arch-peace editorials

31 July 2011

World Planning

When I participated in the World Planning Schools Congress (#wpsc on twitter) in early July 2011, it was not only my first time at a planning conference, but it was also my first time as a delegate of a London university attending a conference in my home town of Perth (unfortunately though, without any financial support for the conference fees). For this congress, The Global Planning Education Network GPEAN had brought together about 500 delegates through The Association of European Schools of Planning, AESOP the Association of Australian and New Zealand Schools of Planning ANZAPS, the South African Planning Schools SAPS and several similar bodies from about thirty countries in total. At a civic reception, I had a personal greeting from Nyungar elder Marie Taylor, my language teacher, and it now was strange but familiar to be at the Perth Convention Centre PCEC looking out over the Swan River (aka the Djerbal Yerrigan) before the opening keynote lecture by Robert Freestone. Resilience and sustainability were pervasive buzzwords in the keynote lecture and the conference, but the discussions of developments such as the thirty cities in China currently building light rail transit systems at the time of the congress provided gravity and scale to the pretext for a world planning congress and a planning education congress.

Two particularly relevant themes which stood out to me at the congress were urban planning for sex-related commerce on one hand – which relates to my research on urban design and mixed use high streets at night – and on the other hand, the theme of urban microenterprises and informal workers in urban planning, relating to streets and community participation or engagement. I have taken the opportunity of this editorial contribution to Architects for Peace to reflect upon and explore these two themes. My own paper (on my PhD research at the University of Westminster), on Occupying Streets – street design for inner city mixed use streets at all hours in London and Frankfurt – was put in a Heritage and Urban Design strand, one of about ten sessions running parallel throughout the four day conference of about 500 delegates from 30 countries.

I attended a session on planning for adult retail and entertainment (1D), having recently been introduced to one of the presenters, Christine Steinmetz, when she was visiting my own supervisor at the research centre in London. That session looked at the diverse definitions of city and building use commercially related to sex, ranging from printed material as quotidian as Cosmopolitan, through shrink-wrapped mens’ magazines and adult toys, to the contentious planning themes of legal and illegal activities uses in various locations in Australia and Europe. Planning for gentrified lingerie shops for couples debunked some stereotypes of red light districts; however, the notion of vice districts, and the concept of ‘disorderly houses’ and unsafe urban uses led to a valuable discussion. The ostensible need for planning and urban design for sex-based services in mining-based remote town economies in Australia raised many questions about gender sustainability of settlements and whether planning should play a role in these issues, if nothing more, to make them safer and more harmoniously integrated in the urban setting. Integration or segregation of sex, or adult-based, industries was a key discussion, where the planning cases for the former were most usefully supported by greater stakeholder involvement and education.

In my own two case study streets I have initially found a contrast between the very matter-of-fact organisation of brothels, table dancing clubs and drug consumption facilities in Frankfurt’s Bahnhofsviertel on the one hand with the more invisible equivalents in King’s Cross London’s station and nightlife district, and its comparatively shrouded service provision for ‘antisocial’ street behaviours often associated with red light and night entertainment activities in Kings Cross.

The other theme which emerged from the conference, ostensibly more obviously relevant to Architects for Peace readers, was the developmental aspect of planning economics, and by chance, partly because of my interest in Brazilian music, I met Sonia Dias of WIEGO, Women in Informal Employment Globalising and Organising. Sonia tweets as @diasondias. Chatting over coffee with Sonia about wastepickers in Brazil and their efforts in organising small informal enterprises not only reminded me of my visit to SEWA, the Ghandian-inspired Self-Employed Women’s Association in Anand near Ahmedabad in India, and the impressive intergenerational school building and community development programmes there, but prompted me to think about some of the small creative enterprises springing up in the challenging economic climate in London and Frankfurt. As we discussed the Brazil work with community activists who had come from informal settlements in Capetown South Africa, I was watching video of pop-up vintage clothing shop initiators in Caledonian Road, who a hyperlocal blogger had interviewed at a Street Festival in London the previous day.

These conference themes, at an applied level, which I was able to relate to my own research and interview methods that I am developing, tied into the themes of the papers sharing my own conference session – Urban Landscape, Morphology and Industrial Heritage. One of these papers looked at the relationships between a Catholic street parade in a Venezuelan barrio and its no-go areas, where the urbanism researcher Quintana’s method involved working with a priest who reconciled community event coordination with outreach to dangerous drug dealers. This helped me to think of a strategy for my own interviews with hard-to-reach stakeholders in street design. Another paper, looking at the memory-carrying capacity of urban landscapes in Germany, presented a (non-participant observational) walking narrative technique developed by a French researcher, again helping in my own searches for research methodologies. In my paper, I presented my literature and methods for the research on a street in London Kings Cross and one in Frankfurt Bahnhofsviertel. The discussion following the papers was lively and drew the strands of methodology and socio-spatial research together.

In light of Sidh Sintusingha’s preceding month’s editorial about informed and empowered actions, it was interesting to witness some of the discussions about planning education, as I had come recently from a field workshop at University College London UCL exploring some street design analysis with students and practitioners. Some of the educators at the Congress seemed to have rather constrained ideas about student analysis of case studies and the infallibility of planning process, and I was unable to explore an example such as the currently controversial Stuttgart 21 proposals for the transport exchange district of Stuttgart. However at the social event at a nearby bar for student delegates, I got an interesting vignette of Taiwanese research on population planning in housing and had a drink with visiting Dutch researchers and a group of South African delegates including a lecturer Nancy Odendaal (who tweets as @nerdynance). I was able to persuade a few of the visitors to foray beyond the Central Business District ‘CBD’ of Perth north of the railway tracks to the notorious Northbridge, which contrary to reports of ‘cashed up Bogans’ CUBs dominating the area in lime green utes was actually civilised enough for the South African colleagues to enjoy a local brew at a corner pub.

Gregory Cowan
Architects for Peace, July 2011


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