One to One with Keith Vaz

Wednesday 18th December 2019 07:08 EST

David Rudlin considers himself a rare breed of town planner who is old enough to have been taught the profession when it was done on a drawing board rather than the labyrinthine bureaucracy that it has become today. He spent five years as a local planner in Manchester working mainly on the redevelopment of the huge Hulme council estate where he also lived and where he also worked with a housing cooperative in his spare time to create a large development of 75 flats and workspace called Homes for Change. David joined his present company URBED thirty years ago. URBED is a cooperative and their work involves preparing strategies for existing urban area and designing new ones working for both local authorities and private companies. He has also written three books about planning and cities and most recently have been the chair of the Academy of Urbanism, a national organisation that promotes good places. 

1. Which place, or city or country do you most feel at home in? 

This would have to be Manchester. I arrived as a student in 1979 and immediately felt at home, despite it being in a state of collapse. I have enjoyed every moment since and am proud of the way it has come back from the brink, and most of all of its brash endearing arrogance!   

2. What are your proudest achievements? 

This would have to be winning the Wolfson Economics Prize in 2014. The essay that I wrote for this looking at how Garden cities might help solve the housing crisis won out of 271 entrants and achieved a huge amount of national coverage at the time.  

3. What inspires you?

I am inspired by cities and the way that they intensify the human experience. I love great cities like New York, Paris, Shanghai or Mumbai. Much of my work has been focussed on way that we plan cities the fact that we are no longer very good at this! 

4. What has been biggest obstacle in your career?

I come from a working-class background and was one of the generation who benefitted from going to grammar school and being the first person in my family to go to university. The only real obstacle however has been lack of ambition! I was lucky enough 30 years ago to get a job doing what I love and have never felt any great need to move on.

5. Who has been the biggest influence on your career to date?

I could name lots of friends and colleagues but actually I’m going to go with the writer and urbanist Jane Jacobs. Reading her book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities which was written in the 1960s completely changed by view of planning and the direction of my career.   

6. What is the best aspect about your current role?

Working in a small office where I don’t need to worry too much about management but can concentrate on writing and drawing and thinking about cities.  

7. And the worst?

It’s still a struggle after all of these years, generating the money required to keep the office going spending hours dealing with emails when I could be doing something more interesting!  

8. What are your long-term goals?

To keep on doing what I’m doing for as long as I can.   

9. If you were Prime Minister, what one aspect would you change?  

I would reform our planning system which, like many others, I believe is broken. Apart from the sheer inefficiency of the way the system works, the biggest problem is that it just doesn’t produce good places.  

10. If you were marooned on a desert island, which historical figure would you like to spend your time with and why?

I have just completed Robert Harris’s three volume biography of Cicero the Roman senator and orator who I really warmed to, I think he would be good company!

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