I think this resonates with Ove Arup’s key speech of 1970 and the pursuit of Total Architecture: architecture is the influential player and is supported by the engineers, planners, project managers, etc. I believe that integrated urbanism ought to be just such an influential player.
Perhaps what is needed is a multi-disciplinary and also technical approach to place making, one where the process of master planning is more important than the master plan it generates. That way it encompasses engineering, sustainable existence, economic drivers and social well- being.
Total Urbanism or Place – then is the process of creating places of value to the developers, landowners, home owners, renters and visitors and consultants. It isn’t about control, perhaps exemplified by Poundbury, where inhabitants willingly give up their rights to ensure not much changes. But neither is it too free or complex such that one organisation can orchestrate it.
Each building contributes to the street, each street to the district, each district to the neighbourhood, each neighbourhood to the city and each city to the World. As we grow cities so we diminish the significance of the host country. Rome was a powerful city before Italy the country existed. Today London, Shanghai, New York, Moscow, Sydney, Singapore outperform within their region and country to form a new collection of conurbations, almost remote from their national politics, national identity. These are the most multi-cultural and mixed communities – for better and for worse. These cities attract billionaires; they are seen as investments. They are also used as opportunities to amass egotistical collections of properties. The cities provide currency exchange centres and safe havens in their local markets. Foreign investors in London continue to drive up property prices as the relationship of the pound to the Euro and other currencies fluctuates. To some London looks cheap.
What does this mean for urbanism? It may mean a continued growth of cities, not as conurbations but as city regions. The disparities between costs of one place over another or one currency over the next will flatten out and people will move more freely from their homes in London to Shanghai to New York. So perhaps cities and city development will become more important than national development.
Earls Court, Tottenham, Kings Cross, Greenwich, Wembley, Nine Elms, the Olympic Park: These areas could have great identity, the new villages of London, and be places that are desirable to invest. But being successful is not about master plans but about allowing an integrated approach to economics, property and politics to allow a place to transform quickly but to mature as well.
At a time of increased specialism in the built environment and other professions, there remains the role of someone with vision and practical knowledge, someone respected and revered. Someone who can take the best element of the team, make each player support the next and so deliver a recipe for success – Total Urbanism might be a solution.