Words by Young Urbanist Adrienne Mathews
The Academy of Urbanism Chairman Steven Bee led the 2014 End of Year Review on Wednesday 10 December, hosted at The Gallery, Farringdon. Steven started off by thanking Sponsors and Supporters of the Academy, without whom the Academy’s activities would not be able to take place.
This year’s events
The Review kicked off with a summary of events in 2014. Notable Academy events this year included the 9th Annual Congress in Bristol, a three-day event that included tours of the city and the harbor, and talks from inspirational speakers.
Other successful events included the spring debate on city centre development, a well-attended evening with great speakers. The Learning From Europe event also saw a good turnout and interesting discussions and had included talks from senior representation from the finalist cities of Aarhus, Rotterdam and Turin. A debate on Tall Buildings organised by the London Young Urbanists group brought together Academicians and Young Urbanists, and attendees felt it had an interesting dynamic because of this collaboration.
The Urbanism Awards were a great success this year, and Steven thanked the assessment leaders for their commitment and diligence in preparing assessment reports. He also encouraged members to get involved with the site assessment visits and writing up reports leading up to the Awards, helping the group to further the discussion on how to evaluate places. This year’s Awards Ceremony had a great performance from John Thompson and guest speaker Paul Finch. Poems by Ian McMillan were felt to be a significant prize, giving finalists something of lasting value.
The 2015 Urbanism Awards have just opened for nominations, and all were encouraged to submit online. Steven stressed that the Awards designation should provide a useful assessment from which Academy members and others can learn about successful places, and in which candidates can be involved throughout the process. He encouraged Academicians to nominate places from which to learn about the process and journey that have led them to become great places. The shortlist will be finalised in April.
The discussion of the Urbanism Awards prompted much discussion about the Award categories amongst attendees. Nicholas Falk suggested introducing more of a focus to the Award categories through themes, to encourage the comparison of “apples with apples” and to clarify the categories and terms. Jon Rowland recommended introducing the theme of “suburbanism”, which led to interesting discussions about the definition of “suburbs” and transferability of assessment methods used for more central places. John Thompson recommended creating a Task Force to look into the categories and their definitions and taxonomy, which Jon Rowland agreed to lead.
Place partnering has also been effective this year, with diagnostic visits including Sheffield Retail Quarter and Cliftonville in Margate. Diagnostic visits to Sheffield were thought to be particularly successful, and those present agreed that strong advice was presented to a wide variety of stakeholders. Academicians present at the Review brought up the idea of introducing themes to the visits, with “Seasides” identified as a potential paper topic.
This year the Academy has established and maintained several successful partnerships with a number of organisations. Tim Stonor discussed the partnership with the Government Office for Science, as part of the Foresight project on the Future of Cities. Many Academicians were also involved with the Farrell Review’s Big Meet.
Maja Luna Jorgensen from The Glass-House Community Led Design discussed 4×4 events held this year in Glasgow and Sheffield, which attracted great interest and discussion during the events and online. Maja noted that the group would hold similar events in Bristol in February and London in March on the current theme, “An Ambitious Place”.
João Cortesão from the University of Porto also spoke about an ongoing research project with the University for which they encourage AoU involvement. The project involves defining parameters for comparing different urban realities from a user perspective.
A good relationship has been also established with Architecture & Design Scotland, where the Academy can have significant influence. Relationships with CABE and the Design Council contributed to lively events for the Young Urbanists in particular. Tim Stonor and Steven Bee discussed the opportunity to consider partnerships as networks, giving the Academy, as a neutral body, greater opportunity to influence the urbanism agenda.
Membership in The Academy of Urbanism has remained fairly stable this year, with 555 Academicians at present. Young Urbanist groups have grown substantially this year throughout the UK, and currently sit at 123 members. The board is considering introducing other membership opportunities, such as for community organisations and corporate bodies (Local Authorities could be included in the latter category).
This year’s membership survey had quite a small response of only 30 participants, but the results indicated that most respondents were engaged with Academy programmes. Steven Bee also confirmed that the board would be taking on comments concerning diversity in membership and in board members. As there are currently two open places on the board, there is an opportunity to address questions of diversity in the selection process. Another concern that the board aims to address is that the events are “London-centric”. Steven noted that this is perhaps inevitable because of its high accessibility to the UK and for international guests, but asserted that the Academy would continue to try to create activities and events throughout the UK.
The Regions and Nations Network has grown significantly this year, with good representation in many of the 10 Network areas. Representatives from Regions and Nations Groups in attendance discussed the activities of the groups, including 4×4 events, site visits, debates and discussions. These networks have seen increasing opportunities for local events and activities, and the growth of good relationships with a number of cities and organisations. Overall it was discussed that the Regions and Nations groups have largely been extremely successful, however, the Academy would like to increase representation in Wales.
Website and Publications
AoU Communications Manager Stephen Gallagher spoke about changes to the Academy website, including the launch of a Member’s Area a few months ago. This includes sub-sites for Regional and National groups to promote their events and to link up with other areas or themes. It is hoped that a sister website will be launched shortly, listing the Urbanism Awards, Great Places, and other learning moments. Members will be able to search by theme or category on this map-based database.
David Rudlin introduced the “Here & Now” journal, now in its 4th issue, which will be produced twice a year. The journal is published around themes, with the most recent edition focusing on sustainable urbanism in light of the Congress in Bristol. The next edition will be on risk, and the one after that will take health, happiness and wellbeing from our 10th Congress in Birmingham. The upcoming publication of an Urbanism Book will present information on 75 places short-listed for the Urbanism Awards. David Rudlin requested assistance in writing up additional short descriptions for the book by the end of January.
Steven concluded the Review with a brief mention of events planned for 2015, including further Glass-House debates, a planned trip to AoU European City of the Year Rotterdam in spring, to Kilkenny in June, and further diagnostic visits. Research will continue with ADAM Urbanism and Grainger Housing research. As well, Academicians plan to continue to develop the Place Alliance, having emerged from this year’s Farrell Review.
The 10th annual Congress will be held in Birmingham in June 2015, focusing on the topic of “Healthy Cities”.