Sir Peter Hall, 1932 – 2014
The Guardian, Thursday 31 July 2014 14.09 EDT
Planner with a vision of how people's lives would change – and cities with them Sir Peter Hall outside the Town and Country Planning Association offices in central London, 2007.
Photograph: Graham Turner for the Guardian
The main concern of the geographer and town planner Sir Peter Hall, who has died aged 82, was the growth and change of cities. Britain's leading expert in the field, he was professor of planning and regeneration at the Bartlett, University College London, and president of the Town and Country Planning Association, where we were fellow activists, and the Regional Studies Association. In addition to research, teaching and acting as his subject's great communicator, he
had a direct involvement in public policy.
The special adviser on strategic planning (1991–94) to the environment secretary Michael Heseltine, he helped shape the vision of the East Thames Corridor (later Thames Gateway) and Channel Tunnel rail link (now HS1). He was a somewhat dissident member of John Prescott's Urban Task Force (1998–99), being uncomfortable with his colleagues' enthusiasm for the dense developments referred to by some as "town cramming". Peter was a member of the expert advisory committee to the review of the planning system headed by the economist Kate Barker (2006) and the Eco-Towns Challenge Panel (2008).
In 2009, he co-authored a report on future train stations for the transport secretary, and launched Sintropher, a five-year, €22m (£17.4m), transnational EU programme bringing together five regions in north-west Europe to promote new transport technologies, particularly for tram, train and air intermodal transfer, to assist regional development. His vision of clusters of existing towns and new garden cities to form new dynamic city regions in the north-west, the Midlands and the south-east of England won his team a commendation in the Wolfson economics prize competition in May 2014.
Peter was born in Hampstead, north London, the son of Bertha (nee Keefe) and Arthur. In 1940 the family was relocated to Blackpool because of his father's work in the pensions service; Peter was later to become the chair of Blackpool's regeneration agency (2004-08).
From Blackpool grammar school he went to St Catharine's College, Cambridge, and gained a master's and doctorate in geography. His first appointment was as a lecturer at Birkbeck College, University of London (1957), and he went on to become a reader in geography at the London School of Economics (1966) and professor of geography at Reading University (1968-89).
Running parallel through the 1980s, he was also professor in the department of city and regional planning at the University of California, Berkeley, where he continued until taking up the chair of planning (1992) at the Bartlett, where he was active until his death.
In an interview with Ben Rogers for the Guardian, Peter estimated that he had written around 50 books and 2,100 articles and shorter pieces. He reckoned that he had travelled about 70,000 miles for each of the last 40 years, studying and advising upon cities and regions.
Peter's initial perspective, like many of his contemporaries', was Fabian and framed by the welfare state constructed by Clement Attlee's incoming Labour government of 1945. That postwar political settlement included town and country planning, with its cornerstone being the nationalisation of development rights. The first of Peter's books to attract widespread attention, London 2000 (1963) argued for major replanning of London and the south-east, but describes the likely life of an imaginary future family in a way that was prescient. He could see, as did the American theorist Mel Webber, with his later description of the "realm of the urban non-place",
that we would no longer lead lives that were shaped so much by the design of our immediate locality. An article in New Society (1969) entitled Non-Plan: An Experiment in Freedom (1969), written with Reyner Banham, Paul Barker and Cedric Price, is a classic. It is not what may be expected – an essay against planning – but an essay in support of planning that mattered.
As former industrial cities degenerated in the 1970s, Peter produced a series of papers arguing that "we would aim to recreate the Hong Kong of the 1950s and 1960s inside inner Liverpool or inner Glasgow". Thus came the UK's enterprise zones which, among many consequences, led to the creation of the (ironically tightly planned) Canary Wharf, which was a direct challenge to the pre-eminence in financial services of the City of London.
Peter found traditional political tribes increasingly irrelevant, and told everyone that the leaders he had enjoyed working with most were the Conservative Heseltine and Labour's Andrew Adonis, in whom he found a soulmate in planning strategic rail investment such as Crossrail (not only 1, being constructed west-east under London, but his hoped-for 2, running north-south) and HS2 (from London to the Midlands and beyond, and 3 and hoped-for more).
At Berkeley, Peter was entranced by the effects that information technology would have on the way we lived, and what the impact on the planet would be. But his perspective was panoptic. In his history Cities in Civilisation (1998), emerging technical and economic innovations are interwoven with religion, art, literature and philosophy.
Peter displayed a lifelong commitment to Ebenezer Howard and the garden-city movement that his ideas sustained. Howard's book Tomorrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform (1898, in later editions Garden Cities of Tomorrow) set out his vision for small healthy towns contained by productive agricultural belts which, joined together by excellent public transport, could cluster to support the attractions characteristic of great metropolitan regions. Peter argued that, while large cities have their place, smaller cities on the garden-city model have enormous potential. "I remain very firmly wedded," he said, "to a huge new programme of garden cities." All three
main political parties have now moved to that position.
Recently, Peter had published a major revision of Sociable Cities (first published in 1998), a book exploring the enduring significance of Howard that he had co-authored with the anarchist Colin Ward, who died in 2010. Peter's densely illustrated, roller-coaster ride lectures on growth and change in city regions, including the case for some new towns and garden cities as the antidote to sprawl, were hugely popular, constantly refreshed by his latest garnerings from his travels and research, and given generously and often.
He was knighted in 1998, received numerous prizes and doctorates, and was a fellow of the British Academy (1983). The Queen named him a "pioneer in the life of the nation" at a Buckingham Palace reception in 2003, and two years later Prescott gave him a lifetime achievement award at a sustainable communities summit.
Peter retained his hunger for information of any geographical type and in any form to fuel his expanding universe of comprehension of the way people and places interact, their mutual interdependence and especially their separateness, their competition and compatibility, and their possible destinies and the consequences that flow. Early in his career, he was referred to as a surfer of information, but it was a facility that he turned to advantage. The extent of the connectedness of things was an abiding interest to Peter, and his delight in discovery and in telling us about his discoveries showed an enthusiasm that was both persuasive and infectious.
He was charming and popular with his students and those he advised.
In 1962, Peter married Carla Wartenberg; they divorced in 1966. The following year he married Magdalena Mróz, and she survives him.
Peter Geoffrey Hall, geographer, town planner and social scientist, born 19 March 1932; died 30 July 2014