As ever more trips are made it becomes harder and harder to move around cities, even when money is invested in transport infrastructure. Across the globe, but especially in the rapidly urbanising mega cities of the global south, cities are facing a crisis of accessibility. Quite simply, unsustainable forms of urban transport are no longer working.

Tuvalu from the air (photo courtesy of Dr.Julia Edwards)

This blog provides a front line report from Tuvalu, a small island state in the Pacific. Tuvalu is going through urbanization on a scale it has never experienced before, and is also struggling to adapt to the impacts of climate change. This remote and tiny place, so far removed from the global cities which are shaping its future, provides a laboratory specimen of the fate of a small island state in today’s world.

Spending a couple of days in Tel Aviv has enabled me to walk through the part of the town that was designed by Sir Patrick Geddes in the 1920s. The legacy of that plan is still evident today in what has become Israel's main gateway city.  Can some of Tel Aviv's dynamism be traced back to Geddes vision? What are the lessons for today's planners?

This blog was first posted on the Planning Resource website on 17 July 2012.

 

The next generation is going to witness a staggering amount of new urban development as the world’s economic centre of gravity shifts towards Asia. Cities in both developed and rapidly urbanising countries need professional planning if they are to prosper. Companies serving consumer markets should grasp the significance of the growing urban middle class and its diversity. Urban analysis is increasingly necessary for business success. These are the main messages from a dramatic new report from the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI).

This blog was first published on the Planning Resource website on 5 July 2012,

“The word planning has a positive connotation, and the feeling that ‘things work better with a plan’ is a nearly universal personal experience.” This is one of the findings from a piece of market research undertaken recently on behalf of the American Planning Association (APA). However, in the USA planning is now a divisive topic politically. Why is this, and what form of planning is it that the American public seems to favour?

VÄ›ra Chytilová's film Panelstory is essential viewing for planners and housing professionals. Made in what was then Czechoslovakia in 1979, it shows residents (not) adjusting to life in a new high rise estate. While the prefabricated panels are swung by huge cranes through space against a blue sky, on the ground women struggle to push prams and buggies through the mud on their way to join the queue at the clinic.

This blog was first posted on the Planning Resource website on 27 June 2012.

 

The Rio +20 summit was widely ignored by the world’s political leaders – the clearest possible statement that they have no intention of providing leadership on sustainable development. Similarly, the media devoted scant attention to the event – in marked contrast to the coverage given to the landmark 1992 gathering, or the 1972 summit in Stockholm. So what actually happened at Rio and where does it leave planners and others whose work it is to deliver more sustainable forms of development?

A wide ranging international review of national urban policies highlights the importance to national development of coordinated planning and well-functioning urban areas. Urban planning is seen as an economic imperative. "The argument
that well-functioning urban areas can help to unleash the development potential of nations is more persuasive than the argument that urban policy is about alleviating poverty and meeting basic needs", says the report.

On a cold and blustery Sunday morning in February I visited Susiya, a Palestinian village in the hills outside Hebron. Today I heard that the homes of the villagers are likely to be demolished. The plan they presented to secure the future of their properties and the right to develop has been ruled to lack feasibility, while the existing development falls foul of planning standards. According to an Israeli NGO, Rabbis for Human Rights, there is an imminent risk that the villagers' houses will be demolished and they will be left without anywhere to live. This is the latest stage in a long running story of a poor community on the receiving end of a planning regime rooted in military occupation.

Whether it's an old church or the shell of a derelict factory, a gap site or an under-used parking lot, vacant land and buildings are a headache for planners and regeneration professionals. The impacts of vacany stretch beyond the site, creating a sense of decline and blighting neighbourhoods. Yet these left overs can be the ingredients of a new urban stew. Potentially they offer opportunities for cheap premises and new start-ups, innovation and regeneration. The key questions are how do you make the connections to unlock that potential, how does the planning system handle temporary uses, and how can initial success be sustained?

Here in the UK the General Election has seen numerous skirmishes amongst the politicians about the National Health Service (NHS). They bombard us with figues in unimagnable "billions" of pounds. However, I have not seen any debate about how to make use of spatial data to make the NHS better informed and more responsive to need. Yet health service provision is highly spatialised, the more so since the closures of cottage hospitals and the concentration of facilities in fewer, larger hospitals. Local access to health care professionals also varies spatially, not just between urban and rural areas, but also between suburbs and inner city areas. Similarly, there are strong spatial aspects to the incidence of need. New work in the USA is using big data to begin to highlight the challenges and opportunities. 

Resilience of cities is the theme of the latest issue of the French publication of Villes en Développement edited by my old friend Marcel Belliot. As the preface notes, resilience is now central to "approaches and strategies of governments partnering urban development and of funders." It brings a holistic and interdisciplinary approach to understanding and managing urban development. There are articles about simulation of crises and responses to an earthquake disaster in Lima; efforts by Algiers to adapt to the consequences of climate change; emergency responses in South Sudan, a country particularly fragile and vulnerable to the risk of flooding; and how the French Development Agency (AFD) is bolstering the resilience of vulnerable neighbourhoods in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

This blog was first posted on the Planning Resource website on 18 June 2012.

What kind of strategies can help regions to strengthen their performance in knowledge and innovation? This was the theme of the ESPON Open Seminar that I took part in last week in Aalborg. What emerged was a strong consensus on the importance of getting stakeholders to feel a sense of ownership of a flexible regional strategy, which in turn was part and parcel of building trust. This region of North Denmark shows how strategic spatial planning has been used to create jobs and growth.

This blog was first posted on the Planning Resource website on 5 June 2012.

How is heritage conservation across Europe faring in these difficult economic times? Last week I was at the Europa Nostra meeting in Lisbon, representing the Built Environment Forum Scotland. We heard some inspiring stories but also cause for concern.

Lisbon, where Europa Nostra met

This blog was first posted on the Planning Resource website on 21 May 2012.

Warsaw is sprucing itself up for the European football championships that it will host next month. This is the latest stage in its transition from the planned socialist city to the city of 21st century consumerism. At times, these two faces stand in counterpoint to each other in the townscape; at other times they merge into one. How do you read a city, and hear its stories, by walking its streets and absorbing its messages?

This blog was first posted on the Planning Resource website on 15 May 2012.

Natural disasters continue to claim lives and devastate families, particularly the global South. The poor are most vulnerable as they typically live in the most hazardous locations. However, this social and geographical reality also compounds the problems, because of the gaps that exists between planners and the poor. The two groups speak different languages, have different understandings about the problems and what to do. Bridging such gaps could be a way to build greater resilience to extreme environmental events. Participatory 3 dimensional mapping is a technique that promises to do this.