There is much concern at present about the plight of town centres, especially in small and medium-sized towns. There are many more empty shops as the economic problems hit consumers and businesses. However, there are also structural underlying problems. The growth and convenience of large edge-of-town supermarkets and retail warehouses has badly impacted on businesses based in traditional retailing units in the town centre.
Place brand management is the theme of an article in the current issue of Town and Country Planning, the excellent little magazine produced by the Town and Country Planning Association. Its authors, Sonya Hanna and Jennifer Rowley, stress the need to involve stakeholders in the process. This means not just local residents, but also visitors and businesses. They argue that branding is not only an exercise in marketing: rather the experience of the place is central to the process.
The fact that you are reading this blog suggests that you are used to getting information from the internet. In turn, I get a buzz from knowing that there are readers out there in, and maybe even beyond, “Innovation Circle Land”, who take the time to read what I write and, hopefully, get new ideas. Even a decade ago it was hard to imagine just how web 2.0 would grow into the multiplicity of global interactions that connect the planet today.
The Isle of Bute is situated off the west coast of Scotland. It is peripheral to the periphery, and has all the added problems that come with being an island. Unemployment is high, incomes are low, houses are small, people with higher education are few. It suffered as tourism changed. In the middle of the last century, the shipbuilders and steel workers from industrial Clydeside flocked to the island for their annual week’s holiday. Those days of full employment and local vacations are long gone. However, Bute’s scenery and setting still offer qualities that are not readily available elsewhere and attract some to retire there.
While in Philadelphia recently for the annual conference of the American Collegiate Schools of Planning I was able to make a trip to Atlantic City, New Jersey, a place famous for its use of casinos as a driver for urban regeneration. As well as walking the famous boardwalk on a rather drab end of October afternoon, I was fortunate enough to be able to talk directly with key planners and people in the casino industry and so gain insights into what is happening. The story has some important messages for planners and policy-makers involved in regeneration work.
Last week I was in Pakistan, speaking at an international conference on Town Planning and Urban Management. It was an opportunity to revisit Lahore for the first time in 20 years and to experience the grandeur and vibrancy of this great city, which encapsulates the opportunities and challenges of rapid urbanisation in this part of Asia.
Pakistan’s urbanisation level is still only around 37%, so this remains a rural country. However it is the highest in south-west Asia, and the rate of urbanisation is around 3%. When I was last here in 1994, the population of Pakistan was 126M. Today it is approaching 200M and the urban population has grown from under 40M to 70M. By 2050 another 90M urban dwellers are anticipated.
These trajectories formed the backdrop to the conference. Despite the surge in urban growth, planning has little impact. Around half the people already live in slums. There is no comprehensive planning law. Plans ‘expire’ and are not updated.
The ‘urban’ goal remains in the list that the UN general assembly is considering this week. As long as it gets through, then adoption next year should be a formality, unless some country really wants to make an issue about it. As not much information is available about this, and it is an issue that is very relevant for planners and other built environment professionals, I am posting here the current list of 17 proposed goals and also the targets being developed for Goal 11, the ‘urban’ goal. Many thaks to Christine Platt and the Commonwealth Association of Planners for this update and all their hard work to get the goal this far.
The last week here in UK has been dominated by the referendum on Scottish independence. Although the “No” side won by a clear margin (55/45%) the issues behind the referendum have not disappeared, and now there is a political discussion at Westminster about devolution across the UK. Meanwhile, last Wednesday I was speaking in Colwyn Bay at an ESPON on the Road event that focused on small towns in Wales. In my presentation I drew on EU data that shows why the UK now faces a crisis of territorial cohesion.
Today I have been to Nablus and followed the River Jordan down to Jericho. I have spoken to a conference, eaten falafel in the bazaar, talked with the most remarkable mayor I have ever met, and come to better understand the significance
I am writing this blog from East Jerusalem. I have been invited over here by theUN-Habitat team based in Ramallah on the Israeli Occupied West Bank of the Jordan. The purpose of the visit is to learn about how planning is practised here, and what might be down to make it a more equitable, fair and transparent process. The visit is linked to a DFID-funded project that is trying to remove the logjam which is preventing Palestinian villagers from developing.
The planning situation in the West Bank is both very complicated but also very simple, so let’s do the simple bit first. The Israelis are building lots of new settlements here while stalling on approval of plans submitted for development in Palestinian villages, and demolishing the unauthorised development that then does take place.
My summer holiday reading has been “Buildings of Empire” by Ashley Jackson. As the title suggests, this is a grand tour around landmark examples of the built environment legacy of the British Empire. Twelve fluently written chapters take us from Dublin Castle to the iconic Raffles Hotel in Singapore, before returning the reader to the Empire Stadium at Wembley.
Professor Ashley Jackson is part of the Defence Studies Department at King’s College London. He combines expertise in imperial history with a taste for architectural detail. The result is an enriching, probing and at times amusing account. The constructions of a colonial power tend to be highly symbolic, expressing values such as power, majesty, but also knowledge and justice. Others read the buildings as exemplars of repression. As Jackson shows these totems to the empire on which the sun never set remain significant urban elements today.
If you are 30 years old, then 260 million people have moved from rural China into its cities during your life time. This amounts to more than half of the current EU population. 117M moved in the decade between 2000 and 2010. Environmental pollution in many of these cities is still terrible, and for many migrants the housing conditions remain well below acceptable western norms. However, a case can also be made that this has been the most successful mass-migration from the countryside in human history. But now serious questions are being asked, and reform is on the agenda.