Three months ago, this column was written in a lazy chair and hot sun. Today it is the slow-running 0754 to Cannon Street. I am at least comforted by the thought that the week will end at the Academy of Urbanism’s annual awards lunch. With that carrot before me I count 23 separate meetings in the week to come. These include at least three “high pressure” events: a masterplanning workshop tomorrow with people we enjoy working alongside, the regular Wednesday Design Review Panel at CABE and a design meeting with a reasonably famous firm of architects on Thursday. Foodwise it is two dinners with the heads of our firms in Boston and Tokyo and, of course, Friday with the Academy at the Dorchester. All in all: a not unusual week for brain and belly.
Looking back over three months I am pleased to see I have left a smaller carbon footprint than usual. Only two flights – and short ones at that – to Stockholm and Londonderry. I reassure myself that the latter is almost certainly offset by the paradox of speaking at a conference on climate change. My trip next month to Bahrain has just been put on hold so I may just end the year at a three-year personal low.
In the last three months I have sent 1218 emails and received more than I can calculate. This may be so, but is it meaningful? Such is the nature of evidence-based planning: not all evidence is useful. However, one tangible fact is the approval of Crossrail and the new wave of work that this has generated, followed shortly after by an upswell in tricky town-centre retail commissions. While the former is the result of political decision-taking in the public sector, the latter is most certainly the product of the private sector’s “post-summer/pre-Christmas window” – the time available for important things to happen between holidays. Still, it is not quite so bad as the post-ski/pre-Easter window, which can be as short as days. I am grateful in between times for overseas clients, who may sometimes take longer to pay but at least work to a different calendar.
Conference season is also well underway, as are the parties and events that accompany them. First of these was the publication of the Urban Design Compendium, which is a handsome tome and one to which I have made a modest contribution, sitting on the sounding board and enjoying the efforts of Roger Evans and his team. The next publication I am watching for is the guidance from NICE on public health and the design of the built environment that, as a member of the steering group, I have helped to draft. Obesity and “obese-cities” are issues that already command column inches in planning journals. The NICE publication will, I hope, take that discussion further forward.
This time of year is also the start of academic term, at least in London and Stockholm where I have given two lectures to encouragingly large groups of students. Demand for urban design appears enormous: where once it was a small room, today it is the main lecture theatres. The mix was rich: architects, town planners, landscape designers and sociologists. If only there were a few more transport planners in the room – they are the target “market” for urban design.
As for today, it is a full morning of regular practice reviews: finance first (and always!), then diary, projects, HR, marketing and – over lunch – strategy. These last discussions may cover technology, partnerships and research, today it is salary reviews and recruitment that take priority. With every strategy comes the necessary detail: should we immediately take on one more consultant or two? We have three strong candidates, probably four. We begin the process believing we have a fixed budget but the more we consider it the more flexible our thinking becomes – and complicated. Should we instead be paying our current staff some more? How will that go down with the shareholders? Then, just at the point where it all seems impassable we make a decision and it is time to head home to the more nuanced subtleties of two small children.
RTPI magazine column, December 2007