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?
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.
Successful regional development can no longer be achieved through top-down public sector action. The skills and resources of the private and voluntary sectors are needed. This also means that planning for regional development must be done in a more inclusive way, less hierarchical and with co-operative networks and partnerships. However, action at regional scale needs also to be aligned to policy at national and transnational scales but also at local scale. These are messages from a new study that looks at regional development practice in four areas – the Randstad in The Netherlands, England’s West Midlands, Zealand in Denmark and Västerbotten in Sweden.
Seek the truth, speak the truth, defend the truth, live in truth. In my presentation to the closing session of the Association of European Schools of Planning annual congress, I drew on traditional Czech ideals to shape some messages for planners and planning educators. This blog provides an extended version of what I said.
The death of the 23-year old physiotherapy student after she was gang raped on a New Delhi bus has commanded headlines around the world. This appalling and tragic event has focused attention on the failures of the Indian authorities, and Indian society more generally, to tackle long standing problems of sexual assault and harassment. The sense of outrage stepped up when allegations emerged over the weekend of another gang-rape and murder in Noida, a satellite city east of Delhi. The media has concentrated on the failures of the local police. However, planners and urban designers also need to address the issues of women’s safety in urban areas.
I would like to award the prize for the best contribution to environmental sustainability for 2012 to Hurricane Sandy. Sandy single-handedly managed to convert more American citizens to the threats posed by climate change than any number of scientists, scientific publications or politicians. By dumping extreme weather on the US eastern seaboard, massively disrupting transport and business, and above all by providing great TV pictures, it made a strong case in many different ways.
Last week in Cyprus, I was able to get some insights into the development challenges facing this part of Europe. In a snapshot, Mediterranean islands like Cyprus were early cradles of urbanisation and often have a rich archaeological legacy. They were poor agricultural areas until mass tourism began in the 1970s. The boom saw the spread of urban uses along the coasts and around the villages, often undermining of the quality of the places that people were attracted to. Now these places face austerity and threats from climate change.