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Town Planning Review: COVID-19 Viewpoint Series

Now available Ahead of Print, Town Planning Review COVID-19 Viewpoints. With over 50 Viewpoints from thought leaders in both the academic and professional communities, looking at the impact of the pandemic on how we live, work, and play.

The Viewpoints will be free to read for a six-month period, read the full collection on the TPR webpage.

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We hear from the Co-Editors of Town Planning Review, Daniel Baldwin Hess, Alex Lord, and John Sturzaker, Policy & Practice Editor, Olivier Sykes and Bertie Dockerill, Editorial Assistant, about putting the COVID-19 pandemic into perspective as urban planning scholars react to a changed world.

What prompted the series of Viewpoints on the COVID-19 pandemic?

Planning has always been shaped by events as well as the evolving ideas and practices within the discipline. Twelve months ago, the TPR editorial team, and perhaps a majority of the journal’s readers, had never heard the term ‘novel coronavirus’. Yet by March 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic had spread across the world and changed many aspects of our life in ways and at a speed that seemed inconceivable. It seemed important to facilitate a conversation within the discipline to reflect on the effects and implications of this.

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Why is an urban and planning perspective on the pandemic important?

We are now living in a world where most people live in cities in urban areas. Some have even termed this ‘the urban century’. This is reflected in debates and agreements such as the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG11) and the Urban Agenda. As most people now live in urban contexts it was inevitable that many of the effects and responses to the pandemic would be manifested in such settings. As planners, we study cities, settlement patterns, social conditions, urban change, environmental conditions, etc. and seemingly every aspect of urban life was affected by the pandemic through, for example “lockdowns”, restrictions on movement and interactivity, and other safety precautions. It seemed important to provide an outlet for planning scholars to swiftly respond to this. Both to document the immediate impacts and to explore ongoing and future implications for planning – for example, to consider how cities might need to change in the future, and to reflect upon how planners could and should respond.

The links between planning and public health reach to the origins of the discipline. How has this relationship evolved over time?

Yes, it is true that the origins of planning as a profession are closely intertwined with public health concerns. For example, from the late nineteenth century onwards it was seen as being necessary to take action in response to the dire conditions of cities in the industrialising and urbanising global “West”. Since then, planning and planners have broadened their focus, over the course of the twentieth century, to encompass the wide range of topics we now see reflected in Town Planning Review.

To some extent health became one amongst many issues planning was expected to respond to, and with generally improving conditions in many places (often down to planning!), its centrality to the discipline was perhaps reduced. However, in the years preceding 2020, there was already growing evidence to show that planning was re-engaging with health concerns, principally around non-communicable diseases, for example ill-health associated with so-called “obesogenic” urban environments in contexts across the globe. The rapid re-engagement of planning scholars, and indeed the whole world, with communicable disease, shows how events and historical ‘conjunctures’ shape the focus and content of planning.   

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What are the main themes in the Putting the COVID-19 Pandemic into Perspective Viewpoints? 

The Viewpoints cover a wide range of subjects.  We have grouped them into a set of thematic collections across three issues:

  • “How is COVID-19 changing our cities?” – Issue 92.1 gathers pieces which for the most part, concentrate on the more immediate changes to urban areas which have resulted from the pandemic, organised into two sub-themes of “Housing” and “Urban form”.
  • “What are the impacts of the changes?”– In issue 92.2 the overall focus is on contributions which consider how cities and the people within them are adapting to COVID-19. Three sub-themes emerge relating to “Transport”, “Environment, food, ageing and health”, and “Social issues”.
  • “What does the future hold?” – Issue 92.3 brings together Viewpoints addressing the sub-themes of “Governance” and “Reflections”.

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Can you say a few words about the ‘Viewpoint’ format?

Viewpoints are a regular feature in Town Planning Review. They give the opportunity for a short personal view to be expressed on a current planning research topic. In our call for contributions on COVID-19, we asked for commentary, critique, reflection, and action-oriented recommendations. We did not know how widely the call would resonate with colleagues, and we were overwhelmed by the quantity and quality of input. Some responses came from old friends of the journal, and we were very pleased by that, but we also saw many from new contributors, and from countries previously under-represented in the journal – an under-representation we are working actively to correct. We have accepted 54 Viewpoints for publication, all of which have been made available online ahead of print, for the first time in Town Planning Review’s history. We of course remain open to proposals for further Viewpoints on this, or other themes, of planning relevance!

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Town Planning Review was the first academic journal dedicated to planning. How is this heritage represented in the series of Viewpoints? 

The journal has always reflected the impacts of historical and societal changes and contexts on planning. Today we can look back to past volumes to get a sense of the themes and concerns which preoccupied planners at different times. It seemed consistent with this heritage for TPR to commission a series of Viewpoints on the pandemic and its planning effects and implications. The Viewpoints in the three special issues thus provide a snapshot of thought, critique and scholarship about the world condition in which we found ourselves in 2020.   We therefore hope that they will be useful for policy makers, advocates, scholars, students and anyone with an interest in the future of our cities.  Both as a means of stimulating  reflection and improving practice in the present and near future, as planning seeks to address the changes wrought by the pandemic, and as a record of this ‘moment in time’ which future planning scholars and others can draw upon.

Bertie Dockerill, Daniel Baldwin Hess, Alex Lord, John Sturzaker and Olivier Sykes.

To find out more about Town Planning Review visit the journal’s webpage.


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