One hundred years ago, architect Ewart Culpin looked around at the state of cities and countryside across Europe and beyond, and did not like what he saw: inhumane overcrowding, families living under the shadow of heavy industry, an unhealthy built environment. Human settlement has always been a work in progress, and that’s why the emergence of planning as of profession during the twentieth century has done so much to improve our human condition.
Culpin helped on the emergence of that profession. Under the presidency of Ebenezer Howard, the infamous planner known for his pioneering of garden cities, Culpin founded the International Federation of Housing and Planning (IFHP), which tasked itself with improving the physical conditions in which people live.
This week, the Hague-based IFHP celebrates its anniversary with a Centenary Congress here in London.
I was honoured to give the opening address this Sunday evening at the fantastic Formans Fish Island building overlooking the Olympic Stadium. I argued that, in the face of enormous global and local challenges, cities must be adaptable and flexible if they are to thrive. I shared London’s story of adaptability: how we transformed from an industrial city with a huge port, to a centre of business and finance, academia and medicine, and the arts and new technologies, and how now once again we are adapting to a low-carbon resource-efficient economy.
As London adapts and faces challenges like population growth and climate change, I argued it must remain committed to the compact city approach. Under the strategic planning direction initiated by Ken Livingstone and myself as his deputy Mayor, and retained by subsequent versions of the London Plan, London is committed to accommodating growth in population and jobs through new and expanded towns within its own boundaries, particularly on brownfield land and at transport nodes. This may have been challenging to members of the IFHP – founded upon and still very much influenced by the ideals of the garden city, many proponents of which now call for exporting London’s population to unsustainable new towns in other parts of the region and country – but the feedback I got indicated that it was well-received.
But despite our differences in how it’s done, one thing we all agreed on is that planners can make a positive contribution to the quality of life and the environment for the billions of people across the globe. With delegations from as far afield as Indonesia, the IFHP Centenary Congress is a great opportunity to hear what planners around the world are doing to make that contribution. That’s why I was so glad to salute planners and planning professionals, and to wish the IFHP good luck for another hundred years.