slightly better execution than Stevenage, in that they didn't f**k up an existing town, but started from scratch. Still thoroughly uninspiring and rather depressing array of blandness. I have a grudging regard for the way that they kept each estate area separate, like mini-towns with their own shops etc: at least they tried to give them a sense of community in their misguided way. I just really wish that they hadn't made all the main roads completely identical in every way - unless you know exactly where you're going, it's a bitch to navigate.
Harlow: Takes the biscuit, possibly on a par with Stevenage but I haven't spent long enough there to make a balanced appraisal. The planning process seems to have consisted of a nominated councillor being plied with cheap booze and kebabs, then vomiting randomly onto a map of the borough, with laughably poor development commencing wherever the biggest chunks landed. I'd dearly love to visit somewhere more soul-destroying, so I could hate it a bit less. I don't have a problem with Essex per se, despite its image - it's where my ancestry lies, and has some quite nice corners.