Contradictory Lord Rogers is a candidate for a new third way
Just as his 1992 book A New London (co-authored by Mark Fisher) led to the Reith Lectures of 1995, and just as the Reith Lectures of 1995 led to his second book on cities, the 1997 Cities for a Small Planet, so did Cities for a Small Planet lead Lord Rogers inexorably to leadership of the Urban Task Force. This in turn led to responsibility for its 1999 bible, Towa rds an Urban Renaissance, the volume that can now be seen to have marked his own confrontation with the fate of all those who make a triumphal entry into public life as popular heroes, but sooner or later are battered by the endless contradictions forced upon them.
Mind you, the contradictions have always been there. Lord Rogers, the 'Renaissance man' who last week appeared to be endorsing Labour peer Lord Clarke's claim that 'Far Right neo-fascists' were exploiting the failure of the government's regeneration partnerships to transform the decaying town and city centres of northern England, had seldom cited such insalubrious places in his own lubricious prose. In the past he has preferred to dwell on Europe's great public spaces - the covered Galleria in Milan, the Ramblas in Barcelona, the parks of London or the skyscrapers of New York and Chicago - where Lord Rogers 'feels part of the community of the city', as well as in London and Paris, Shanghai, Marrakesh, Venice, Rotterdam, Ciritiba in Brazil and other places known to even fewer people - apart, that is, from Burnley, where 4,000 abandoned dwellings and BNP votes saw a population voting with its feet.
But then the city is a place of endless contradictions, as Rogers admitted in Cities for a Small Planet, wherein it emerged both as an abominable place that is destroying the planet, but also a vibrant, convivial, life-enhancing centre of civilisation in the meantime. You pays your money and takes your choice. In one of a switchback series of optimistic and pessimistic passages that he sustained the full length of that book - and returns to in Towards an Urban Renaissance - he tried to synthesise these two positions, starting out in pessimistic vein but ending up firmly on the optimistic side.
In the former case, Mr Hyde blames all cities for accelerating the rate of terrestrial pollution and erosion; destroying our ecosystem; threatening humankind's survival; generating most, if not all, greenhouse gases; undermining the ecological balance of the planet; being built at a phenomenal rate and density with little thought for future environmental or social impact; producing disastrous social instability that is further driving environmental decline; creating ecological and social problems that dominate the human scene; increasingly polarising society into segregated communities; and becoming little more than no-man's lands for scurrying pedestrians or sealed private cars (specifically those with tinted windows and central locking) that 'prevent people from participating in street life'.
This sounds bad enough, but when Dr Jekyll makes his appearance, the picture brightens.To turn city life around, we learn, it is only necessary to 'demand fundamental changes in human behaviour, the practice of government, commerce, architecture and city planning'.
Nowhere is it acknowledged that this is rather a tall order, nor that the only means to achieve it seems to be another recitation of the virtues of the eternal sustainable city of the rich with its sunshine, sidewalk cafes, parks, rivers, great architecture, great restaurants, conviviality, vibrancy and lashings of the 'street life' that Lord Rogers finds most acceptable.
Clearly, with the eruption of this new political element, it is time for Lord Rogers to take the advice of the sage - whenever faced with two unacceptably extreme positions, create a third.