School of Community & Regional Planning
What is your educational and professional background?
I studied geography at Durham University before moving, in 1985, to the University of Sheffield, where I completed master's and PhD degrees in town and regional planning. I am a professionally qualified planner and a member of the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI). I was appointed a lecturer in the Department of Town and Regional Planning at the University of Sheffield in 1991, being promoted to a personal chair in 1999 and remaining at Sheffield until my move to UBC.
My academic roles during my time at Sheffield included being head of the Department of Town and Regional Planning and most recently I was seconded out of the department to work for (the Canadian equivalent of) the president of the university and the chair of the board of governors. In the latter role I had particular responsibility for the development of the university’s contribution within Sheffield City Region (SCR), including leading the team working across all sectors, but initiated by the two universities in the city and the teaching hospitals, which produced the SCR Vision prospectus titled “A Better Future Together”. I also for a period advised the president on strategic planning within the university.
Outside my roles within the university I was chair of the Economic and Social Research Council’s (ESRC) subject area panel for town planning for advanced courses and doctoral programmes, deputy chair of the RTPI’s Education Commission, and deputy chair of the 2008 UK Research Assessment Exercise Sub-panel for Town and Country Planning. I was the first woman in the University of Sheffield to be elected a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in 2010.
What other roles do you currently have?
I am currently senior editor of the international journal Planning Theory and Practice (PT&P), which is jointly owned by the RTPI and Taylor and Francis — a role I will continue to perform from UBC. We have an editorial team of ten, including editors based at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, University College Dublin, RMIT, and the universities of Cornell, Melbourne, Sheffield, Portland State and Dalhousie, as well as a practitioner who was the Secretary General of the RTPI and Deputy Chair of the Major Infrastructure Commission, and is currently a member of the UK government’s Advisory Council on Radioactive Waste Management.
Central to the mission of PT&P is a commitment to challenging theoretical understanding while also encouraging better and more effective practice. I often say that the hardest part of our mission is the “and” in the journal’s title. Theory and practice so frequently inhabit parallel worlds, to the disservice to the development of intellectual ideas and to our capacity to effect positive change in the world. PT&P has sought to put this mission into practice, most particularly through our highly innovative “Interface” section, which seeks to bring together academics, practitioners, politicians and community members to debate and explore an area of particular cotemporary interest.
At the start of this year PT&P was accepted for listing in the Social Science Citation Indices. What pleases me most about the journal's listing is that it is proof that journals can challenge conventions in academic publishing and still achieve the highest forms of recognition — something we fully intend to keep doing.
(Challenging conventions is a recurrent theme for me!)
Why planning? Did a particular person or event inspire you?
I had no lightbulb moment which led me to planning. I have always had an interest in places, and not just as physical entities, but as a backdrop which powerfully shapes people’s lives, more especially their options and choices.
While I grew up in London, I spent a great deal of my childhood visiting the North of England and Scotland. I first went to university during the early years of the Thatcher governments and while in Durham observed the effects of industrial restructuring. This included the closure of the Consett Steel Works and the bitterness of the Miners’ Strike, which divided not only communities but also families. I guess I thought something needed to be done to improve the lot of communities struggling to thrive in the context with which they were presented. And that’s central to what I understand planning to be about. Effective planning is about making a difference in people’s lives.
There is much cynicism in the world today, but planners are inherently optimists. Planning is sometimes referred to as the “organisation of hope”. We consider that together we can create a better world than would exist without planning. If we didn’t think that a better world was possible there would be no point in planning.
And then again, I recall as a small child I was given a make-your-own-town set, which included a base with roads and wooden bricks to build houses, shops, factories, etc. — so perhaps unconsciously I started planning before I went to school!
Why UBC? What do you envision for the future of SCARP?
SCARP is rightly recognised for the excellence of its teaching and research and for leading thinking in planning around more inclusive ways of delivering socially, economically and environmentally just outcomes. But more than this, given the deepening challenges facing vulnerable communities across the globe, it is crucial not just to generate knowledge, but also to focus increasingly on evolving the theory and practice of how knowledge can frame action and help facilitate positive change. Planners should always aim to be ahead of conventional thinking, pushing at boundaries and seeking better outcomes. SCARP colleagues and alumni, through their research and practice, have already made hugely significant contributions to this end, but there remains much more to do.
I have over the last decade or so become increasingly concerned with the way universities need to change in order simultaneously to achieve intellectual excellence and public benefit. It should challenge all within universities that we find ourselves at a moment when never before have so many papers been published, yet for the first time in several generations, the next generation is likely to live less long, be less well-educated, less likely to own their own home, less tolerant of their neighbours, more exposed to catastrophic climatic variability, etc. Given this context I am intrigued to find myself in the Faculty of Applied Science and am reminded of Jane Addams’s work in Chicago and her words from 1899: “It would be a curious result if this word ‘applied science,’ which the scholar has always been afraid of, lest it lead him [sic] into commercial influences, should have in it the salt of saving power, to rescue scholarship from the function of accumulating and transmitting to the higher and freer one of directing human life.” No one discipline possesses the necessary insights to tackle the social problems we face. I have for the last few years worked across university disciplines with local communities in a quest to find ways to support constructive change. So a good part of the reason I’m here is that there seems to be an appetite amongst colleagues in SCARP and APSC to grasp such an agenda, including commitment to the long-term partnership building which is so necessary. This for me is where the most important intellectual questions of the day lie.
What are your research/teaching interests and current projects?
I’m known as a planning theorist, although in the recent past I find I’m also introduced as a “planning practitioner”. Theorist and practitioner, I’d always hoped that would be possible.
My research interests focus on, firstly, how public policy interventions concerned with cities and regions can produce better outcomes and, secondly, how research can better support transformational change. In relation to the former my research builds on insights derived from ethical theory and concepts of justice to advance practical and conceptual understanding of the nature of effective judgement in the context of achieving transformative change.
In relation to the latter I recently led the N8 Research Partnership/ESRC Research Programme, “Knowledge That Matters: Realising the Potential of Co-production”, which involved a partnership of eight research-intensive universities and non-academic organisations across the North of England. The research programme was designed to take a fresh look at the way research is generated — more particularly, to examine how far better collaboration between academics and non-academics (co-production) can generate knowledge which is both academically excellent and has public benefit.
The final report drew on the findings of five pilot projects to identify the benefits and opportunities, as well as challenges, of working co-productively. It also considers the implications for higher education, and therefore includes a series of recommendations for research funders, universities, non-academic organisations, researchers and the N8 Research Partnership. The recommendations challenge conventional thinking in universities and recognise that innovation and change will be necessary if the latent energy and creativity of the research community is to be harnessed to best effect. An accompanying video was produced: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=II4A8jLXNkM.
My most recent research endeavour involves a collaboration with colleagues at Cornell and MIT, asking the question “Can we learn from our mistakes?” We surely must, if we are to tackle the pressing challenges facing so many communities.
What advice would you give to someone considering a career in planning?
Do it. There are few professions in which the outcomes of your endeavours are so visible and significant. Plan, with others, to change the world.
What is your favourite book/movie/album/food/sport/leisure activity?
I have been fortunate to live for the last 25 years in the beautiful environment of the Peak District National Park (in central England). Walking is very much part of my life. I like just to wander, whether short distances or further, I don’t need to have a particular goal in mind. I have also spent a great deal of time in the Scottish islands, in fair weather and foul. There are wonderful sandy beaches, with only the local wildlife to share.
As a planner, I guess you should ask about my favourite city … it has to be Glasgow. My mother and three of my grandparents were born in or around Glasgow and although I’ve never lived there for more than a few months it’s the city in which I feel most at home. By chance (!?) it was one of two case studies that formed the focus for my PhD research. It’s a city that has grasped the challenge of transformation from its Victorian industrial heritage, although much remains to be done if all communities are to benefit from the new opportunities. It’s a city with a people of invention, culture and passionate politics, and yet also grounded, with a strong sense of humour (unlike Edinburgh!).
What are you passionate about outside work?
The success or otherwise of the Scottish rugby union team and dark chocolate.
Any fun anecdotes from your time in the UK that you wouldn’t mind sharing?
I was invited by the Queen to attend a Royal Garden Party at Buckingham Palace in June this year in recognition of the work I’ve been doing in Sheffield City Region to try to improve of the lives of all communities. Such an event in many ways epitomizes the peculiar idiosyncrasies of the UK. However, I can certainly recommend the quality of the afternoon tea, including the selection of miniature confectionary and most especially the lemon tart, raspberry shortcake and the chocolate hazelnut slice. The question is will I find an occasion in Canada when I might have reason to once again wear the hat which was a requirement? You can assume that the only hats I have previously worn have been of the wooly variety.