The Future of Cities: Newcastle and Gateshead as a case study

This blog post is an amended version of the essay written by Professor Mark Tewdwr-Jones for the programme for the Northern Stage production of Get Carter and his pre-show talk given on Thursday 25 February.

In this post he presents his original thoughts on Newcastle and Gateshead in the 1960s and explores how current city leaders are faced with a similar question: How do we want to live in the future?

Get Carter

The 1960s are often referred to as a pivotal time in Britain’s history and the decade saw profound changes in the North East. The older industries that had formed the mainstay of the region’s economy were dying; the closure of the Rising Sun Colliery in Wallsend in 1969 was the last pit on the north side of the Tyne, while six shipyards had already closed between 1960 and 1966.

But the spirit of change was underway too. T Dan Smith, Newcastle’s council leader for the first half of the 60s, embarked on a radical modernisation programme. Subsequently dubbed The Brasilia of the North, the plan was ambitious but reflected Smith’s determination to make Newcastle a world renowned 20th century city.

Smith revolutionised local government by introducing Britain’s first ever Chief Executive (in place of the Town Clerk) and Chief Planner (Mr, later Sir, Wilf Burns), and even Cabinet style government. Among the projects he set in place at this time were: the removal of remaining slum housing, the building of new flats, the development of a higher education campus in the city, the building of Britain’s first indoor shopping centre at Eldon Square, the construction of the Tyne and Wear Metro, the expansion of the airport at Woolsington, and the plans for the construction of the Central Motorway to remove traffic from the congested city centre. Traffic was so heavy on Northumberland Street, the main London to Edinburgh A1 road, that footbridges had to be built over the road to allow shoppers to cross safely from one side to the other. New towns were developed in Cramlington, Killingworth and Washington.

On the Gateshead side of the Tyne, change was no less dramatic, with significant road building schemes, the opening of the Tyne Tunnel in 1967, and new modernist designs for public buildings and housing. The construction of the 29 storey Derwent Tower in Dunstan, dubbed The Rocket, and the Trinity Square shopping centre and car park (made famous in the film version of Get Carter) in the late 60s, signalled the height of both planners’ and architects’ frivolity with the urban realm. The professionals treated the city as a machine but at the expense of the need for human scale and a sense of place.

Local architects and construction companies all benefited from the reconstruction and regeneration ethic. But some of it was too good to be true. The utopia, like Smith’s own career, didn’t live up to the hype: developers built quickly and cheaply, and were too ready to dispense with anything that smacked of an older age. And for most, the loss of coalmining and shipbuilding cast a long employment shadow.

Smith’s legacy is fiercely contested and whether you think he was a crook or an inspiration, few can argue that he held a vision for the future of his city.

Newcastle and Gateshead are, in common with other cities around the world, now looking to the future once again and asking vital questions about how our citizens are going to survive – and thrive – in a society facing challenges including climate change, economic austerity, global migration and an ageing demographic.

Universities are well placed to help cities address these questions and the national Foresight Future of Cities project developed a methodology in the Newcastle city region to bring together the intellectual capacity of universities and local stakeholders to identify and address future potential challenges and opportunities.  This methodology can be adopted by cities all over the world.

The resulting report, Newcastle City Futures 2065, is a broad and overarching look at the next 50 years using Newcastle city region as a pilot.  It aims to demonstrate that universities can work more proactively with and for the cities in which they are located, and use both creative techniques and their expertise to foster civic engagement and articulate a vision for the future of the city.

Mark Tewdwr-Jones is Professor of Town Planning and Director of Newcastle City Futures at Newcastle University.


MEP-Scientist Pairing Scheme

The MEP-Scientist Pairing Scheme aims at enhancing mutual understanding and establishing a long-term, intensive cooperation between Members of the European Parliamant and researchers.

Dr Carlos Calderon

Dr Carlos Calderon

Dr Carlos Calderon, Senior Lecturer in Architecture, reflects here on his experience of the scheme to date.

“I am writing this note after my “Brussels week” and I can now say that this has been a very worthwhile experience. Without a doubt I would encourage anyone to do it.

Although my hopes of being successful in the selection process were pretty low, I did apply. To my surprise, out of 326 applicants I was one of the 30 scientists selected to work with an MEP and was paired with Merja Kyllönen from Finland, a former Finish minister.

The idea of the scheme is that a scientist (me in this case) will shadow the work of an MEP over the course of a week in Brussels. As part of this I would learn how to successfully interact with the policy-making process, while the MEP gains awareness of scientific practices as well as a better understanding of the scientist’s point of view.

My initial expectations were low as I was sceptical about whether the shadowing would be for show or a true reflection of the MEP working day. My experience has been the latter. Merja sent information to help me understand the working mechanism of the Parliament, particularly how the committees work and how policy departments interact with committees and MEPs. Whilst this was useful background information, for me, the real value of the scheme is in the one to one interaction with the MEP and his/her team

In my view, Merja is fantastic. Above all, she is a great person with strong ethical values and with a great team to support her: Piia, Tina, and Helena. I am very grateful that she allowed me to share in her daily routine. During my shadowing, I witnessed how she interacted with lobbyists, industries, political groups and internal EP mechanisms. At EU level, policy-making manifests itself as either Regulations: directly applicable; Directives: binding on results; Decisions: binding on those to whom addressed; and Recommendations, opinions: declaratory instruments.

Regardless of the legislative instrument that comes out of the policy-making process, it is clear that there is a myriad of pressures and that skilful politicians will constructively engage with all groups whilst being true to his or her values. How do we, as scientists, engage with this process in the EP? Indeed, I do now have a better idea how to do it at a practical level. But, I have been pleasantly surprised by the EP willingness to engage with the scientific community so if this is relevant to your work, just get in touch with the EP and its members.

I work in the area of Urban Energy, a nascent field of scientific enquiry that sits across urban planning, energy, and ICT. The aim is to provide vital support for evidence-based policy approaches to sustainable urban energy infrastructure transitions in Cities. For my research, the interface between science and public policy is important. Whilst I do have a good working knowledge at a local level, my understanding of that interface at European Union (EU) level was pretty limited. So I was intrigued by the innovative nature of this scheme and the possibility of working closely with a politician.”

Dr Calderon is Degree Programme Director for the MSc and MRes in Urban Energy.

Thinking Through Making

Our Thinking Through Making week took place from 1 to 5 February.  An annual event, this is a week-long ‘festival’ focussed on thinking, making and materials, with workshops and talks focussed on material practice.

From casting concrete to creating self-ordering biological systems, the variety of workshops and talks are a fantastic opportunity for students to engage with architects, artists, engineers, designers, thinkers and makers.

Thinking Through Making

We want to challenge students, open them up to new ways of thinking, inspire them and increase their understanding of working with materials.

We had a number of external participants who contributed and out students set up their own blog for the festival which you can read on the website

Working together for better planning

The School hosted a day workshop on 15 January, organised by Dr Dave Webb, focusing on how planning academics and practitioners can work together to respond to the crisis currently facing planning in England.  In this excerpt post he reflects upon discussions that took place.  The full version is available at Planners’ Network UK.

On 15th January 2016, Newcastle University played host to an energetic day of debate, centring on Michael Harris from the RTPI‘s provocations about the current state of academic research on planning and the areas where more work is needed. The essence of Michael’s argument is that planning research has become too closely aligned with qualitative sociological inquiry to the extent that very few scholars would now identify as economists. This was a point he made in July 2015 at the Association of European Schools of Planning (AESOP) conference; one that led to a question being asked of the 200 or so academics who attended the AESOP AGM. Of those, less than a handful admitted to having a full training in economics. This has not always been the case, however, with many planning schools up until the 1970s offering a more balanced range of social and economic training. The question which was raised was therefore about whether we should we restore this balance.

Alex Lord and Simin Davoudi both presented passionate answers to this question. For Alex, one way to challenge those versions of economics which depend on a view of individuals as rational, calculative and self-interested actors is to demonstrate the contribution of alternatives such as behavioural economics (Lord et al, 2015). Simin, however, emphasised the narrowness of all economistic framings, their tendency to privilege axiomatic and reductionist conclusions and the fact that, all too often, government tends to seek instrumental, quantitative evidence once key policy decisions have already been made. Perhaps, then, it is more important that research challenges the values and ideological assumptions which underpin political decisions rather than being confined to a debate about which economic “answer” is the correct one.

I found myself being convinced by all three speakers, perhaps because there can be no clear-cut solution to this question. At the heart of these debates is a judgement about strategy in a context where, as Michael so rightly points out, academic research has been largely ejected from political decision making about planning issues. The idea of trying to re-enter decision making circles by acceding to economic framings of research is tempting for two reasons. The first is the suggestion that, by failing to do so, academics only offer one half of the possible response to neoliberal research and policy: by only challenging these at the level of their discursive construction and social effect we may fail to persuade those who are not amenable to qualitative arguments. Secondly, the issues raised by qualitative accounts may simply be seen as inescapable by those who believe there is no alternative to neoliberal economics. But these compelling arguments for more economic research in planning can be set against a reading of the changing nature of universities which warns of privatisation and of increasing pressure on academic research to be instrumental to the needs, and often the framings, of policy makers. By challenging policy makers “on their own turf” there is a risk of giving up the hard-fought institutional ground on which academic research agendas have traditionally been set….

[Read the rest of this post at Planners Network UK]

Using Theatre to Engage Communities in Planning

(Left to right: Dr Paul Cowie, and Brad McCormick (Artist Director) and Katy Vanden (Producer) of Cap-a-Pie)

Left to right: Dr Paul Cowie, and Brad McCormick (Artist Director) and Katy Vanden (Producer) of Cap-a-Pie

This is an excerpt of a blog first posted on the HASS Research Impact Blog.

Dr Paul Cowie is a Research Assistant in the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape. Paul’s research focuses on community planning and community representation in the planning process. Cap-a-Pie bring together professional theatre makers and communities to co-create theatre and foster learning and thinking through a democratic creative process.

How can you get 30 people to spend three hours on a Monday night discussing community involvement in planning? The answer may be through theatre.

It is well accepted by both academics and practitioners that there is a limit to how much consultation a community can take. The dreaded ‘consultation fatigue’ is now a common feature of both research fieldwork and planning engagement efforts. Dr Paul Cowie and theatre company, Cap-a-Pie, have produced a new piece of theatre, The Town Meeting, which has shown that taking an alternative approach can re-engage communities in research in a way that traditional forms of engagement do not. The Town Meeting has generated a rich resource of research material as well as engaging a network of co-researchers who have signed up to be involved in the project in the future.

The play was performed in 6 communities in the spring of 2015, and toured again this month visiting Leeds and Sheffield. The venues ranged from traditional and community based theatres to community centres and village halls. Over 160 people have now been to see the play, including HRH Princess Eugenie of York who enjoyed an excerpt of the play when she recently visited the University. The play will also tour again in April 2016, visiting Keswick, Doncaster and Washington.

The project has recently won the Sir Peter Hall Award for Wider Engagement in the RTPI Awards for Research Excellence.

The story of how the play was developed is available via Cap-a-Pie’s Town Hall podcast.

[You can read the full blog post on the HASS Research Impact Blog.]
The Town Meeting
The Town Meeting