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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Purpose of Planning: Creating Sustainable Towns and Cities By Yvonne Rydin


Over the past sixty years, the U.K.’s highly centralized system of planning has experienced wartime rebuilding by a Keynesian state and all-powerful modernist architects favoring Corbusian towers and motorways, followed by neoliberal restructuring and the increasing role of finance capital in shaping the urban landscape. (Behold the vast Docklands redevelopment area and the corporate island of Canary Wharf, as well as more recent steel and glass monoliths named for their shapes—“gherkin,” “shard”— jutting from London’s neoclassical skyline.) The modernist experiment was imprinted on concrete public housing estates such as those found in London’s boroughs, now either becoming desirable hipster icons (Kensington’s Trellick Towers) or still occupied by the poor but being reconstituted in a less brutalist style (Islington’s Packington Estate). As Thatcher was privatizing large swaths of Britain’s public housing, a symbol of the social contract as potent as the National Health Service, the fashion for wholesale demolition of Britain’s architectural heritage was met with the opposite extreme: Prince Charles and others pushed for the preservation and creation of an imagined past to create bland, theme-park- like English village townscapes, each as indistinguishable from the next as American new urbanist town squares. More recently, U.K. planning has turned towards participation and reclaiming the street network for cyclists and pedestrians, following a European trend to address livability and climate change. Education about the built environment and how to participate in shaping it is provided by a strong NGO sector (a network of “Architecture Centres” serves communities across the country) and by government (that is, until the current Conservative government axed its research and advisory body, the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, or CABE). Yvonne Rydin joins Patsy Healey, Neil Brenner, Erik Swyngedouw, and others in an ongoing discussion about who participates in decisions about the built environment in an era of “glocalized” governance and flows of capital.

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