Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Why Can't the Future Be More like the Past? the 23rd AESOP Congress, Liverpool, 2009

Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Why Can't the Future Be More like the Past? the 23rd AESOP Congress, Liverpool, 2009

Article excerpt

The 2009 AESOP Congress held in Liverpool from 15 to 18 July celebrated two significant British planning centenaries. First was the University of Liverpool's Department of Civic Design, established in 1909 as the UK's first planning school. Second was the enactment of Britain's Housing, Town Planning, etc., Act 1909 (Booth and Huxley, 2009), variously described by planning historians as: 'no more than a halting advance, not a conclusive victory' (Ashworth, 1954, 190); 'a disappointment' (Cherry, 1974, 64); and 'modest and realistic' (Sutcliffe, 1988, 301). Hence, the congress theme, 'Why can't the future be more like the past?', took on a special meaning for delegates.

The conference theme

As highlighted by the organiser, the congress theme had been chosen to encourage participants to 'reflect on the history of planning, planning education and planning research ... to understand what lessons we can learn from the past and take forward in meeting the enormous challenges of the future' (Shaw, 2009). This theme was particularly relevant given the fall and rise again of Liverpool in the last century: its rather prolonged fall from glory as a global mercantile city in the latter part of the twentieth century and its designation as a European Capital of Culture in 2008 serve as a sober reminder for city builders and urban planners of the complicated and difficult task of sustaining the growth and development of cities in an increasingly inter-connected and competitive global environment. There is a Chinese saying: 'it takes ten years to grow a tree and a hundred years to nurture a man'. It probably takes a much longer time to build a city of culture, with a decent built environment operating according to the ideal of social justice and sustainable development.

Plenary sessions

Altogether more than 500 participants from over 30 countries met in Liverpool to discuss the congress theme in 18 tracks with 121 sessions and 393 papers. The congress was marked by an opening plenary session and a closing ceremony. The opening plenary session reviewed the past, present and future of the City Region of Liverpool. Nigel Lee, Head of Planning, Liverpool City Council, reflected on past regeneration efforts in Liverpool and offered lessons for the future. The city of Liverpool was established in 1207 and its mercantile quarter became a UNESCO-inscribed World Heritage Site in 2004. Badly bombed in 1940-41, the city started its long-term economic decline, which probably reached rock bottom in 1986, by which time its population had fallen from 850,000 to 400,000. However, the city has experienced a renaissance in the past decade, being at the core of an EU Objective 1 development region, receiving unprecedented private investment, rising housing supply, decreasing unemployment, increasing numbers of development applications, etc, which culminated in its award as a European Cultural Capital 2008.

Liverpool has done a very good job in using its heritage to regenerate the city, to create places and to blend the old with its new developments. Through major efforts by both the public and private sectors, the city has regenerated its waterfront, with iconic new buildings sitting side by side with the magnificent Royal Liver insurance building (1911) at the Pier Head. In October 2008, the largest new retail space in Western Europe - 'Liverpool One' - opened in the city centre (see Littlefield, 2009). According to Nigel Lee, the project was a partnership between the City Council and the private sector, in which Grosvenor Estates had developed and organised finance for 1.5 m. sq. ft of retail space together with cinemas, hotels, apartments, car parking and open space. Unlike typical malls elsewhere, the space was designed by 26 architects and consists of 32 buildings, all knitted together in a street setting, blending new and old, as if it is a result of natural organic growth over recent years. Liverpool One was, he thought, the result of very good policy and master planning and delivery, with the key being attention to the design of the public realm and the production of a distinct sense of place. …

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