Original blogs on CliffHague.com
Věra 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?
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.