Research Visit Archives in Aylesbury, England

In early 2023, our fellow Fabian Ebeling travelled to England for a research stay. In the text below, he describes his stay, the insights he gained, and the sources he examined:

In March 2023, I visited the Buckinghamshire Archives in Aylesbury. The archives host the vast collection of materials and documentation produced by the Milton Keynes Development Corporation (MKDC) which was responsible for the planning and management of the physical and social growth of this British New Town between 1967 and 1992. I spent twelve full days reviewing and scanning thousands of pages worth of documents.

Buckinghamshire Council

My main focus was the reports produced by the Social Development Unit (SDU) which was tasked with enabling and overseeing the social growth of Milton Keynes. In my dissertation project, I am concerned with a media historical and media aesthetic approach to the history of smart cities. Preliminary findings from these documents suggest that the main figure of the spatial structure in Milton Keynes, the famous grid, becomes a way of thinking which finds expressions in the work of arrivals workers who document the daily life and problems of new arrivals to Milton Keynes.

From linear forms of writing they partly change their style of reporting into gridded tables, addressing individual problems rather than the “bigger picture” of the mood and atmosphere among the citizens. These documents also show a struggle for responsiveness, the urge to address the needs of the people who, in the first years of Milton Keynes, basically lived on a vast construction site.

In that, I see a prefiguration of so-called responsive cities, an advanced development of smart cities in which citizens are supposed to engage in the maintenance of their surrounding infrastructures via 311-Apps, for example. All over, people draw the authorities’ attention to potholes, litter and many things which potentially disrupt the smooth flows of daily life within cities. Administrations respond by, in the best case, taking care of the problem. This depicts what in cybernetics is called a feedback-loop through which actors gain agency towards their environments – a mechanism which is at the core of my project and will be looked at in other chapters of the work, as well.