The Landscape Guide

5.2 The birth of the planner

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The oldest cities, one assumes, were made without the assistance of drawn plans, but using marks on the ground. When more sophisticated structures were required, clay tablets and then drawings came into use. By the first century AD, Vitruvius considered that half the education of an architect should be spent becoming "skilful with the pencil, instructed in geometry' and familiar with the special departments of knowledge. Vitruvius wished the other half of his time to be spent "acquiring manual skill' on building sites where work is done "according to the design of a drawing' (Vitruvius, 1914 edn). Small-scale maps were later made to assist trade, transport and conquest. In the chaos of the Dark Ages, the Roman skill of drawing buildings, like the art of making bricks, was forgotten. Eventually, the arts of civilization returned to Europe, but many centuries passed before there was a return to the practice of making maps and planning cities on paper. No design drawings for medieval cathedrals have been found, but carvings exist on which a large pair of dividers is used as a symbol for the builder's trade. Dividers were used to transfer dimensions and to set out full-size working plans for masonry.

To plan is to make a projection on a horizontal plane (Figure 5.1); to de-sign is to put a sign on paper. Translation of Euclid's Elements from Arabic into Latin, in 1482, revived interest in the ideas of design-by-drawing and planning-by-drawing. In time, it became common for professionals with knowledge of geometry to produce plans, in offices, for the construction of towns and buildings. Such plans had advantages. Roads could be made straight, broad and convenient; drains could be made to run downhill; land ownership disputes could be settled; structural designs could be founded on mathematics. It was a great advance. During the Renaissance, drawings were used to help in planning villas for the rich. Later, drawn maps were used in local and national planning. In the eighteenth century, maps were produced to define territories. National borders came into existence. Louis XV observed that he lost more territory by accurate mapping than ever he gained by conquest. The largest example of planning-by-drawing was the United States of America. The Land Ordinance of 1785 imposed a gigantic gridiron on the natural landscape. This was planning in the sense of ordering the land, but it ignored the presence of rivers, forests, hills and valleys, which, at that time, had not been mapped in detail (Reps, 1965).

In Britain, detailed topographic maps have been published by the Ordnance Survey since 1801 (Figure 5.2). Ordnance, a variation of ordinance, is the means of enforcing orders. According to the dictionary it includes: "mounted guns, cannon, and that branch of the government service dealing with military stores and materials'. Ordnance maps enable people to invade and defend territory. This was their purpose. As an unintended side-effect, they facilitated an invasive and dictatorial variety of town and country planning. The engineering and surveying professions developed with mathematics and drawing as their defining skills, and flourished under military patronage. Before maps and plans became common, towns were the work of builders, who made infrequent resort to plans. Had the introduction of design-by-drawing and planning-by-drawing merely been technical changes, like the replacement of clay tablets with paper, they would not merit our attention. In practice, the technique of paper planning had profound consequences for the product. Town planning and architecture became epic examples of McLuhan's dictum: "the medium is the message' (McLuhan, 1967). Until recently, the medium was paper. In future, it will be a computer-held database, currently known as a geographical information system, or GIS.

Classical geography, which was plan-based, conceived cities as physical entities, to be analysed in terms of size, density, land use, population, centricity, axiality, and so forth. Early city planners therefore made unitary plans, showing roads, land uses and densities (Figure 3). These are now known as physical plans and zoning plans. By the 1960s, geographers were increasingly regarding cities as the product of social and economic forces. Planning changed direction. It became involved with economic growth, social deprivation, education and the environment. Marxist geographers came to see towns as the outcome of capitalist accumulation and the class struggle. Postmodern geography, inspired by structuralism and post-structuralism, is branching out in all directions. It is recognized that society is contextualized and regionalized around a multi-layered nesting of supra-individual modal locales -- a home-base for collective nourishment and biological reproduction, collection sites and territories for food and materials, ceremonial centres and places to plan, shared spaces and forbidden terrains, defensible neighbourhoods and territorial enclosures. (Soja, 1989)

This account, from Soja's Postmodern Geographies, points to the need for multiple world views, which GIS are eminently capable of managing. Structuralism suggests the need for new world-views; computer-held databases facilitate their representation. Multiple ways of looking at the world will be paralleled by multiple ways of looking at planning and design. There is no reason why one of them, the two-dimensional projection of physical structures onto a plane surface, should take precedence as The City Plan, or The Master Plan for an urban development. Towns, roads, buildings and gardens, when planned on paper, have a curious rigidity, like a squad on parade. The effect can be splendid -- but it should not be allowed to rule the world. The postmodern city needs to be mapped as "a multi-layered nesting of supra-individual modal locales' (Figure 4).


Plan of Paris c1600

5.2 Accurate surveys date from the nineteenth century. In Britain such maps (eg of Blackheath, above) are described as Ordnance Surveys, reminding us of their military origin.

[FIG 5.3 ] Geographers and planners shared an interest in roads and densities – so that planning became a matter of planning roads and specifying densities.

[FIG 5.4 ] The postmodern city is conceived as a multi-layered nesting of supra-individual modal locales.