Shrinking cities are a focus of growing concern. Globalisation has increased the vulnerability of cities to sudden adverse changes in their economic base. Austerity policies augment the problems. Loss of a key economic activity, can be followed by net out-migration of economically active age groups, falling tax revenues, an aging population but declining public services, “excessive” infrastructure that is expensive to maintain, empty property and gap sites. What strategies are being pursued in different parts of the world to address these challenges?
In smaller towns across the UK and many other countries, the town centres are struggling. Julian Dobson, has a barrowful of ideas of what to do about it. His book How to Save Our Town Centres is the best starting point I know for those who want to combine analysis with action. It is well researched, well-informed and refreshingly creative. It deserves an international audience. Much of the analysis is UK-focused, but there are plenty of non-UK examples of innovative responses to the problems of town centres.
Zlin is an outstanding example of a town inspired by 20th century functionalist architecture. This classic company town was a product of the Bata shoe company, its "home town" that the company then mimicked across the continents. It survived Communism, and now a finely balanced conflict is taking place between conservation and consumer capitalism.
How has the economic crisis impacted on migration patterns across Europe? This question is addressed in a new four-page ESPON Evidence Brief. The theme was also a central feature of the ESPON seminar in Vilnius on 4-5 December. Migration has been a priority concern of the Lithuanian EU Presidency. This is not surprising, given the scale on which this small country has been haemorrhaging people in recent years. It is estimated that a sixth of the population has been lost over the last 20 years. However, as we in the UK know, migration has become a hot political topic in many countries. For example there are concerns in countries around the Mediterranean about their “front line” position in relation to illegal immigration from Africa and the Middle East.
In 2013 I helped RTPI construct a timeline to tell the story of planning 1914-2014 for their centenary year. Inevitably the focus was on the Institute itself and events in the UK. However, it set me wondering what a “World View” of planning over that 100 years might look like?
Just a few months ago there were major demonstrations in Istanbul triggered by protests against plans to build a shopping mall and housing on Taksim Gezi Park. In Rome this week I stumbled into another demonstration. A couple of hundred people had gathered late on Saturday afternoon outside a rather non-descript industrial building, a former foundry, not far from Porta Maggiore, the greatest entrance gate to ancient Rome. There were banners opposing speculators and “defending” San Lorenzo, the rather rundown neighbourhood squeezed between the railway, La Sapienza University and an elevated urban motorway. A hundred meters away the carabinieri were lined up with their riot shields.
Mumbai has been a powerful driver of economic growth in India over the past couple of decades. It is a mega-city with an estimated population of over 20 million. Much of the growth has taken place despite rather than because of planning. A spate of building collapses in recent weeks has prompted new debates about how to regulate development in this boom town. Provision of affordable housing has not kept pace with housing need, resulting in illegal housing development on a massive scale. However, it is not only houses that are falling down. People are risking their lives in poorly constructed workplaces as they try to earn a living.
Walking the streets of Dublin, you are never far from the brash excesses of the Celtic Tiger era – or from the havoc that the banking crisis has brought. Just as remarkable is the spirit that seems to have sustained the city, and not least the planners in their attempts to build a recovery. Where better to be for the ESPON seminar on jobs and growth?
The European Council of Spatial Planners has just published a book to mark “A Centenary of Spatial Planning in Europe”. It is a compendium in which the Introduction is followed by 32 chapters that range far and wide in their concerns and approach. What does the book tell us about where planning in Europe has come from and where it is heading to?
My previous visits to Riga were in the winter. Fading light on gloomy afternoons, sleet and snow chilling the soul, forcing me to seek the refuge of a warm bar or café. Now I am here in vibrant springtime, with a crescent moon in a crimson night sky after a day of warm sun. Suddenly, light green leaves have burst the grip of the long, bare winter. There is a promise of better days ahead: this great European city looks to the future with new confidence.
The concept of maritime spatial planning has been given a significant boost by a couple of recent actions in the European Union. As Maria Damanaki, EU Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, has commented, “Governments are waking up to the fact that we have just about reached the limit of what can be squeezed from the 29% of the planet that is land. Therefore, it becomes clear that we need to look even more to the sea.”
I have referred to Chinese urbanisation several times in these blogs, but make no apologies for returning to the topic. What is happening in China should be of interest to planners, urbanists, environmentalists and economic development professionals everywhere. In part this is because of the sheer scale of the changes – a rural to urban shift on steroids!
The spatial impacts of the bailout deals forced on Greece have yet to be fully assessed. However, the early indications are that they will have negative impacts on small and medium sized enterprises which are so important in small towns and rural regions, and also on local food networks.
One of the positive outcomes to emerge from the Rio+20 summit last year was the UN Environment Programme’s Global Initiative for Resource Efficient Cities (GI-REC) In trying to plot a way towards sustainable urban development it aims to reduce pollution and infrastructure costs while improving efficiency in cities across the world. The GI-REC will work with local and national governments, the private sector and civil society groups to promote energy efficient buildings, efficient water use, sustainable waste management and other activities.