The first annual conference of the Urban Design Alliance, held at the RIBA last week, was treated to an excellent short address from the secretary to the government's Urban Task Force, Jon Rouse. The task force, you may remember, is charged with investigating ways of promoting urban renewal, particularly in respect of brownfield sites. Under the chairmanship of Lord Rogers, it will report its findings in spring next year, and the government may then produce a White Paper on urban policy, setting a pattern for years to come. (It is a convincing reason, if any were needed, why architecture must return to the fold of the Department of the Environment, Transport & the Regions. ) Rouse presented what he called, in a neat Ruskinian reference, the Seven Clamps of Urban Design. These comprise the policy vacuum which currently exists, with neither national nor local government taking an effective lead; reactivity, where local authorities could only respond to the ideas of others because of lack of land, funding and purchasing power; over-regulation, which was killing potential schemes in marginal locations because of unnecessary planning, conservation, or health and safety considerations; meanness, where any notion of value was subordinate to cost; visual illiteracy, the result of educational systems and lack of cross-professional learning; small-mindedness, represented by the lack of a minister for the cities; and short-termism, which affected planning in a highly destructive way.
From the work already carried out by the task force, it seems that its report could have important results. It is addressing the problems (or opportunities) of cities in a grown-up way, just as the Urban Design Alliance is trying to do in bringing all the environmental professions together, rather than keeping them at arm's length, and thus frequently at each other's throats. The alliance should be encouraged.