Editor’s Choice: Geddes’ Centenary Paper

The Editor of Landscape and Urban Planning has chosen our paper by Stephen Marshall and myself on Patrick Geddes as Editor’s choice. Our prize is that you can download it free from here and I do not have to post it unofficially online.  2015 was the centenary of Geddes seminal book Cities in Evolution and the journal has a special issue on Geddes which has just been published. We have unpacked Geddes’ contributions in a paper entitled: Thinking organic, acting civic: The paradox of planning for Cities in Evolution, where we suggest that his long term quest to build a theory of social evolution was never realised despite his voluminous letters and writing, much of which was spontaneous, stimulating, insightful and of course chaotic. This year is the centenary of D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson’s great book On Growth and Form. Geddes (PG for short) and D’Arcy were colleagues at University College Dundee for over thirty years but they did not write together – despite that fact that they were talking about the same kinds of things, evolution, form, morphology, but their individual foci were quite different: PG on cities and society, D’Arcy primarily on fish. We have also done something on unpicking their interactions and we presented this at the RGS Annual conference in London in late August. You can find our post on this here.

Again download our paper from this link or by clicking on the picture of D’Arcy and PG at Dundee in the late 1880s which is shown above. PG on the extreme right; D’Arcy sitting first on the left.


Encounters in Planning Thought


Click on the picture or on this link to by the book online. The project has a web site – click here for the web site and the wider context from which this extract is taken. And take a look inside the book here.

The  Encounters in Planning Thought  book-project was born out of the need to capture the planning thoughts and reflections from 16 leading thinkers of the original generation of planning professors, who led the formation of the academic field of city and regional planning. The aim of this project is to understand and unpack the roots of the planning discipline. In difference to existing ‘planning history projects’ we seek to explore the roots of planning through the eyes of selected individuals who influenced and shaped the field of planning over the last five decades. Understanding the history of the field of planning through oral histories enables us to grasp also the impacts of historical events, demographic change, political systems, etc. of an ever changing world, on the history of the field. This approach makes it possible to understand how planning thoughts can be adopted meaningfully in a different time, context and situation.

The project was born out of the need to capture the wisdom of the first generation of planners. The finite amount of time that the current and next generation of planners have to accumulate this information underlines the ‘now or never’ aspect of this project. When this highly influential generation is gone, their knowledge will be lost. This makes this project an extremely time sensitive endeavour.

We argue that it is important to understand the evolution of planning thought in the context of personal values and experiences as well as in relation to an ever changing world, from those individuals who have first-hand knowledge of this intellectual evolution. Through their historical accounts of the emergence and development of the field of planning, we can not only reflect on the past to resolve our current issues but we can reflect on the past to further the field of planning in the future.

China Rising? Empty Cities, Ghost Towns


My current editorial in Environment and Planning B tracks the massive investments in infrastructure in China which have taken place since the Great Recession of 2007-2008. One of the key features of contemporary economic systems is their volatility with respect to the dynamics of property development. Building booms and busts follow major economic cycles and in Britain in the last 50 years there have been at least three if not four such cycles.

But the mother of all booms is that which has pervaded China since 2008 when the government there decided to reflate the economy by providing many with cheap finance to build. And build they did, with little reference to demand, with the boom predicated on the basis that if ‘we build it they will come’. Come they have not and as the boom turns into bust as it is fast appearing to do, its looks very much as though the market for property in China will drive wider markets relating production to consumption, possibly to collapse.

Wayne Shepard’s interesting book Ghost Cities of China (2013) poses the question as to whether or not the construction of so much property, particularly buildings meant for housing, which remain empty and are located in places that seem to have little rationale as good locations will attract populations in time as China continues to urbanise. This is an intriguing question. Our experience in western economies suggests otherwise but in the editorial, I pose the question as to whether the Chinese economy will continue to ignore the laws of financial gravity. I don’t think so but you never can tell. Recent events in the markets also suggest otherwise but with China you never know. An economy that constitutes 20 percent of world demand could well herald a new era when bubbles never burst and when investments never yield. As in most economies, at the end of the day, psychology appears to reign supreme.

There is plenty to read about all this, Robert Peston’s short videos referred to in the editorial make good watching and only this week, there are various comments on China’s economy: see for example the interesting comment in the Guardian Online

Get the editorial by clocking on the picture above or the link here.