The Sir Terry Farrell Gold Medal Lecture at the Royal Institute in Mayfair was a rare treat to mark the prestigious award by the Royal Town Planning Institute. The iconic architect addressed a rapt audience on his views on city planning. You could have heard a pin drop. I had intended to leave early for another engagement but, in the event, I couldn't tear myself away.
He talked us through a number of slides illustrating how cities come about. He reflected on the way planning has become 'a bureaucratic exercise'; how planners have become 'the traffic wardens of the built environment'. He took us through a discourse which ranged from underpasses going out of favour; the campaigns for one way streets to become two way; and how stations are part of city making. We can learn, he said, from the new cities of the Far East. He talked about the rethink on our historic markets and how we now want to conserve and to work with history and context rather than to bulldoze old buildings. However, he pointed out, certain historic areas couldn't be built today as there would be deemed to be insufficient light and space between buildings.
The response from the illustrious panel was interesting. Panelists included Liz Peace; Darren Rodwell, Leader of Barking and Dagenham; Deputy Mayor for Planning, Jules Pipe; and Finn Williams, Regeneration Area Manager at the Greater London Authority, responsible for new initiatives on placemaking. Finn Williams reflected on Sir Terry's role in making the ordinary better and raising the standards of normality. Liz Peace referenced Sir Terry's comment that the city represents a 'cradle to grave' experience. She also picked up on the point that stations are part of the city but countered that infrastructure can also create barriers which need to be overcome. She stressed the need for the public and private sectors to come together. But it isn't that simple, she said, as there can be a fundamental mismatch of philosophy. We need more movement of people between the sectors she said. Finn picked up on this and the emerging skills gap between the public and private sector. He said we need an exchange programme to reinvent what public planning used to be, with eminent architects working for public authorities, a more rounded interdisciplinary planning with a mix of skills. He mentioned the new placement initiative which he said has the support of the GLA and will be chaired by Deputy Mayor Jules Pipe. 'It may create a new generation of Terrys', he said hopefully! Barking Leader Darren Rodwell explained that he sees himself as a community champion rather than a politician. In his view the role of the public sector is to facilitate what the community wants, its vision. He also sees it as the local authority's job to find the right partners. 'It needs joint thinking'. They have created Be First, which he describes as a development company with public sector values. 'London needs to embrace working together' he said. This was of course music to my ears, as the need to encourage collaboration in the built environment is one of our key themes at Mishcon de Reya.
Deputy Mayor Jules Pipe said we need vision and leadership and the Mayor will articulate his plans through the London plan. He recognised though that the private sector can't deliver it all. 'When', he asked, 'did the government decide to get out of the game of investing in the future and leave it to be extracted from the private sector'. He said we need funding for infrastructure and a longer term holistic view. We should see infrastructure as an investment with returns.
Final words of wisdom from Sir Terry included the suggestion that we think in terms of trees rather than gardens. We could have a rule, he said, that we plant a tree in London for every extra person so that the number of trees equals the number of people. He said, 'All leaders should see themselves as a chief town planner'. And about density he said 'it's how well you do it'.
And taking us back to stations he described Euston as 'a piece of city making first; a station second'. Apparently 60% of people who go to St Pancras don't go to catch a train. That's food for thought when considering the role of the station in city making.