A coalition of movers and shakers from the world of architecture, planning and urban renewal has challenged today's Urban Summit in Birmingham to commit to a revolutionary regeneration agenda.
The programme, which is outlined in a new book, Re: urbanism, calls for a wholesale rethink of the way the government, regeneration quangos and construction professionals conceive of cities and their renewal. It also demands a complete reform in the mindset of those involved with regeneration.
The book, being launched to coincide with the Urban Summit taking place today and tomorrow, has been called 'as significant as the garden city movement' by its backers. It also calls for an overhaul of the concept of the architect, and launches a vicious assault on the profession, describing it as 'stuck in a time warp and a fantasy land'.
Those signing up to the new agenda include Sir Terry Farrell and Sir Richard MacCormac, chairman of the Town and Country Planning Association David Lock, and new boss of the Architecture Foundation Rowan Moore.
The book, described by Farrell as 'new and extremely exciting', outlines 10 areas where it says that urban renewal is failing. Its main attack is on 'specialisms', the problem of regeneration specialists failing to 'see the whole picture'. It calls for architects to be trained in planning, and planners to understand architecture. Both, it says, should understand engineering.
But it saves its most savage critique for the architecture profession, which, Re: urbanism says, is completely out of touch. 'Their self-image is based on a romantic dream of the lone artistic genius, sacrificing himself for his art, misunderstood by society, surviving on the patronage of an enlightened client and heroically overcoming the barriers of philistinism. There is still an underlying faith that an architect is primarily an artist, unfettered by constraints.' The book goes on:
'Only a minority of architects openly lay claim to such a self-image. Yet the image is endemic.'
'The architect's fantasy is more damaging than the mere self-delusion of an entire profession. The artist model is damaging architecture - and, by extension, urbanism. Architecture does not have to be like this. Cities derive their creative energy from their complex interactions.' It concludes: 'We await a radical new urban architecture that will make this energy on its own.'
At the core of the reforms demanded is a faith in city government. Every major city or town must have its own individual development plan. The current government planning reforms are dismissed as 'mere tinkering', and a demand is made for a city planning act that will give planners the authority to entirely reorganise cities. Re: urbanism also calls for a new category of professional, the 'Urbanist', who might come from any background but will have an in-depth understanding of how cities work and how to truly regenerate them.
David Lock described the publication, available from www. reurbanism. com, as a 'thumping good manifesto'.He said: 'A call to arms for the implementation of the unfinished urban design agenda at its most radical. We were all worried until we saw this book that the summit might be a smug, self-congratulatory affair.'
SIGNATORIES SUPPORTING RE: URBANISM
Les Sparks, CABE commissioner
Sir Terry Farrell
Jan Gehl, authority on Danish urban design
David Lock, TCPA chairman
David Rudlin, Urbed design director
Alan Simpson, Yorkshire Forward director
Rowan Moore, Architecture Foundation director
Sir Richard MacCormac
10 DEFECTS WITH CURRENT REGENERATION
1Too much specialism among urban regeneration professionals
2 A planning system bias against urban development
3 A general bias towards large and unwieldy schemes
4 A short-term outlook, ignoring long-term solutions
5 Ignorant clients
6 A naive and pointless desire for landmark schemes
7 A tendency to focus on environmentalism at the expense of other issues
8 A mass of rules, regulations and laws
9 An unquestioning faith in the accepted principles of regeneration
10 The dominance of the car and traffic on city streets