Tuesday, 29 November 2011

The Invisible Economy - Design in Vancouver

In a previous article I wrote about how the Vancouver city region is struggling to define itself economically – is it a port city? Is it a resort city? Or can the future be built on savvy tech entrepreneurs?  Last week I got a glimpse of one part of the economy which generates less headlines but could be as important to the city over the coming years.  I undertook the Eastside Cultural Crawl which does exactly what is says on the tin.  Beginning in 1997 the crawl is an opportunity for artists, craftspeople and designers to increase their visibility through a series of coordinated events and programmes.  Mostly it just involves studios being opened up to allow the general public a better idea of what is being produced in the Strachcona neighborhood.  I was hugely impressed with both the turnout (not everybody enjoys walking around an industrial estate on a freezing weekend) and, more importantly, the quality of the products on sale.  With my eye on a new coffee table I was particularly impressed with the carpenters and would recommend the work of Enrico Konig as a start (see here).


Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Parklife - Making London Greener

Two stories related to parks in London grabbed my attention this past week.  First was Rowan Moore’s excellent review of the proposed London River Park which is quickly turning into the capital’s new planning saga (see here).  The proposal is for a new walkway on the northern side of the River Thames, stretching from Millennium Bridge in the west to the Tower of London in the east.  The initial plans include landscaping, seating, a swimming pool and a series of pavilions which can be used for exhibitions and cultural uses.   

But it is the creation of a pseudo-public space that angers Moore the most.  Drawing on Anna Minton’s highly recommended book Ground Control, Moore describes how the river park will in fact turn a public river view into a highly controlled private space.  In addition, the effort from the architects appears to have been spent on the revenue generating pavilions and not on the walkable areas in-between.  So if London is trying to ape New York’s High Line it will have to put considerably more effort into the ‘park’ element of the scheme.  Latest news is that the planning application will not be considered by the City of London at the November Planning Committee and the project will now miss being open for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.  Open for the Olympics?  We will see.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Vancouver Election Preview

With Vancouver municipal elections on November 19th, I thought now was a good opportunity to reflect on what are the key issues that should be being debated in the weeks aheadI stress 'should be' because unfortunatley the past weeks have been dominated by the continued occupation of the Vancouver Art Gallery.  For a group that claims to want to discuss the 'big issues', it is ironic that their occupation of VAG has deflected all attention away from the real substantive issues facing the city.  So to put this right, here are my top three issues that prospective politicians should be focusing on in Vancouver.   

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Lecture Review - Patsy Healey on Progressive Planning

Reading a lecture script on planning theories and governance structures is not easy.  But the hard work can be worth it, as it is for Patsy Healey's recent RTPI Nathanial Lichfield Annual Lecture (full script available here).  Healey is Emeritus Professor at Newcastle University and through her work on strategic spatial planning has received the RTPI Gold Medal and become a fellow of the British Academy.  I have always found her work engaging with its ability to mix both abstract planning and public policy theories with the everyday reality of city life and the role of the planning profession.  

Her RTPI Lecture captures the current enthusiasm for localism but instead of critiquing the Conservative Government's Localim Bill she digs deeper to deconstruct what form local political action should take.  This is wise because the fundamental issues of governance and civic capacity must be understood before exploring the types of planning controls needed.  Healey's main concern is the way in which debates over governance often break down into shouting matches between polarised sides calling for either less or more Government.  She categorizes these sides as either market idealists or idealised communitarianism.  Instead, Healey proposes a form of 'network governance' that blurs the boundaries of state, economy and cicil society.  This allows for a more flexible state of governance that retains some Government safeguards but permits experimentation and capacity building at the local level.  It is only within this networked governance does Healey believe true local planning can emerge.