AoU Journal 4: Sustainable urbanism

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Here & Now Sustainable urbanism

Urbanism and the Garden City Creating regenerative cities The future of cities lies in slums Interview: The Mayor of Bristol

AoU Journal No. 4 Autumn 2014


Front cover image: Favela Painting by Haas & Hahn






The Academy in Action


FAR and the Madding Crowd Robert Powell looks back on his experience as an expert panel member of the recent Farrell Review

The Academy of Urbanism 70 Cowcross Street London EC1M 6EJ United Kingdom +44 (0) 20 7251 8777 @TheAoU Join The Academy of Urbanism LinkedIn, facebook and Flickr Editorial team Alastair Blyth Stephen Gallagher David Rudlin Editorial panel Steven Bee Sarah Chaplin Kevin Murray David Porter Dr James White Saffron Woodcraft Design Richard Wolfströme







Urbanism and the Garden City 2014 Wolfson Prize winner David Rudlin calls for confidence in new housing development

Creating regenerative cities Ecologist, author and consultant Herbert Girardet argues why positive health for our cities is rooted beyond their boundaries

The future of cities lies in the slums Young Urbanist Line Algoed reflects on her time in Rio’s slums working with community-led renewal projects


Making One Planet Living our business Sue Riddlestone, co-founder of BioRegional, asks whether business and social values can no only co-exist, but thrive


Edible cities Camilla Ween takes a look at one of the biggest problems facing the future of many of the world’s cities and how small-scale inner-city projects are having an effect


Leading a sustainable city Alastair Blyth talks to George Ferguson about his plans for Bristol as the 2015 European Green Capital City and beyond

Space for great places! A gallery of ideas and reflections on great places

My own view is... Urbanism is about unlocking doors to opportunities within our towns and cities, says Dublin city planner Dick Gleeson

Urban idiocy Brilliant but flawed ideas for the city


Professor Sir Peter Hall: Discovering the Lost Art of Urbanism Nicholas Falk reflects on the impact of the late Professor Sir Peter Hall


AoU programmes What we do and how to get involved


Academicians Who we are

Back cover …And a final thought… David Porter with his next instalment of learning to learn from place


The term sustainability has slipped into the political and professional lexicons with decreasing attention paid to what it means or represents. The general principle of doing no harm has been interpreted and qualified in many different ways, to serve agendas that are sometimes very different, and even conflicting. It remains a useful portmanteau term, however, embracing the aspirations of those who aim to secure the long-term future of our environment, society, culture and economy. Our success in achieving this will only be confirmed in the long term, although by some of the indicators we use, progress is patchy. In this context of differing interpretations and varying prognoses, evidence of progress and good practice is increasingly valuable. The Academy’s aim to learn from places, and to understand better the means by which our urban settlements can provide a higher quality of life, makes an important contribution to the continuing debate among all those interested. As someone (I’m sorry, I can’t remember who) pointed out at our Annual Congress in Bristol in May 2014, we should not forget, in our celebrations of great places and the quality of life they provide for their citizens, that this quality of life has to be sustained by the population, economy and environment of its hinterland. The reciprocal relationship between consumers and suppliers has to be ‘sustainable’. The economies of scale and the cultural wealth of urban concentrations are scalable up to a point, but we should explore more diligently where this point is, and how to recognise it when we get there. The Academy celebrates the successful urban places of the UK, Ireland and Europe, but we are all aware of the chaotic and unhealthy conditions and ‘unsustainable’ growth of many if not most of the world’s largest cities. That such places continue to be a magnet for the poorest members of society demonstrates that there is little acknowledgement of the dynamics of that reciprocal relationship. The places from which the Academy has drawn inspiration and evidence of successful urbanism demonstrate the benefits for humans as social animals in sharing space, resources and association. The social and cultural examples of this are legion. We have to accept also that such concentrations can stimulate inequality, hostility and disease. Events around the world constantly remind us that these usually occur despite our steps to anticipate and plan for future problems, and sometimes without warning. The Academy will continue to search for examples of sustainable urbanism. We will celebrate the ways in which people use the unique circumstances of their locality to enhance the quality of life for all. We will continue to identify the common characteristics of successful places and offer these as the potential building blocks of a better quality of life for places that seek to emulate them. We might perhaps spend more time in future, as the range of the Academy grows, to identify those counter-productive characteristics of some urban places that could help us all sharpen our focus on what sustainability really means. Steven Bee AoU Chairman

Chairman’s introduction


Moving towards a more sustainable urbanism Sustainable urbanism is more than a collection of discrete green initiatives. It is about creating healthy and prosperous places. It demands a holistic approach to policy-making and policy action at international, national and local levels. In this issue we have invited contributors to look at different aspects of ‘Sustainable Urbanism’ from a macro global view to the micro perspective, and various points in between. Cities are responsible for 80% of global GDP but they occupy just over 3% of the world’s land area – in other words about the land area of the European Union. Yet as Herbert Girardet argues in Regenerative cities (page 14), they take resources from nature but give little back, and if humanity is to survive, the balance between urban systems and ecosystems must be restored. In short, cities need to do their bit whether it is to produce more food locally as argued by Camilla Ween in Edible cities (page 22), or their own energy as in Bristol, or find better ways of using material resources underpinned by more sustainable business models suggested by Sue Riddlestone in Making One Planet Living our business (page 19). However, in our interview, George Ferguson the Mayor of Bristol (page 25) argues for more autonomy from central government to help make such ambitions a reality. The government seems inclined to listen for calls for more local decision making and has just announced that Greater Manchester will have an elected mayor who will preside over policies such as transport affecting the whole region and not just the city of Manchester. Indeed George Ferguson touches on this issue as he describes how he has to work with authorities beyond the city boundary on a coherent transport strategy. The stress on both urban and ecosystems is increased by rapid growth in populations. In the UK more than 200,000 new homes a year are needed and in his Wolfson Prize essay (page 11), David Rudlin addresses how existing cities can be the key to meeting this demand. However, in Rio de Janeiro there are 1.4 million people living in favelas, or informal housing, and Line Algoed looks at how a project inspired by work in the UK provides a model for improving neighbourhoods (page 16). While not prompted specifically by the theme sustainable urbanism much else in this issue touches on the topic. Robert Powell recounts his experience as an expert panel member of the Farrell Review. Nicholas Falk reflects on working with the late Professor Sir Peter Hall who was an astute practitioner before the phrase green urbanism. We are all part of making a better city, a notion that both Dick Gleeson and David Porter develop. … and finally, welcome to our new regular columnist The Urban Idiot (page 35) who I hope will not make fools of us all. Alastair Blyth AoU Editor

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The Academy in action! Academicians and Young Urbanists have been busy since our spring issue. Events and talks in Ireland and the UK, as well as visits to mainland Europe for the Awards, have ensured that we continue to collect and spread new ideas and innovative concepts in placemaking. That said; if you have an idea for an event or activity the Academy should be focusing on, contact:

Background image: Congress walking tour, ph. Kevin-Murray Below: Congress dinner, ph. Sarah Jackson


Our most ambitious Congress to date: Towards a Greener Urbanism tackled a range of important issues and ideas about making our cities more sustainable. Over 200 people joined us for three days of talks, workshops and study tours that drew inspiration locally, nationally and internationally. Watch:

Editor’s introduction | AoU in Action


PLANNING FOR THE FUTURE June 2014 – Mallow, Ireland

Over 80 urbanists gathered to support this joint Royal Institute of Architects in Ireland and Academy event that opened up debate on the future of regenerating mid-sized Irish towns. A range views were presented from local and national government, local practitioners and visiting Academicians on the importance of sustainable and adaptive re-use as a means to drive the economy, environment, and society-at-large. The event finished with an encouraging perspective on the state of Irish high streets from David Rudlin AoU, who argued that their vibrant and active nature sets the bar high for many similarly sized English towns.


Early one Saturday twelve Academicians assembled in the seaside location of Clonakilty in Ireland to find out more about recent initiatives in this 400 year-old town. Meeting at the extensive model railway, the team was joined by local Academician and town architect, Giulia Vallone, former County architect, Billy Houlihan, and the town’s former mayor, Phil O’Regan. More than just a useful meeting place, the model railway set the scene of devastation suffered by local communities when the mainline connection to Cork was closed in the early 20th century. It also formed part of the town’s initial drive to keep visitors coming – even employing a model-maker from London. Clonakilty is a town that today demonstrates the benefits of good design – it has picked up a number of accolades including the RIAI annual award. However the energy that has underpinned this town’s success in recent years – largely attributed to the role of Town Architect – also one that is being eroded. With responsibility appointed to other departments, it is important that the Town Architect’s vision, drive and focus on place is not forgotten. Watch out for more AoU activity in Clonakilty.

Young urbanists, Food in cities


The Young Urbanists have been busy examining the relationship between food and cities, specifically: production, access and consumption. By showcasing some of the latest sustainable practice and research, including London’s E5 Bakehouse pictured above, these events have helped highlight the damage done to our environment – and lifestyles – by food that is cheap, quick and global. One of the many interesting notions to emerge from the three events was around the need to be more opportunistic with how and where we grow. Against the backdrop of research by the Trussell Trust pointing out that food banks have increased in the UK by over 30% in recent years, citizens across the country are beginning to take a more active role in creating and recycling food on a more personal scale. Watch: category/youngurbanists


Watch: terry-farrell-at-the-academy-review Visit:

SCOTTISH YOUNG URBANISTS GATHER As interest in the Young Urbanist network continues to grow, a small group – fuelled also by momentum from the Bristol Congress – met with Academicians to discuss a YU network in Scotland. Following some good advice from the YUs in London, the group got the ball rolling with a pub night of their own in the Southside of Glasgow. A 20-strong group of planners, architects and urban designers turned out to discuss ideas for this network. The hope is that this group can continue to grow and provide a platform for shared learning and practice for Young Urbanists in Scotland – watch this space!


July and September – London

Sir Terry Farrell AoU joined the MidYear Review to give an update on his recent review of the built environment. See Robert Powell’s reflection Far and the Madding Crowd, page 7.

With over 120 new high-rise towers planned for London – as highlighted by the NLA’s research and Growing Up! exhibition – Academicians and Young Urbanists were interested in what these structures can contribute to life at ground level.

Using examples from his own experiences, Sir Terry discussed the problems of ‘solutioneering’ and offered templates of good practice. He also advocated the creation of ‘Urban Rooms’ – or settingswhere politicians and the public can gain urban and spatial literacy. Without awareness of the dynamics that form the city around us, we will lack the capacity to truly improve.

Kicking-off in July, a small group of Academicians visited the BT Tower, Heron Tower, The Shard and the Nine Elms regeneration site. It quickly became apparent that these structures offer both opportunities and challenges. From leveraged investment for regeneration to manufactured exclusivity, their contribution divides opinion. However, the recent and staggering growth in residential high-

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rise also served to highlight the dearth of research on the success stories. Taking the baton, the Young Urbanists debated the contribution of high-rise to liveable places. Two teams pitched their case for and against. Laura Mazzeo from MUD studios and Steven Bee AoU critiqued them as exclusive and isolating. In response, Michael Short AoU from University of the West of England and Ed Green from Grosvenor argued that tall buildings, when regulated within a tight planning framework and positioned sensitively, could be highly beneficial. Watch: tall-buildings-liveable-places Tall buildings


The annual visits to assess the Academy’s 15 Urbanism Awards finalists have once again provided a neatly packaged opportunity to step back, draw breath and find out what some of the best places across the UK, Ireland and Europe are up to. The Great Neighbourhood category was one that certainly projected some important themes. “This year we visited three very strong finalists, each demonstrating tremendous lessons”, said Richard Guise AoU, lead assessor for the category. “Flexibility is a key ingredient. Having a positive plan is important, but for these neighbourhoods, being able to change according to circumstances has been vital to their success.”

The strong sense of community involvement in local initiatives and plans was palpable in the two longestablished residential neighbourhoods of Devonport and Broughty Ferry. Where there was no existing community, as in Holbeck, it is clear that the seeds have been sown, both with the business community and the as-yet-small number of residents. But it was also the candidates’ imaginative approach to their existing assets that caught assessors’ eyes. “Each of the finalists has used their heritage of buildings, streets and spaces in a positive way to stimulate regeneration and contribute to the sense of place”, Guise added. Whether it is industrial charm, a dense grain, or graded local icons, assets have been saved and reused to add strength of character. Read our learning from this year’s 15 finalists:

Assessment visit – Holbeck


April 2014 – Cliftonville, Margate As part of the Academy’s Place Partnering programme, a team of Academicians was invited to the Cliftonville ward of Margate to perform a diagnostic report partway through its journey to becoming a conservation area. Meeting a number of local residents and public, private and third-sector stakeholders, the team was able to review local housing, conservation, enforcement and the environment, social needs and the area and town visions. Amongst the recommendations was a call to enable residents to invest in their area’s upward spiral, both through improvement loans and allocation of vacant sites to self-build. Read the report: academyofurbanism. If you are interested in bringing a team of Academicians to your neighbourhood or town to provide an external perspective on local challenges and opportunities, contact:

THE FUTURE CITY DEBATES May–September 2014 – Milton Keynes

Milton Keynes has a certain pedigree when it comes to innovation – it’s there in the city’s DNA. So it seemed fitting that the foundation set up to celebrate the work of its general manager, Fred Roche, should convene a series of talks on the future challenges facing our

AoU in Action


cities. Governance and growth, economics and infrastructure, sustainability and connectivity were all considered. Organised by Stuart Turner AoU and featuring a number of Academicians, the talks provided the latest thinking to prompt debate. In his talk on the need to prioritise fairness in a world that is suffering from inequality, Dr Rick Robinson AoU looked at ways in which the ‘smart city’ could address disparities. One emergent idea from Dr Robinson was that smarter cities would not be fairer cities until they employed technologies that create openness and accessibility for digital services and information.


October 2014 – Leeds & Sheffield This rather evocative question set the scene for four debates across Leeds and Sheffield. Led by Academicians in the region and supported by a number of organisations and academic institutions, the talks attracted several hundred practitioners and students. The focus was on Yorkshire’s escalating housing crisis, amidst a predicted half-a-million extra people in the region over the next 25 years. Head of policy at Shelter Toby Lloyd described a future within the rental market for the majority. Speaking about the challenges ahead, Lloyd said: “We urgently need to build more homes, in all tenures, to bring the dream of a home of your own within reach of ordinary people”. Taking this idea further, Philip Barnes, land and planning director at Barratt Developments, warned that strict urban containment policies are preventing the growth of UK cities, and called for a model based on the approach of Germany and the Netherlands. However the situation is addressed, Green Party leader Natalie Bennett was adamant that decisions about communities should largely be taken locally and democratically. Watch:


Still fresh from its triumph in the Urbanism Awards, a small group of

Graduate development in Bermondsey Square

Academicians revisited the Academy’s European City of the Year to learn more from some of the initiatives and ideas that made it a vote winner.

Coming up…

Marseille is a city that has endured many challenges. Its fascinating history and stunning Mediterranean location have for a number of years been overshadowed by an image of poverty, unemployment and poor housing. Fortunes, however, can change. And so they did, kick-started in 1995 with the introduction of the Euroméditerranée, a watershed urban renewal project of mega-proportions that sought to transform 480 hectares of derelict inner-city and port land.

The Young Urbanists have initiated a pilot-mentoring scheme that will offer the chance to learn directly from Academicians.

Since then, over 20-years of hard work – which culminated in landing the European Capital of Culture in 2013 – has begun to attract investment and put the city back on the map. But perhaps key to Marseille’s changing fortunes is the joined-up approach it applies to the future. Cross-party collaboration on a local, regional and national level, together with robust leadership, has helped create the Marseille Renovation Urbaine, a 10-year plan that will focus €1bllion of investment in 14 priority areas. That the plan is enshrined in French law makes this achievement even more impressive.

LEARNING FROM LONDON GRADUATE DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMME During 2014, a cohort of 12 young professionals from Barratt Homes took part in the Academy’s Graduate Development pilot programme. Teaming up with Academicians and learning from successful places such as Lamb’s Conduit Street, Bermondsey and King’s Cross, the graduates have been opened up to the wider-world of placemaking. Watch out for more action with this new programme in 2015.

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Visit: mentoring-scheme-pilot-launch


The Academy has partnered with The Glass-House Community Led Design debate series to challenge our relationship with place. This year the theme is ambition – join us in Sheffield, Bristol and London. Visit: debate-series-2014-15/


10 December 2014 – London Hear David Rudlin AoU and Nicholas Falk AoU discuss their Wolfson Prize-winning bid at the Academy’s End of Year Review. Join us to review recent Academy activity and find out how you can get more involved. RSVP to


Stay tuned for further details on this special event, which will promote and explore the theme of health and wellbeing in the city, drawing from local, national and international best practice. Register your interest with

FAR and the Madding Crowd

Academician and Farrell Expert Panel member Robert Powell reflects on the Farrell Review and its importance for the Academy

The FAR Review was published on 31 March this year. I use the acronym of Farrell Architecture Review (FAR) for its metaphorical reach rather than its accuracy (if the Review says anything, it says that it’s not all about architecture). In its scale and scope the FAR is arguably the most important gathering of serious thinking around UK placemaking issues since the Urban Task Force report of 1999. Unarguably, the invitation from Culture Minister Ed Vaizey to Sir Terry Farrell to undertake the Review was the first sign of serious interest in these issues from the Coalition government. On both these fronts – although the significance of the second will only become clear after the election next May – the FAR represents an opportunity which I believe Academicians will want to take up. I think the question for us is not whether to engage, but how best to do so.

From top: Robert Powell Cover title for The Farell Review

What choice for me then, as an Academician, but to take up the privilege and the challenge of joining Sir Terry’s expert panel for the review when invited? Its crowded launch at New London Architecture was exciting – although, I’m sure like all panelists, I had my bugbears and concerns. I expressed them in writing to Sir Terry immediately after the first meeting of the welcomingly diverse panel in April. As ever in our sector, or confluence of

sectors, agendas and languages were all banging their drums. What, I asked, did Sir Terry think was the real subject of the review? Was it architecture, built environment, design, economy, place? How should we protect ourselves from the risk that the exercise would be taken for what it clearly was not – another Rogers’ task force, wellresourced and with powerful support in government? How could we prevent it becoming all things to all people? As director of Beam, with its arts and community development mission, I wondered why there was no word (from the department of Culture, after all) about the arts and artists, and, fundamentally, I could not see in our brief where the role of ordinary citizens is to be addressed. I suggested a ‘Challenge Paper’ approach which would produce right from the start a set of strong propositions to stimulate debate and counter the necessary but bland ‘Call for Evidence’ approach insisted on by departmental protocol. And I expressed concern that by pursuing ‘place’ via four restrictive topic areas we might lose sight of the whole, the holistic, the interconnections. Should there be a ‘fifth’ theme, the ‘Whole Picture’, as it were, or at least the identification of underlying, cross-cutting themes that would bind the Review together and resist the magnetic pull of the sector’s classic silos and interest groups? From the start, though, there was consensus around several things. AoU in Action | Farrell Review


From left to right: Info-graphics from Review Sir Terry Farrell

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Like Sir Terry, we saw the Review as a re-beginning, not an end. The approach must be cross-disciplinary and mustn’t be allowed to fall into the single hands of any particular interest group. It needed to be seen to be independent. And it would not and realistically could not, just be about what government could or should do.

government in promoting design quality in architecture and the built environment. The review will look at lessons…nationally and internationally about the role for government. The role of built environment bodies and other organisations…and better understanding of design quality… will also be considered.’

We didn’t have much time. Although the start had been delayed, the Review was still expected by the end of the year. Based, unlike the others, in the North (Wakefield), I offered to help with some of the five planned regional workshops rather than the London-based ones. With fellow panelist Victoria Thornton, director of Open City, we engaged the skills and connections of the Architecture & Built Environment Centres in Bristol, Birmingham, and Newcastle.

Cultural Heritage (3): ‘The review will look at how to encourage good new architecture whilst retaining the best of the past, and the value of our historic built environment as a cultural asset and in successful place-making’.

The schedule was close to lunacy, but everyone rose to it. All over the country, people gave of their time and ideas. Those who could not make workshops responded to the Call for Evidence. Institutions offered their premises. The small Farrells team, and in particular Max Farrell and Charlie Peel, organised, recorded, and collated the findings from workshops, meetings, debates. The sheer editing and writing achievement of the FAR, in such a short time frame, is noteworthy. So how has the Review itself come out of the extraordinary churn of issues, personalities, pressures, agendas, and potential diversions? As a quick reminder, the brief as described in March 2013 was ‘to engage the sector in helping the DCMS develop its thinking…to better influence and shape policy across government’. There were four themes, shown below in the order the FAR places them, with the numbers indicating the government’s original ordering: Education, Outreach & Skills (4). In reality this was always three huge topics, not one and was originally prefixed with the word ‘promoting’. Note too how professional education was left out, but is addressed in FAR. ‘The review will consider the potential contributions of built environment education to a broad and balanced education both as a cultural subject in its own right and as a way of teaching other subjects. Public outreach and skilling-up will also be considered.’ Design Quality (1): originally outlined as ‘Understanding the role for

Economic Benefits (2): ‘The economic benefits of architecture and design, and maximizing the UK’s growth potential…’ To these the FAR adds a fifth theme, Built Environment Policy and rightly resurrects it into an overarching responsibility from its original burial place in Design Quality. The resulting report, Our Future in Place, will disappoint some. Its breadth makes it seem un-radical. It does not do every issue full, or perhaps even partial, justice. It fails to locate resources. Yet the FAR is, I think, a substantial, even remarkable, achievement. The Introduction by Terry Farrell is truly engaging, deepened by his long experience. The Executive Summary is succinct, highly accessible, and made more so by its clever graphics. Its open spirit is highly untypical of similar government-inspired reviews. Its true gold lies in the body of the full report, because in it the multi-faceted research and consultation gives voice to the richness of skills, perspective and commitment of all those who took part, and demonstrates how the report’s conclusions and recommendations are rooted in the consultation. If the FAR is not quite the battle cry or manifesto some would have wanted, it is a first essential step to recovering, for a new era, the dispersed voices and experiences of the past 15 years; a re-gathering, in one place, of the issues; a statement of what needs to be done, with some strong ideas about actions, all bound together by five cross-cutting themes.

development, the arts. On the surface more sensible than radical, the FAR’s actual radicalism lies in its championship of the centrality of place, its capacity to involve, and its success, at least to some extent, in unifying the divisive specialist languages of the sector into a more single-minded lexicon based on a holistic view of the issues and implications embedded in the idea of ‘built environment’. To achieve its potential, however, the FAR’s ideas of ‘P.L.A.C.E.’ (whatever words you choose to jam into the acronym) need to be further defined, argued through, maintained, and disseminated throughout the hierarchies of those responsible for the built environment and, fundamentally, to the ‘crowd’ – the people who populate it, not least the young. The vulnerabilities of FAR lie in its lack of meaningful government support and resources, its very openness, and perhaps particularly in the vexed question of where leadership will come from to deliver an effective measure of both implementation and unity. If the FAR has cleverly managed to pull all the issues together, and created opportunities for anyone, anywhere, to pick up any one of its multiple strands and take action, then how and by whom is this inherently multifaceted territory to be kept together so that the holistic is not lost and the overall agenda broken into fragments? This is where members of the Academy, and the Academy as a whole, can play a significant role. The eclecticism and the risks of FAR makes the AoU, with its place-based ethos and breadth of membership, ideally placed to play a truly important part in the next phase of bringing the issues into diverse but also unified life. Let a thousand flowers bloom, or even a hundred – but let them all be in the same garden, and connected by pathways we all use.

Robert Powell AoU is director of Beam, a company dedicated to the imaginative understanding and improvement of the public realm.

Actually, perhaps, it is all things to all people – in the positive sense that there are opportunities in it for everyone, from ordinary citizens to professionals in the built environment, education, community and economic

Farrell Review


IBI Placemaking Beautiful and functional cities, towns, districts and neighbourhoods do not happen by chance; they emerge because deliberate and careful direction is given to their growth, cultural heritage and evolution. They are more than the physical entity embracing and supporting social and economic activity. Sustainable and smart ‘cities of the future’ need to be guided by the best advisers. Architecture, Urban Design, Masterplanning and Landscape Architecture practice Taylor Young are now wholly part of the IBI Group. IBI Group brings even greater diversity to our skills set with direct experience of project delivery in many of the worlds great cities. The UK team is keen to hear from anyone with a shared passion for great places.

Please contact: Stephen Gleave for more information, consulting discussions and job opportunities. Tel: 01625 542 200

Defining the cities of tomorrow

Winner of 2014 Wolfson Prize UDG Practice Award 2015 Shortlisted:

Trent Basin (Winner t.b.a) 2014 Shortlisted:

Ichnield Port Loop 2012 Joint Winner:

Brentford Lock West @URBEDmcr

Urbanism and the Garden City Urbanism and Garden Cities are uneasy bedfellows. In a piece in The Guardian, Richard Rogers wrote ‘With intelligent design and planning, we don’t need to overflow into new towns on greenfield sites; doing so would damage the countryside and – more importantly – wreck our cities’. As winner of this year’s Wolfson Economics Prize, which called for proposals on how to deliver a visionary, popular and economically viable new Garden City, David Rudlin responds.

Urbanism and the Garden City


Previous page: Uxcester Garden City, the focus of URBED’s vision to double an existing city to 400,000 people From left to right: Uxcester overview Uxcester extension Uxcester neighbourhoods

The Garden City is not much more than a hundred years old. It was the late 1890s when a parliamentary stenographer by the name of Mr. E. Howard coined the phrase in his book Tomorrow – a peaceful path to real reform. This was essentially a political pamphlet proposing reforms to the economic and social structure of society and was one of many Utopian tracts in circulation at the time that were prompted by concerns about the state of industrial cities. Howard’s contribution is the one that remains with us, partly because of some really good graphics, and partly because the Garden City is such an appealing brand. In a poll of 6,000 people undertaken by Populous this year, 74% of those asked agreed that it is a good idea to build new garden cities to help meet Britain’s need for more housing. To all political parties seeking to build support for a major increase in housebuilding, the Garden City remains a powerful idea. The Wolfson Economics Prize, that commissioned the poll, was the latest attempt to do this. The prize asked three questions: what should be the vision for a Garden City? How can it win public support? And, how can it be viable without public subsidy? At URBED, as elsewhere in the Academy, we debated whether we should submit an entry. Wasn’t the Garden City, at least in the form that it has been interpreted for much of the 20th century, the thing we are against? Wasn’t it the inspiration for new towns and suburbia that have sapped the energy out of urban areas, as Richard Rogers argues? The conclusion we came to was that these were the very reasons the Garden City should be of interest to urbanists.

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In his Three Magnet diagram, Howard suggested that the town and the county both had good and bad points. The city, for example, might suffer from ‘foul air and murky skys’ but was also a place of opportunity and amusement with ‘well-lit streets and palatial edifices’. The country on the other hand might benefit from the ‘beauty of nature’, ‘fresh air’ and ‘low rents’, but it lacked ‘society’, ‘public spirit’ and ‘amusement’. As Howard said, ‘town and country must be married, and out of this joyous union will spring new hope, a new life, a new civilisation’. Since then, opinion has been divided between those who believe that the Garden City combines the best of its ill-matched parents and those that think that it brings out their worst qualities. Proponents of the Garden City have come to see it, not as a way of reforming the city, but as an alternative to it. I spent much of the 1990s taking part in ill-tempered arguments where I was accused of advocating ‘town cramming’ and forcing people against their will to live in degraded cities. I, in turn, gave as good as I got, but I never quite managed the power of Jane Jacobs’ put-down when she described Howard’s aim as being “…the creation of self sufficient small towns, really very nice towns if you were docile and had no plans of your own and did not mind spending your life with others with no plans of their own.” 1 By the 2000s, with the advent of the Urban Task Force and the undeniable renaissance of many of our cities, a truce seemed to have broken-out between these factions. However, when I was invited to take part in a debate earlier this year on whether we should ‘loosen our green belts’ at the Heseltine Institute in Liverpool,

I witnessed an outbreak in hostilities as virulent as ever and in which, on that particular evening at least, I seemed to be in the minority.

In our Wolfson submission we argue that we shouldn’t leave this to the volume housebuilders and we certainly shouldn’t build entirely new towns. It is impossible, we suggest, to build a new Garden City from scratch: there simply isn’t the value in the building of new homes in garden cities to fund the infrastructure needs for even a modest town, let along a city. Instead we suggest grafting Garden Cities onto the strong rootstock of existing cities.

Our Wolfson essay is an attempt to bridge this divide. To say that we must continue to prioritise housebuilding within existing urban areas, but that this is not enough. In the late 1990s URBED produced a report for Friends of the Earth that argued that 75% of all new housing could be accommodated in urban areas. We called our report Tomorrow: a peaceful path to urban reform – which didn’t do a great deal for relations with the Garden City lobby. Nevertheless, by 2006 the country was indeed building three quarters of all new homes in urban areas. This figure peaked at 81% in 2008. This was the urban renaissance that we had advocated for so long and it came at the end of a decade when my hometown of Manchester saw a 20% increase in population.

In doing so we need to rediscover the spirit that built Edinburgh New Town or Bath or for that matter Newcastle’s Grainger Town or London’s Bloomsbury. None of these were built on brownfield land, they were built confidently on the fields that surrounded the city and in doing so enhanced its beauty and setting. These fields of course are today in the Greenbelt and are the most closely guarded of all the green fields. However if, as Urbanists, we are serious about meeting housing targets, we need to have the confidence to build on this sacred land and, in doing so, use the Garden City as a way of expanding the city rather than building an alternative to it.

However, there was a problem because throughout this time we had not been building enough homes. We need to build more than 200,000 homes a year and have only achieved this figure twice in recent years: once just before the 1990 recession and once just before the Credit Crunch. Furthermore half of the new homes built during these years were apartments and some of them were not very good. The housing that we had prevented from being built on greenfields was not transferred to brownfield sites, it just didn’t get built at all. Sure, there is more we can do to increase urban housing and continue the repopulation of our cities, but if we are to meet our housing target we also need to focus on the 25 to 40% of housing that will be build outside urban areas.

David Rudlin AoU a director of The Academy of Urbanism as well as being a director of URBED and a Honorary Professor at Manchester University.

1. Quote taken from The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs

Urbanism and the Garden City


Creating regenerative cities Urban growth is a seemingly unstoppable worldwide process. In recent years much has been written about this historic trend and how it is likely to further accelerate in the coming decades. Herbert Giradet argues why we need to do more than just create sustainable cities.

The World Bank has calculated urban areas are the world’s economic powerhouses, in which 80% of global GDP is being produced, Urban development and the global quest for economic growth are intimately linked. Urban economies in developing cities have also helped reduce the poverty suffered by hundreds of millions of people. But there is a downside: the aggregated environmental impacts of an urbanising humanity are a great cause for concern and they are largely ignored by urban planners and decision makers. We need to face up to the systemic problem that cities take resources from nature, but, at present, give little back to assure the health of ecosystems on which the long-term viability of cities ultimately depends. Many people celebrate the ‘triumph’ of the city but it could also be a tragedy in the making. The position of urbanists today is similar to that of astronomers before Galileo: cities are regarded as the centre of the universe, and the world’s ecosystems are seen as somehow revolving around them. And yet cities are only appendages of living systems. There needs to be a new understanding of urban impacts on nature.

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Whilst cities are built on only 3-4% of the world’s land surface, their ecological footprints cover much of the productive land areas of the globe. Urban populations collectively use the bulk of the world’s resources and are prime contributors to pollution, environmental damage, biodiversity loss and climate change. If we want an urban world we need to assure that cities become environmentally benign organisms. In my view that means not just creating sustainable cities, but regenerative cities. Regenerative development is about a proactive relationship between humanity and the world’s ecosystems, and about nurturing nature’s dynamism and abundance whilst drawing on its income. Cities need to help regenerate soils, forests and watercourses that they depend on, rather than just accepting that they are ‘sustained’ in a degraded condition. Across the world, different cities are at very different stages of development, and invariably they face different challenges. In Europe, North America and Australia, urban growth is very limited and the primary task is to undertake ‘ecological retrofits’ of urban systems. In rapidly urbanising countries in Asia,

Africa and South America, urban development needs to be ‘smart from the start’: defined by high standards of resource efficiency, with renewable energy as a key component. A good example that illustrates the steps is Adelaide in South Australia where I worked as a ‘Thinker in Residence’ in 2003. Remarkable things have happened there in the last 11 years and here is a summary of what has been achieved: • Over 30% of renewable electricity • 120,000 photovoltaic (PV) roofs on 600,000 houses • Solar hot water systems mandated for new buildings • Large-scale wind energy development on land near the city • 15% reduction of C02 emissions since 2000 • Water-sensitive urban development • Large scale-building tune-up programmes across the city region • 180,000 tonnes of compost made from urban organic waste • 20,000 ha of land near Adelaide used for vegetable and fruit crops • Reclaimed waste water and urban compost used to cultivate this land • 3 million trees planted on 2000 ha for CO2 absorption and biodiversity Other cities have implemented similarly impressive measures for example Copenhagen where liveability, sustainability and regenerative development have been combined very effectively. The transformation of much of the inner city into a pedestrian zone was the starting point, creating a Mediterranean-style ambience where markets, cafes and restaurants proliferate. And more people cycle in Copenhagen than in most other cities. In addition, initiatives on waste recycling energy efficiency, combined heat-and-power and renewable energy have gone further than almost anywhere else. Copenhagen is working to become carbon neutral by 2025! Examples from across the world show that the collision course between cities and the natural world can be avoided and even reversed. But urban decisionmakers and communities have a huge challenge ahead of them to address the systemic problems in the relationship between cities and the natural world. Let us trust that we are able and willing to deal with it. Herbert Girardet is an urban ecologist, author and consultant who has worked across the world. He has authored and co-authored many books and documentaries. His latest book, Creating Regenerative Cities published by Routledge in September 2014, includes case studies on how steps towards regenerative urban development are being taken across the world including Adelaide and Copenhagen. This article is also featured on

Background image: ph. Colville Andersen (Flickr)

Creating Regenerative Cities


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The future of cities lies in the slums UN-Habitat predicts that by 2030 2bn people will be living in slums. Indeed this may be higher as it also predicts that by 2030 3bn people will need proper housing and access to basic infrastructure such as sanitation and clean drinking water. Urban anthropologist Line Algoed, who spent a month in the favela of Vila Cruzeiro in Rio de Janeiro before the 2014 World Cup, explains how community-led projects to upgrade slums have an important role to play in sustainable urbanism.

Rio’s favelas from top left to right: Jorge O. Patiño ph. Mariusz Kluzniak (Flickr) ph. Mariusz Kluzniak (Flickr)

At a barbecue party on a rooftop looking out over an endless slum, my friend Angelo tells me he hopes Brazil is knocked out in the first round of the World Cup. A good result for Brazil, he says, will only distract people from what they are fighting for: social justice. Angelo lives in Vila Cruzeiro, one of roughly 1,000 favelas of Rio de Janeiro. With a break of just three years, which he spent with an English girlfriend in an Ipanema penthouse, Angelo has lived in this favela his entire life. He is an artist, exhibiting expressions of people’s frustration with the negligence of the state. Like millions of other favela residents, he has felt a combination of anger and frustration since Brazil was chosen as the host of both the World Cup and the Olympics, two major sports events only two years apart. “Suddenly, we seemed to have the billions of dollars hidden somewhere,” he says, “whereas we have always been told there is no money to do anything about the precarious situation we are in.”

almost 12 million in Brazil and a billion worldwide. In mega cities like São Paulo or Rio de Janeiro, the formal housing market today supplies to only 20% of the housing demand. Consequently, it is predicted that the number of slum dwellers worldwide will double, reaching 2 billion by 2030. Slum dwellers will by then represent one-fourth of the total global population. The unabated growth of slums is not attributable to the pull of cities and the supply of jobs in urban centres. As Mike Davis argues in the influential Planet of Slums (2006), they grow because people are pushed out of rural areas, due to chronic underinvestment in areas outside of cities. The state tends to serve the interest of the propertied classes, who are mainly concentrated in cities. Urban poverty is rapidly becoming one of the most significant and politically explosive problems of the 21st century, which is why working with slums should be on the agenda of those of us who are interested and professionally involved in sustainable urbanism.

The ‘us’ he refers to is him and roughly 1.4 million other people living in favelas in Rio de Janeiro, or a total of

The future of cities lies in the slums


State interventions in slums in the past have been dominated by the view that favela residents are better off when relocated to state-owned high-rise public housing. However, many of the dwellers in these relocation projects either quickly leave their new-build home or see their personal safety deteriorate due to the loss of community and detachment from social protection systems. When planning and constructing such housing projects, often in peripheral areas of cities, strategies for developing the livelihood of slum dwellers are largely ignored. Housing is not only about shelter, it’s as much about work. Like everywhere else, the economic strategies employed by slum dwellers are intrinsically linked to where they build their housing. A first step in successfully planning sustainability in cities is to try to unravel these practices and then work with communities to enhance what they have already started. On a first walk around Vila Cruzeiro, I was struck by the fact that the quality of the homes is not at all that bad. Many favela dwellings do not look like the images portrayed by the media: inadequate sheds built out of recycled construction waste. The majority of people’s income is invested in their houses, and the improvement of the houses is a lifelong project spanning several generations. The many corner shops selling building materials indicate the importance of construction for the local economy, and manifest favelas as places of production that serve the entire city. The productivity and entrepreneurialism in these places is striking for someone coming from outside a favela. Spaces for work are set up in garages and on the streets, people transport materials in and out of home workshops. Streets and public squares are used for a combination of work and play. As noted in the influential 2003 UN report The Challenge of Slums, slums are in many ways the wheels that keep the city turning, as the place of residence for lowincome employees. “Slums, as the first stopping point for immigrants, provide the only affordable housing that will enable immigrants’ eventual absorption into urban society. The mixing of different cultures and people looking for opportunities frequently results in new forms of artistic expression, cultural movements and levels of solidarity largely unknown in other areas of the city. Slum dwellers have developed economically rational and innovative shelter solutions for themselves.” On that account, favelas are primary examples of community-led urbanism and social resilience. Clearly, the state is incapable of providing for the lowest-income communities, therefore they take matters into their own hands. The practices that underpin social resilience are prodigious and deserve attention from urban and economic planners in particular. It is thus time to move away from the deep-rooted stereotypes of slums and their dwellers, and start to

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activate and invest in the talent that exists in these places. Rather than developing expensive and ineffective new-build housing projects, planners should focus on grassroots upgrading projects, driven by the needs and capacities of local residents, to enhance the existing fabric of favelas. At the same time they could play a role facilitating broad stakeholder participation in upgrading projects, which is a key requisite for sustainable outcomes in urban planning. An example of such a project is Favela Painting, driven by local residents and instigated by the Dutch architects/artists Jeroen Koolhaas and Dre Urhahn. Bringing together large groups of local residents, the collective transforms façades of favela homes into large unified art works. Alongside training and employment opportunities, local residents create a colourful platform to show the world that their communities are not just places of poverty and violence. Together they have established a gateway that draws people in with an interest to invest in the talent and social energy of favelas. Recreating the work we do in the UK, Cospa intends to take the idea of Favela Painting a step further, by enabling favela residents to renovate the interior of their homes. Local professional builders train young favela residents, who gain vocational qualifications in construction and building skills, offered by a recognised Brazilian training institution. The project is enabled and supported by the construction industry, with companies who see the benefit of investing in the talent of future employees and clientele, by donating materials and offering work placements and apprenticeships. The aim is to pilot a new approach to developing skills and vocational training in slums, and invest in a resident-led model for the upgrading of existing housing stock. These projects do not pretend to provide the whole solution for the enormous challenges facing cities. But they do provide a model for public and private sector organisations to take responsibility and help slums dwellers improve their own neighbourhoods and economic opportunities. Which is what they have been doing for decades.

Line Algoed is a Young Urbanist and urban anthropologist who seeks ways to link community initiatives with urban policy. She is an Account Director at Cospa, a London-based social innovation agency, where she manages the VIY project, enabling young people to organise their own youth clubs whilst gaining vocational qualifications in building and construction skills guided by local tradespeople. Currently, she is working to set up a Cospa project in Rio de Janeiro in collaboration with Favela Painting. This article is about the role of community-led slum upgrading projects in sustainable urbanism. It’s also a plea for the use of anthropology in urban planning.

Making One Planet Living our business Can a business be successful and be uncompromising on its sustainability values? Sue Riddlestone who co-founded Bioregional with her husband Pooran Desai 20 years ago, sketches out the journey as a sustainable business and shares some of the things they have learned along the way.

As I look back, I never would have thought that we would have been able to achieve what we have and I certainly could not have envisaged where we would be right now. But in all that we have achieved, the opportunities and the successes have come about because of, and not in spite of, our deep green and holistic sustainability approach. What drives us is a mission to do something to tackle the destructive impact that we human beings are having on nature and our environment and that some of us are polluting and over-consuming resources in an unsustainable way, while so many people around the world don’t have enough. In 1994 when we started out we were inspired by the thought that there had to be many ways in which we could design our lives and the products we use to reduce our human impact and live well within ecological limits. This is still very much our mission, which we now call ‘One Planet Living’. With a lot of practical experience under our belt, today I can see more clearly than ever that we could live better lives within ecological limits. It really is possible. Although we all know that there are a myriad complex reasons why it can be difficult to achieve this in practice.

Back in 1994 we thought that the best way to tackle the situation would be to take a practical approach and establish green businesses offering truly sustainable products and services that would operate within the mainstream of our economy. We reasoned that if things weren’t cost comparable and easy to access, then sustainability would never be mainstreamed. There was quite a lot of research needed to get these things off the ground, so we established ourselves as a registered charity. These days we are seen as a social enterprise as we earn almost all of our income delivering services on the projects we work on and because we also establish associated enterprises – non-profit and for profit – as and when we need to. We began with products and services, taking a spatial or bioregional approach. We wanted to see if we could produce some of the products we use more locally, using locally available sustainable and waste resources. We envisaged strong, regional economies valuing and working with nature, and where urban areas link to the rural communities in a symbiotic way. We felt that the bioregionalism movement summed this up quite well – hence our name. We started out by working with others to create local charcoal and local paper closed loop production systems to make more use of our neglected coppice

The future of cities lies in the slums | Making One Planet Living our business 19

woodlands and high-grade waste office paper and reduce pressure on the world’s forests. The resulting products were a cost competitive success in their day and led to the two-thirds reductions in resource use and 80-90% carbon emissions reductions we would need to achieve One Planet Living. In both cases we opened up an area for new entrants to come in and we changed the market, but this also made it more challenging for us to operate. We sold the paper collection company in 2010 to a like-minded waste paper collector and returned commercial-level dividends to our investors in the charcoal company before licensing the brand to a competitor. There is still more to do, and our current work includes BioRegional MiniMills, an associated company which aims to develop clean technology to enable us to make paper pulp more regionally from local crops and the Good Woods initiative, where we are working to get more private woodlands into management, develop supply chains and products. In everything we do we have worked with partners; TheBedZED eco-village is one example of that. In 1997 we had been renting offices in a council-run Ecology Centre and ran out of space. We thought: “Let’s build an eco-office.” We asked the local authority if they knew of any suitable sites and we asked green architect Bill Dunster to help us. The 1.8-hectare site was larger than we needed for just an office and so we thought: “Great, let’s build a whole eco-village and we can live there too” (which we do to this day). We worked up some designs and costs for the project and took it around pitching it to developers. Academician Dickon Robinson, then development

director at Peabody said yes. Bioregional worked on the design team and became known as the green police, pointing out those ecological limits and bringing a holistic sustainable lifestyles approach. Amongst other things we also sourced sustainable construction materials from the bioregion. We gave that project a lot of love and attention, which I think is what all of us need to do all of the time to get good results. We had no idea it would end up being such an international icon. Twelve years after we moved in to the building in 2002, people are still interested and we continue to run guided tours, mainly for students and overseas visitors. Today we had an e-mail request from the South Korean Ambassador to visit. A lot of the lessons from BedZED and other sustainable community developments have been taken on by the industry and policy-makers. I think car clubs were the most popular take-away from BedZED. And there is no doubt that this was the genesis of the UK zero carbon homes policy. In 2003 we created the sustainable living framework of One Planet Living with its ten principles, drawing on the strategies we had for BedZED. That framework has had great influence, especially after WWF backed it. It was amazing to use the approach for the London Olympics. I still have to pinch myself about that and the difference it made. Developers from around the world were saying we would like to build one planet communities too and some of them have been built. I had a fascinating time working in China, for example, on the Jinshan development with property developer China Merchants. I was there again last year and although

© Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios

20 Here & Now | AoU Journal No. 4 | Autumn 2014

local regulations and culture hampered the delivery of the energy, waste and transport strategies, I found it to be a lovely place where residents seem very happy. It feels like BedZED in China. I have found if you enable sustainable living, people report an improved quality of life and good health. We want to get more evidence of this in the coming years.

It is a big effort to create a new company and build up the pipeline of development. As the financial crisis evolved and Quintain refinanced, we were massively disappointed when they decided to pull out of BioRegional Quintain in 2011. The recession and austerity era has also impacted our work with local authorities like Sutton and Brighton & Hove who have committed to One Planet Living, mainly because of staff changes. But we have managed to navigate our way through the recession so far, largely thanks to our continued work with partners like B&Q and other retailers on sustainable products and business operations. We have a slightly smaller but still brilliant expert staff team intact and there remains plenty of work to do.

We are now working with a network of partners in the UK and around the world who have committed to enabling One Planet Living. Despite all of this success, we were frustrated that in the UK nobody wanted to do the second BedZED and really take that holistic approach at the time. We were also frustrated by how mangled the UK policies were, making it perverse and difficult to build an ecodevelopment, even for those aiming for the highest standards like us.

As we celebrate our 20 years we have reflected on what next. There will be a bigger focus on enabling others to use the One Planet Living framework, combined with a continued focus on working with leaders in their fields on projects and initiatives which showcase that sustainable living is better living and makes commercial sense too.

All of this led us to set up Bioregional Properties Ltd so that we could do it the way that we wanted to. It was a big decision as Pooran had to step down as co-director of the charity in 2005 and take on a commercial role as a director in the new company. This became BioRegional Quintain, as Quintain Estates and Development decided to back us. The first project was One Brighton, a joint venture with Crest Nicholson where the team delivered an award-winning housing development in Brighton to One Planet Living standards, within the normal range of build costs. Sales rates were good compared to similar Crest developments at the time and sold through the recession. An independent study showed that four years on, re-sale and rental values outperform local benchmarks.

Have we been successful? If you count it in money terms a small business like ours wouldn’t make much of a blip on the national statistics. Given that the trends for sustainability continue in the wrong direction, I wish we could have achieved more. But I’m pleased that we have made a positive impact in the world, we have earned our keep and we’ve had a very interesting time. So I think, yes a business can be successful without compromising on sustainability. Sue Riddlestone AoU is co-founder of entrepreneurial charity BioRegional.

Pooran Desai and Sue Riddlestone

Making One Planet Living our business


Edible cities It is not only possible to grow our food in cities, but it is becoming a necessity. Camilla Ween explains why.

Feeding 9.5 billion people is going to be a significant challenge wherever they live. But it will be magnified by the challenges of feeding most of them within cities. The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs predicts that by 2050 around 6.3 billion people (66% of the global population) will be living in urban areas, up from 3.8 billion today. Not only is it a question of producing that amount of food sustainably, but it is also one of transporting and storing it. Coupled with the ever-increasing concern about the quality of food available via long global supply chains makes locally grown produce a viable and necessary alternative. Food has always been grown in cities although the practice declined in the 20th century. However, it is on the rise with more and more edible produce being cultivated within the metropolises of the world. The reasons for this increase are varied and complex; sometimes out of necessity, sometimes as a reaction to mega-corporation models of intensive food production and sometimes for the simple reason that humans enjoy eating that which they have planted, tended and collected themselves.

The food industry Intensive farming, which pushes yields to the limit, is having a serious impact on the planet, both in terms of environmental and biodiversity degradation and in terms of its contribution to greenhouse gases. Livestock farming is expanding to keep up with the demand for meat, but this requires about 15 times as much land as arable farming. In 2009, 60 billion livestock animals were eaten globally and livestock now accounts for 20% of all terrestrial animal biomass 22 Here & Now | AoU Journal No. 4 | Autumn 2014

and uses 30% of the earth’s entire land surface, on top of which another 33% of all arable land is used for producing feed.1 Livestock rearing also uses vast amounts of water, contaminates it and reduces the land’s ability to absorb rainwater and replenishment of ground water. What has this got to do with cities? Well, the people in cities are driving the industry that is degrading our environment, having a significant contribution to greenhouse gas emissions and water scarcity. The UN, in its 2006 FAO report, Livestock’s Long Shadow, reported that livestock farming was responsible for 18% of all human-activity related CO2 emissions. But the late environmental scientist Robert Goodland challenged this figure and claimed it is, in fact, 51% when you add in animal respiration, the loss of natural carbon sequestration by the forests that are cut down, the impact of forest burning, livestock feed production and the full impact of refrigeration and transport. Goodland believed that a small change in diet, just a reduction of 25% of meat consumption, could arrest CO2 emissions and solve climate change overnight. However, he acknowledges that this would require something akin to the Marshall Plan in which the US aided Europe’s recovery following the second world war; he points out that other strategies, such as moving to renewable clean energy will take at least 20 years and ultimately prove too late to prevent significant species loss. It is clear that in future we will need to consume less meat and change farming practices to become more in harmony with the global ecosystems. Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring (1962) was a prescient warning about the environmental damage of intensive farming. Many

Farm composting WC © Zoe Goldstein

Prinzessinengarten © Zoe Goldstein

believe that intensive agriculture has now peaked and that smaller, smarter and ecologically sound organic practice is the future of farming, recognising that good biodiversity is our insurance for food security. Small and organic can easily be produced within the city.

become the bridges between dislocated communities and minority groups. It is also recognised that these gardens have special therapeutic benefits for people suffering anxiety and stress. Another aspect is the rise of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and WWOOF labour (Willing Workers On Organic Farms or World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms). Reaction against intensive farming practice and scepticism about the quality of food and supermarket domination of the food industry has led to the flourishing of CSA projects. WWOOF is a loose network that links volunteers with organic farms across some 100 countries. This is a movement exchanging labour for food and lodging and aims to offer experience in organic and ecologically sound practice, opportunities to live and work on farms or in a different country.

Food and the city Currently, most food is grown far from the point of consumption. It is estimated that most cities only have a week’s supply of food in their supermarkets and grocery stores. This precarious situation is a growing concern; a major incident could create mass hunger within a short space of time. But cities can produce much of their food, even in dense urban situations. Cities are beginning to become part of a new farming revolution by growing fruits, vegetable and herbs within their boundaries. Small patches of land, street corners, parks, communal gardens and containers on balconies and roofs can all produce fruit and vegetables.

Urban farms When the Soviet Union collapsed and Cuba lost its main trading partner, Havana was plunged into a food shortage. Almost overnight the people started planting their own crops, on any vacant spot. It is now estimated that up to 90% of the Havana’s fresh produce comes from urban farms within the city. These ‘organopónicos’ are run by the community on organic principles and the produce is sold locally.

There is also another much more subtle and sociological reason for cities to turn to self-production. Biophillia is a term coined by Harvard scientist E.O. Wilson, defined in his book of the same name as ‘the urge to affiliate with other forms of life’. In fact he says humans are hard-wired to want to be in touch with nature. There is now a strong current of thinking that cities need to be ‘biophillic’; i.e. cater to people’s innate need to experience nature and a growing concern for preserving biodiversity. The biophillic cities movement, now being galvanised by Professor Tim Beatley of the University of Virginia, is rapidly growing. Productive green spaces are springing up in cities, where they can

The urban farming concept is now spreading globally. In the USA, plots are springing up in cities, where communities are kicking back at the food economy dominated by intensive farming and giant supermarkets. Across Africa, urban farms are being

Edible Cities


set up, partly to provide poverty alleviation through job creation, but also to tackle head-on poor diet by providing plenty of fresh produce right in the heart of the city. Singapore has taken a hi-tech approach to urban farming. It has developed a commercial vertical farm within 9-metre tall aluminium towers. Sky Green Farms currently produces three types of vegetables and although the produce costs a little more than that which is imported, supply does not yet meet demand as local people vote for ‘fresh’. In Germany, urban residents are becoming engaged in the food production revolution. One of these is Wilde Gartnerei in Rudnitz, a small settlement within the metropolitan area of Berlin. This is a CSA project which collaborates with several independent self-organised neighbourhood groups that have a direct and close relationship to the farm. Each member commits to pay a 12-month subscription and to volunteer their services in terms of labour and management of the farm, usually a day per-month; in exchange they get a weekly veg box, more than enough for one person. Though again the cost is higher than buying in the supermarket, members value being part of the community and helping to support sustainable agriculture. The farm is run on organic principles and the aim is to create a sustainable self-sufficient system. The produce is sold at market stalls, to restaurants and cafés, and other forms of non-capitalist food exchange systems are being developed. In 2009, a not-for-profit organisation called Nomadisch Grün (Nomadic Green) leased a site in Kreuzberg in central Berlin in order to create a mobile urban farm. What had been wasteland for over half a century, was transformed into Prinzessinnengarten, a 6000 sq metre temporary urban community garden with fruit and veg planted in sacks. Despite its success in generating produce, at its heart it is a social project, promoting sustainable living. It is open to the public and run by community volunteers. The project runs free or not-for-profit education programmes on sustainable practice such as upcycling

Farm © Zoe Goldstein

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and recycling, waste management, beekeeping and carpentry, as well as having a bike repair zone. Locals can self-pick and buy produce, and work in the garden is recognised by the German government as an acceptable alternative for objectors to military service. Prinzessinnengarten ‘is a place of discovery where children, neighbours, experts and those curious about sustainable living can come explore alternative visions for their city’. Important aspects of the project are the restaurant, which, as far as possible, uses crops from the garden and the bar that serves beer from local breweries. The restaurant aims to produce high quality, elegant, tasty vegetarian and vegan dishes, often garnished with edible flowers. Best of all, those that work in the garden eat in the restaurant for free.

Conclusion There are so many reasons why growing food in the city is valuable; it is not just producing food, important as that is. It is an activity that has far reaching benefits: socially, in terms of community building, therapy and education about sustainable living; environmentally in terms of biodivesity, reducing carbon from transportation, city heat-island effect and air pollution; and in urban design terms, city gardens provide living green space for people to enjoy and socialise in. Above all it is easy. Edible cities are the future! Camilla Ween AoU is a Director of Goldstein Ween Architects.

References: Vandana Shiva: Robert Goodland: Prinzessinengarten: Wilde Gartnerei: (in German) Biophillic cities: This article is developed from part of Camilla Ween’s recent book All that Matters: Future Cities 1444196103 Footnotes: 1 UN FAO Livestock’s Long Shadow

Leading a sustainable city

When meeting George Ferguson you cannot help but be captured by his enthusiasm, self-belief and determination. “The long-term vision is to make Bristol a healthier, happier city than I found it,” he said. Two years into a four-year term Ferguson is clearly making an impression. Already one of the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 most resilient cities in the world, Bristol becomes European Green Capital in 2015, “…a tremendous lever for making the sort of change that we need to make,” Ferguson said.

As Bristol prepares for its year as the European Green Capital of 2015, Alastair Blyth asks the city’s first directly elected Mayor, George Ferguson, how he intends to build on this.

Built on a rich maritime and trading past on the river Avon, Bristol saw its place as one of the country’s foremost ports gradually decline. The port eventually moved downstream to Avonmouth in the 1970s and the city reinvented itself to become a focus for the creative media, aerospace and electronics industries. Today Bristol is a prosperous city, but prosperity brings challenges. There is a significant divide between rich and poor with a life expectancy differential of about eight years depending where you live. Tackling Bristol’s waste and reducing landfill remain an ever-present task. The city is also very congested. Seemingly senseless post-war planning decisions filled the vacuum left by intensive bombing in 1941 which saw a quarter of the old city destroyed, and much more besides. Dual carriageways were driven across the city with little acknowledgement of the urban patterns making the car more important than the people.

Mayor George Ferguson, ph. Chris Bahn

So, health, tackling transport, food, waste and energy, and recreating a sense of place are at the top of George Ferguson’s agenda. He believes that the over-arching issue for Green Capital is health and getting more people into active transport such as walking and cycling. “Not only does it make for a healthier workforce, which is good for the economy, but also people walking and cycling around animates our streets,” he said, hinting at what will come later in our conversation about giving the streets back to the people. According to the Office for National Statistics, more people in Bristol cycle or walk to work than in any other local authority in England and Wales. About 28% of Bristol’s commuters travel by ‘active’ transport. In 2011, 16,000 people cycled to work, double the number in 2001. Ferguson agrees that doubling this by 2020 will be hard, but he is determined to try, investing £7m a year to make cycling safer and more attractive. Food is also an important component of the Mayor’s strategy for a healthy city. “Good food should be available to everyone, irrespective of where they live or how much they earn,” said Ferguson who wants to make good, affordable, local food an absolute reality especially for many of Bristol’s most

Edible Cities | George Ferguson interview


disadvantaged areas. He believes that a change in food culture is necessary, placing more emphasis on consuming food grown locally referring to the “current madness we have where 95% of local food being shipped elsewhere”. To create a sustainable food city, and indeed build a resilient food system for the city means safeguarding land for production and increasing urban production, developing the infrastructure for storage, distribution and retail, in effect protecting and building the market for food. Bristol is already one of 21 European cities shortlisted for the Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayors Challenge award under the proposition: ‘Learn, Grow, Eat Revolution’. Perhaps the biggest challenge is reducing congestion partly because of the investment needed, but also because to tackle it means restricting car use which some see as a direct attack on personal liberty. Make Sunday Special, ph. Chris Bahn

Bristol is reducing speed limits on its roads to ease traffic flow and make them safer for pedestrians and cyclists, and introducing residential parking zones across the centre of the city off-set by park and ride schemes. However, it is these parking zones that are causing the most acrimony. “You cannot underestimate the viciousness of some of the response to all of this, which is shocking and extremely bad for city governance in that it will put off good people from getting involved,” he said. The appearance of a Sherman tank on the streets of Clifton Village employed in the fight against residential parking zones, which the local traders see as driving away casual visitors and therefore trade, did seem at odds with the area’s genteel wealthy Georgian and Victorian surroundings. But he is determined to succeed. “While I do get daily grief from commuter drivers, I also get is an encouraging level of support when I walk and cycle around the city, so I’m absolutely confident that people will get this in the end,” he said. An important part of his transport strategy includes the introduction of a rapid bus system, Metro Bus. Since the urban area extends well beyond the city boundary it illustrates a key governance issue facing the Mayor. A policy to realise in any coherent way a sustainable city, has to include the area around the Bristol boundary too. Being jointly owned by the four authorities within the Bristol and Bath city region means to develop Metro Bus demands close co-operation with other authorities. Where the Mayor has no direct authority, he must find a way to project his influence. Ferguson refers to the importance of using ‘soft power’, persuasion rather than coercion. “I set up the Bristol Property Board bringing together all the owners of public land in the city so we can plan together how that land is best used.

26 Here & Now | AoU Journal No. 4 | Autumn 2014

Bristol Harbour

It’s very typical of what a Mayor can do,” he said. He believes this would never have happened under the old political system.

pivotal is recreating a sense of place and reanimating the city. “I’m not talking about the nature of the architecture, I’m talking about the nature of the space – its scale and use,” he said. For example, building on market activity as the hub of the city, or as Ferguson puts it: “The people activity in the heart of the city, and indeed all over the city”.

Along with transport, Bristol’s proposals for investment in energy helped secure its place as Green Capital City. Indeed, Bristol City Council is setting up an energy company on Jan 1st 2015. “We are the only city, as far as I know, that owns its own wind farm,” he said. Bristol also plans to put solar panels on at least a third of its 28,000 council houses and on all new schools. “The aim is for the city region to produce 1GW of renewables by 2030, which would meet a very significant proportion of our needs,” he added. This is being balanced by tackling energy consumption for example through building retrofits, particularly within its own estate.

In many ways the Mayor sees this as a process of enabling. He wants to encourage people to use the streets in new ways also gently challenging public perceptions about streets. He has introduced carfree areas of the city for one Sunday a month, encouraging innovative uses of the street such as the 90m waterslide down Park St in May this year, an idea by a Bristol artist Luke Jerram that got wide international recognition.

Securing its place as a sustainable city is much more than just ticking off a list of ‘green initiatives’,

Ferguson argues that how Bristol sees itself and presents itself to the outside world is important. Temple Meads station was built about a mile from the city centre. “The arrival at the station is a lousy experience,” he said. The first thing people see as they emerge from the station is a car park. Not the most congenial or welcoming sight. “I want to make sure that we have a really good arrival experience in the city. So we are putting a huge amount of effort into not just improving that arrival experience but also into the enterprise zone that is growing around the station,” he said. The majority of the city council will also move adjacent to the station and there will be a new 12,000 capacity arena nearby. Having a vision is one thing, achieving it within the constraints on governance placed by central government is another. “The fundamental challenge that we face is that we are so centrally governed it is difficult for us to take control of our own future,” he said. The political climate following the Scottish referendum may just help his cause by leading to more local autonomy throughout the country. But more autonomy alone is not enough. “The other thing that government needs to do is to distinguish between borrowing to spend on services and borrowing to invest in the future; that’s an absolutely fundamental argument I am having all of the time,” he said, adding by way of example: “I can’t produce the number of new homes that we need because we have just about reached our housing account revenue borrowing limits”. Casting an eye across the English Channel, he observes: “With freedom we could do amazing things, the sort of things that are done in Germany and sometimes in France by mayors who have much greater autonomy”. Nevertheless, Bristol clearly has already re-staked its position on the global map. George Ferguson is optimistic about achieving success and showing that its place as Europe’s 7th Green Capital City is well deserved.

George Ferguson interview


Space for great places!


Montpellier, Cheltenham Bob Young AoU

This display of great places is an opportunity to share what we love and know about the urban environment. As you can see they range from small to large, inside and outside, and singularly identifiable to abstracted ideas of what a great place is. Please send us your great places so that we can share them in the next edition. Be imaginative and creative – we want to make these places live on our pages. Send us an image, a drawing, a poem, a…you decide. Send contributions to

On Saturday 5 July almost 5,000 fun-seeking revellers flocked to Cheltenham’s ‘Midsummer Fiesta in Montpellier’ to enjoy live music, kids’ and sports activities, dance workshops and donkey rides in sun-soaked Montpellier Gardens, surrounded by John Buonarotti Papworth’s Georgian villas and terraces and under the watchful gaze of Robert William and Charles Jearrad’s 32 Caryatids along Montpellier Walk. Montpellier has been a place of fun and frolic since George III took the waters in Cheltenham in 1788, from a spa source discovered in 1716, but it really took off in 1801 when the Liverpool banker and entrepreneur, Henry Thompson, developed out his 400 acre acquisition naming it Montpellier, after the French spa town of the same name. Places of assembly and entertainment were rapidly created and in the 1830s and 1840s they were complemented by the Queens Hotel, now home to the Cheltenham International Literature Festival, and specialist shops establishing Montpellier’s identity as a thriving retail area, a reputation which has continued unabated to this day.

But Montpellier is more, much more, than simply stylish shops and stunning Georgian terraces. Its galleries and restored gardens, civic buildings and hotels, churches and the celebrated Rotunda and Cheltenham Ladies College, deliver a rich townscape and wide range of functions which support a stimulating diversity and vivacity of employment and use. Home to Literature, Jazz, Food, Folk, Science, Music, Poetry, Comedy, Ballroom & Latin Dance Festivals; Montpellier presents neighbourhood as stage set and free school, kitchen and colloquium, laboratory and stylish living room. This has not happened by accident. A history of public and private collaboration, risk taking, quality development and first-class events management has delivered not only local support but international appreciation and acclaim. Today, sustained municipal investment and excellent management of the public realm, private patronage and the civic pride and involvement of countless volunteers continue to make Montpellier not only a neighbourhood of distinction, but also a world-class crucible of creativity and celebration. Go there soon!

28 Here & Now | AoU Journal No. 4 | Autumn 2014

Sydney Opera House Forecourt and East Circular Quay Dr Kat Martindale AoU

From Martin Place and Pitt Street in the city centre, to Taylor Square in Darlinghurst and Bondi Park behind Australia’s best-known beach, Sydney is not short of great places. The Opera House, about which Louis Khan once remarked “the sun did not know how beautiful its light was, until it was reflected off this building”, sits on Bennelong Point surrounded by a forecourt as significant as the gleaming sails themselves. This great place, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2007, attracts 300,000 visitors a year to its guided tours alone.

The pink-hued Pebblecrete platform and stairs form an amphitheatre against the sandstone wall of the Botanic Gardens and are used as a venue for a range of free and ticketed public events, including outdoor concerts and art exhibitions. At the base of the stairs the forecourt melts into East Circular Quay, the start of one of the city’s three main transport hubs, and opens on two levels to reveal bars, restaurants, galleries, shops and a cinema, all open late. It’s a textbook daytime/night-time economy case study and boasts one of the most magnificent views in the world.

Northampton Market Square

The square has been at the heart of the town since 1235 when the market moved there after Henry III forbade the selling of goods in the churchyard nearby. The Square was first paved in 1530, and the town was rebuilt around it after the Great Fire of Northampton in 1675.

In modern times, the Square provides a venue for a great market five days a week and for many open-air events from military parades and music festivals to flashmob perfomances, from beaches and fun fairs to demonstration allotments and many specialist markets.

Over the centuries, the Square has been the scene of, amongst other things, open air cinema in the 1930s, political riots in 1874, live theatre broadcasts in the 19th century, royal visits and balloon flights.

A place that has changed and developed with the town, the Square is the space at the heart of Northampton that Northamptonians are passionate about and is always a matter of both pride and debate.

David Kennedy AoU



The un-urban edge Geoffrey Makstutis AoU

It is increasingly the case that the contemporary city has lost its edge. I don’t mean that it’s lost some abstract ‘spirit’, exemplified by presence of bearded and tattoo-covered ‘hipsters’. I mean that it has become more and more difficult to find the actual edge of the city; the place where the urban stops and something else begins. London, New York, Paris, São Paolo; and so on, have become sprawling urban conurbations, which slowly dwindle in density as they expand across the landscape.

La Huerta, once surrounding the city to the north, west and south, is an area of rich, fertile agricultural land. Established in the sixth century, during the Moorish conquest of the Iberian peninsula, the intricate network of irrigation canals created a productive landscape in close proximity to the city. As the urban centre has grown, La Huerta has diminished (now most clearly seen to the north of the city), but retains its position as a culturally, and agriculturally, significant feature of the city.

Valencia is different. Valencia has an edge. While this edge is, by no means, as clearly defined as it once was there is a definite sense that the urban ends. It changes – quite abruptly.

What is most pleasing, to me, about the relationship between Valencia and La Huerta is the fact they exist together. They support each other. Each defines the limit of the other. While it is difficult to be aware of La Huerta when in the city centre, when in La Huerta the city is always visible. To stand in the midst of a patchwork of small fields, canals and water channels, and see the urban skyline of Valencia, only minutes away, is a unique experience. One that reminds us of the special history of the region, the city and the relationship between landscape and urbanism.

Like many European cities, Valencia was once a very clearly defined city; originally defined by river courses and then by walls. There is another, more distinct and unique edge to the modern Valencia.

Ebb and flow: celebrating Vancouver’s seawall James T. White and Tatiana White, Young Urbanists

Framed by mountains and surrounded by water, the city of Vancouver lies on Canada’s West Coast. Consistently rated as one of the world’s ‘most livable cities,’ Vancouver has long been celebrated for its high quality urban environment. And, if they haven’t been lucky enough to visit already, many urbanists have Vancouver on their ‘bucket list’. Like countless port cities, Vancouver witnessed the loss of heavy industry on its waterfront in the mid-twentieth century. Since the 1980s the waterfront has been transformed into a ribbon of thriving residential neighbourhoods. What binds these communities together is the city’s seawall: a thirty30 Here & Now | AoU Journal No. 4 | Autumn 2014

19th century narrative placemaking in Djäkneberget, Västerås Richard Wolfströme AoU

kilometre stretch of almost unbroken movement space for pedestrians and cyclists. Funded by planning contribution agreements, the seawall is where Vancouverites go to jog, walk their dogs, ride their bikes, roller blade, visit the beach or just sit and watch the world go by. We were lucky enough to spend five years living and studying in Canada’s ‘Lotus Land’. The seawall was our place of escape within the city; where we walked and talked, met friends, watched sunsets and spotted otters swimming in the water. The seawall is one of Vancouver’s sacred places: it is the ebb and flow of the city; where movement is the constant yet dynamic force.

On a recent trip to Västerås in Sweden I was introduced to the fascinating work of Sam Lidman, who between the years 1862–95 carved words into the rocks and outcrops of Djäkneberget, a park area rising in the north-west of the city of Västerås, Sweden.

in the form of proverbs, verses, names and years, and according to Lidman shall seem “provoking and challenging” for Djäknbergets visitors. Extraordinary work and a wonderful example of narrative placemaking ahead of its time in today’s context.

A beautiful park area overlooking the city that is a landscape of woodland and natural rocky outcrops, there are over 500 inscriptions carved into the stone. Former Captain Sam Lidman, born in 1824, came to Västerås in the 1860’s after a shooting accident in the army retired him. Making his first carving in 1862, his intention was to make Djäknberget a ‘public educator’ and the inscriptions manifest themselves Gallery


Geffrye Museum Patrick Hourmant, Young Urbanist

My favourite place? Hhm, not sure I have one. But there is the Geffrye Museum. Not a fan of museums myself, this one is nonetheless somewhat special to me: there is a correspondence between its geographical location and its contents – a series of 11 period rooms narrating the 400-year history of English and London middle-class living rooms. Gazing into each period room possibly holds a similar fascination for me as dollhouses or miniature cities might for a child. Another bonus in today’s cash-strapped times is that entry to the museum is free of charge (except for the occasional special exhibition)! The building housing the museum used to be the almshouses of the Ironmongers’ Company and dates back to the early 18th century.

© Emiliano (Flickr) Featuring a green lawn in its middle and a herb garden at the back, the U-shaped building’s dark brown brick architecture with white-framed windows looks great under any London sky. With a bit of imagination one might easily be in a different place and time. The museum is located on busy Kingsland Road and a stone’s throw

from the bustle of one of London’s ‘happening’ areas, Shoreditch, where very diverse social groups all intermingle (although at different times and days): City workers and other employees, artists, residents, shoppers, tourists and clubbers. Worlds apart, perhaps, and yet intimately linked together.

Happy City Charles Montgomery Book review by Rob Thompson AoU

Happy City asks an essential but strangely little-asked question: how can the design of cities make us happier? Beginning and ending with the story of Enrique Peñalosa, who when Mayor of Bogota transformed the city by giving priority to children and public space, building cycleways and pavements and restricting car use, Happy City incorporates numerous case studies and examples, from the well-known such as Jan Gehl AoU down to individuals, families or groups wrestling with how to make their lives, and by extension the cities they live in, happier. One of the key arguments concerns the true nature of happiness, and the way that we are actively seeking or being forced to follow a lifestyle that not only makes us miserable, but affects our health and happiness too. Central to this is the impact of urban sprawl, and the relationship between increased commuting and car dependency with greater isolation, a lack of community cohesion and ultimately poor health through obesity and stress. To reinforce the message, Montgomery adds some rather depressing statistics, 32 Here & Now | AoU Journal No. 4 | Autumn 2014

not least that urban sprawl reduces our life expectancy by four years. While elements of this will not be new to many of you, Montgomery argues that the decisions we take, the questions we ask and the way we look at things can be changed, and that this change can have a far-reaching impact on the quality of our lives. Convivial streets and spaces, with a mix of uses and activities, will encourage us to walk more, to interact and socialise more and be happier (and healthier) as a result. It is a shame the format of the book does not allow for more and better images, particularly of those he has met and the challenges they have encountered. Engagingly written, Happy City makes a strong and coherent argument for urban design to be integral to the solutions of how to make places better, not an aesthetic add on. City leaders take note.

Queen’s Park Savannah, Port of Spain, Trinidad Steve Kemp AoU

Best in the early morning and early evening – slightly cooler times, when it comes to life with people walking, running, playing football, rugby and cricket or simply sitting and watching or chatting – Queen’s Park Savannah is the grassland heart of Trinidad’s capital city, Port of Spain. From Christmas to Lent a continuous human stream flows around the Savannah as physiques are honed to Carnival form. It becomes the epicentre of the Carnival itself during the days before Ash Wednesday, but the 2.3 miles of the circumference path stay busy all year, before and after work. This is when more fortunate fellow citizens share the home of the Savannah’s own residents – some sleeping on benches, some on the ground. Some talking to people most of us can’t see. Others sitting silently as the world passes. Two have made a particular impression in the eight years I’ve known the Savannah: an elderly man sitting day-after-day writing an endless journal in tiny, meticulous handwriting; and a young

man stretched under a tree, asleep beside his sole companion, a large white teddy bear. Humanity and nature seem less artificially divisible in the tropics and the multi-sensory experience that is the Savannah exemplifies this: people, parrots, egrets and vultures to see and hear; a distinctive Savannah economy to smell and taste – coconut vendors’ carts lining the path and a village of vendors cooking and selling great Trini food every evening. Trinidad’s unique multiculture also finds expression here in performances (both on the Savannah itself and in the neighbouring National Academy for the Performing Arts) and in the surrounding diversity of colonial and post-colonial buildings. So many people and so much of Trinidad’s life come together on and around the Savannah. If only it didn’t double up as a massive, fume-spewing, traffic roundabout too, this would be an urban space close to perfection.



My own view is‌

Urbanism opens many doors and closes none by Dick Gleeson AoU

Implicit within an urbanist perspective is the sense of invitation that all citizens and stakeholders can be part of the making of a better city. As city planner for Dublin I have taken a great deal of comfort from the emergence of a philosophy of urbanism. The starting point for urbanism is to accept and welcome the complexity of the City,

and the sacred anarchy that provides a continuous well of innovation and change. This recognition and respect for complexity, within a framework which embraces continuity and the inspiration provided by a European city tradition, is a welcome change from the damaging sectoral and professional views prevailing for much of the 20th century.

Temple Bar, Dublin: David ‘Harry’ Harrison

As urbanists of course we still try to make sense of the city and through an urban sensibility to devise a systems understanding that draws in the multiple strands of the rich urban context. The objective is to generate a culture of relational thinking right across the economic, social, environmental and cultural spectrum. This value system is demanding and despite the beauty of the game, not everyone is on board. The default position of most professional sectors operating in the urban sphere is to pursue a core expertise which is somehow damaging to the potential of the bigger urban project. One can also sense a chasm between the thrust of formal local government planning, and the energy and action coming from the street. Collaboration must therefore be at the heart of urbanism. Healthy collaboration requires an institutional capacity and an agile governance to draw in the energy of the city and to foster a spirit of co-production. In city contexts where urbanism is embedded, you tend to find a great deal of fluency. Fluency here means legibility, ease of navigation and a user-friendly interface between city dimensions, its geography and spatial configuration, its sectoral land-uses, its governance, and its social and cultural landscape. The spirit of open-source urbanism can engender this fluency, fire bottom-up citizen capacity and affirm the multiple groups who are active on the floor of the city. Dick Gleeson AoU is city planner for Dublin

34 Here & Now | AoU Journal No. 4 | Autumn 2014

Urban idiocy

Brilliant ideas that ruined our cities

So many times when visiting British cities you come across something that makes no sense at all. A piece of urban planning, architecture or traffic engineering that seems to defy logic. What were they thinking? You ask. This of course is a good question. It is worth asking because previous generations of urban professionals weren’t stupid, they generally had the best of intentions and what they did was based on research into good practice. They were not idiots – it’s just what they did that was idiotic. This of course begs the question of whether today’s planners, with equally good intentions, are making similar mistakes. This column is about the process by which good intentions turn into illogical outcomes. To do so we will look at 10 brilliant but flawed ideas starting in this issue with Radburn. When Clarence Stein was commissioned in 1929 to design a Masterplan for the Radburn estate in New Jersey he set out to build a ‘garden city for the motor age’. The housing layout used at Radburn was the first to create a pedestrian circulation system that allowed people to walk to the local centre, park and the school without the need to cross a road. It does this by the simple expedient of super blocks 300m by 600m with a series of cul-de-sacs pointing into the centre of each block. These cul-de-sacs provide car access to the front of each home while a separate pedestrian network links to the back gardens via which residents can walk through a central area of open space to local facilities. Like many influential schemes (Corbusier’s Unité d’Habitation springs immediately to mind) the original Radburn works beautifully and yet has inspired countless imitators that have been a disaster. The layout of the Radburn estate completely turned on its head thinking on housing layout. Not only was it the first to separate cars and pedestrians but as a consequence it also invented the road layout based on distributor roads and cul-de-sacs. The first cul-desac was credited to Louis de Soissons

in his plan for Welwyn Garden City, but this was just a way of opening up the centre of larger blocks, otherwise all the houses fronted onto a network of streets that, in the pre-car age were the domain of the coal man and the milkman. In Radburn the entire layout was predicated on cul-de-sacs and the street network was confined to history. As so often with this type of innovation, the Radburn concept didn’t really come into its own until it infected the planning profession in the UK. Britain was the place where theories were built rather than just debated. Radburn, which was the product of the interwar boom in car ownership in the US had become one of the schemes taught to every British planner as part of their training. So when in the 1960s Britain experienced its own motor age it seemed to be a good place to turn for inspiration. The huge growth in car ownership in the 1960s made the case for the separation of cars and pedestrians seem obvious. In town centres and on high-rise estates this was done via subways and elevated walkways, but with low-rise housing it was Radburn that provided the answer. Radburn estates were built throughout the UK from the early 1960s through to the early 1980s. As planning students in the early 80’s we were taught that it was the ‘correct’ way to do housing layout. However something was lost in translation, quite a lot in fact. As with many brilliant ideas, a layout developed for the middle classes in New Jersey didn’t work quite as well for a council estate on the outskirts on Hull. Radburn estates in the UK looked very different to the leafy streets of the original. They were built for council tenants, at high densities but also contained an additional refinement that guaranteed that they would never work. Whereas the houses in the original Radburn faced onto the street, British planners decided to turn them around so that they fronted onto the pedestrian network with cars relegated to rear parking courts. Anyone who has spent any time on a Radburn estate in the UK will know what a disaster this was.

Residents no longer understood which was the private side of their home, indeed everything became public. Cars parked beyond high ‘rear’ garden fences were vulnerable to crime while the pedestrian walkways at the ‘front’ were deserted and dangerous. Overall the layouts became convoluted and confused making them impossible to police and turning them into no-go areas for anyone who didn’t live there. The original Radburn was built at a time when car ownership in the US was approaching 50% of households and Americans drove around 200 billion miles a year. This however wasn’t the issue of concern to Clarence Stein, the real problem was accident rates. Today’s Americans drive 3,000 billion miles a year and yet the number of fatalities on the road is about the same as it was in 1929! The early days of motoring before highway codes and safety features were carnage. This gives us the final ingredient of a planning disaster – the moral imperative. Argue against the separation of pedestrians and vehicles and you may as well be in favour of killing children – there is no better way of silencing your critics. However as Mayer Hillman illustrated in his research One False Move 1 the falling traffic accident rate amongst children that we have seen since the 1970’s is the result of increasingly fearful parents not allowing their children out of the house. Whether Radburn layouts have helped or hindered this is a moot point. So we have the ingredients of a brilliant flawed idea – an inspiring if misunderstood original concept, built for the middle classes and translated for social housing, inspired by a single issue and driven by ideology, adopted as good practice and taught uncritically and then applied by a generation of designers who assumed it was the right thing to do. It is only years later that it becomes clear how little sense it made. The Urban Idiot 1. uploads/2007/11/one%20false%20move.pdf

My own view is | Urban idiocy


Professor Sir Peter Hall: discovering the lost art of urbanism

Nicholas Falk reflects on working with Professor Sir Peter Hall, who died July 2014, and his contribution to urbanism.

Working with Peter Hall on his last book, he came up with the title Good Cities, Better Lives: How Europe Discovered the Lost Art of Urbanism. But the only reference to urbanism in the index is from one of the conclusions, which said that ‘The French concept of urbanisme (as opposed to planification) is essentially about creating liveable places. And their success is testified by the fact that rich and successful Frenchmen and Frenchwomen crowd into their cities’. So what is the ‘lost art of urbanism’? Peter, who is best known for his passionate enthusiasm for Regional Planning and the work of Ebenezer Howard, was in fact a lifelong urbanist. Peter and his wife Magda lived in a fine Edwardian suburb in Ealing to which they had moved from Victorian Bedford Park. Later in life they also acquired an apartment not far from Montpellier, a historic university city which combined Peter’s great interest in light rail systems with its extensive Technopole or science parks. At the end of the introduction to his magnum opus, Cities in Civilisation, Peter set the challenge: “The central question, now, is precisely how and why city life renews itself; exactly what is the nature of the creative spark that rekindles the urban fire”. I first came to know Peter through a Fabian Society committee and recall working together on a New Radical Agenda for London, which promoted the idea of development agencies and corporations. When the Urbed Research Trust was set up in 1976 he joined the board and subsequently examined my doctoral thesis on Planning and Development in London Docklands. I recall his concern that this was very different from the usual 36 Here & Now | AoU Journal No. 4 | Autumn 2014

thesis, largely because it was based on ‘action research’ in Rotherhithe rather than testing someone else’s theory. We became firm friends. Our friendship was based on a number of common interests – in railways of all kinds, in cities, and above all in how to bring about change. Peter campaigned for using the Channel Tunnel Rail Link to regenerate East London and North Kent as well as helping me press for redeveloping the railway lands at King’s Cross with a joint article in Town & Country Planning back in 1987. Peter moved away from Labour to the embryonic SDP, and also joined the Institute of Community Studies, which Michael Young had set up. It was no coincidence that he produced The Sociable City with the declared anarchist Colin Ward, as his politics were basically libertarian. But he could also admire figures like the authoritarian mayors of Montpellier and Lille, who transformed their cities through audacious expansion plans based on high-speed connections between cities and extensive local light rail systems. Though Peter was at heart an academic – nothing counted unless it could be referenced – he saw the value of collaborating with effective consultants like Martin Crookston (at Llewelyn-Davies Planning) and Charles Landry (at Comedia), and earlier with Tom Hancock, with whom he planned a never-to-be-built new town in Wales. His advice was taken everywhere, as I learned to my great benefit when drafting a chapter on ‘Boosting Economic Growth in Germany’. Not only had he advised the mayor of Berlin, but having done his doctoral thesis on German cities,

he was able to set their achievements in a magnificent historic and geographical context like no one else. The subject of political economy is at last making a comeback thanks to academics like Thomas Piketty in his magnum opus Capital. But Peter went further in seeing it was cities, not countries, that created civilisation. Cities in Civilisation, which owes a great deal to his wife Magda’s research, deserves to be read much more widely, and with its 82 pages of references encompasses almost every form of knowledge! In the final chapter The City of the Coming Golden Age he says ‘planners need to consider land use and transport as one seamless web’. Contrasting London with cities like Paris and Copenhagen, he argues for re-examining the relationships between movement and urban form in different sizes of settlement. In a postscript, attacking the contrast on London’s South Bank between the National Theatre and people sleeping in cardboard boxes, he said: ‘Those who find them distasteful or disagreeable can – and will – get out of them, to arcadian suburbs and garden cities, if that is what they want. Cities were and are quite different places, places for people who can stand the heat of the kitchen’. Peter had read and travelled further than probably any other academic, some 70,000 miles a year apparently, and so was not bound by statistics (even though his great studies on urban containment, and polycentric conurbations are founded on them). It was therefore natural for Peter to lead TCPA visits to European cities for their members, following the experience of the TEN Group of London senior planners which made

it clear that European cities had begun to outpace our own. Articles on the lessons in various editions of Town & Country Planning led to a joint manifesto article in January 2009 entitled Why not here? In it we summarised the lessons from new settlements in the Netherlands, Sweden and Germany, and proposed that the model of urban extensions in Freiburg should be tried in the UK. Freiburg illustrated more than any other city the ‘creative spark’ that he was seeking. This led their director of development for some 25 years, Wulf Daseking, to make a number of appearances in the UK, and to subsequent collaboration with The Academy of Urbanism on The Freiburg Charter. It also contributed to both our submissions for the Wolfson Economics Essay Prize, based on sustainable urban extensions to historic towns rather than freestanding garden cities.

proposals for Preston). In probably his last words on the subject, in an interview for the August RIBA Journal he said: ‘to function, a garden city needs a population of 200,000+, not 32,000. The book (Sociable Cities) argues that Howard’s terms need to be reappraised. His garden cities were satellite sub-units of an existing city and linked to it by an ‘inter-municipal railway, not entities themselves, and that is always forgotten.’.1 Peter’s life was about reconciling town and country, not separating them. He saw the interdependence of rebalancing our urban economies, building new homes, linking people and places, and living with finite resources (the titles of the first four chapters in Good Cities, Better Lives). This for him was the crux of the lost art of urbanism – a task which should compel us to fix our broken institutional machinery. Dr Nicholas Falk is a director of URBED.

Peter and I agreed on the need for planners to understand urban design and economics. From the study tours, we came to see that Ecotowns would only be economically viable as urban extensions, on the Dutch model, where local authorities play a much more proactive role not only in identifying the right locations, but with joint ventures to install local infrastructure. Our conclusions in Good Cities, Better Lives (p 227-312) provide a radical agenda for any political party seriously trying to change the trajectory of our cities. It was perhaps inevitable that when the Wolfson Essay Competition on Garden Cities was launched we made separate submissions (though he asked URBED’s David Rudlin to help in preparing

1. Sir Peter Hall in Intelligence, RIBA Journal August 2014 referring to his freshly undated version of Sociable Cities, with Colin Ward.

Sir Peter Hall 37

We celebrate and learn from great places

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From top left to right

Arthur Acheson Prof Robert Adam Marcus Adams Lisa Addiscott Lynda Addison OBE Dr Husam Al Waer Kyle Alexander OBE Peter Alexander Fitzgerald Malcolm Allan Joanna Allen Ben Allgood Ewan Anderson Kathryn Anderson Nigel Anderson Ian Angus Debbie Aplin Judith Armitt George Arvanitis Stephen Ashworth Alastair Atkinson Jas Atwal Jeff Austin Nicola Bacon Samer Bagaeen Alastair Baird Peter Barber Yolande Barnes Alistair Barr Prof Hugh Barton John Baulch Alan Baxter CBE Ian Beaumont Craig Becconsall Matthew Bedward Simon Bee Andrew Beharrell Keith Bell Michael Bennett Neil Bennett Robert Bennett Janet Benton

John Worthington David Rudlin Prof Chris Balch Janet Sutherland John Thompson (Honorary President) Prof Kevin Murray Tony Reddy Pam Alexander OBE Steven Bee (Chairman) Andrew Burrell Tim Stonor Bob Young

40 Here & Now | AoU Journal No. 4 | Autumn 2014

Duncan Berntsen John Best John Betty Kristine Beuret Richard Bickers David F.L. Bishop Philip Black Alastair Blyth Martin Boddy Kristiaan Borret Henk Bouwman Nicholas Boys Smith Mark Bradbury Rosemary Bradley Torben Brandi Nielsen Chris Brett Eddie Bridgeman Guy Briggs Jane Briginshaw Annabel Brown Patricia Brown Samantha Bryans Craige Burden Mark Burgess Sarah Burgess Jonathan Burroughs Richard Burton Peter Butenschøn Prof Georgia Butina Watson Peter Butler Peter Butter Karen Cadell Gerry Cahill Bruce Calton Fiona Campbell Charles Campion Steve Canadine Tony Carey Fredrik Carlsson Simon Carne James Carr Sam Cassels Sue Chadwick

Tim Challans Marion Chalmers Joanna Chambers Sarah Chaplin Dominic Edward Chapman James Chapman Richard Charge Alain Chiaradia Nick Childs Tom Clarke Anne Cleary John Henry Cleary Clare Coats Dr Jim Coleman Robert Coles Garry Colligan Paul Collins Martin Colreavy Max Comfort Brian Condon Charlotte Cook Karen Cooksley Prof Rachel Cooper OBE Dr João Cortesão Will Cousins Rob Cowan David Cowans Toby Crayden Emily Crompton Chris Crook Adam Crozier Ciaran Cuffe Linda Curr Hal Currey Ned Cussen Justine Daly Jane Dann Alex Davey Philip Davies Paul Davis Mark Davy Eric Dawson Peter de Bois Neil de Prez Sophia de Sousa Ian Deans Toby Denham Guy Denton Nick Dermott Catherine Dewar Hank Dittmar Lord John Doune Prof John Drever Paul Drew Eugene Dreyer Peter Drummond Michael Duff Tony Duggan Brian Dunlop Rosamund Dunn Paul Dunne Paul Durnien Prof Mark Dyer John Dyke Nigel Dyke

Shankari Edgar David Edwards Elad Eisenstein Luke Engleback Dan Epstein Gavin Erasmus Karen Escott Roger Estop Prof Brian Evans Prof Graeme Evans Roger Evans Nick Ewbank Dr Nicholas Falk Ross Faragher Kerri Farnsworth Max Farrell Sir Terry Farrell Ian Fenn Jaimie Ferguson Frances Fernandes Stephanie Fischer Andrew Fisher Diana Fitzsimons Clive Fletcher David Fletcher Prof Carlotta Fontana Sue Foster OBE Bernie Foulkes Ted Fowler Jane Fowles Simon Foxell Edward Frampton Alan Francis Peter Frankum Jerome Frost Daisy Froud Sandra Fryer Tim Gale Catherine Gallagher Nora Galley Jeremy Gardiner Carole Garfield Lindsay Garratt Tim Garratt Will Garrett Angus Gavin John Geeson Lia Ghilardi Andy Gibbins Prof Mike Gibson Ian Gilzean Stephen Gleave Dick Gleeson Guy Goodman Keith Gowenlock Gerry Grams Michele Grant Mark Greaves Jonathan Greenfield Ali Grehan James Gross Simon Guest Richard Guise Patrick Gulliver Ben Hamilton-Baillie Tim Hancock

Geoff Haslam David Hastings Philip Hayden Helen Hayes Michael Hayes CBE Peter Heath Tina Heathcote Michael Hegarty David Height Simon Henley James Hennessey Tim Hewitt Paul Hildreth Stephen Hinsley Tom Holbrook Eric Holding Peter Hollis Stephen Hollowood Alec Howard Stephen Howlett Robin Hoyles Jun Huang Anthony Hudson Jonathan Hughes Michael Hurlow John Hyland Julian Jackson Philip Jackson Sarah Jackson Colin James Dr Noel James Amy Jefferies Timothy Jemison Dr Ying Jin Cathy Johnston Gregory Jones Gwilym Jones Howard Jones Stephen Jordan Rory Joyce Gesine Junker Dr Kari Kankaala Dr Kayvan Karimi Andy Karski Philip Kassanis Despina Katsikakis Dr Harald Kegler John Kelpie Steve Kemp Jonathan Kendall David Kennedy Justin Kenworthy Mary Kerrigan Ros Kerslake Anne Kiernan Janice Kirkpatrick Mark Knight Angela Koch Charles Landry Richard Latcham Derek Latham Michele Lavelle Diarmaid Lawlor Adrian Lee Marcus Lee John Letherland Stephen Lewis Kevin Leyden Einar Lillebye Michael Liverman David Lock CBE Fred London John Lord Mark Lucas David Lumb Maja Luna Jorgensen Nikolas Lyzba Barra Mac Ruairi Carol MacBain Robin Machell Roddie Maclean Keiji Makino Geoff Makstutis Jordana Malik

Grace Manning-Marsh Louise Mansfield Riccardo Marini Andreas Markides Peter Marsh Dr Kat Martindale Mike Martyn Phil Mason Andrew Matthews Bob May Dr Alice Maynard James McAdam Steve McAdam John McCall Prof Michael McGarry Kevin McGeough Aideen McGinley OBE Martin McKay Craig McLaren Mette McLarney Katherine McNeil Craig McWilliam David Miles Stephan Miles-Brown Gerry Millar Robert Millar Stephanie Mills Dr Negin Minaei Shane Mitchell Kris Mitra Russell Moffatt Dr John Montgomery Cllr John Moreland Prof Ruth Morrow Paul Morsley John Muir Ronnie Muir Eugene Mullan David Murphy Dr Claudia Murray Deborah Murray Prof Gordon Murray Hugh Murray Peter Murray Stephen Neal Marko Neskovic Francis Newton Lora Nicolaou Dr Olli Niemi Ross Nimmo Malcolm Noble Hugo Nowell Richard Nunes Craig O’Brien Calbhac O’Carroll Killian O’Higgins Breffni O’Malley Dr Dellé Odeleye Simon Ogden Tiago Oliveira Trevor Osborne Paul Ostergaard Chris Pagdin Dr Susan Parham Pranali Parikh Phil Parker Fiona Parry Liz Peace Richard Pearce Adam Peavoy Ross Peedle Hugh Petter Jon Phipps James Pike Ben Plowden Demetri Porphyrios Dr Sergio Porta Prof David Porter Robert Powell Sunand Prasad John Prevc Dr Darren Price David Prichard Paul Prichard

John Pringle Stephen Proctor Steve Quartermain Helen Quigley Paul Quinn Shane Quinn Mark Raisbeck Peter Ralph Mike Rawlinson Richard Reid Amanda Reynolds Christopher Rhodes Patrick Richard Lindsey Richards Antony Rifkin Prof Marion Roberts Prof Peter Roberts OBE Steve Robins Dickon Robinson Dr Rick Robinson Sandy Robinson Bryan Roe Nick Rogers Lord Richard Rogers Angela Rolfe Anna Rose Graham Ross Jon Rowland Sarah Royle-Johnson Robert Rummey John Rushton Gerard Ryan Dr Andrew Ryder Robert Sakula Huseyin Salih Rhodri Samuel Clare San Martin Peter Sandover Hilary Satchwell George Saumarez Smith Lucy Saunders Keith Savage Biljana Savic Bridget Sawyers Alberto Scarpa Dominic Scott Sharon Scott Bob Sellwood Symon Sentain Toby Shannon Cath Shaw Richard Shaw Barry Shaw MBE Keith Shearer Michael Short Anthony Shoults Ron Sidell Paul Simkins Dr Richard Simmons Andrew Simpson Anette Simpson Tim Simpson Alan Simson Ann Skippers Jef Smith Malcolm Smith Paul Smith Prof Austin Smyth Carole Souter CBE Adrian Spawforth Andy Spracklen Alan Stewart Peter Stewart Susan Stirling Emma Street Rosslyn Stuart Peter Studdert Nicholas Sweet Ian Tant David Taylor Nick Taylor Rebecca Taylor Sandy Taylor Ivan Tennant

Alison Tero Mark Tewdwr-Jones Alan Thompson Chris Thompson David Thompson Robert Thompson Dale Thomson Lesley Thomson John Thorp Dr Ying Ying Tian Greg Tillotson Fleur Timmer Michael Timpson Damian Tissier Andrea Titterington Ian Tod Peter Tooher Paul Tostevin Robert Townshend Rob Tranmer Stephen Tucker Richard Tuffrey Neil Tully Jeffrey Tumlin Lisa Turley John Turner Jonathan Turner Stuart Turner David Twohig Nick Tyler CBE Julia Unwin CBE Dr Debabardhan Upadhyaya Giulia Vallone Urban van Aar Hans van Bommel Honoré van Rijswijk Atam Verdi Jonathan Vining Andy von Bradsky Brita von Schoenaich Prof Lorna Walker Thomas Walker Julia Wallace Ann Wallis Russell Wallis David Walters Andy Ward Ralph Ward Dr Gerry Wardell Paul Warner Elanor Warwick David Waterhouse Nick Wates Camilla Ween Oliver Weindling Dr Michael Wells Jan-Willem Wesselink David West Rosemary Westbrook Allison Westray Chapman Pam Wharfe Duncan Whatmore Lindsey Whitelaw Lindsay Whitley Peter Williams Patricia Willoughby Marcus Wilshere James Wilson Richard Wolfströme Saffron Woodcraft Geoff Woodling David Woods Nick Woolley Nick Wright Ian Wroot Tony Wyatt Louise Wyman Wei Yang Gary Young Paul Zara Benedict Zucchi

YOUNG URBANISTS Raquel Ajates Line Algoed Kato Allaert Jen Ashworth Cory Babb William Back Alexander Baker Simon Banfield Veatriki Bania Veronica Barbaro Jake Bassett Chloe Bennett James Benzie John Bingham-Hall Samuel Brandt Adam Bulleid John Burns Baillie Card Rodrigo Cardoso Athlyn Cathcart-Keays Roland Chanin-Morris Leo Cheung Joseph Cook Robert Cox Aaron Davis Kate Dawson Anna de Torróntegui Adina Deacu Neil Double Louise Dredge Alejandro Echeverria Noriega Laurance Fauconnet Elspeth Faulkner Nicolas Francis Matthew Gamboa Brian Garcia Nicholas Goddard Edward Green Zarreen Hadadi Patrick Harmsworth Jane Harrison Rosie Haslem Katy Hawkins Lorna Heslop Simon Hicks Dominik Hoehn Bethany Hogan Anna Holder Hasanul Hoque Patrick Hourmant Rachel Hoy Lewis Hubbard Elinor Huggett Massimo Ingegno Silvie Jacobi Louise Johnson Henry Johnstone David Kemp Robert Kerr Muhammad Khaleel Jaffer Melissa Lacide Joana Luís Vieira Richard MacCowan Iain MacPherson Theo Malzieu Thomas Marshall Potter John Mason Laura Mazzeo Cris Mitry Jose Monroy Laura Narvaez Alistair Neame Floriane Ortega Edoardo Parenti Sejal Patel Claudia Penaranda Fuentes Francesca Perry Diana Phiri

Agnese Prodniece Ian Ralph Sanna Rautio Constanze Reif Franny Ritchie Jonah Rudlin Tom Rusbridge Mar Lluch Salvador Alexei Schwab Kym Shaen-Carter Lana Shaylor Jane Sherry Simeon Shtebunaev Nelio Silva Freitas Sam Sims Anna Sinnott Bethania Soriano Emma Spierin Helen Spriggs Matthew Spurway Mark Stewart Jessica Summut Olga Surawska Mohammad Tammo Nicola Thomas Vanessa Thomas Elisabeth Tobisch Hitoha Tsuda Carolina Vasilikou Aylin von Heyden Emilie Walker Michelle Wang Jonathan Waugh George Weeks Dr James White Roger White Tatiana White Roz Williams Mirjam Wurtz

HONORARY ACADEMICIANS Prof Wulf Daseking Jan Gehl Christer Larsson


…and a final thought…

Food for thought – Learning to learn from place part II

Jonathan Meades is right, there is no such thing as a boring place. All places get interesting once you look. It all comes down to the quality of the looking, of being really attentive. The more you look the more you see. So if boring places become interesting when you really look, imagine what happens when we focus on great places. That’s why the Academy’s assessment visits are so stimulating. During the normal daily round I look at places that I am passing through, but don’t have the time to take a really hard look. On the assessment visits the place is the thing, the subject of my attention. Instead of just looking at things I am looking for things and, having been primed before we start, I am looking out for things. So I am much more attentive than I would be when just passing through. I find that each new place triggers memories of other places visited in the past and places that I have read about, seen in movies, browsed on the web – even happy holiday memories cross my mind. Without really thinking twice, comparisons are made. So I don’t come as a clean sheet waiting for the place to make its impression upon me. My accumulated interest in places has left me with a viewpoint and my own pet-theories as to what makes a good place and what changes can be made to help a place get better. If I am honest, this is something of a ragbag of notions and pet-theories, a patchwork perhaps, but a serviceable one. So in visiting a new place I find myself making comparisons with other places that preoccupy me and find myself asking “why here and not there?” or “why there but not here?” I am not just learning about the place I am in, I am learning about all the other places that spring to mind, places recalled from the past when I am in the here and now.

By looking really hard and comparing, I am finding unexpected things, which is always exciting. I am hoping to find the unexpected and learn most when I do. This is intuition in action. A word that sounds a bit ‘subjective’ or even ‘unscientific’. But let’s put it this way: if intuition was alright for Einstein when devising the general theory of relativity, then why should we urbanists shy away from it? To quote another great scientist, Louis Pasteur: “chance favours the prepared mind”. For ‘prepared mind’ read ‘educated intuition’. So perhaps one of the reasons for visiting places so attentively is to keep educating our urban intuitions, to refine, fine-tune, or to use a contemporary term, to recalibrate them. If this description holds true then the implication is that, when learning from place, I am using the place to learn about myself! Or at least, learning more about my own perceptions, preconceptions and pet-theories, testing and refining them. I use the place as a mirror, as a source of reflection. But hang on a minute... the really great thing about these visits is that I am not alone. I am in company, and special company at that: other Academicians – people with a common set of values but who have travelled different routes to get to them. They have different ways of seeing things. I am learning from their response to the place we’re in, from their thoughts, perceptions, expertise, and their set of reference points. Sometimes the place is foreground and sometimes it is the conversation that is the thing, and the place itself, having triggered the conversation, slips from attention – I am listening to what you have to say (and thinking about what I might say in reply). So when we visit we don’t just look, we question and we talk.

Making sense of a place collectively is the way to guard against the downside of accepting less than pure ‘objectivity’. The downside is personal whim or prejudice. So seeking something worth sharing with others, something that may be relevant to them, creates enough objectivity for the observations to stand. In the end, learning from place is not about a struggle to achieve objectivity, but the collective search for insight, seeing afresh, seeing beyond conventional wisdom, finding a new pattern of relationships and values and being able to share them. For those who couldn’t make the visits, I hope that you will learn a great deal from the reports that will be published on the web. You will learn a lot. But not as much as you would by being ‘in place’ and with others. You are getting the tip, but not the whole iceberg. David Porter AoU is professor of architecture at the Central Academy of Fine Art in Beijing

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