Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Unequal Places: The 2009 UK-Ireland Planning Research Conference

Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Unequal Places: The 2009 UK-Ireland Planning Research Conference

Article excerpt

As I headed to Newcastle for the annual Planning Research conference, travelling from Manchester on the Trans-Pennine Express railway with colleagues from the universities of Liverpool and Manchester, viewing the stark contrasts between the built form of Greater Manchester, the Pennine hill towns, the tower cranes of Leeds, the rurality of the Vale of York and farther north into County Durham and Tyneside, the conference theme of 'Unequal Places' was clearly visible through the train carriage window. Of course we all know that the inequality of places does not necessarily manifest itself in the built form alone, but the striking difference between the Newcastle of 2009 and that of over a decade ago when the last Planning Research conference took place in 1998 in the city was nowhere more evident than on both sides of the quayside, which were so clearly visible as we crossed the King Edward VII Bridge over the river Tyne.

'Unequal places'

The 2009 conference theme1 'aimed to reflect the fact that inequality exhibits itself across a number of spatial scales within and between cities, regions and nations and between the global North and South'. This is nothing new and the conference organisers recognised this in their opening address. Geoff Vigar, the conference chair (see Figure 1), acknowledged that the conference hoped to visit long-standing debates about uneven development from the perspective of how planning systems could both alleviate and compound concentrations of advantage and disadvantage. With this in mind the 110 paper presentations in nine track sessions together with five roundtable sessions aimed to tackle this overarching theme within the context of the current global economic crisis through new avenues of a 'progressive politics of place'.

It seemed appropriate therefore that a conference focused on 'Unequal Places' was taking place in Newcastle - a city still struggling to overcome the decline of the shipyards, but exhibiting a great resurrection as a leisure destination with its investment in arts and culture epitomised by The Sage in Gateshead (where the conference dinner was held on the second evening). Over the three days of the conference, 1-3 April, the 165 delegates witnessed two keynote addresses with a further plenary on the second day taking a slightly different approach with the showing of a film. The plenary sessions and parallel tracks were complemented by roundtables and four mobile workshops. On the first evening a reception was held at Newcastle Civic Hall with the conference dinner being held at The Sage the following evening. The afterdinner speaker was the MP for Durham City, Roberta Blackman-Woods, the assistant Regional Minister for the North East, who gave a rather lacklustre speech about the new planning system (which no doubt the Government Office North East mandarins had scripted without the knowledge that the audience she was addressing would be made up of mainly UK-based planning academics who may have just noticed the change in legislation in 2004).

Plenary sessions

The three plenary sessions were organised around two internationally renowned speakers and, in a refreshing change to the usual conference set-up, a session constructed around a film by Amber Films, a local production company. Each plenary presentation was followed by comments from a panel of respondents and questions from the floor.

In Plenary One Solly Angel (New York University) presented his current work on urban sprawl in a presentation titled 'Containing Sprawl or Making Room for a Planet of Cities'. Angel's presentation was based on research (Angel et al., 2005) for the World Bank, which investigated the dynamics of global urban expansion by defining a set of cities with population in excess of 100,000, showing that developing country city densities are three times higher than those of cities in industrialised countries. Considering my own interest in spatial analysis and GIS this looked at first like an interesting paper, but at times it felt as if it was aimed more at an undergraduate lecture class about how to map and measure socio-economic changes in cities. …

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