Original blogs on CliffHague.com

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.

Amidst all the media coverage of the Greek debt crisis, little attention has been paid to the contribution that local and regional economic development can make to building competitiveness. Of course, the macro-economic policies pursued throughout the long crisis have been formidible barriers to growth. However, the counter-narrative from the enforcers of austerity is that the Greeks have only themselves to blame, even to the point where they need to be punished for electing the "wrong" government and delivering the "wrong" referendum result. Similarly, no media correspondents seem to have strayed far from Athens. Therefore this blog looks at a case study of one peripheral Greek region and traces its efforts to deliver innovation-led growth.

As European leaders vent their anger at the Greeks and threaten (once again) to perform the next act in a protracted tragedy, what became of territorial cohesion? This may sound an esoteric question, but it goes to the heart of the future of the EU.

The use of planning and built environment design to boost public health is attracting growing attention. Therefore the publication of a major, international research-based compendium is much to be welcomed. Water, crime, obesity, transport and food are amongst the many topics covered. Kevin McCloud, British designer and TV presenter has said “I’d like to see every politician, planner and developer given a copy.”

Planning is being used in the Israeli-occupied West Bank of Palestine to deny Palestinian communites fair opportunities for development. The practices undertaken in the name of "good planning" actually amount to a denial of administrative justice. These are important findings from an International Advisory Board of experienced planners that it was my privilege to chair. 

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?

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.

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?

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