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Robert Bruegmann All Planned Out? - The Worldwide Impact of the British Town and Country Planning System
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All Planned Out?
The Worldwide Impact of the British Town and Country Planning System

18 and 19 May 2007

Robert Bruegmann

Robert is Professor of Art History, Architecture, and Urban Planning, University of Illinois at Chicago, and author of Sprawl: A Compact History (2005). All Planned Out? was suggested as an international conference to mark the worldwide impact of the British Town and Country Planning System by Robert in his correspondence with James Heartfield, following the writing of the foreword to Let's Build! (2006)

Robert received his BA from Principia College in 1970, and his Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1976 with a dissertation on late 18th and early 19th century European hospitals and other institutions. In 1977 he became assistant professor in the Art History Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he is currently Professor with appointments in the School of Architecture and the Program in Urban Planning and Policy.

Robert has also taught at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia College of the Arts, MIT and Columbia University. He has worked for the Historic American Buildings Survey and Historic American Engineering Record of the National Park Service.

His fields of research and teaching are architectural, urban, landscape, and planning history and historic preservation.

Robert has received scholarships and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Graham Foundation, the Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture at Columbia University, and the Institute for the Humanities and the Great Cities Institute at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

For a complete resume see



9.40 to 11.00 on Friday 18 May 2007

What happens when governments manage growth?


The system of land use planning put in place in Britain after the Second World War, and embodied in the British Town and Country Planning Act of 1947, was the culmination of decades of efforts by architects, planners and government officials throughout affluent Northern Europe and North America. They sought to rationalize the way urban land was developed to bring the process more under the control of the state and trained professionals.

For a few years it appeared that this system was achieving the goals set by the reformers. However, within a decade it was clear that many of the basic assumptions underlying this brave new world of planning were fundamentally flawed.

Despite this, the intellectual framework of the system has been maintained and even bolstered by attacks on sprawl, while it has been increasingly applied elsewhere around the globe.

By the early years of the twenty-first century, however, the unintended consequences and backfires set into motion by this planning system suggest that it is time for a fundamental rethinking.

What happens when governments manage growth?

Sprawl - A Compact HistorySprawl: A Compact History

Robert Bruegmann

As anyone who has flown into the world's major airports knows that urban areas today defy traditional notions of what a city is. Our old definitions of urban, suburban, and rural fail to capture the complexity of these vast regions with their superhighways, subdivisions, industrial areas, office parks, and resort areas pushing far out into the countryside. Detractors call it "sprawl", and assert that it is economically inefficient, socially inequitable, environmentally irresponsible, and aesthetically ugly.

In Sprawl: A Compact History Robert Bruegmann calls it a logical consequence of economic growth and the democratization of society, with benefits that urban planners have failed to recognize.

In his incisive history of the expanded city, Bruegmann overturns every assumption we have about sprawl. Taking a long view of urban development, he demonstrates that sprawl is neither recent, nor particularly American but as old as cities themselves; just as characteristic of ancient Rome and eighteenth-century Paris as it is of Atlanta or Los Angeles.

Nor is sprawl the disaster claimed by many contemporary observers. Although sprawl, like any settlement pattern, has undoubtedly produced problems that must be addressed, it has also provided millions of people with the kinds of mobility, privacy, and choice that were once the exclusive prerogatives of the rich and powerful.

The first major book to strip urban sprawl of its pejorative connotations, Sprawl offers a completely new vision of the city and its growth. Bruegmann leads readers to the powerful conclusion that '... in its immense complexity and constant change, the city - whether dense and concentrated at its core, looser and more sprawling in suburbia, or in the vast tracts of exurban penumbra that extend dozens, even hundreds, of miles - is the grandest and most marvelous work of mankind.'

Bruegmann demonstrates that urban sprawl is a process as old as the world's oldest cities, wherein large metropolises reach a point of maturity, and those with financial means escape the congestion and high prices of city life. What has changed over the past century is that an increasing number of citizens have achieved the financial means to participate in what was once an exclusive luxury of the wealthy.

Bruegmann acknowledges that the effects on cities are not always positive, but he also demonstrates that many of the criticisms of suburban sprawl are greatly exaggerated, and ignore the very real benefits sprawl offers in terms of privacy, mobility and choice. With his disdain for doomsday predictions and his disregard for the academic consensus, Bruegmann's thorough analysis has proven controversial.

click here for audacity 001 Let's Build!
Let's Build!
Why we need five million
new homes in the next
10 years

James Heartfield

With a foreword by Robert Bruegmann

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