Intellectual activism and modern land use planning
by Neil Grieve, Deborah Peel, and Greg Lloyd

Patrick Geddes is often cited as one of the founders of modern town and regional planning. Helen Meller, a biographer of Geddes, suggested that he was someone who 'pioneered a sociological approach to the study of urbanisation; discovered that the city should be studied in the context of the region; predicted that the process of urbanisation could be analysed and understood; [and] believed that the application of such knowledge could shape future developments towards life enhancement for all citizens'.1 She highlighted the point that central to his approach was the intimate relationship between social processes and spatial form.

Such thinking resonates with contemporary debates, not least in his native Scotland. This is particularly so in terms of the current interest in (a Geddesian idea of) the city-region, the focus on modernising planning practice, and the web of links between all those promoting, in today's parlance, 'joined-up' governance. Intriguingly, Geddes was already identifying the connections between society and spatiality, method and outlook, as being at the heart of integrated public policy understanding and implementation. Yet his interest in modernity and collectivism went hand in hand with a strong concern for individuality.2

Re-reading Patrick Geddes' writings today, together with the learned commentaries on his life and work, provides a powerful reminder of how meaningful his thinking remains, and how compatible his lexicon, language, and discourse is with contemporary public policy agendas.

There is little doubt that Geddes was a formidable intellectual and polymath, someone who attracts various epithets, from 'pioneer of sociology', to 'maker of the future', or 'savant'.2 He not only drew on a wide and diverse set of intellectual influences, but he made important practical connections between them in interpreting his notion of a 'human ecology'. Geddes united ideas from, and between, botany and the natural sciences, sociology, regionalism, urban design, economics, history, art, politics, literature, gardening, philosophy, education, printing, mathematics, public health, housing, music, and poetry. He correlated the humanities and sciences with their corresponding practical applications in the arts and technologies; a blend of art and science that continues to underpin town planning.

Significantly, Lewis Mumford described Geddes as both an active thinker and a practical doer.3 For Mumford, Geddes' main legacy was his ability to engender 'a sense of the wonder of life'.4 Further, Geddes' interdisciplinary interests shaped what we recognise as a generalist vision for the study of cities and culture. Mumford thus acknowledged: 'Patrick Geddes' philosophy helped save me from becoming a monocular specialist… [I]t gave me the confidence to become a generalist - one who sought to bring together in a more intelligible pattern the knowledge that the specialist had, by over-strenuous concentration, sealed into separate compartments'.5

Tellingly, then, Geddes has been described as an 'intellectual activist' who sought to put his ideas into action, and confronted many of the practical issues associated with the implementation of ideas on ensuring the sustainability of the urban fabric.

His legacy includes a tried and tested method - that of a regional report, or survey - which was intended to gain an overall perspective of an area's social ecology. This approach identified and assessed the physical and social factors that may be considered to contribute to human health - such as housing, employment, air quality, water supply, the availability of gardens or natural areas, and the nature of the cultural identity. Geddes stressed the need to identify the links between the different factors, and, where deficiencies existed, he would search for appropriate solutions. These would often require political, social, and physical intervention. The current emphasis on evidence-based policy appears to reflect this strategic, inter-disciplinary, and integrative approach to planning.

Geddes' early approach to town and regional planning was based on an holistic and dynamic appreciation of the whole environment, and particularly the connections between work, place, folk. Here, Geddes may be compared with others, such as Ebenezer Howard, who advocated a 'clean slate' approach. Moreover, Geddes is credited with the term 'conurbation', which he used to suggest the relationship of a city with the communities and countryside around it. His approach was one that sought to better respect the 'organic unity' of cities, and both to take into account the historic past and to identify the future potential.

What is particularly exciting about the early work of Geddes is that his interests encapsulated both the theoretical and practical aspects of land use and development. He encouraged involvement by local people, for example, in his attempts to improve housing conditions in the Old Town of Edinburgh. In terms of delivery he appreciated the need to link ideas relating to design and layout to their effective execution, particularly in his development efforts.

Geddes was involved in, and drew on, a wide range of international comparative experiences. His work in such places as Ireland, India, Palestine, and France, as well as Scotland, reveals an intellect constantly seeking to self-improve and understand. His global profile reflects a variety of identities, as captured by Boardman,6 who suggests that in Britain Geddes may have been variously perceived as a 'visionary and impractical mystic', while in India he may have been hailed as an achiever and an urban planner. In America he was considered a sociologist, while in France he was 'un anglais un peu fou'.2 Such diversity of interpretation reflects, in many ways, Geddes' eclecticism.

Certainly, many of his ideas influenced subsequent land use planning and development practice. His interests in regionalism, for example, examining the wider spaces in which society is organised and linked to natural resource development, was important in the later design of specific regional economic development initiatives, such as the Tennessee Valley Authority. Moreover, along with other influential thinkers of the time (such as John Muir and Frank Fraser Darling), Geddes contributed to our modern understanding of sustainable development, natural resource development, and environmental management.

Above all else, Geddes searched for solutions to problems, be they economic, physical, social, or environmental. To do this, he drew on ideas from a range of other influential thinkers, including Darwin, Comte, and Le Play. His principal contribution, however, was to integrate such powerful ideas and then to apply them to practice. In this sense he was a pragmatic visionary, anticipating the challenges and issues associated with planning and the environment. Arguably, this focus on implementation finds its modern expression in the emphasis on policy execution and service delivery. Yet, for Geddes, theory and practice went hand in hand.

Geddes' interventions ensured the survival of a great deal of historic urban fabric and, furthermore, put it to productive use. But his practical achievements somehow seem to have been persistently under-recognised. Volker Welter, one of the most acclaimed students of Geddes, admitted in a recent interview that Geddes' work in Edinburgh remains under-researched, and even that the full impact of Geddes' insights might not yet have found their full force. He noted that Geddes himself once observed that 'the social and political reformer has always to state and re-state his ideas, long before he forms that resolute minority, which by restating these ideas more widely still persuades a sufficient majority to [adopt] them'.7 But perhaps, through acts of re-statement, those ideas are ultimately finding their way into a wider social consciousness.

In Dundee, for example, the restoration of Gardyne's Land by the Tayside Building Preservation Trust involves an approach which draws on Geddes' philosophies. Gardyne's Land is a generic name for three buildings which group around a courtyard in the centre of the city. Two of the buildings face onto the high street - one is a tenement dating from c.1640, the other a Victorian retail outlet from c.1865. To the rear is a merchant's house dating from c.1560, whose first recorded owner was John Gardyne, after whom the complex is named.

Following a major feasibility study in 1996 the Trust began to negotiate to purchase the buildings. Eventually, in late 1999, it acquired them for £1 from the Prudential Assurance Company (the Prudential retained ownership of a ground-floor shop which was the only commercial return on the property). The Trust has now raised almost £4million (assembled through grants from the Lottery Fund, the European Union, Historic Scotland, Scottish Enterprise, and numerous charitable trusts, businesses, and private donations) and will shortly let a 20-month building contract which will restore and convert the whole complex of five buildings into a 90-bed youth hostel, a facility which Dundee currently lacks.

Following his own experiences, such as the Lawnmarket project, Geddes might well have empathised with the challenges and emotions associated with the Tayside Building Preservation Trust's Gardyne's Land work. For example, the demands of having to raise large sums of money, to cope sensitively with the inherent complexity of the historic fabric, and to find suitable and sustainable end uses to comply with the requirements of contemporary policy and legislation can be found in both cases. In Geddes' work, there are certainly hints at the aesthetic control of modern land use planning regulations. Moreover, he was also ahead of his time in the way he worked in partnership with the council to achieve spectacular results at places such as Wardrop's Court and the Lawnmarket frontage to Riddle's Court.

His interventions reveal considerable respect for the older urban fabric, enacted by putting into effect the vernacular tradition, while saving old structures by re-using them. His emphasis turned on the interaction between people and place - in the context of time. He anticipated modern conservation practice, which places an emphasis on the understanding of what is significant about an asset. Indeed, for Mumford, it was Geddes' interest in 'potentiality and purpose' that was among his most important contributions.8

What would Geddes have made of Scotland's turn to understanding cities, their roots, their life, their cumulative history, and their potentialities? With his pragmatism and eclecticism, Geddes, as a generalist, would no doubt have endorsed much of the contemporary search for inter-professional and inter-disciplinary working, which is evident for example in the recent review of skills in the built environment. His was not a fragmented vision. Indeed, Mumford noted, for example, the importance of Geddes' 'organic methods of thought and action… [which synthesised]… aspects of life hitherto severed, amputated, discrete'.8

No doubt Geddes would have connected with the analysis of contemporary political commentators who assert the centrality of ecological problems in prevailing political debates and thinking. Moreover, he would also have put all his energies behind the values which underpin practical endeavours such as Gardyne's Land, a project which seeks a realistic solution to sustain the future of a historical legacy for all our benefit. Such 'conservative surgery' surely represents the means whereby cities can be kept alive while retaining their original character. We can still productively learn from the past. n

Neil Grieve, Deborah Peel, and Greg Lloyd are based at The Geddes Institute in the School of Town and Regional Planning at the University of Dundee.

1 H. Meller: Patrick Geddes. Social Evolutionist and City Planner. Routledge, London, 1990
2 E. Cumming: 'Patrick Geddes: the French connection'. In F. Fowle and B. Thomson (Eds): Patrick Geddes: The French Connection. White Cockade Publishing, Oxford, 2004
3 Lewis Mumford (1947), quoted in S. Leonard: 'The regeneration of the Old Town of Edinburgh by Patrick Geddes'. Planning History, 1999, 21 (2), p.46
4 F.G. Novak: Lewis Mumford & Patrick Geddes: The Correspondence. Routledge, London, 1995
5 From 'Findings and keepings', quoted in F.G. Novak,4 p.25
6 P. Boardman: The Worlds of Patrick Geddes: Biologist, Town Planner, Re-educator, Peace-warrior. Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1978
7 Interview with Volker Welter reported online at http://www.hodgers.com/mike/ patrickgeddes/interviews.html
8 From 'Mumford on Geddes', quoted in F.G. Novak,4 p.26

The 'Ah-ness' of learning

In the third of three articles marking the 150th anniversary of the birth of Patrick Geddes, Deborah Peel reflects on some potential lessons from Geddes' work and thinking for critical learning and teaching

The current interest in inter-professional working, inter-disciplinary education, and experiential learning present something of a challenge to contemporary educators in terms of curriculum content and delivery.1 The demands of the knowledge society, developments in information and communication technologies, and the social reconstruction of professionalism are but some of the trends impacting on higher education.2 This changing context touches teachers and students, and learning and teaching, in a range of ways.
For example, the evolving 'blended learning' environment, bringing together e-learning with relatively more traditional teaching methods, is indicative of the perception that students are increasingly seeking appropriate on-line materials to support and enhance their access to information, and presumably their learning - 24/7.
It also reflects, for many, the reality of part-time work to support the living expenses incurred by students.
In the classroom, gaming and simulation using new technologies appear to offer innovative solutions to contemporary challenges for hands-on skills development in the classroom. Increasingly, students are required to maintain 'personal development plans' which shift greater responsibility onto the individual for identifying and filling gaps in skills and knowledge. This seeks also to ingrain a habit of lifelong learning and continuing professional development. In such ways, approaches to learning, and continuously developing 'appropriate' knowledge, skills, and values are evolving to provide students with relevant learning environments and a nourishing diet of study.
What then is the role of the 'educator' in this context? This article reflects on Patrick Geddes' role as a 'professor of all things general'3 and asks what lessons we might draw today from his thinking and practice.

Geddes - 'the student'
Born at Ballater, Aberdeenshire in 1854, Geddes spent his childhood in Perth from 1857, where he was educated at The Academy. Yet, according to his biographer Helen Meller, Geddes' father, who taught him how to tend a garden, was his first and best teacher. Indeed, Geddes asserted that it was the 'skills, discipline and understanding' involved in the caring for a garden that were critical to being able to manage the wider environment.4
Referring to his rural childhood, Geddes later wrote of the 'fundamental vividness of rustic life'.5,p.14 Such sentiments echo the wisdom of Voltaire's Candide that in order to attain happiness in the best of possible worlds, il faut cultiver notre jardin. Indeed, Cumming observes that growing up in rural Perthshire provided Geddes with a 'geographical and spiritual sense of place' that 'sharply contrasted with the tedious mechanical copying of state education'5,p.14 - although this did not, however, deter Geddes from a degree of didacticism in his academic career.
His first experience of studying botany and the natural sciences at the University of Edinburgh in 1874 left him disappointed after only a week. Rather than his preference for studying living nature in evolution, his studies required him to cut up and classify dead specimens. Context is everything - the theory of evolution was coming of age (indeed, Geddes met Darwin). Managing student expectations is clearly critical. Are there lessons here for how we seek to enthuse our students about creating liveable cities, and for the ways in which we attempt to regenerate and revitalise our communities?
To find a more suitable course, Geddes moved to London. During the period 1874-1878, he studied biology under Thomas Huxley at the Royal School of Mines. According to his slightly younger contemporary, H.G. Wells, what fascinated Geddes most was 'the potential brought by modern knowledge to transform society' and the challenge facing contemporary and future generations to manage their relationship with the environment - be that at a local or global level.4,p.3 Clearly, Geddes was already encapsulating ideas of sustainable development.
In 1876, he worked as Huxley's demonstrator, an experience, which, according to Cumming, 'illuminated for him the power of creative education using models to communicate and link ideas great and small'.5,p.15 Responding to the processes of urbanisation (what he then termed city development) and the technological advances of the late 19th century, Geddes identified the importance of motivating people to make the right choice. This was a matter that he determined as a moral issue and a concern of cultural conditioning. This hints at contemporary discourses of justice and equity.
Indeed, later in one of his lectures, Geddes noted that he wanted to transform the 'individual Race for Wealth into a Social Crusade of Culture'.6 Significantly, his particular perspective was informed by his training as a natural scientist, his understanding of cell structure, and his use of a microscope. He inevitably turned his attention to the social world around him.
France - convalescence and discovery
To help Geddes convalesce from a serious illness in 1878, Huxley arranged for him to work at the Sorbonne marine station at Roscoff in Brittany. This Celtic experience proved to be a pivotal one. First, it provided him with an introduction to marine biology - and his study of protozoa was critical for Geddes' understanding of evolution. Second, the working conditions of this educational institution proved influential - particularly its blend of science, community, and life: outdoor practical study and indoor laboratory examination of specimens, followed by social evenings of discussion and activities.
These experiences informed the style of the subsequent annual Summer Meetings of Art and Science in Edinburgh, which were held from 1887 onwards.4 Importantly, these meetings provided an international arena for debate crossing traditional academic disciplinary boundaries. This active inter-disciplinary exchange of ideas is central to many of today's debates, but perhaps we do not create the social, face-to-face contexts in which ideas might be fruitfully and continuously exchanged and nurtured.
Certainly, this experience of French culture opened Geddes' eyes to a different way of doing things (and Geddes was a fluent French speaker - another lesson?).

Geddes and community learning
One of Geddes' most well-known physical contributions is his so-called 'sociological laboratory', the Outlook Tower in Edinburgh, which he acquired in 1882. His intention was to create an observatory, as well as an 'Index Museum to the World' to act both as a local memory storage and a link to the wider world7 - thus classifying and inegrating local, regional, national, European, and global aspects of life. Critically important to the philosophy of the Tower is its focus on the art of seeing. Its objective is to create new points of view. At the top of the Tower a camera obscura enables the looker to hold the life of the city in the palm of the hand.
Writing in 1910, one commentator noted: 'We say that that we look, and we truly believe that we see, whereas in reality our vision is, for the most part, limited by traditional and undernourished horizons. No, we do not know how to see. … The field of our vision is limited by our habits: we see what we have always seen. … Professor Geddes does not hesitate to declare that books are largely responsible. He believes that we are mesmerised by books, and that we only see what it is that they want to show us.'8 Rather than the art of listening, the Outlook Tower stresses the eye as the principal organ of education and source of reflection.
A primary objective of the Outlook Tower was to encourage people to watch, to see, to examine, and to reflect - processes which, according to Geddes, first required the unlearning of what one already (thought one) knew. This represented an educational reform in terms of providing a new outlook on life, requiring that individuals not only 'see' the world around them, but also see the world within themselves. In particular, this required the education of the eye, in both its scientific and its artistic vision. Thus, for Geddes, the Tower represented an important visual synthesis of education.
A number of questions arise. Do we sufficiently stress to our students the importance and power of observation? Do we show? Do we teach them to look? Can we train the eye? Are we replacing books with DVDs? Do we provide our students with appropriate outlook posts with which to examine, question, and observe in order to better see the world and themselves? Do we know what to look for?
Geddes was active in a wide variety of social projects, and his thinking about education and self-directed learning also informed the work of the Edinburgh Social Union, established in early 1885. In reality, his approach to education reflected his personal childhood experiences in Perth and his belief that 'the child's desire of seeing, touching, handling, smelling, tasting and hearing are all true and healthy hungers, and these should be cultivated'.9 Indeed, his advice to teachers was not to 'manufacture a ready-made synthesis, but to make their pupils realise that every man is his own philosopher, synthesiser, moralist, art critic, and even artist and educationalist and so on up to priest and king'.10 Such child-centred learning and emphasis on people and place finds echoes in the thinking of educators such as Colin Ward11 and reminds us how we learn through all our senses.

Geddes - 'the professor'
While Geddes is acknowledged as one of the founding fathers of British planning, he first made a name for himself as a scientist. For a while, he worked at the University of Edinburgh's Medical School as a demonstrator in zoology and natural history. He was offered a professorship at the University of Dundee in 1888; a post he held until 1919.
Of his lecturing ability, Geddes once observed that 'I'm quite clear that I'm not a popular lecturer, having neither the voice nor the reputation necessary, much less both, nor the 'popular gifts' either'.12 But he appears to have been held in high regard by his students, as this comment in the December 1888 edition of Dundee's The College magazine illustrates: 'It is with ever fresh delight one listens to his bright conversational lectures - as remote as possible from the regulation dry-as-dust hour's note scribbling - sparkling with new ideas, new turns of thought and most happily chosen similies.' Can educators today aspire to that?
Yet, while his habit of 'wandering from the subject' may have proved entertaining for some, it was clear that some students had an instrumental eye to exams.13 Thus, in 1904, the Students' Representative Council petitioned the University College: 'to take under consideration the question of the teaching of Botany in University College, so as to ensure, as far as possible, that in future the lectures delivered on that subject, shall be more in accordance with the requirements for the Degree examinations than has hitherto been the case.'14 Clearly, it was not matters of assessment that were able to rein in the extrovert Geddes. Indeed, he had himself 'refused on principle to take examinations or stand for a degree … to be entangled in [the] formalities, legalisms, stale traditions, and tepid conversations' of academic life.15 What challenges there!

Teacher and students
Perhaps one of Geddes' best known 'students' was Lewis Mumford, although this was most certainly a case of distance-learning by correspondence (they typically wrote several letters a day). They met on only two occasions - in 1923 and 1925. It was not always a happy relationship. Initially, the young Mumford saw Geddes as his mentor and most important teacher, someone who prompted an intellectual awakening, while also offering an important intimacy. The impact of the older man's work on Mumford was significant, and he noted how Cities in Evolution had 'profoundly altered' his 'habits and ways of living'.3,p.5
Their much-discussed 'collaboration', however, was abortive, partly owing to their incompatible learning styles, temperaments, and habits. Novak, for example, contrasts Mumford's cautious, careful, and meticulous approach with Geddes' rapid impetuosity, whose copious 'morning mediations' produced 'disorderly accumulations'.3,p.10 But the relationship tended to the master-pupil rather than the truly collaborative. The 27-year-old Mumford described a strained relationship in 'The disciple's rebellion', where he noted his frustration and humiliation at being asked to set out on a blackboard all the graphs and charts of Geddes' that he had learned.16 Such rote and dogma seem at variance with the stimulation and excitement Geddes clearly also provided his students. Yet Mumford's experience was not unique, and 'this 'prodigious' thinker had not been able to enlist and retain capable disciples'.3,p.17
Despite the frustration felt by Mumford, he nonetheless articulates a deep affection and respect for Geddes, the Socratic teacher who conveyed more through his spoken than his written words.3,p.33 In particular, it was his talent for penetrating observation and incisive comment, his personal example and impromptus that attracted the younger man.3,p.33 For Mumford, 'Geddes the teacher takes precedence over Geddes the systematic thinker.'17 As we engage with redesigning curricula and learning and teaching methods, it is salutary to remember that personality and face-to-face exchanges count.
A poem published anonymously in The College entitled 'The New Education or Botany, 1905' captures perhaps a little of the Geddesian passion to which all educators might aspire. The following extracted couplets18 merit no concluding comment - but just a little reflection:
Forget your empty parrot-talk, your meaningless verbosity,
And let the 'ah-ness' sense of things arouse your curiosity.
Forget the silly notion that I'm here to teach you Botany -
And never come to me for facts, because I haven't got any.
'The more you know, the less you know' in figurative speech,
And the converse is the principle of everything I teach.
Away with dull scholastics and their round of rote and rules,
Better fifty days of Geddes than a cycle of the schools! n

Deborah Peel is with The Geddes Institute in the School of Town and Regional Planning at the University of Dundee.

1 N. Harris: 'Experiential learning in built environment education'. CEBE Transactions, 2004, 1 (1), pp.3-7
2 D, Peel: 'Dual professionalism: facing the challenges of continuing professional development in the workplace?'. Reflective Practice (forthcoming)
3 F.G. Novak: Lewis Mumford & Patrick Geddes: The Correspondence. Routledge, London, 1995
4 H. Meller: Patrick Geddes. Social Evolutionist and City Planner. Routledge, London, 1990
5 E. Cumming: 'Patrick Geddes: the French connection'. In F. Fowle and B. Thomson (Eds): Patrick Geddes: The French Connection. White Cockade Publishing, Oxford, 2004
6 From the 'Claims of Labour' Lectures, a series delivered by various lecturers in Scotland in 1886, quoted in H. Meller: Patrick Geddes4
7 M.W. Volker: Biopolis: Patrick Geddes and the City of Life. MIT Press, London, 2002, p.127
8 B. Faure: 'Le professeur Geddes et son Outlook Tower'. Revue Politique et Parlementaire, 1910, no. 190. (translated by the author)
9 K. Caldenhead (1992), quoted in 'Patrick Geddes: the French connection',5 p.17
10 Unpublished paper by Geddes, quoted in 'Patrick Geddes: the French connection',5 p.17
11 C. Ward: The Child in the City. Architectural Press, London, 1978
12 Letter to Lewis Mumford, 17 Feb. 1923, quoted in Lewis Mumford & Patrick Geddes,3 p.165
13 M. Jarron: ''Forget the silly notion that I'm here to teach you Botany': Patrick Geddes at University College Dundee'. In M. Jarron (Ed.): The Artist & the Thinker - John Duncan & Patrick Geddes in Dundee. University of Dundee Museum Services, Dundee (forthcoming)
14 University of Dundee Archives, Recs A/344/1
15 L. Mumford quoted in Lewis Mumford & Patrick Geddes3
16 L. Mumford: 'The disciple's rebellion'. In Lewis Mumford & Patrick Geddes,3 Appendix 2
17 Quoted in Lewis Mumford & Patrick Geddes3
18 'The New Education or Botany, 1905', published anonymously by 'Semper Idem' in The College, 1905, Vol. II, Jun. (University College, Dundee)