Chair’s Blog #6: Displacement activity

I’m not sure if this is blog #5 or #6.* I’m not sure if anyone has read those that came before and I’ve had no comments – positive or otherwise. If anyone reads this perhaps you could offer some feedback. If you have issues you’d like to see addressed, or take issue with those that I have, please say. If you think I should stop please say it nicely.

It doesn’t really matter though. Having spent half a lifetime trying to write reports and technical papers that are precise, unequivocal and focused, I have found it remarkably difficult to be expansive and emotionally engaged through the written word. Verbally I have no problem, as you may have noticed, but exploring and explaining the sensory and intellectual fascination of the places we inhabit is elusive on the page.

I should be doing this in two different contexts at the moment. It’s down to me to convey the experience of the assessment visit to Rotterdam a couple of weeks ago.  It is a fascinating city which has refreshed its city centre remarkably since I last visited eight or nine years ago. (Thought I ought to check – it’s only six. Even more remarkable then.) Of course we saw and met only the places and people that our City of Rotterdam hosts chose, but the enthusiasm, confidence and friendliness that exudes from the pores of the city is infectious. How then to convey this in words that will help you who are not so familiar form an adequately objective opinion of its greatness compared with the other finalists, Turin and Aarhus? I think it’s going to be a particularly difficult choice this year, so do make sure you read the assessment reports and vote. A huge amount of effort goes into their preparation (even, eventually, Rotterdam’s) and there is careful analysis and evaluation from which learning points are drawn. As well as the opportunity to celebrate these great places at the Awards ceremony in November, we are building an archive of great places for us all to deploy in encouraging others.

The other thing I’m not doing at the moment is preparing a presentation to an RTPI seminar on the contribution of National Planning Practice Guidance to achieving higher quality development. This seems even more difficult, possibly because having forced myself to re-read large parts of the NPPG, the NPPF and their predecessors, I’m increasingly convinced that all this policy and guidance may help to avoid the lowest quality development but it cannot secure the best. The examples of great places in the Academy archive provide evidence of how greatness is achieved. It comes from stewardship, from leadership and providing spaces in which people can pursue their own “aims and objectives”. I can’t recall anywhere where these have been secured through planning policies.

On the subject of inspirational writing, I had the opportunity to read the final submission by Urbed and JRUD for the Wolfson Prize just before it went in. It was a persuasive combination of conviction and coherence, and a worthy winner. With three Academicians in the winning team, how could it not be? Congratulations to all of those involved.

Back now to some potentially award-winning prose of my own.

Steven Bee

* It’s #6