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Design Review: Volume 2, Issue 6 (May-June 1950)

Town And Country Planning

page 132

Town And Country Planning

By D. E. Barry Martin

Published by A. H. & A. W. Reed; Price 6s.

This is the first book on Town and Country Planning indigenous to New Zealand and as such should be read by everyone interested in the future of New Zealand and planning in this country. Both the virtues and the vices of planning are inherent in the approach to the subject. While the author's desire to plan for us and our environment is praiseworthy, his “composite-mind all planning team” fills one person with fear of an impending technocracy. Could we not have the “composite-mind all-humanity” planning team? Then perhaps we could be certain of the “I-thou” instead of the “I-it” attitude in the planner.

The author very rightly stresses the need for adequate survey as a preparation for the plan, and for the proper analysis of survey material as a basis for re-planning. Mr Barry Martin is filled with proselytizing zeal for planning and expresses an innocent surprise when he compares the urbanity of Europe with “the shack appearance which we unfortunately still see in New Zealand today,” and observes that “this is probably a hangover from pioneering days.” True enough, the fact is that in most matters we are still in the pioneering days, certainly in regard to Town Planning. If you want any proof of this reflect upon the fact that in spite of possessing legislation for town planning since 1926, only eleven schemes have been finally approved by the Town Planning Board during these years, although planning was supposedly compulsory upon all urban units of 1000 or more population. However, Mr Martin writes that “early New Zealanders seemed to be in a hurry to develop New Zealand” and goes on to berate our forefathers for their lack of planning. That unfortunately was a failing common to the times, as witness the results of the same period in Britain when some appalling pieces of town building were produced, much more enduring than our own and rushed up in just as planless a way.

The author of this book also disapproves of civic design (with some degree of justification) but he does not clearly define what the term means to him, but makes mention of “civic design buildings” in a civic centre. Surely the term means just the difference between our cities and the ones he advocates—planned or “designed” cities. However, accepting what appears to be his own interpretation of the term, he evaluates Nash's London terraces in such terms as “with their grandness and richness, but lack of pompousness in the house unit, and their ample ecological content (sic)…are truthful and inspired and possess no character of civic design.” I would quarrel with such remarks Nash's Cumberland Terraces in Regent's Park is exceedingly untruthful. In fact as John Summerson writes in Georgian London “…It is magnificent. And behind it all—behind it are rows and rows of identical houses, identical in their poverty of design. Where the eye apprehends a mansion of great distinction…the mind must interpret it as a block of thin houses, with other blocks of thin houses carrying less ornament or none at all. The sham is flagrant and absurd.” It is perhaps illogical then to approve of “vista control” in Brussels, for this is nothing more nor less than civic design.

One last point—reference to the Piazza Erlie should perhaps read Piazza d'Erbe (incidentally approved of by Sitbe as an excellent piece of civic design).

page 133 page 134

This is an important and timely book, because the hour has come when we must decide the future form of our cities. As Mr Martin so rightly observes, we already have the necessary powers and the responsibility for planning rests squarely with the people and their representatives in the borough councils, etc. This book will undoubtedly set you thinking about your town and will help to direct your thinking along constructive lines.