Spielberg, Dystopia and … Birmingham

by David Adams and Wil Vincent

Birmingham Street used in Spielberg'd forthcoming film

Spielberg in Birmingham. Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ell-r-brown/28978795090

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.

Pollution, over-crowding, man-made and natural disasters, and controlling forces of surveillance, all feature [Read more…]


Shake the foundations: resilience and planning for infrastructure

by David Adams

Blog 33 Resilience sign_smallerThere is a growing literature on resilient environments; indeed, the term resilience has been hotly debated, discussed, and in some instances, roundly dismissed.  It lies outside of the reach of this blog to unpick the various threads of these arguments in any detail.  However, I will limit the focus to one area of resilience, which is embodied in the ‘100 Resilient Cities’ initiative pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation, with the expressed ambition of ‘helping cities around the world become more resilient to the physical, social and economic challenges that are a growing part of the 21st century’.[i]  Such an approach is perhaps representative of broader concerns regarding the need to incorporate resilience thinking into planning, engineering and design-based initiatives that ensure the urban fabric can withstand, and positively respond to, a whole range of anthropogenic and ‘natural’ threats – earthquakes, fires, flood, and so on.[ii]  These recent ambitions chime with broader historical arguments regarding the paradoxical nature of cities.   [Read more…]


I sit and watch as tears goes by …

by David Adams

Keith Richards by Nico7Martin

A forthcoming documentary draws on Keith Richards’ experiences of growing up in wartime and post-Second World War Britain. Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/nico7martin/8805498640

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”. [Read more…]


The Financial Times discovers planning history

by Peter Larkham

Social and functional areas being depicted in the London County Plan

Social and functional areas being depicted in the London County Plan

It seems as if the FT’s property correspondent has discovered planning history. On no less than two recent occasions, Kate Allen (2014, 2015) has discussed the contemporary significance of Professor Sir Patrick Abercrombie’s plans for the London region, produced at the invitation of the Ministry for Town Planning in 1943-44 (Forshaw and Abercrombie, 1943; Abercrombie, 1945). Both were full-page features on the front page of the weekend ‘House and Home’ supplement; and the first carried a large full-colour reproduction of the widely-recognised “egg diagram” of social and functional areas in London.

It is very interesting to see such historic documents still being discussed in relation to today’s planning issues, and Kate Allen provides a fascinating argument for why the ‘scale’ and ‘ambition’ of Ambercrombie’s ideas are ripe for re-assessment. On one level, this suggests that planning history can have enduring relevance (or, perhaps, “impact” in today’s academic jargon!). But there are also persistent practical problems with attempting to translate the ideas of Abercrombie and the plans, no matter how well-known, into ‘workable’ solutions. With 70 years of hindsight the plans are flawed, probably inevitably; but quoting Boris Johnson’s “differences with Abercrombie” (Allen, 2014) is not really sufficient. [Read more…]


The future of urban form and infrastructure: more effective management of flooding and other challenges

by Peter Larkham

“Plan boldly!” (Lord Reith, 19401)

Photo of flooded residential area at Wimborne, February 2014

Flooding on the Stour, Wimborne, Dorset.
Photo: Ian Kirk (via Flickr)

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’ on the 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.

So, acknowledging ideas from the assembled experts (though anonymised via Chatham House rules), there are some radical lessons for planning and management. [Read more…]