Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Cities and Crisis

Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Cities and Crisis

Article excerpt

Cities and Crisis, Josef W Konvitz, Manchester, Manchester University Press, 2016, 312 pp., £75, ISBN978i78499 2903

At a time when the future of the UK has become highly uncertain, this book is especially topical. Josef Konvitz asserts convincingly that we must understand 2008 as having kick-started an ongoing crisis. By misunderstanding the crisis as a kind of blip, now dealt with, important opportunities for undertaking real reform in the very conditions which precipitated the crisis were missed. Konvitz argues that this thesis is especially well illustrated with reference to cities. The failure to grasp the civic and spatial aspects of the crisis is a key reason for its continuation: 'the fiscal and regulatory adjustments ... have been slow in coming and concentrate mainly on finance', and critically, the kinds of activity used to mitigate the 2008 crisis failed to do so (hence it is ongoing) precisely because 'planning was discredited in the public mind and starved by the public purse' (155). (Bear in mind this is the dry voice of an ex-OECD staffer, not a rampant red-flag waver.) The modest impact of the stimulus after 2008 can be explained by the fact 'there was so little in the drawers of planning departments' (155) and that there are so many regulatory barriers to be overcome whenever an ambitious plan is proposed.

The book is divided into three parts, and TPR readers will find the first two the most helpful: Part I is about cities and the economy, Part II about 'safety' - comprising environmental resilience and security. Chapter 2 on 'Housing' is right up planners' street. The writer's long service at the OECD shows through both in terms of perhaps rather predictable blame for 'land-use regulation' and also in the disproportionate use of OECD data, some of it rather old. However, this perspective endows him with the clear understanding that there is no point in talking about housing without looking at tax incentives to home ownership and indeed the way whole economies are run. This wider perspective is extraordinarily lacking in much UK discourse on planning and housing: regulatory reform needs to be widened to embrace coordinating housing and other sectors.

The crisis lens is important as it has made real reform more difficult: housing is a critical candidate for effective (i.e. cross sectoral) reform especially because housing was critical to the creation of the crisis too.

Chapter 3 is a welcome study of the challenge of infrastructure provision in cities and of fostering innovation. …

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