The built environment is now the only area where people have low expectations of design, said Terry Farrell at last week's Urban Design conference. It was there that he formally launched his proposal for an Urban Design Council, along the lines of the Design Council. He lauded the work of the council - achieved with a grant of £7 million a year and 38 executive staff - but did not explain where he hoped this sort of money would come from.
The importance of money was also a key note of other speakers' presentations. John Rouse, secretary of the Urban Task Force, stressed the importance of convincing not only the detr and dcms of the importance of urban design, but also the Treasury. 'Design costs money but creates value,' he said. 'If we want a good fiscal set-up that encourages good design, we have to convince the Treasury on its own terms.'
He warned: 'If we don't get this part of our work right - a sensible arrangement built up by cogent reason - we will be compromised.' Without Treasury backing, he said, too many projects could end up like Bristol's proposed harbourside centre, 'an archive of unbuilt schemes'.
Also concerned about money is Kevin Murray, a director of edaw and also chair of the Urban Design Alliance's housing committee. 'Getting an urban design element in to a project does cost,' he said, and asked: 'Who pays for that?' The problem, he said, is that the benefits are not felt rapidly enough for the housebuilders to benefit. Instead, the benefits go to 'the second, third and fourth generation of owners'.
Time was also a worry to Rouse. Of his Ruskian 'seven clamps of urban design' (see editorial, page 25), his seventh was 'The clamp of short- termism'. He said that most spending programmes are dominated by 'five- year funding programmes, the four-year political cycle, and the spectre of annuality'. Good urban design cannot, he said, be realised within such a short timescale.
. . . and the urban design think tank ponders the future
In 2028, will the car still dominate in the city, but be lighter and cleaner? Or will it be pushed into the background in a city defined by transport and communication nodes, giving us a redefined sense of public space? These were some of issues raised at the Urban Design Week think- tank, addressing the issue 'Future Cities 2028', where an impressive number of luminaries were given long enough to produce some provoking ideas.
Architect-planner and academic Tony Lloyd-Jones started the session with a history of cities' change since the 1960s. Having lived through both the swinging Sixties and the Cool Nineties, he said, 'the difference is that you have to pay for fun in the 1990s.'
Dutch urban theorist Maarten Hajer propounded his view of a 'network society' where the importance of proximity has been replaced by connectivity. He believes that we need to consider the future of the car, arguing that we would phase out its dominance with the concept of 'multi-mobility' with transfer points between modes of transport. He cautioned against cities becoming 'archipelagos of enclaves' where we exist alongside, but avoid contact with, other cultures.
Stephen Glaister, professor of transport and infrastructure at Imperial College, London, did not believe that the car could be so easily subdued. Standards of living will have doubled, he argued, as they do every 30 years, bringing with them a desire for increased mobility. Cars could be made cheaper and cleaner, and as for the problem of global warming from CO2 emissions, 'that has to be dealt with globally or not at all.
Richard Sennett, visiting centennial professor of sociology at the lse, said that so far our spaces have been largely ceremonial, intended for consumption and relaxation, and often aimed more at the tourist than the resident. In future 'we will have to address more functional places - schools, hospitals, places of work.'
Only one prediction was universally agreed upon: that anything forecast today will seem laughable with the hindsight of 30 years.