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Establish Local Architecture Centres

Architecture Centres should be the venue for public debates on strategic plans, architectural competitions and planning applications. These local centres should exhibit adaptable working models of the borough and its neighbourhood; they should hold lectures, exhibitions and courses about the city, its architecture and its ecology. Planning committees should include citizens and specialists in all fields of urban design, because we need to focus the energy of all those with a stake in the urban environment on jointly tackling the problems of the city. At these centres the citizen could meet the developers and the planning committee its electorate. In effect they would need to be ‘electronic town halls’, both multi-media forums and physical meeting places, providing interaction and access to a broad range of information a vehicle for the citizen to learn and to ensure that the planning professions serve the needs of the public.

Realising the untapped wealth of knowledge and ideas which lie within the citizenry is the key to solving urban problems. A tapping of this wealth not only propels the city designers into unthought-of regions of ideas but serves the crucial purpose of assuring the citizens that their ideas and knowledge are an integral part of the solution. This approach is more than participation and consultation; it is co-operation, and co-operation reduces tension.’ The architect Brian Anson writes here from experience, having championed citizens’ rights against the property developers in Covent Garden in the 1960s.

From the early 1980s central government effectively excluded this type of participatory, planned approach in favour of a market-led approach that waits for developers to select sites and apply for planning permission. The market drive is profit. This approach tends to favour out-of-town sites or fields on the edge of the green belt, where land is cheap and where investment can be written off quickly; during the boom of 1980s it was quite common for companies to seek to recoup their investment in as little as four years.  Inevitably many commercial planning applications are for single-function complexes such as retail, housing, offices or light industry: developments that merely meet an immediate commercial demand.  The community's longer-term need for public spaces and mixed functions is ignored, and with it the chance to create living neighbourhoods, sustainable.

Rogers, R. and Gumuchdjian, P., 1997, Cities for Small Planet