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Obituary: Peter Hall (1932 – 2014)

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Planner, urbanist, geographer and ‘intellectual giant’ Peter Hall has died aged 82

The Bartlett’s professor of planning and regeneration and the president of the Town and County Planning Association (TCPA) has been described as ‘one of the very few thinkers capable of a credible grand vision of the future’.

Kate Henderson, chief executive, TCPA, said his impact on planning in the UK could be compared to that of the founder of the Garden City movement Ebenezer Howard.

Born in Hampstead in 1932, Hall moved to Blackpool after his father, a clerical officer for the pensions service, was relocated. He would later become chair of the city’s urban regeneration company.

He studied geography at the University of Cambridge from where he graduated with both a masters degree and a PhD.

His academic career began in 1957 at Birkbeck College, London where he was a lecturer in geography. In 1968 he joined the University of Reading where he was Dean of the Faculty of Urban and Regional Studies. While holding the post at Reading he also became dean of the Faculty of Urban Planning and Regional Studies at the University of California in Berkeley.

Hall took up the post of chair of the Bartlett’s School of Planning in 1989, and he continued to work at the university until his death.

But he was not just an academic, Hall was also a prolific writer, penning more than 30 books throughout his lifetime, including London 2000 (1963), Cities in Civilisation (1998) and London Voices, London Lives – Tales from a Working Capital (2007).

Hall was a special adviser on strategic planning to the government between 1991 and 1994, and went on to join Richard Rogers’ Urban Task Force in 1998.

In 1998 Hall was knighted for his services to the TCPA and was named as a ‘Pioneer in the Life of the Nation’ by the Queen in 2003.

He received a number of awards throughout his career, including the Gold Medal of the Royal Town Planning Institute, and in 2005 was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award for his contributions to urban regeneration and planning by the then Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott.

Even in his last days Hall remained vocal about planning issues, recently raising concerns about the new Crossrail station at Ealing Broadway, close to where he lived (AJ 02.06.14).

Peter Rees, the former City Planning Officer who joined the Bartlett himself earlier this year, said: ‘Right until the last few days he had been encouraging other researchers, refreshing his books and looking at new projects.

‘His influence has spread the globe and will continue to. He lived and breathed planning - but not in a dry way. He also had enormous patience and had the ability to see the long-term view - something which politicians often struggle to.

‘Let’s hope that the British planning system does not die with Peter. Alongside Abercrombie he was the father of British planning.’


Richard Saxon

‘Peter Hall seemed to live in the future and to float above London reading its runes. Long, long ago he proposed the M25 and described the regional city resulting from long distance rail commuting. He was the first to notice that passengers on trains from Paddington and Euston could wave to each other as they both passed through Willesden. He proposed Old Oak Common as the natural next Canary Wharf, as so it may well be. He also showed us how to not retire, again a message from the future.’

Kate Henderson, chief executive, TCPA

‘He was a man of acute intelligence and enormous generosity. He not only sustained the TCPA, but more than any other post war figure kept the cause of planning alive through difficult times. His historic grasp of the relevance of town planning and the high social ideals of the Garden City movement had latterly inspired renewed interest in place-making and gave hope to a new generation of practitioners and campaigners. Part of Peter’s brilliance was his passion to draw international learning on cities and communities and make it accessible to a global audience of students and planners. Though horrified by the growing inequality of cities like London he was above all a man full of enthusiasm for the possibilities of better places and how they could be achieved.

‘To say he was the leading international planner and geographer of his generation only tells half the story; he was a fine writer, author of countless books including the seminal Cities in Civilisation; and indeed one of his latest, Good Cities, Better Lives, is a typical tour-de-force analysing why European cities do much better than their British equivalents. He truly demystified academia, making planning both readable and exciting.

‘There is no doubt that we have lost a moral and intellectual giant of the planning movement in highest tradition of Ebenezer Howard and Frederic J. Osborne. There is also no doubt that Peter would have raised a wry smile to our current grief and pressed us to move on with his drive for sociable, inclusive and sustainable cities. Despite his great modesty, Peter was one of the very few thinkers capable of a credible grand vision of the future, but it is his humanity and kindness which will be so sadly missed by the all of us at the TCPA. His encouragement, energy and humour was our constant inspiration. Our sincere condolences go to his wife Magda, his brother John and his family.’

Cath Ranson, president of the RTPI

‘My thoughts are with his family, friends and colleagues. His death is a massive blow to the profession and to academia but above all else to those who knew and loved him most.

‘When we have a little more time to reflect on his achievements, I am sure that we will recognise that Sir Peter was truly a ‘national treasure’, equally cherished, loved and admired. An intellectual colossus, he straddled theory and practice, managing to make planning not only interesting and accessible to any audience he wanted to, but fun too. Yet the true mark of his influence is that he was one of the very few academics whose name is instantly recognisable by those outside his discipline. He will be very sadly missed by everyone in the planning family.’

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Readers' comments (1)

  • A leader who directed Geography before I graduated and a great influence in trying to rescue Inner City, where Geography turned off the Path I know not but the results of not listening to him are littered worldwide.

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