Whole connections and specialist parts

We now have a greater understanding of the connections between things. For centuries we have been splitting knowledge and insight into fragments, boxes and segregations. From this have grown many inventions and innovations, albeit moving along a narrow furrow. The evaluation of everything from a perspective of specialism and narrowness is a defining characteristic of contemporary society. Narrowness is the paradigm and default position that has embedded itself into how companies, community organizations and the public sector operate, even while partnership building is a mantra of the age. Others prefer to call this narrowness 'focus'. For the majority, narrowness is the prism through which any activity is judged. Narrowness also has its experts, advocates consultants, interest groups, specialist literature, associational structure and lobbying bodies. It has formalized itself. This has made us lose the art of holistic thinking.

Holism is a scientific theory with a proud history of over 100 years, but its insights were battered into submission in the race to understand ever smaller bits of the puzzle, whether this was how cities work or nuclear physics. Yet we should remember that native or aboriginal people have been thinking holistically for millennia. Holism as a theory emphasizes the whole and connections over the parts. In the context of the city, it stresses the relationships between elements such as transport, social life and the economy. It argues that you cannot understand a system such as a city by merely looking at parts, like traffic, in isolation from its effects. Ecological awareness and environmental distress have revived an interest in holism. It has refocused us on chains, loops, cycles and feedback mechanisms. Transferred to cities it has made us see connections between the different domains: the environmental, social, economic and, at last, also the fourth pillar of sustainability, the cultural. For far too long, the cultural has been neglected, yet it is cultural literacy that in fact helps us understand where a place has come from and what is important to it and has meaning. It helps us understand the present and thus possible futures too. If we are culturally confident rather than self-effacing, we are much more likely to take the necessary risks to move ahead. (In fact the cultural should be seen as overarching, as it determines how other areas are conceived and perceived.)

Thinking through the issues a city throws up, the city needs many experts. Since most opportunities or problems are inextrica bly interwoven, experts need to take account of each other. Yet ordinary citizens are also experts - they are certainly the expert of their own concerns and what they want. 'Taking account of' should not be seen as a marginal add-on once the basic decisions have been made. The list of urban issues is well known and extensive: choices of shelter at varying standards and sizes; comfort; warmth; making services - from rubbish and waste removal to maintaining roads and walkways - work; the capacity to move around in cars, bikes or public transport; the ability to earn money in varying places of work, from offices to factories; the ability to shop in differing types of outlets; to have fun; to be artistically challenged; the availability of facilities for health or social care; spaces to relax and reflect, meet people and interact; spaces to avoid noise, to escape into natural surroundings, to feel safe; to be free of vandalism; to reduce fear and crime; and to be part of decision-making.

Which of these factors are more important? Clearly the built fabric is key: it sets the frame and provides the setting within which the city conducts its business and goes about its life. Not every structure works. If it is ugly and projects itself as if it were saying 'no', leaves out consideration of how people use space, uses cheap materials, impedes the pedestrian through a clutter of obstacles and signs, or is insufficiently accessible, it affects the rest of the urban system negatively. For the city to work well requires more than the simply utilitarian, although the practical and functional remains key, as inspiration is required to motivate. That motivation has manifold downstream impacts, from the ability to get a job to aspiring to learn and do better for oneself. This reintroduces the idea of beauty, a word long lost from our urban lexicon. A simple device may be for cities to ask themselves, 'Is this beautiful (and practical) enough for us?' Addressing how people feel about their city is not 'just another burden we have to bear' but tangibly affects the value of property, how long it will last and reduces maintenance costs. To make the varied urban factors mesh well means assessing mutual interdependencies and impacts.

The life of the city shaped by a community of professionals selfconsciously concerned with niches or specialisms is different from one focused on connecting and integrating their knowledge with others. This specialist focus has shaped the growth of urban professions, usually seen as those concerned with the physical: engineers, planners, surveyors, architects. They have associational structures that mirror the shafts of light they throw on to city-making. Their list of abbreviations exemplifies the profusion of organizations and divisions. In Britain they include APS, CIBSE, CIOB, CIH, CILT, ICE, IHIE, IHT, ILT, IMECHE, IstructE, LI, RIBA, RICS, RTPI and TCPA.

However open-minded the professions are, it is in their interests to claim special knowledge and specialist knowledge is needed. Often this is translated into technical codes, standards, guidelines and directives. This is not to decry the specialist, but to avert the tendency for particular professions to feel they are 'the top dog' of city-making. Architects, it is argued, feel they have the monopoly on three-dimensional design because they can draw. Planners might see themselves as 'the kings of the process' because they know the steps to the agreed plan. And surveyors might consider themselves the arbiters of every kind of value, even though there are broader definitions as to what value is.

In arguing for integrated thinking and cross-cutting team work, a sustainable response to the challenge must be a cultural one arising from the heart of the professions' values and purpose, rather than an add-on approach which mimics a changed mindset. Integration is about mutual respect and the ability of the various team members to be full and equal members of a project. Integrated working implies allowing others to comment on or even rewrite the script or rules of a project. This does not displace the architect, engineer, planner or other professional: it invites them to rethink how their gifts and experience can be opened to genuine partnership within an honest, reflexive conversation. It means working towards professional institutions whose interpretation of city-making is dynamic, aware of the tensions between perspectives within contemporary society and more instrumental as a result. It means forging new hybrid and evolving practices which secure our shared values and goals.17

There remains a misalignment between the challenges and tasks of city-making and the types of thinking, intelligences and skills we apply to it or give legitimacy to. This is a faultline of major proportions. The primary aspect of this is between the dominance of hard infrastructure professionals, from engineers and architects over those concerned with soft infrastructure, those who understand social, psychological, cultural and economic dynamics. In the hierarchy, the built environment professions are deemed to be on top. Perhaps at the beginning of the process others are consulted, but once the 'real' project starts, 'the regen lads' take over as the more exciting activity of getting things on the ground takes hold.

There is a need for more cross-connections between planners and historians, developers and sociologists, and surveyors and health professionals. A useful technique is to consider 'outcome swaps' in implementing a city vision. Here a planner might be charged with gearing plans to the goals of health professionals, thereby considering, say, obesity issues in thinking through urban design. The same notion might work with transport planners taking on the mantle of the person concerned with social inclusion or the head of environment taking on the mantle of transport planning.

Each profession has its value, but none fosters key elements of the combined qualities of thinking required for city-making: holistic, interdisciplinary, lateral; innovative, original, experimental; critical, challenging, questioning; people-centred, humanistic, non-deterministic; 'cultured', knowledgeable, critically aware of the past; and strategic.18

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