If planning doesn’t work, is the answer chaos? Surely not…

“I mean, bluntly, there comes a question in life – do you believe planning works, that clever people sitting in a room can plan how people’s communities should develop? Or do you believe it can’t work?

“I believe it can’t work, David Cameron believes it can’t, Nick Clegg believes it can’t. Chaotic therefore in our vocabulary is a good thing.

“Chaotic is what our cities are when we see how people live, where restaurants spring up, where they close, where people move to.

“Would you like to live in a world where you could predict any of that? I certainly wouldn’t.”
Nicholas Boles, Conservative MP for Grantham and Stamford

Nicholas Boles’ remarks are understandable but at the same time worrying for many involved in the planning, design and management of places, urban or rural. Thinking that the answer to planning is chaos not only questions the budgets currently allocated to the activity but also critiques the intellectual basis of the profession.

Understandable because, from failed housing estates to the Dome, the UK planning system has a poor record of doing things “top-down”.

Worrying because people who have taken time to study how cities evolve have concluded that they do so in ways that are far from chaotic. Instead, urban scientists, such as Prof Bill Hillier of University College London, have found that places are structured by the interplay between the attraction of assets and the location of these in the spatial network of towns and cities. Successful places have attractive assets and effective spatial networks. Having both makes planning and managing such places all the easier. Placing key assets in the wrong place – like the Dome, which was built at the tip of a poorly connected peninsula – is a recipe for failure.

Urban experts have also found that places are, at best, probabilistic in the way they operate, never deterministic. You can’t make anything happen – only provide conditions that facilitate things happening.

The problem for some people is that this kind of analysis is often too subtle and sophisticated. People are looking for simple answers. So, when Nicholas Boles concludes that planning doesn’t work, he announces that the answer lies in a soundbite: chaos.

Saying that chaos is the answer to top-down planning is akin to saying that anarchy is the answer to autocracy. Far from it, the answer is not in chaos but in a looser fit form of planning that recognises the fact that cities work well when individual acts of settlement and occupation occur within a well connected and well maintained movement network; when attractors are well located; when the street system promotes walking, cycling and public transport as well as the car.

It is a fantasy to think that this will happen unless the efforts of individuals are emboldened by a vision and coordinated as a system. We used to call this planning.

Weekly update

13-19th December 2010
Final review presentations by students of Prof Richard Peiser at Harvard GSD.

Work on UCL Space Syntax software licensing agreement.

Work on Loeb Fellows Public Seminar series – Technology – with Chee Pearlman

Meeting with Space Syntax colleagues to discuss current projects and future business strategy in Germany.

Presentation to Cambridge Community Development Department. Click here to view the presentation.

Meeting with Armando Carbonell at the Lincoln Institute, discussing rebuilding after the Chile earthquake, open source urban planning software, use of social networking by US city planning departments.

Dinner with Nieman Fellows.

Workshop at Utile Architecture + Planning on Boston City Hall Plaza.

Day off for birthday celebrations.

Workshop at Utile Architecture + Planning on Boston City Hall Plaza.

Meeting with Harvard GSD urban planning students.

Research on open source business models.

Weekly update

6-12th December 2010
Space Syntax Limited Board Meeting.

Meeting with Staff, Board & Shareholders of Space Syntax Limited to discuss the Company Business Plan, with David Cobb of UCL Bartlett, Kathryn Redway & Martin Butterworth, MD of Space Syntax Australia.

Meeting with Staff of Space Syntax Limited to discuss a) technology development, b) company structure & c) timeline for Business Plan development.

Dinner with Prof Alan Penn (UCL Bartlett & Space Syntax Limited), Martin Butterworth & Dr Lars Marcus (KTH University & Spacescape, Stockholm).

Meeting with Space Syntax Executive Directors, Dr Kayvan Karimi & Anna Rose.

Meeting with Dr Steven Schooling, UCL Business to discuss software licensing & development.

Evening drinks reception with clients & colleagues at Space Syntax, including presentation “Fragmented landscapes: issues in North American urbanism”. Click here to view the presentation.

Meeting with Martin Butterworth.

Fly to Boston.

Final design crits at Harvard GSD with students of Simon Allford.

Evening reception with Harvard GSD staff & students.

Symposium on Boston City Hall Plaza at Boston Public Library.

Final design crits with students of Anita Berrizbeitia, Felipe Correa & Rafi Segal.

Weekly update

29th November-5th December 2010
Meeting with Space Syntax colleagues regarding international affiliate network.

Presentation to Loeb Fellows.

Reception with MIT SPURS and Humphries Fellows, with presentation on “The Just City” by Prof Susan Fainstein.

Meeting with Armando Carbonell at the Lincoln Institute regarding open source urban planning software.

Presentation by actor/activist Edward Norton & developer Jonathan Rose to honour James Rouse, master developer.

Meeting regarding working in Rio de Janeiro.

Presentation by Prof Rahul Mehrotra on urban planning & design in Mumbai followed by dinner with Loeb Fellows.

Loeb Fellowship Memorial Luncheon at Citizen Schools.

Meeting with Steve Coast and Prof Alan Penn regarding open source business models.

Fly to London.

Dinner with Space Syntax directors.

Social Entrepreneurship in the Built Environment

Tweetroll from an evening at the Harvard Graduate School of Design with actor/activist Edward Norton and developer Jonathan Rose

Social Entrepreneurship in the Built Environment
Piper Auditorium, 1st December 2010

Edward Norton quoting his grandfather Jim Rouse: The purpose of business is not profit but the provision of an authentic service from which profit is a derivative @HarvardGSD

Jonathan Rose
Cities are the answer to the increase in population and demands on energy.
People who live in New York City consume 25% energy of people in suburbs.
Birth rates a lower in cities.
Opportunities are greater.

Edward Norton
Jim Rouse: Assess the field of opportunities and go for the most difficult. Blow off people who say you shouldn’t because the most difficult problems are the ones that most people should be going for.

Jim Rouse: Intractable problems are problems of apathy and complacency and not of impossibility.

Jim Rouse: Form should follow function and function should emerge from the service the project provides, especially in the urban design.

Jonathan Rose: Cities are about connectivity, culture, universities, access to nature. Cities are not just piles of buildings clustered together.

Edward Norton: We need to promote a reboot of our sense of self. We are not #1. We are not who we project ourselves as being. @HarvardGSD