PG and D’Arcy

I hope more people (>2) see this post than actually attended the four lectures celebrating the contribution of D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson at this year’s RGS-IBG conference last Thursday when we presented. But such is the state of the world and especially human geography that 2 people in the audience is all that can be expected when one is celebrating one, nay two, of the great contributions from the early 20th century.

In 1915 Patrick Geddes (PG) published his great book Cities in Evolution and in 1917 D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson published his magnum opus On Growth and Form. Both books outlasted the 20th century and it is our prediction that they will outlast this one, the 21st. Not many books do that and not many that have an influence on geography but it doesn’t matter that we had more people speaking than were in the audience – we are in it for the long term! Both books are gratis – they are online and you can get them b y clicking on the links above.

Dave Unwin organised the session and introduced it. Alan Werritty then spoke on D’Arcy’s contribution to spatial form and networks, Chris Brunsdon then followed this with some key questions and extensions of two dimensional transformations – one of D’Arcy’s key tools, and then myself (with Stephen Marshall) talked about the links between Geddes (PG) and D’Arcy. One of the intriguing questions that myself and Stephen are addressing is “why is it that two people – PG and D’Arcy –spent 31 years in the same department, never published anything together, rarely spoke about each other in their voluminous letters – every one wrote letters in those days, both were sceptical Darwinists, both published their great books within 2 years of each other, and so on … “. We address this questions in the talk and you can glimpse a sense of this from our PDF that is linked to this post – click here.

The other key thing is that these two guys had a vast network of serious influential people who they met in their lifetimes – Darwin, Huxley from Thomas to Julian to Aldous, JBS Haldane and his father, Galton, Pearson, H. G. Wells, Foster, Balfour – the list goes on and on. It is a great detective story that needs a lot more work. Stephen and myself worked on PG and his contribution and we are still grappling with PG’s great dilemma – how to write or not write the great book on social evolution and cities and society that he wanted to but never did – we write a paper in Landscape and Urban Planning last year for PG’s Centenary of his 1915 book Cities in Evolution.

So there is a lot of unfinished business here. Little did I realise that I would spend a lot of time in the twilight of my career trying to unravel the book (and the person who wrote it) that I got as a school prize back in 1962 for A Level Geography.

When Stephen and myself have done more, we will post it, so follow this space.

China Urban Development at UCL


Fulong Wu and his colleagues from the Bartlett School of Planning together with Peking University with several sponsors (see web site)  ran a great meeting Friday and Saturday 5-6 May in UCL which gathered together some 200 researchers and academics studying urban development in China is all its aspects. The web site contains the programme and a variety of contributions from Zipf’s law for Chinese cities to notions about state intervention and the crisis of debt pervading China’s cities and economies.

Conscious of the fact that I have spent 7 weeks in Hong Kong so far this year, where I have spoken about smart cities many times to groups at HCUHK, HKU and PolyU as well as SunYatSen University, I contributed a short talk on a key issue about smart cities in China, making the point that apart from cultural and economic differences which pervade all global comparisons of cities, the development of new IT in Chinese cities is not so different from cities in the west in general and the UK in particular. Bigger phones exist in China, more people (almost everyone) use them on the subways but the same old problems of implementing top down inspired plans to implement new IT in cities are the same everywhere. The experience to date of such large scale corporate ventures has not been good in the west and I expect it will be no better in China.

It’s hard, many IT plans fail but cities in China and elsewhere are built largely from the bottom up – they are complex systems – and how we deploy new technologies is really the driving force of the smart cities, in fact the driving force of the city in all its manifestations. Here is my very short PowerPoint as a PDF – so you can load it and click on the active links,. But for the real experience of the diversity and quality of the meeting, go to the web site and follow the titles and links there to get a sample of how rich the meeting was.


Cities and Civilization, and other classic reviews


This year is the 50th Anniversary of Regional Studies, the journal. Peter Hall was the first editor and my early years as a lecturer coincided with his stewardship of the journal and his role as Head of Department of Geography in the University of Reading where we were given an insight into how you start a journal, review the papers submitted and immerse yourself in the insights that this new field and journal generated back then. I cannot take you back to those heady times but to get some sense of the excitement of those years, Ugo Fratesi has selected a set of books which he and the reviewers he has chosen consider as classic books in Regional Studies. He explains why in his editorial which you can download here. where he introduces the 50th Anniversary Book Review Collection. I have a short review there on Peter Hall’s classic Cities in Civilisation and I have reproduced the piece here that you can download.

About the collections of reviews, I can do not better than quote from Ugo’s editorial:

“Selecting classic books is not an easy task. Furthermore, Regional Studies is an interdisciplinary journal that covers theoretical, empirical and policy research in the field of regional studies. As such, it brings together articles from economics, geography, planning and political science, whose scope is regional and local. One selection process would be a systematic survey among scholars, but this would produce an index of popularity more than of the real innovative nature of the book. The pattern followed here has been less systematic and more customized. The author of this editorial started with a list of 60 possible influential books, basically selected from among those which he feels the need to have on his own shelves.

The list only included books that were either at least 30 years old or, if more recent, written by authors no longer alive. These parameters were motivated by the fact that, in assessing the long-run impact of books, some separation in time is necessary. The list and the personal preferences of the Book Reviews Editor were discussed at an editors’ meeting, after which the list was shortened to 15 books, selected to represent the various topics that stratify in a multidisciplinary journal such as Regional Studies. The final cut was determined by need and opportunity; established and important scholars within their field were required to write these essays, so the reviews published will be of those books for which it was possible to find a suitable reviewer who agreed to write the essay within the short-time frame provided.

The list of those who accepted this proposal includes a number of well-known scholars who will review some of the most important classics in various disciplines related to regional studies. The final list includes Michael Batty on Peter Hall’s Cities in Civilization (1998), Henry Yeung on Albert O. Hirschman’s The Strategy of Economic Development (1958), Gilles Duranton on Jane Jacobs’s The Economy of Cities (1969) and The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961), Steven Brakman and Harry Garretsen on Nicholas Kaldor’s Economics without Equilibrium (1985), Peter Sunley on Marshall’s Principles of Economics (1890), Mick Dunford on Doreen Massey’s Spatial Divisions of Labour (1995), Eric Sheppard on Gunnar Myrdal’s Economic Theory and Underdeveloped Regions (1957), Philip McCann on Harry W. Richardson’s Regional Growth Theory (1973), and Michael Fritsch on Joseph A. Schumpeter’s The Theory of Economic Development (1943). “

You can read my essay on Cities and Civilization here and get access to the entire collection by clicking on this link.