Planning Cities for the Future - the Successes and Failures of Urban Economic Strategies in Europe

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Planning Cities for the Future - The Successes and Failures of Urban Economic Strategies in Europe, Peter Karl Kresl, Cheltenham, Edward Elgar, 2007, 192 pp., £49.95 (h/b)

Seeing the title of this book, many readers are likely to think 'sounds interesting'. Looking at the book cover, however, quite a few will probably be somewhat surprised to find a picture of North American type urban sprawl. My initial fear was that this might be delivering a similarly silly message to this review of the European Environment Agency report on 'Urban Sprawl in Europe' (2006) I had recently come across on the www.fromtheheartland. org website - and where Los Angeles was praised as a model for European cities? Well, the positive news is that Planning Cities for the Future provides for a somewhat more differentiated and less simple-minded view on things. However, while the back cover of the book claims that that it 'links the study of urban economic competitiveness with urban planning', most planners are going to be rather disappointed by what the book has to offer. The main message Kresl is delivering is that market-based planning is the answer to current European urban woes: 'there is an undeniable logic to market-based decisionmaking in the context of a global economy' (p. 149).

The book has 171 pages and is divided into seven chapters. For most planners, chapters 1 to 3 are going to be the most informative and interesting. They provide for a general introduction to 'the urban context and the need for economic-strategic planning', an overview of the relevant (economic) literature as well as approaches to 'the economic and geographic analysis of urban competitiveness'. The chapters that follow include: planning in ten EU cities at the outset of the 1990s (chapter 4), an attempt to evaluate how planning initiatives fared during 1992-2005 (chapter 5), an outlook for the period 2005-2015 (chapter 6), and the lessons from the past and a look to the future (chapter 7).

Referring to the 'blue banana' concept for the core economic area of the EU, the author sub-divides the ten cities into four core cities (Amsterdam, Lyon, Milan and Turin) and six peripheral cities (Barcelona, Copenhagen, Dresden, Hamburg, Munich and Seville). Unfortunately, Kresl doesn't explain this allocation of cities and European planners are likely to be puzzled to find Hamburg and Munich in the periphery and Lyon in the core. However, and somewhat oddly, this allocation isn't really of any importance here, anyway, and its purpose remains unclear. Thus, it isn't subsequently used in any analysis or interpretation.

In the preface, Kresl states that he wrote the book based on interviews with members of governments and various institutions, as well as journalists and academics, in the early 1990s and in 2005, and on a subsequent study of documentation that was revealed to him during interviews. However, while the book cover claims that some 'invaluable empirical evidence' is provided, what the reader actually finds is more anecdotal storytelling than rigorous analysis. For example, in chapter 5, Kresl claims to explain how 'plans that were, to varying degrees, adopted, for example, in the first years of the 1990s' fared during 1992-2005. However, he fails to provide for the necessary references when describing 'the 10 cities and their planning' at the outset of the 1990s in chapter 4, leaving the reader in the dark about what plans exactly he has been looking at. In this context, it appears that rather than dealing with concrete strategic plans, he actually reports on the expectations regarding what may happen in the ten cities in the future. Furthermore, in chapter 7 on the lessons learned, he fails to clearly explain which cities he thinks 'got it right' and which did not, as is claimed on the back cover of the book.

On various occasions, problems are approached in Planning Cities for the Future in a rather simplistic manner. For example, while the author repeatedly praises the continuous strength of the US economy and the rate of its economic growth, he complains about the 'dire' state of the EU economy, predicting that it will continue to do badly for the foreseeable future. …