The new generalist

Getting to the point where generic city-making skills are primary rather than an add-on requires the conceptual shifts highlighted and deeper reflection on why they are necessary and not optional. And crisis is a helpful mechanism to generate the urgency to reassess. Seen clearly there is a sufficient urban crisis to reconsider, reconceive and to react.

There are two processes involved: new skills that are a core part of city-making and other skills or dispositions that aid effectiveness and leadership that apply to any domain.

In getting across the changing landscape of planning and associated disciplines it is useful to reconceptualize the new requirements. For example, to create good cities we need good observers, explorers, galvanizers, visualizers, interpreters, contex-tualizers, storytellers, revealers, information-gatherers, strategists, inspirers, critics, agenda-setters, processors, facilitators, consulters, translators, analysts, problem-solvers, decision-makers, procurers, managers, makers, constructors, builders, brokers, mediators, conciliators, educators, arbitrators, implementers, evaluators, appraisers and presenters. And then, in addition, the classic disciplines associated with urban development like design, planning, valuing and engineering come into play. The terrain is large - many people will have a combination of these skills and not everyone will have all to the same degree of intensiveness.

The core point is to understand the essence of what the other attributes bring. All these attributes have existed for a long time, but their relative importance has grown. The challenge is to create an idea of the 'new generalist' or 'cultured person' or 'professional' where it is assumed that understanding, as distinct from deep knowledge, of these other skills forms the basic knowledge. The new generalist knows how to think conceptually, spatially and visually and is attuned to their multiple intelligences. This more rounded person is not the jack of all trades or gifted amateur of older times, but broader based in their appreciation of others.

Overlaid on that are general personal qualities such as openness, listening and empathy as well as the capacity to judge the timing and appropriateness to move into their near opposites of decisiveness, implementing, making, shaping and creating.

The above has a substantial training implication, which the Academy for Sustainable Communities in Britain, for example, is beginning to address. Yet it needs to go further. Thinking skills are beginning to be taught in some schools, often using Edward de Bono-style methods focusing on lateral thinking or, more frequently 'cognitive acceleration', especially in the natural sciences.52 However, there is no school programme nor barely an undergraduate programme that teaches the integrated thinking modern city-making requires. Indeed, as educationalist Tim Brighouse once said to me, 'This would be anathema to the way schools are run.'

The implication for urban planning training is to start with a broad-based urbanism course, perhaps even three years, with components such as geography, basic architecture, culture, social dynamics, psychology and planning, then coupled with a one-year specialist qualification and on-the-job learning.

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