The Financial Times discovers planning history

by Peter Larkham

Social and functional areas being depicted in the London County Plan

Social and functional areas being depicted in the London County Plan

It seems as if the FT’s property correspondent has discovered planning history. On no less than two recent occasions, Kate Allen (2014, 2015) has discussed the contemporary significance of Professor Sir Patrick Abercrombie’s plans for the London region, produced at the invitation of the Ministry for Town Planning in 1943-44 (Forshaw and Abercrombie, 1943; Abercrombie, 1945). Both were full-page features on the front page of the weekend ‘House and Home’ supplement; and the first carried a large full-colour reproduction of the widely-recognised “egg diagram” of social and functional areas in London.

It is very interesting to see such historic documents still being discussed in relation to today’s planning issues, and Kate Allen provides a fascinating argument for why the ‘scale’ and ‘ambition’ of Ambercrombie’s ideas are ripe for re-assessment. On one level, this suggests that planning history can have enduring relevance (or, perhaps, “impact” in today’s academic jargon!). But there are also persistent practical problems with attempting to translate the ideas of Abercrombie and the plans, no matter how well-known, into ‘workable’ solutions. With 70 years of hindsight the plans are flawed, probably inevitably; but quoting Boris Johnson’s “differences with Abercrombie” (Allen, 2014) is not really sufficient. [Read more…]


National Planning Policy Framework School Report: 48% – Could do much better

by Alister Scott

Quote for Blog 24The media is alive with the sound of planning policy again as the Communities and Local Government Select Committee publishes its report looking into the operation and impact of the National Policy Planning Framework. Using some of the key headlines from the report, I offer my preliminary assessment.

We should ensure that the same weight is given to the environmental and social as to the economic dimension

Economic considerations continue to trump environmental and social matters in decision making through our fetish for economic growth. In particular, the assessment of viability in the NPPF has been too heavily weighted in the developer interest. The lack of transparency in these assessments is a matter of concern as brownfield-first policies and affordability housing quotas can easily be bypassed. It is also equally important to consider environmental and social limits in such decisions where the concepts of natural and social capital provide useful tools for decision making. [Read more…]


Environmental Values and Climate Change: New perspectives and challenges

by Claudia Carter

I have been interested in researching climate change ever since the first IPPC report was published and introduced in my Geography class at the University of Aberdeen by Professor Chalmers Clapperton all those 24 years ago. So here is a second blog on the topic following my recent blog inspired by the People’s Climate March that took place 21 September 2014. A week on, my attention turns to the just published October issue of the interdisciplinary journal Environmental Values which uncovers some of the thornier and neglected issues of climate change. My task as an associate editor was to introduce this issue and downloading the Editorial is free. The whole issue is an interesting read and this blog just picks up a few of the ideas and issues that stood out for me and made me reflect.

Quote 1 for Blog 23 Reading Gael Plumecocq’s[i] article highlighted for me the role of emotions as a trigger to changing behaviour and attitudes. If we feel passionate about something and think about what is really at stake, we are likely to change our behaviour and quite possibly aim to influence policies. Related to this, if we can influence politicians’ emotions through actual or virtual experiences of specific case studies and situations, then this may be more effective than simply casting a vote every few years. The emerging dramatic climate change impacts are as much about emotional and ethical pertinence as they are about physical processes and political challenges. [Read more…]


Does Climate Change change our perspective and actions?

by Claudia Carter

London Peoples Climate March 21 Sept 2014_Leonie Greene via twitter

People’s Climate March, London, 21 Sept 2014. Photo by Leonie Greene via twitter

Participation in ‘People’s Climate March’ last week-end was reported from across many cities and continents, with Birmingham contributing its own contingent of citizens’ voices to demand action by UK politicians and other Governments on global climate change. Increasingly, we are confronted with the likely scenario of irreversibility of change – and that is change for the worse rather than better, as rapid environmental change and extreme weather events manifest themselves faster than technological utopian remedies. Sluggish energy-related targets and policies across sectors that hang onto economic growth fairytales are beginning to frustrate an increasing number of not so happily ever after citizens. Yet, the September demonstrations showed their own ugly dilemmas of modern consumerism and mobility: how to reduce negative impacts in travelling to climate change events and reduce adding high-energy trash of convenience foods and drinks – the hypocrisy being captured by some media photos of rubbish left behind.

Quote 1 for Blog 22In the larger scheme of things though, I was rather impressed by the appetite for effective ‘real’ action to help curb the emissions and negative impacts of our carbon-hungry industries and associated superfluous life-styles. [Read more…]


What does the “I” in BIM mean?

by Mustafa Selcuk Cidik

An open approach to BIM connects different stakeholders to each other. Source: http://www.tekla.com/company/building-construction/Open-BIM

An open approach to BIM connects different stakeholders to each other. Source: http://www.tekla.com/company/building-construction/Open-BIM

Building Information Modelling (BIM) attracts much interest in the construction industry. Among many events, articles and forums about BIM, there is hardly a discussion that does not include “information”. The centrality of “information” in the BIM discourse deserves a critical look at the ways we understand and use the word “information”. I am not going to discuss the different philosophical stances that view “information” differently and their extended implications (although I think it is very useful for everyone to have a sound knowledge about these different stances) but question what “information” may mean in construction projects.

Anyone who has spent some time in practice will acknowledge that construction project environments are not free from politics. Moreover, social and political positions occupied by different individuals and groups in a construction project are subject to change during its course for a myriad of different reasons such as the project stage, contract types, design changes etc. These changes are a natural result of the largely technical dynamics of a project and the social dynamics of the project team. [Read more…]


International Students – Caught in the crossfire?

by Ian McDonald

Immigration is likely to be a key issue at the next General Election and, unsurprisingly, the number of news stories over the last few months linked to the subject has been even higher than normal – the lifting of restrictions of Bulgarian and Romanian migrants; calls from across the political spectrum to stop migrants moving to the UK simply to claim benefits; and divisions between the two coalition parties on immigration policy. This is not the place, nor am I sufficiently expert on immigration policy, to conduct a forensic examination of the immigration policy scene; though I agree some reform is needed. I would, however, like to briefly discuss one group affected by immigration policy – namely international Higher Education (HE) students.

BCU TEE faculty students come from across the world

BCU TEE faculty students come from across the world

Well over half of the full-time postgraduate research students in the Faculty of Technology, Engineering and the Environment (TEE) at Birmingham City University (BCU) are international students, coming from countries ranging from Germany to Nigeria and Mexico to Palestine and I am very proud of this diversity! I have joked that it is my ambition to have one research student from each of 195 United Nations member states! BCU states proudly on its website that it has “international alliances” and “an expanding student community from more than 80 countries.” (BCU 2013)

However, despite the Government’s protestations to the contrary, the impression that is being given to many prospective international students (and their governments) is that the UK is no longer ‘open’ to international students. In a recent article on the Guardian’s website, a London-based student described his University’s obsessive monitoring of his attendance and similar initiatives as “racist and degrading”. He also stated “If I knew that was the situation, I wouldn’t have come in the first place, and would tell others back home to think twice” (Tapia 2013).

[Read more…]


Engineering and Research: which one comes first?

by Mohammad Mayouf

Engineers are one of the major facilitators of human needs through applying scientific knowledge, mathematics and ingenuity to achieve and solutions. The journeyof becoming an engineer is commonly understood to be taking a standard route with selected approaches and methodologies that have been tested and approved based on existing theories (e.g. Newton’s laws in physics). However, the undergoing research clarifies that current approaches to solve engineering problems can be enhanced or even new solutions can be invented, and yet contradictions take place on whether to follow the engineered approaches in solving problems or investigate new knowledge to enhance current approaches or develop new ones. The focus of this blog is about the potential routes to take when engineers decide to solve a problem – whether to choose an engineered approach (direct solution) or research approach (investigate solutions). The argument is reflected in the dialogue between two first year PhD students. It is important to mention that both of them are engineers where one is a mechanical engineer doing his research on engineering simulations (here referred to as ENG1) and the other is a civil engineer conducting his research on sustainability for buildings (ENG2).

ENG1: What are you doing?

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The future of urban form and infrastructure: more effective management of flooding and other challenges

by Peter Larkham

“Plan boldly!” (Lord Reith, 19401)

Photo of flooded residential area at Wimborne, February 2014

Flooding on the Stour, Wimborne, Dorset.
Photo: Ian Kirk (via Flickr)

The recent floods are just one example of the problems we are likely to face in the coming 50-100 years as a result of environmental and social change.  Traditional urban forms are vulnerable, and current ways of planning are weak and slow to respond.

I spent a day recently at an ‘expert symposium’ on the future of urban form and infrastructure, part of the Government Office for Science’s “Foresight Future of Cities” project.  It was a fascinating and wide-ranging discussion with a good range of experienced academics and professionals.  But it actually said very little about form or infrastructure in any detail.  We largely accepted that much existing research had already identified good and bad form, and in fact the key to better urbanism in the future was better management, at all scales.

So, acknowledging ideas from the assembled experts (though anonymised via Chatham House rules), there are some radical lessons for planning and management. [Read more…]


All Knowledge is Equal but Some Knowledge is More Equal than Others?

by Beck Collins

I get very annoyed when people talk about scientific knowledge as though it was just another opinion to be heard down the pub.  Scientific knowledge is different.  From the stage of fledgling academics working through their PhDs, scientists are trained to be rigorous in their research practice.  They must be conversant with the debates in their area, they must follow meticulous procedures while gathering and analysing data, and they must demonstrate where their work contributes to current understanding.  They must be able to defend themselves at every turn.  In this way scientific knowledge can be ‘trusted’.

Quote Blog 12I have a lot of respect for this approach.  However, knowledge which comes from this rigorous process of inquiry is not the only type.  I realised this recently while reading planning journal papers about how local people sometimes reject the ‘rational knowledge’ and resultant solutions that are presented to them by planners.  In these cases, people favour their own knowledge of their local areas generated through their everyday experience.  How could I reconcile these two understandings of knowledge?  Does one have precedence over the other?  I went on to think about BCU’s accredited courses; where students gain knowledge through professionally standardised training.  Accredited courses have a stamp of approval; the relevant body has said that this is what you need to know; this is how we market our courses to new students after all!  Is that the end of it then?  What about tacit knowledge which is important to the smooth running of professional life; knowledge that people have that is difficult to articulate and is based on experience (such as tendering skills built up from past experience)?  How does that fit in?  There’s also Dreyfus and Dreyfus’s understanding of experts’ knowledge; according to Flyvbjerg (2011) their great experience gives them such a holistic understanding that they intuitively know what to do.  So I should trust them, they’re experts?  That sounds fishy!  And are all ‘experts’ quite so worthy of this description? [Read more…]


Are the Streets of London Really Paved with Gold?

by Roger Wall

 

Hey!  This is one question to which I think I know the answer.  That’s unless they’ve been doing a lot of expensive repaving work since I was there a couple of weekends ago to see the Rolling Stones in Hyde Park.  The reason I’m so confident that nothing will have changed is that the government is too busy saving up so that it can build HS2.  This (of course) is the high speed rail link that seems designed to get us all to the capital as quickly as possible.  Despite controversy over the economic case, the environmental consequences and the (lack of) social benefits (not to mention a sudden £10bn price-hike a couple of weeks ago), the government seems determined to drive this one through.  It’s only track ‘n’ rolling stock but they like it.

Quote Blog 10A few things occur to me.  For a start, why are we all so desperate to get to the Big Smoke?  Sure, it’s a great place and I like going there; but Birmingham’s pretty good too and I’ve also heard nice things about Manchester, Nottingham and Sheffield (feel free to amend this list to suit your own preferences).  I spent a few years living in Germany and one of the things that struck me over there was the way in which the major cities all had their own identities and sense of importance.  Perhaps this was a consequence of the (then) capital being the relatively small town of Bonn (which might give a clue as to how long ago I was there) but it always seemed very healthy to me.  One of the ‘pro’ arguments I’ve heard for HS2 is that it will allow people flying to Birmingham to get to London quicker.  Is ‘Birmingham International Airport’ destined to become ‘London North’?  Surely, it would be better if the people actually wanted to stay in Birmingham. But don’t start me up on that one.

[Read more…]