While too young to have witnessed the coal-ash smog years (though briefly experienced in Tuzla, Bosnia[i]) the issue of acid rain and air pollution was well-ingrained in my childhood years in Southern Germany, where aged 10 or so I was wondering how safe it was to eat my dad’s garden-grown tomatoes worrying about all the polluting particles that would have been absorbed and settled on them! I washed and ate them in the end savouring their full flavour and sweetness. Moving to the UK in the late 80s the political / environmental narratives slowly shifted to biodiversity, climate change and water/flooding, though in the past year or two air pollution has climbed back onto the political radar. And so have health concerns more generally, with increased awareness and diagnostics of cancers, obesity, stress and mental health impacts of a fast-paced, fast-consumption society.
How much of UK planning seems to have forgotten its roots seems, however, astonishing! Last week I attended a Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) West Midlands CPD event on ‘Planning and Health’ where the topic rightfully took centre-stage with a full room of planning practitioners and researchers absorbing the facts, figures and wide-ranging examples how health is and should be intrinsically connected with planning. Continue reading The healthy roots of planning→
The Olympic Games in Rio are in full flight and the gold medal rush continues. Much talk in recent days, though, has focused on how the diving pool has turned from a sparkly azure blue colour at the beginning of the Games to something with a peculiarly green and murky tinge. Various explanations have been put forward to explain what has happened, though it is still not entirely clear why.[i] Divers have been assured that the water is safe, and the competition continued, but the event has stirred some deep-rooted fears regarding water quality.
I have been interested in researching climate change ever since the first IPPC report was published and introduced in my Geography class at the University of Aberdeen by Professor Chalmers Clapperton all those 24 years ago. So here is a second blog on the topic following my recent blog inspired by the People’s Climate March that took place 21 September 2014. A week on, my attention turns to the just published October issue of the interdisciplinary journal Environmental Values which uncovers some of the thornier and neglected issues of climate change. My task as an associate editor was to introduce this issue and downloading the Editorial is free. The whole issue is an interesting read and this blog just picks up a few of the ideas and issues that stood out for me and made me reflect.
Reading Gael Plumecocq’s[i] article highlighted for me the role of emotions as a trigger to changing behaviour and attitudes. If we feel passionate about something and think about what is really at stake, we are likely to change our behaviour and quite possibly aim to influence policies. Related to this, if we can influence politicians’ emotions through actual or virtual experiences of specific case studies and situations, then this may be more effective than simply casting a vote every few years. The emerging dramatic climate change impacts are as much about emotional and ethical pertinence as they are about physical processes and political challenges. Continue reading Environmental Values and Climate Change: New perspectives and challenges→
Participation in ‘People’s Climate March’ last week-end was reported from across many cities and continents, with Birmingham contributing its own contingent of citizens’ voices to demand action by UK politicians and other Governments on global climate change. Increasingly, we are confronted with the likely scenario of irreversibility of change – and that is change for the worse rather than better, as rapid environmental change and extreme weather events manifest themselves faster than technological utopian remedies. Sluggish energy-related targets and policies across sectors that hang onto economic growth fairytales are beginning to frustrate an increasing number of not so happily ever after citizens. Yet, the September demonstrations showed their own ugly dilemmas of modern consumerism and mobility: how to reduce negative impacts in travelling to climate change events and reduce adding high-energy trash of convenience foods and drinks – the hypocrisy being captured by some media photos of rubbish left behind.
Planning has the potential to become a rallying-cry around which people come together to bring diverse and exciting ideas about what their future could be like, and then helps people realise these collective dreams. But I worry that we have lost the knack of constructively and positively engaging the public in the complex issues of planning. Perhaps we can look to the past to re-learn a lost art of inspiring enthusiasm and hope through planning.
Routledge is publishing a new series of books, reprinting classic texts in town planning with newly-commissioned critical introductions. My contribution – published on 17 July – focuses on two books about Birmingham: principally the Bournville Village Trust’s When we build again (1941), with Paul Cadbury’s Birmingham – fifty years on (1952). But why do we revisit these aged texts? What can we learn from planning history?
It’s commonplace to suggest that we should learn lessons from the past. On the other hand, perhaps we just make the same mistakes over and over again! Look at the current furore over the new syllabus for history in secondary schools. In terms of planning history specifically, the eminent planning historian Tony Sutcliffe said long ago that “does it not reflect [society’s] rejection of a once-proud elite of technocrats, who take refuge in the past from an uncertain present and a gloomy future?” (Sutcliffe, 1981, p. 65). Sutcliffe’s place for planning history and historians was as “unsettling persons”, evaluating and questioning the past, soberly assessing its “contribution to the long-term development of planning methodology” (Sutcliffe, 1981, p. 67). Planning history should replace myth in situating ideas within a broad and long-term historical perspective. Continue reading Can planning’s past tell us about planning’s future?→
As in industry, the field of small to medium-sized research entities is different to that of the mega-million pound projects. Big research programmes often have (science) communication and other specialised experts to hand to help shape high impact outputs and to support knowledge exchange activities. With smaller grants the principal and co-investigators often need to fulfil a larger range of functions themselves; including working at times outside of one’s usual comfort zone. The project completed under the recently finished RELU programme on ‘Managing Environmental Change at the Fringe: Reconnecting Science and Policy with the Rural-Urban Fringe’was no exception. The project team consisting of a handful of academic researchers and 10 practitioners and policy-makers were awarded just over £150,000 to work together on the rural-urban fringe and developing novel lenses by exploring the fusion of core themes in Spatial Planning with principles of the Ecosystem Approach. The research project journey has just been published in Progress in Planning – a 30,000 word guided tour from project rationale to practice-relevant outputs and planning theory. This journal provides an outlet for multi-disciplinary work relating to spatial and environmental planning in the form of monographs, with an impact factor of 1.750.