Magazine article Times Higher Education

Changing Places: The Science and Art of New Urban Planning, by John MacDonald, Charles Branas and Robert Stokes

Magazine article Times Higher Education

Changing Places: The Science and Art of New Urban Planning, by John MacDonald, Charles Branas and Robert Stokes

Article excerpt

Richard J. Williams is not totally won over to the planners’ view of the world

Full disclosure: I’m not a planner, I have no professional engagement with planning and, like many academics at the soft end of urban studies, I am also a bit of a sceptic. Thanks to Marx and Freud, I tend to think money is evil and people are weird, so planning is impossible, or at least very hard. As a result, the authors of Changing Places, a criminologist, an epidemiologist and a professor of public policy, had their work cut out. It is not easy to convince urbanists like me that cities are not political entities but rather diseased bodies that can be cured.

Happily, Changing Places has real depth. There is a tendency in this area towards quick fixes, gestures and assertions based on sketchy evidence. Mayor Rudy Giuliani made a career out of it in New York City, as an enthusiast for the “broken window” theory of urban design. In that theory, you treat the symptoms of decay and the causes look after themselves. And Giuliani oversaw an indubitable fall in crime in the city in the 1990s; Manhattan, subway excepted, is transformed to a point where few THE readers could ever afford to live there. And there are many other examples in this book, from Philadelphia to Detroit. Its authors are at pains to show how to build an evidence base for research in changing urban behaviour, and chapter 3 (“Establishing evidence”) is a great, bracing read for us cultural theorists: the authors really interrogate what evidence means in a complex ecosystem such as a city, as well as what you do with it. The case studies in the rest of the book show off examples of evidence-led interventions, all with apparently proven social benefits: they include large-scale tree planting for health in Philadelphia, light rail ridership fighting obesity in Charlotte and the use of signs in LA parks to make people exercise. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.