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.

Big Data in the Big Apple


What we can learn here from New York: an interesting report from Eddie Copeland at the Policy Exchange. Fascinating reading from the place where open data was invented, and where Urban Mechanics was begun. I quote from the blurb:

Today marks the launch of the first report from the Capital City Foundation, Policy Exchange’s London-focused unit. The report, Big Data in the Big Apple, says the next Mayor of London should appoint a Data Tsar to replicate New York’s success at using analytics to improve life for Londoners. Monitoring different data sets including the amount of rubbish collected, energy bills and even sewage levels could, for example, help local authorities identify and combat ‘beds in sheds’, the illegal use of buildings usually built without planning permission that cost the taxpayer millions and make life a misery for Londoners. The report calls for the appointment of a Data Tsar based in City Hall whose job would be to lead a team of analysts that collects and overlays different data sets held by each of London 33 boroughs as well as the Metropolitan Police and the London Fire Brigade.

The paper sets out a number of ways in which harnessing different data sets could lead to better outcomes for Londoners:

  • Illegal housing. Overlaying data such as waste ‘output’ per person, incidents of fly tipping, energy consumption and the size and age of a property and its garden could help councils identify ‘beds in sheds’ and houses which have more people than officially registered.
  • Boosting new business growth. Using data from mobile phone users to show how many people have walked down a particular street over a month could help business optimise their opening times. Likewise making available Companies House data showing business closure statistics can help inform entrepreneurs where they should locate their business.
  • Food safety inspections. Overlaying where previous inspections have taken place with complaints received from the public as well as analysis of posts on Twitter or TripAdvisor could help build up a picture of which restaurants could pose more of a risk to the public.

Read the report here