Title: Comment, Planning the environment in Britain
Planning the environment in Britain
On pages 46-55 of this issue, DESIGN is reprinting an award winning article by Christopher Alexander which makes a fundamental reappraisal of the patterns of thought underlying the planning of modern cities. The principle of interrelationships, which the article discusses, deserves a wider understanding in almost all the areas of modern life where random growth is being replaced by a conscious design process. Too often each piece of the giant jigsaw puzzle is considered without proper concern for the shapes of those with which it is immediately surrounded, or indeed for the picture as a whole.
Fortunately, however, the movement towards a planned, national development in Britain is gaining ground. Regional studies have been undertaken, for example, to determine the disposition of the population, and the need for new towns and industrial expansion; Enterprise Neptune has been launched by the National Trust to secure the future of 2,000 miles of coastline; and, on a smaller scale, there are schemes like those for the renewal of the Rhondda and Lea Valleys (DESIGN 189/25). What they all lack, to a greater or lesser degree, is a national framework, and the conferences on The Countryside in 1970 (the second of which was held last autumn) have been aimed at providing one - at least for rural Britain.
The first conference brought together many people of varied backgrounds and attitudes who were involved in activities affecting the countryside. From it arose 12 study groups which examined such issues as planning, professional training, preservation, traffic, amenity and so on, leading to proposals for a national policy for the countryside which were the subject of the second conference. The proposals were based on the belief that the care and maintenance of the countryside should be a permanent undertaking, involving all the organisations and professions concerned in a common approach. They included the setting up of a new Countryside Commission with wide powers, backed by standing committees at county council level and an increased number of trained personnel who would develop countryside amenities to the full. The personnel would include a wide variety of specialists - naturalists, historians, agriculturalists, landscape architects, industrial designers - to advise and work not only on the preservation of such things as monuments and wild life, but also on the improvement of the landscape, the siting and detailing of car parks and other facilities, and the appearance and integration of farm buildings.
The two conferences on The Countryside in 1970 have certainly achieved a great deal more knowledge about what is happening to the countryside, what opportunities there are for its preservation and enrichment, and what powers are needed if a national policy is to be put into effect. Whether these powers are provided remains to be seen. The proposals for the Countryside Commission to replace the National Parks Commission and a White Paper, promised by Fred Willey, Minister of Land and Natural Resources, do not yet add up to men, money and the authority to make and implement decisions. Yet valuable progress has been made and deserves to be applauded.
In one respect, however, the conferences have set their sights too low. Dr Alexander's lesson about interrelationships applies not only to space. but also to time: any solution must be suitable for tomorrow and the day after as well as for today.What we should be thinking about is Britain's countryside in the year 2,000 and beyond, since it is only then that decisions made now will come into effect. Today's planners must be visionaries with at least one eye on the distant future. R.C.