Lee Shostak has the air of a man who can't quite believe his luck. It was by accident that, at the age of 14, he was nudged in the direction of urban planning; by accident that he came as an American student to spend a year at Bedford College in Regents Park and fell in love with London; and by accident - or almost - that a never-to-be-completed PhD thesis on Milton Keynes led him into a particular kind of urban planning. This led indirectly to the establishment of the London-based interdisciplinary consultancy EDAW, which is now masterminding the transformation of Croydon and the regeneration of Edinburgh New Town (AJ 12.2.98).
Perhaps, above all, Shostak can't quite believe that the ideas about mixed use, mixed tenure, masterplans and design quality - which Fred Roche and Lord (Jock) Campbell championed at MK - are now becoming far more widely accepted. But, says Shostak, not widely enough. 'Local authorities are still not getting a proper planning framework for places before they go to developers, and are not using their powers of land assembly. Most developers still don't understand the importance of quality in planning and design. As Fred used to say, 'quality of design creates value, ' and architects go wrong by assuming that urban design and planning are just arch itec ture on a b igger sca le . In rea l ity, they requ ire a different mix of skills, including architecture and many others.' It is a mix EDAW has fostered, and which probably won its partners the plum job of regenerating central Manchester, the first of its major city masterplanning schemes.
Shostak grew up in the New York suburb of Nanuet. It was here that a cousin's city-planner boyfriend noticed that Lee was more interested in the environment around his model railway than the railway itself. 'You should be a city planner, ' he said to him. The idea appealed, and eventually Shostak enrolled at Syracuse University, on a course that included planning, real estate, urban geography and political science.
The mix is significant. At 51, Shostak, though believing profoundly in design quality, is adamant that it is not enough: planning is about 'how to make things happen'. A development must be realisable.
Without that, the perfect plan, the perfect design is useless. That, he says, is one reason why, as a member of Cardiff Bay's development advisory panel, he opposed Hadid's opera house: 'It wasn't going to get built. Controversy about the design was getting in the way.'
After graduating at Syracuse (after that final year in London), Shostak began a PhD at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, electing to do his finalyear thesis on the new city of Milton Keynes. But he discovered when he got there that, at that early stage, 'there wasn't much to do a PhD on'. He began working in the planning team under Roche, and found the experience exhilarating - especially since back home it was a time when 'Nixon was putting the lid on domestic expenditure, including urban regeneration, housing and planning'.
After eight years at MK, Shostak joined Terence Conran in a new enterprise, Conran Roche. The architectural side was the more visible (Butlers Wharf, New Crane Wharf and the Institute of Chartered Accountants), but alongside ran its urban planning practice. This eventually linked up with EDAW, a long-established American landscape and urban design practice, to form its European arm.
EDAW in Europe now employs around 90 people (27 in France, 13 in Glasgow and 50 at the main office in London). About 30 have economic development as the ir sk i l l ; the rest are p lanners or designers, 'design' meaning public realm, landscape and urban design. It is a combination that positions them well to work in partnership with architects, says Shostak: 'There's a wide range of architectural practices we feel comfortable working with.'
The practice has thrived. Urban regeneration has been a staple, with work for the LDDC and other urban development corporations, TECs, SRB bids, work for the Scottish Development Agency and, more recently, Scottish Enterprise. Most recently, the practice has been appointed to masterplan Croydon. As for professional barriers in Europe, Shostak says there are no more than exist in Scotland. The Scots accept him, an American, more readily than they would a Sassenach.
He is at pains to stress that 'the success of EDAW is the success of the team.' Other key members include managing director Bob Pell, his colleague at MKand Conran Roche; Jason Prior, who heads landscape and design; Douglas Wheeler, who runs the Glasgow office; and Francis Crewes in Colmar, France. Shostak thinks the cult of personality is destructive: 'There are many, many examples when one of the founder partners dies, or leaves the practice, and it stumbles. Much better to have a broad team of people who share the same commitment to quality, the same values, and who believe in a partnership between planning landscape and urban design.'
His ambition for the practice is that it should, as the best of its kind, expand throughout Europe; his ambition for Britain is that John Prescott should be bold and pump investment into housing and into a transport infrastructure. And for himself? 'To enjoy living in London, my favourite city in the world.'