What are the members of Spatial Planning & Strategy up to? In this series of interviews we meet various members of the section and discuss their work, who they are, and have a look behind the scenes. Today, we meet Roberto Rocco, Associate Professor of Spatial Planning and Strategy, and Gregory Bracken, Assistant Professor of Spatial Planning and Strategy, to talk about their newest publication…
We meet at the picnic-benches standing to the side of the hallway in the western wing of our faculty; steps of fellow students and teachers, a softly buzzing coffee machine and the fluttering of freshly-printed papers provide a cosy, informal setting. At 11:00 sharp, Roberto and Gregory arrive to discuss their newest co-authored and co-edited publication: Teaching, Learning & Researching Spatial Planning, promptly called ‘the SPS book’, that has been more than two years in the making. The book aims to provide a clear view of all knowledge, the teaching and researching, by the section Spatial Planning & Strategy. Roberto and Gregory are, next to the other co-editors Caroline Newton and Marcin Dabrowski, driving forces behind the publication of the book. “Let’s get interviewed!” says Roberto enthusiastically.
Writing the SPS Book
The original idea for an SPS-book comes from a previous publication, Roberto explains: “A few years ago, we made another volume which was more like a catalogue of all of our activities of the past ten years, from conferences to education, to research, to everything. As a sort of continuation of this we thought: ‘why not make a more academic book with our knowledge only?’ ” Gregory: “The intention was for it to be a kind of snapshot of what we do in research and teaching. Those go hand in glove, because we teach things we’ve already researched and now know about, but we’re also researching things that are new to us, and that will eventually trickle-down to our teaching.” “That was the perspective of the book: what do we research, and what about do we teach?”
The book consists of 19 chapters that can be read as separate papers, written by multiple authors. Teachers and researchers at TU Delft itself, such as Roberto and Gregory, have contributed. “However,” Roberto says: “we have more than medewerkers, we have our SPS-community: friends and people who work in other places, work with us very often, or worked with us before, who we invited to contribute. Our department is one big polder model. I just want to say that this book is the product of everyone in the section.”
Despite this large amount of authors, the structure of the book is clear-cut. Gregory explains: “It broke down very neatly into three sections. We are looking at concepts – themes and theories – like spatial justice; then we were looking at specific issues, using theory more directly; and then the last section was more pedagogical, on the teaching of methods. Now, every paper has the three components, but the first ones mention the teaching at the end, to show how it touches the ground there. The last ones show how the theory is a part of that too.”
Discourses on urbanism
The book is, not surprisingly, at the forefront of scientific discourse on urbanism. Gregory: “At the moment, we are defining what urbanism actually is, and it is quite problematic because that evolves. We are having open discussions where people’s opinions are listened to and incorporated. We agree to a certain extent, but there are quite complex definitions of urbanism itself, and then the various fields.” Roberto continues: “So, this book is our attempt to say: okay, this is our real sense of what urbanism is. Obviously, it can include more, but from our side, this is what we think should be there.” The SPS book introduces statements. “You can read this and know where people stand.”
Another discourse the book considers is the Dutch polder model. “We both came here and studied here, and were fortunate enough to stay on and teach,” says Gregory, “so we admire the Dutch approach and method. With the case studies particularly, they are looking at China, on what we can learn here that could be applied there. But also: what can we learn from other places? It is just, the Dutch are really in the vanguard in planning… so we are looking at transferable skills.” One paper, by Guus van Steenbergen, critiques the Dutch planning system and the problems it is having nowadays. Another paper, by Andreas Faludi, regards the system in a wider European context. Roberto recalls of Andreas: “He is one of the people, actually many years ago, that defined Dutch planning. It is certainly a product of this country’s particularities. We have an acute lack of space, and the space that is available is super-difficult to inhabit. So you have to plan. If you don’t plan, you can’t live here. The Dutch polder model, which is based on faith in institutions, collective working together, and constant consensus seeking, really influences planning.” Roberto philosophises: “What is this Dutch approach, in my view? I think what is also important and that this book demonstrates, is that the Dutch approach is also in constant evolution. People add to it and take from it. It is really based on this connection between planning, design and technology; it is about future-making, a future vision. A lot of planning elsewhere – and I don’t want to bad-mouth planning practices elsewhere – is based on regulation, zoning. Here, planning is much more concerned with future imagining.”
Writing more SPS Books
Roberto and Gregory are already planning the next volume in the future. “The idea is to have a new version every two years, an update of the book.” One reason for this recurring project is the fact that the content is at the forefront of scientific research. New findings, perspectives or changes at the faculty might warrant an extension or update. “It is possible that one of the authors says: ‘this is so outdated, I want to take it out!’ Also, we are asking new members of the section to prepare proposals, and we are going to include their chapters in the new editions of the book. A new edition is not going to be a totally new book, but an augmented edition with extra chapters.”
Another reason for updating the book is to keep the public informed, a reason both men value highly: “We don’t realize it, but we have quite a big platform at TU Delft. People look the TU Delft like: the ‘MIT of Europe’! This gives us the responsibility to produce content that is of quality, and to communicate with people. (…) This is a public university, funded with public money; we have an obligation to make what we do public. It is very difficult to communicate – that’s one of our shortcomings. We have to communicate better what we do as a section to the public.”
Finally, they hope the SPS book opens doors to new projects. Gregory: “It’s a lovely calling card for all the people in it, we hope people go: ‘So that’s what they’re doing, that’s really interesting!’ We are hoping that the book will open collaborations with other people outside.” Working and coming together, polderen, is clearly at the heart of Spatial Planning and Strategy; as final statement, Roberto concludes: “in the end, the message is about collaborative exercise. I think we need a lot of those, that we do things together.”
An official launch of the book Teaching, Learning & Researching Spatial Planning will be held on November 15th, starting 15:30, at the Berlage Rooms at the Faculty of Architecture. The programme will consist of a book presentation in Berlage room 1, followed by drinks and bites in Berlage room 2.
The book is already published online, and is downloadable for free via the TU Delft repository. A printed copy can be ordered on demand for just €20 here.