End of Year Review 2012

12 December 2012
3.45 – 6.00pm (Review)
6.00 – 8.00pm (Reception)
The Gallery, 70 Cowcross Street
London, EC1M 6EJ

Hosted by Alan Baxter Associates

End of Year Review Report

2012 saw the Academy take its message of holistic urban thinking into new environments, in a challenging period; from our intervention in debates surrounding the Olympics in March to the Urbanism Awards Ceremony in November.

As Kevin Murray (AoU Chair) made clear in his introduction, the Academy has been as active in 2012 as ever, but in a far broader field of engagement. It’s not only the events, research and exchanges we’ve conducted with Antwerp, Derry~Londonderry, Lisbon and Buenos Aires, but the growing weight and diversity of our membership. From a founding group of 100 people the Academy has grown several times over in size and, crucially, diversity.


Pam Alexander (AoU Director) and Linda Gledstone (Director of Operations) took us through how the Academy has adapted in the financial climate of the last few years, relying less on sponsorship and concentrating more on building our membership base. In 2013 we find ourselves at a point where engagement and retention are a key focus. To that end, the Academy is initiating a new ‘Regions and Nations Network’, with Local Convenors around the UK.

Another exciting development is the new student membership scheme, launching in February/March 2013. The calibre of the Academy’s membership makes it an attractive prospect for students’ professional development. And at postgraduate level in particular, students want to feel their work is part of a conversation with piers that has real relevance in the world. The Academy’s new scheme will put students in contact with Academicians, enhance their learning via our events, and provide them with a network for organising their own projects.

Round-up of events

While building up the AoU brand was a priority in the early life of the organisation, 2012 has seen the Academy branching out to collaborate with a range of new partners.

Sophia de Sousa (AoU) described the important grassroots work the Academy has been doing with The Glasshouse Community-led Design. The title of the debate series, ‘Putting People in their Place’, was designed to provoke, and indeed it has, by bringing together residents and local government, developers and housing forums, challenging preconceptions and teaching communities about their rights as well as opportunities.

Another event based on collaboration was the Learning Cities Platform in Utrecht. Professor Chris Balch (AoU) reported on how Utrecht was chosen explicitly as a place of connection which is undergoing major changes. The city centre is currently being dug up to reconfigure the main international train station. The cities that sponsored the event showed their commitment to learning from one another and building international connections, a principle that could well apply closer to home.

Organising platforms for exchange in this way is different from the Academy’s more tested, diagnostic approach – like a doctor taking a pulse, as Kevin Murray put it – the best examples of which are our Place Partnering visits.

Places visited so far include Winchester, Stroud, Dublin and Derry~Londonderry, which was also the host of the 2012 AoU Congress. While Max Comfort (AoU) reported on very positive outcomes in Stroud, Derry~Londonderry was a much more challenging experience, with the report the Academy eventually submitted causing a flurry of concern among the establishment and enthusiasm amongst others. Nevertheless Derry~Londonderry was the site of some of our most intense activity over the year and it would be arrogant to think that we could provide all the answers to such deep-set issues.

Rounding up the review of 2012 events, Chris Balch reported back from Learning from Lisbon, where Academicians were exposed to a city that has urbanism in its bones. Despite the country’s major economic problems, there is still a huge sense of belonging in this ‘city of neighbourhoods’, bolstered by dynamic initiatives in the public realm: for example the re-use of old mega-projects for public space; the creation of non-fiscal incentives for re-development; and the active use of universities to undertake research into city priorities. To an extent this sensibility is the legacy of the 1974 revolution. At the same time Lisbon is fortunate to have sympathetic professionals with a strategic mindset in its mayoral government.

Looking forward to 2013

This year’s congress will take place in Bradford in May 2013. The congress headline ‘The Producer City’, reflects Bradford’s status as a major player in the late 19th and early 20th century, and its aspirations now with new startups, new growth and new technology.

Bristol will be another key city for the Academy. The new city Mayor, George Ferguson, is one of our founding members and has recently been in touch about partnering with us on issues of sustainability and placemaking. George’s aim is to break the deadlock of party politics and ingrained methods. A ‘Bristol Urban Lab’ will be a space for experimentation bold decisions.

The calendar for 2013 is still open to additions. For example the Regions and Nations network (see membership above) will provide a new platform for Academicians to organise their own events. Suggested themes include: ecocities and the Freiburg charter; memory and the aging city; slow urbanism and the lessons of Antwerp; digital cities and digital connectivity; suburbanism and the garden city.

The Academy is currently seeking suggestions for diagnostic Place Partnering visits and Assessment Visits for the Urbanism Awards. We need Academicians to put us in contact with potential candidates. There are also several gaps in terms of convenors for the Regions and Nations network. We invite you to come forward if you want to get involved!

Guidelines on conduct

Given the increasing degree to which the Academy collaborates with local government, universities, companies and other organisations, it’s time we drew up a code of conduct in terms of where the lines lie between the public good and the interests of individuals and their firms.

Following the workshops that were part of the End of Year Review, a document on conduct and best practice will be drawn up within the next few months. Suffice it to say that the stimulating discussion reflected the fact that this guidance should be useful and enabling, rather than a hindrance to Academicians.

Some of the main points were: The importance of transparency and trust; that advice/reports the Academy produces should be evidence-based and descriptive; that results should be available in the public domain; that sources of knowledge should be acknowledged; that visiting teams for example should ensure diversity; that the Academy should distinguish between conflicts of interest and common interests.

For more information on this event contact Stephen Gallagherhere

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