Thames Town: Shanghai's England-themed village

A scale model of the village. Image: Getty.

Chinese cities are no strangers to imitation. Hell, without leaving the Middle Kingdom, you can visit the Eiffel Tower, a Venetian canal and Rockefeller Centre.

Even the humble English village has also received a nod from China's imitationist architect, complete with mock Tudor frontages, cobbles, squares, and corner shops. Named "Thames Town" (which suggests this is very much a Home Counties village), the settlement is situated about 30km from central Shanghai.

It's part of Songjiang New City, a new development intended to shoulder some of Shanghai's enormous population growth. Other Western themed developments have also been built or partially built in Shanghai's suburbs, including "Holland Town", and Italian, Canadian and Scandinavian-style developments. 

What's striking about Thames Town in particular is its remarkable accuracy. This may be because English architects are forever imitating their own mythologised image of the ideal British village: faux-Victorian and faux-Tudor buildings are pretty much as common now in Britain as their actual historical counterparts. In fact, Thames Town wouldn't look out of place if you dropped it into Poundbury, Prince Charles' bizarre model town development off the A35. 

Here's a replica London cab:

Image: Getty.

Here are some replica buildings, a clocktower and some trees. You can see a Shanghai tower block in the background, too: 

Little Britain. Image: Huai-Chun Hsu via Flickr.

The town and its extremely fake-looking church have become a popular location for wedding photos:

Image: Getty.

Here are some fake Georgian townhouses:

Image: Huai-Chun Hsu via Flickr.

And an admirable attempt to use a British typeface:  


Image: Marc van der Chijs via Flickr. 

Look, there's even a branch of Costa!

Could be the ideal location for your next holiday, if you get sick of your own cobbled high street and corner shop.


Older people need better homes – but then, so does everybody else

Colne, Lancashire. Image: Getty.

Towards the end of last year, I started as an associate director at the Centre for Ageing Better, working particularly on our goal around safe and accessible homes. Before I arrived, Ageing Better had established some ambitious goals for this work: by 2030, we want the number of homes classed as decent to increase by a million, and by the same date to ensure that at least half of all new homes are built to be fully accessible.

We’ve all heard the statistics about the huge growth in the number of households headed by someone over 65, and the exponential growth in the number of households of people over 85. Frustratingly, this is often presented as a problem to be solved rather than a major success story of post war social and health policy. Older people, like everyone else, have ambitions for the future, opportunities to make a full contribution to their communities and to continue to work in fulfilling jobs.

It is also essential that older people, again like everyone else, should live in decent and accessible homes. In the last 50 years we have made real progress in improving the quality of our homes, but we still have a lot to do. Our new research shows that over 4 million homes across England fail to meet the government’s basic standards of decency. And a higher proportion of older people live in these homes than the population more generally, with over a million people over the age of 55 living in conditions that pose a risk to their health or safety.

It shouldn’t be too difficult to ensure all our homes meet a decent standard. A small number of homes require major and expensive remedial work, but the overwhelming majority need less than £3,000 to hit the mark. We know how to do it. We now need the political will to make it a priority. Apart from the benefits to the people living in the homes, investment of this kind is great for the economy, especially when so many of our skilled tradespeople are older. Imagine if they were part of training young people to learn these skills.

At a recent staff away day, we explored where we would ideally want to live in our later lives. This was not a stretch for me, although for some of our younger colleagues it is a long way into the future.

The point at which the conversation really took off for me was when we moved away from government definitions of decency and accessibility and began to explore the principles of what great homes for older people would be like. We agreed they needed light and space (by which we meant real space – our national obsession with number of bedrooms as opposed to space has led to us building the smallest new homes in Europe).

We agreed, too, that they needed to be as flexible as possible so that the space could be used differently as our needs change. We thought access to safe outdoor space was essential and that the homes should be digitally connected and in places that maximise the potential for social connection.

Of course, it took us just a few seconds to realise that this is true for virtually everyone. As a nation we have been dismal at moving away from three-bed boxes to thinking differently about what our homes should look like. In a world of technology and factory building, and as we build the new generation of homes we desperately need, we have a real chance to be bold.

Great, flexible homes with light and space, in the places where people want to live. Surely it’s not too much to ask?

David Orr is associate director – homes at the Centre for Ageing Better.