At its utopian outset from the mid 1960s to the 1970s, Milton Keynes was infused with the post-war democratic consensus that a more just social equilibrium was worth striving for. As the city became more established, with a more developed infrastructure and increased private investment, the role commercial capital played in its emerging cultural identity grew more visible. Milton Keynes was always meant to be an accommodating host to global capital, it was promoted to the international corporate marketplace as a place to relocate and create local jobs.
This is what you would expect a new town/city to do. Attracting capital, to attract jobs to attract people who will slowly create a history, even ‘a culture’ for the place. This is also where the role culture plays in economies, in cities and capital gets interesting. The planners of Milton Keynes never took the view that culture would slowly emerge over time. They recognised that culture was there already. If the new place was to thrive it had to both embrace what was there and plan for what was to come. The discordant mixtures that this produced are plain to see in Sapphire Goss’s film. From the wonky tartan grid layout to its intense interpenetrations of glass, tarmac and green leaves, Milton Keynes is a monument to paradox. It is a proof of concept that cultural identity is, as Stuart Hall, former professor of sociology at the Open University, once remarked, ‘always a matter of becoming as well as of being.’