Akademisk Arkitektforening

The Collective Sensibility

Designer, Urbanist and Executive Director of Futures at the UK's Future Cities Catapult, Dan Hill talks to us about Nordic Planning, Quality of Life and Welfare.

Af: Cæcilie Skovmand, kommunikationsrådgiver

“There is a direct correlation between the welfare state and the planning of our surroundings. We see that in countries with a strong welfare state, where there is a tendency to use top-down, technocratic planning that makes provision for people as part of an understood and trusted social contract.”, Dan Hill says.

How does planning contribute to freedom and quality of life?
“How we plan our surroundings affects our quality of life, as it shapes our amenities, public space healthcare, transport infrastructure and so on. Equally, our trust in government affects our planning culture. Where there is high trust, there is a stronger social contact, and it is possible to shape cities that are more in tune with peoples’ needs. This applies particularly in the Nordic region. In many places outside that region, without that trust, the people and the planning system are more disconnected,.

The question for the Nordic Region is how to retain this high level of trust in the system. That is a big challenge. Can trust in the governance be maintained whilst the city diversifies?”

What else is the challenge for us Northerners right now? 
“It could be a form of complacency and over-confidence. A sense that everything is working – rightly or wrongly – might not generate the momentum for ongoing innovation. When the system is so pleased with itself, that it does not need any change, it could well be a problem. You may lack awareness of the fact that you need to change. And there is a need to change”, says Dan Hill and elaborates: “Look at climate change, the critical situation in the Baltic sea, an ageing population, obesity epidemics, and more subtly, an increasing diversity in the region meaning you can’t take cultural perspectives for granted. Yet this situation doesn’t necessarily require a drastic redesign of the planning structure. Gradual, iterative changes are more realistic. But you do need to act on this and not just talk about it”.

Equal Access
Dan Hill argues that Nordic planning traditions enable the collective: 

“In the Nordic region the design of the surroundings contributes to the collective sensibility, and vice versa – e.g. there is a strong desire for equal access to public transport, health care, infrastructure etc., which clearly works, and is very strong. The planning for the individual is, however, more complex”, says Dan Hill and ads:

“The question is, can you enable individual freedom whilst also enabling the collective?”

What can we learn from the UK?
“The UK has a very interesting planning history that deserves attention. The current UK Pavilion at the Biennale in Venice is curated by Sam Jacob/FAT Architecture and Wouter Vanstiphout, and it focuses on this amazing story., such as Ebenezer Howard and the Garden City movement, as well as the post-war public innovation. The UK essentially invented modern planning, and with a very strong set of ideas. There is really a lot to learn here. The problem is, that we, the British, forgot that … and now we are in a somewhat sorry state in terms of planning. We practice some of the ideas, but often get caught up in very banal debates– the original vision has been lost. The Nordics can perhaps learn from our history, and not the present! 

London is an exception, to some extent. Many visionary planning initiatives have been realized in recent years, e.g. the integrated transport thinking of Transport for London, delivering the bike-sharing, the congestion charge, Crossrail and bus/tube upgrades. All of these have actually managed to reduce car use whilst the population and economy of the city continues to grow. Those are all very well integrated systems in a complex context. It is a good achievement of change, particularly as it is often working within in a very old infrastructure”.

What should we change?
“As a designer the blank canvas approach is always exciting! However, the issues that currently challenge planning (ageing population, obesity crisis, climate change, diversification of population, etc.) may need radical change over time, but there is a high-level of trust in the current system that could be eradicated if we simply started again.  So gradual changes are probably more realistic within the Nordic region, and would perhaps be more effective”.

About Dan Hill
Dan Hill is Executive Director of Futures at the UK's Future Cities Catapult. A designer and urbanist, he has previously held leadership positions at Fabrica, SITRA, Arup and the BBC. He writes regularly for the likes of Dezeen, Domus and Volume, as well as the renowned blog City of Sound.

Dan Hill will be one of the key note speakers at the Conference New Nordic Planning, that takes place I Copenhagen on the 2nd of October 2014



About the UK- Pavilion and The Garden City

City of Sound

New Nordic Planning

Future Cities Catapult


Illustration: From The Garden City Movement by Ebenezer Howard, click for larger image. Wikimedia Commons