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?→
This blog uses evidence from recent research work on the urban rural fringe to re-discover a different way forward for English planning. The rediscovery element is important here as we all too often seek the new when we have solutions buried in our vaults from past interventions
Much of the present debate about the delivery of economic growth and protection of the countryside is being fought out in the battlefield of the urban-rural fringe. Here at the meeting of town and country where urban and rural land uses, interests and values converge in the daily experience of development proposals, I see a dualism between proponents of urban growth and countryside protectors. We urgently need to move beyond this sterile and media-fuelled debate by a re-examination of what planning is about and what it means on the ground. In the murky political football that now characterises planning policy and decision-making, the soul of planning has become lost. Continue reading Putting the P back into Planning→