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→
Some people will have picked-up on Steven Spielberg’s recent visit to Birmingham. The director of E.T., Jaws, Schindler’s List, Jurassic Park and current hit The BFG was shooting footage for his dystopian sci-fi thriller, Ready Player One – the film adaptation of the award-winning novel by Ernest Cline. Set in 2044 with many people living in bleak stacks of homes piled on top of each other; this forms a rather grim urban backdrop. Photographs of the Birmingham filming locations posted on Twitter, for example, show graffiti-covered walls, streets covered with litter and smashed cars.[i] The film is scheduled for release in 2018.
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.
An hour-long documentary, directed by the film-maker Julien Temple, is shining light on Keith Richards’ formative years growing up in post-war Britain. According to recent media accounts, the Rolling Stones stalwart, a native of Dartford, Kent, will star in the film Keith Richards – The Origin of the Species, directed by Julien Temple, which will be at the centre of the BBC’s My Generation season exploring the importance of popular music in the mid-to-late-twentieth century. The film draws on Richards’ recollections of how he evaded being killed by a bomb in the Second World War, when it is reported that his cot was showered with bricks and mortar. The documentary also explores Richards’ attitude to the various physical and societal changes of the 1950s and 1960s: “There was a feeling in the late Fifties and Sixties that there was a change coming […] I certainly felt […] it’s time to push the limits”. Continue reading I sit and watch as tears goes by …→
In this audio blog, Alister Scott critically explores the implications for the West Midlands and Green Belt in an assessment of the recent Birmingham Local Plan approval by the Inspector which gave the green light for building 6000 homes in the Green Belt.
The media is alive with the sound of planning policy again as the Communities and Local Government Select Committee publishes its report looking into the operation and impact of the National Policy Planning Framework. Using some of the key headlines from the report, I offer my preliminary assessment.
We should ensure that the same weight is given to the environmental and social as to the economic dimension
Economic considerations continue to trump environmental and social matters in decision making through our fetish for economic growth. In particular, the assessment of viability in the NPPF has been too heavily weighted in the developer interest. The lack of transparency in these assessments is a matter of concern as brownfield-first policies and affordability housing quotas can easily be bypassed. It is also equally important to consider environmental and social limits in such decisions where the concepts of natural and social capital provide useful tools for decision making. Continue reading National Planning Policy Framework School Report: 48% – Could do much better→
New students, new impressions, new happenings. It’s Freshers’ Week and two coach loads of students and staff make their way to the West Midlands Safari Park which serves as the setting for a day’s work by budding students in building surveying, construction management, architectural technology, quantity surveying, real estate, and planning. The focus for the group studying Planning, Environment and Development is Bunkers Hill, a grass-covered flat-topped hill, punctuated by molehills and laced by wonderful mature trees (many of them chestnuts, which looked much better this year, recovered from the leave miner attacks in previous years).
We start by looking at a topographical and a basic park map to set the context before walking to Bunkers Hill past some of its (less fierce) animals, African inspired huts, remodelled stables block, the fairground and the renovated and extended ‘manor’ house, Spring Grove House, which now is largely used as a wedding venue. We then walk the rest of the way to the currently largely undeveloped part of the park ascending Bunkers Hill and taking in the views and grassy smell, spot the communication masts with their owl and bat boxes and walk around to get a better feel for the site.
Now to the challenge: How would one best fit a 250-bed hotel on this site? Where should it be located based on the character and slope of the land, the surrounding area, and to complement what has already been developed within the park? We did not show the students the actual outline plans, but wanted to get their ideas and impressions of what would suit the site and why. We emphasised that considering the economic development potential and viability of the project were crucial in current planning thinking.
The recent floods are just one example of the problems we are likely to face in the coming 50-100 years as a result of environmental and social change. Traditional urban forms are vulnerable, and current ways of planning are weak and slow to respond.
I spent a day recently at an ‘expert symposium’ onthe future of urban form and infrastructure, part of the Government Office for Science’s “Foresight Future of Cities” project. It was a fascinating and wide-ranging discussion with a good range of experienced academics and professionals. But it actually said very little about form or infrastructure in any detail. We largely accepted that much existing research had already identified good and bad form, and in fact the key to better urbanism in the future was better management, at all scales.
How far do you walk each week? If there is one thing that most health professionals agree upon it is that our state of health is greatly enhanced if we each have a brisk walk each day. It seems logical to surmise that if this simple direction was followed, NHS costs might be significantly reduced.
Perhaps surprisingly, built environment professionals can have a significant effect on peoples’ physical activity and this is well recognised in the USA where there is a trend towards “active design” agreed between health authorities and architects. This might mean, for instance, locating stair cases near the main entrance instead of hiding them at the rear of the lifts. This principle can be applied beyond buildings to the external environment. The trend towards pedestrianisation over the last few decades has undoubtedly helped, although increasing walking is a positive spin-off rather than a planned benefit. However, in the Country as a whole the National Travel Survey 2012 states that walking trips fell by 27% since 1997. Conversely, the number of households with two or more cars has risen to 31% from only 17% in 1986 – this in the midst of a recession.
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?→