Having been here in Farnham about a year now, I think I am at least partially qualified to pass judgment on some aspects of the town in comparison to Milton Keynes. There are strengths, and there are weaknesses, let me be quite clear!
In Farnham's favour, it fares much better with regard to decent places to eat - including absolutely no McDonalds "restaurants" at all, drive-through or otherwise - and many very affordable too. Still better, if enthusiastic, you can easily walk to most of these restaurants, and enjoy a drink or two without the worries of having to brave the high-speed road system to get anywhere much and back in the course of an evening. Though in the place of the grid roads, Farnham has an alternative system I am only just beginning to vaguely master.
First-time visitors to Milton Keynes always complain that there are no clear landmarks, making it difficult to determine where you are, but the beauty is that most of the time it really doesn't matter - not because you might as well be going to Conniburrow as Springfield, but because a "zig" in the wrong place can be swiftly rectified with a well-timed "zag", for no extra distance. But Farnham has the one-way system from hell, surpassed only by parts of central London. I endeavour to practise my lane-changing with TOCA2 before venturing into town, lest I end up in Bordon or worse before realising my mistake. It might be possible to apply logic to it, until encountering the inevitable lorry, van or 4x4 parked on the ubiquitous double-yellow lines, that makes all one's careful and timely manoeuvring into the proper lane utterly pointless.
The shops in Farnham are, well, just about the same as everywhere. Unlike Milton Keynes, you potentially get wet walking between them, but the range - at least of useful outlets - is no different, even if they tend to be a little smaller. There's a Smiths, a Woolworths, a Boots and an Argos - and of course enough mobile phone shops for every user in the town to get one-to-one service. There are also twee shops, selling things like wooden Noah's Arks - Mr and Mrs Noah included, animals extra - that are much harder to find in Milton Keynes, though not impossible, thanks to the delightful and over-expensive barrows that jam the malls of its central shopping area like all too many of its ilk. The students at Farnham's art college were somewhat upset though, when the small but popular Safeway was bought not by Morrisons but by Waitrose, and prices accordingly shot through the roof. Most people shop at Sainsburys anyway, of which we are happily provided with two, though anyone at the town centre one wanting a trolley needs super-human intelligence to comprehend the pound-coin operated locks that inseparably gang them like slaves on a galley. In Milton Keynes, people were assumed less likely to steal trolleys, so the supermarkets there were far more trusting - or, more likely, there was a public outcry that a pound was too far much to pay for a good laugh on a grid-road overpass.
Milton Keynes has a population of about a quarter of a million, whilst Farnham has a mere forty-odd thousand - and has steadily grown over its near 800 years of official existence, rather than becoming a modern-day Botany Bay overnight - which inevitably means there is a bit more obvious variety and character in the many residential neighbourhoods. No 1km-by-1km grid squares in Farnham, and it might surprise to find a number of streets which have different styles and even ages of property. But of course Farnham has a sizeable population that we never see. Not an underclass; no, quite the opposite. They avoid all contact with the plebeians, live in houses that can't be seen from the road, and like it that way thank you very much. To be honest, we quite like it that way too.
As I think I hinted before, Milton Keynes isn't obvious. Well, it's an obvious blot on the landscape - though admittedly a part of the north Bucks landscape few really objected to blotting, it would seem - but its charm doesn't come on a plate. Farnham comes as more of a bespoke town, complete in every way. You can come to Farnham and very quickly decide whether it's a place you will love or hate. But ultimately I spent over seven years in Milton Keynes, and didn't regret a moment of it. Its secret is community, and that's something you have to make an effort to discover. Perhaps it was because the town was so soulless that you had to discover and make the most of strength of the community if you were to stick it out for any time. I'm not sure Farnham manages half as well, to be honest. Thankfully, all that means in practice is that I have to try twice as hard to be part of it all, so it's not necessarily insurmountable, and I do feel part of a strong and meaningful community here. And I'm staying.