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.

This blog was first posted on the Planning Resource website on 7 May 2012.

The UN-Habitat World Urban Forum will meet in Naples in the first week in September. It is the pre-eminent meeting place for the global community of those who are actively engaged in trying to create more sustainable and equitable human settlements. It brings together mayors and grass roots activists, professionals and politicians, slum dwellers and developers, the global North and the global South. This week saw the launch of a series of on-line dialogues that will lead into the main WUF. You may not be able to get to Naples, but you can have your say on the ways you think urban planning should be used to tackle the challenges of the towns and cities.

This blog was first posted on the Planning Resource website on 24 April 2012.

This week Planning magazine celebrates its 40th birthday. At this critical juncture, the point where mid-life crisis is supposed to kick in with a vengeance, I thought that I should look back to where I was in 1972, while still taking a “World View”. So back we go to a time when my hair was long and curly, I wore red flared trousers, and the post-war world was on the cusp of changing fundamentally.

This blog was first posted on the Planning Resource website on 24 April 2012.

Scenario planning tools are increasingly being used in North America as means of community engagement. The state of the art is reviewed in a new publication that attracted attention at the recent American Planning Association conference in Los Angeles. The development of web-based GIS and mobile phone technologies opens the prospect of a rapid emergence of new techniques that could fundamentally change the way we do planning.

This blog was first posted on the Planning Resource website on 2 April 2012.

Last week I went to a meeting at the Scottish Parliament about architecture policy. Across Europe the divide between architecture and planning is more blurred than in the UK. So what kind of architecture policies do we see in Europe? What do such policies say and how are they used? Do we need such policies?

This blog was first posted on the Planning Resource website on 26 March 2012.

If planning is to become a means of supporting growth and economic recovery, then planners, economic development specialists and others working with Cohesion Funds will need a better understanding of the local business environment and accessibility. A new ESPON report includes a description of indicators that are used in Sweden to monitor these concerns, and inform local policy and practice.

This blog was first posted on the Planning Resource website on 19 March 2012.

“One of Norwegian society’s strengths lies in the fact that we have economic development spread all over the country. This enables us to get the most out of our natural, cultural and human resources, and is how we have laid the foundation of our prosperity and welfare.” This statement opens an official commentary on Rural and Regional Policy published by the Norwegian Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development.  In contrast, as I write this blog, the UK government is announcing a kind of regional policy in reverse: it will take money out of weaker regional economies by holding down the pay of public sector employees working in such regions. So is the left of centre Norwegian government’s regional policy a dinosaur?

This blog was first published on the Planning Resource website on 7 March 2012.

The use of major sporting events to drive development and regeneration has become increasingly controversial. Who gains? Who loses? Since the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona such spectacles have been widely seen as offering a unique opportunity to rebrand places and upgrade problematic sites. However, the planning of such infrastructure typically displaces poor and marginalised residents and small businesses. The Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions estimated in 2007 that globally millions of people had suffered forced removal as a result of development for sporting and other mega events. Are such outcomes justified in the wider public interest?

The Barcelona Olympics created new expectations about the role of sports events in regneration. Photo courtesy of Tom Bendall.

This blog was first posted on the Planning Resource website on 28 February 2012.

For many the very idea of town planning is inextricably tied to a statutory system for regulation of development, operated by professionals. To non-professionals the procedures and rules are opaque. The attempt to impose uniform standards can be inequitable and self-defeating. Such planning is seen as top-down and technocratic. From the 1960s onwards, and particularly in the global South, there have been attempts to put into practice quite different forms of planning and place-making. Such initiatives are bottom-up and participatory, and tend to be focused around a wider range of priorities than are permitted within official planning legislation. In Japan this counter-movement is known as Machizukuri , and it is attracting a lot of attention.

This blog was first posted on the Planning Resource website on 20 February 2012.

In June the Rio +20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development will be held. Few will place much confidence in the capacity of national governments to drive forward an inclusive and environmental agenda for the world, as happened at Rio in 1992. Rather, the leaders of change today more and more seem to be the mayors of cities in Latin America. For example, Mexico City is at the forefront of planning and implementing strategies for environmental improvement and climate change adaptation and mitigation.