Grand masters needed
Sir: In A City is not a Tree (DESIGN 206/46 - 55) Christopher Alexander comes to the implied conclusion that the human mind finds it impossible consciously to plan the city as a semi-lattice and not a tree, because man is trained to think in terms of grouping systems sequentially. He is not able to create systems which overlap in a coherent and related fashion, as they do in a city that has evolved naturally over many generations.
It is current practice for the town planner to produce a rigid master plan for his city. However, current theory maintains that he should try to plan for a continually changing and evolving environment, instead of imposing a straitjacket on it. He should arrange matters so that the types of change which he can never forecast (changes of fashion, government policy, etc) will only modify the plan, not dislocate it entirely.
The planner has, in fact, to think like a chess player: an overall plan of attack is kept in mind which must be modified as the position either improves or deteriorates with the progress of the game.
I would suggest therefore that the way of thinking of a brilliant chess player (often akin to that of the mathematician) is one which can best assess the value of alternative sets of systems, their superimposition on one another, and the amount of overlap that should take place.
Until men of such intellectual calibre can be persuaded to concentrate on planning, it is obvious from Mr Alexander's analysis that we shall get nowhere, either in planning new towns or cultivating old ones.
This is a discouraging thought, but at least Mr Alexander has provided the most accurate assessment so far of the colossal size of the problem.
Roger Cook, Newcastle - upon - Tyne