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Today, we pose questions based on Vodaphone’s world headquarters in Newbury (and the “Shaw Valley” housing development next door). Post-pandemic, will what is now empty-or under construction-remain? As Sustaining a City’s Culture and Character implies, these questions don’t have ready answers. They require careful assessment and review of corporate productivity policies, what is best for the environment, and much more.

This episode has two inspirations. The first is recent announcements by other technology companies that post-pandemic, working from home will be much more commonplace. The second is housing patterns that sprawl into idyllic environments-will they continue or alter in form?


Like idiomatic phrases that say similar things in a variety of languages, urban environments are customized adaptations to different conditions. Sustaining culture and character is more than a black or white proposition. It requires a careful blend that depends on local circumstances, meticulous research, and self-knowledge.

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Whatever our role in managing urban change, we must remain mindful of the underlying context of the place at hand. Place-specific considerations suggest the inadequacy of a “one-size-fits-all” mindset. Priority and process may vary based on ethnicity, national heritage, generation, or profession. It is not just a question of whether “what worked there will work here,” but the existence of different mechanisms for resolving issues of social justice and change.

A wealth of materials-conferences, studies, books, articles, renderings, installations, policies, plans, and regulations-help define the local context and relative role of core issues relating to cities and places. …


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Today, in Episode 12, we say goodbye to a busy book launch week with a simple proposition. We may (as is the current case in the United Kingdom) speak regularly about the need for well-designed, quality housing, with a green component to provide for beauty and public health. But as Sustaining a City’s Culture and Character might suggest, we should ask whether blind adherence to these principles may neglect other key livability issues.

In the project profiled today, notice how the buildings emulate the 1823 crescent housing across the adjacent road. Open space remains. We see a mixture of housing…


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Today, we celebrate Book Launch Day for Sustaining a City’s Culture and Character. This book focuses on the culture and character of one city compared to another, how we distinguish and change urban places, and the actors involved. Please join collaborator Dr. Tigran Haas and me as we discuss the book’s background and evolution.

Tigran is the Director of the Centre for the Future of Places at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. Since 2017, the Centre has been my home away from home, and a venue to merge and contrast practical experiences with complex, interdisciplinary points of view.


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As we emerge from the pandemic, why center only on architectural compatibility or placemaking listicles? Why not admit the common adage, that the city-and its places-are a stage? As Futurecity Ltd cultural strategist Sherry Dobbin advises, the stage should be choreographed based on a comprehensive analysis of stakeholders’ fantasies and fears.

I tout Sherry’s approach in Sustaining a City’s Culture and Character, and I consulted with her several times in 2019 and 2020 to help refine the book’s key messaging. Google Sherry and learn of her precedent-setting Times Square experience facilitating arts and culture in a reclaimed pedestrian place. …


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Rob Cowan is a one-stop-shop for an understanding of place, and the associated role of urban design. Today, we talk about his many contributions to urbanism in the United Kingdom, including cartoons, words, training, and methodologies. These contributions played a big part in the practical sections of Sustaining a City’s Culture and Character.

His website succinctly summarizes his contributions to the field. They include The Dictionary of Urbanism and national urban design guidance, as well as editor, cartoonist, illustrator, and speaker.

In the video, we discuss Rob’s pending urban design primer (Essential Urban Design, RIBA Publishing, 2021), and his…


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Today, in Episode 8, I depart from recent episodes built around interviews. Rather, I offer a contemplative walk to a local setting that seems even more powerful in these strange times. This episode continues with themes of context and the embedded history of local places, but I find surprising relevance in the location and purpose of a sacred well.

Die-hard urbanists may wonder why, in this episode, I visit an ancient “lady well” along an equally historic path between rivers in the Village of Speen. While this video venue is not covered in Sustaining a City’s Culture and Character, the…


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Why sustain the status quo if it’s not good enough? After reconnecting with my friend, thought leader Dr. Tia Kansara, I’m even more fascinated with the capacity of our imagination to envision new forms of space and place. And I’m wondering if our book title should have been Replenishing a City’s Culture and Character.

Dr. Kansara is director of Replenish.Earth Ltd and long-time co-director of Kansara Hackney Ltd, the first ISO-certified sustainable lifestyle consultancy in the world. She’s traveled to over 80 countries to share the World Replenish Index. …


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In this episode of Place Parts, we expand upon the role of “context keys” and authenticity” with Dr. Katherine Loflin, long-time consultant (the City Doctor), researcher, and producer of place-based community theater. Her career has significantly evolved from a principal role in the Knight Foundation’s Soul of the Community project. I first interviewed Loflin for an Atlantic article in 2011, about her weekly American radio show on placemaking ideas.

Sustaining a City’s Culture and Character looks behind tangible culture and character to the home and the everyday. Loflin has taken this idea to heart. Rather than indulge in more data…

Chuck Wolfe

Author Charles R. Wolfe founded the London-based Seeing Better Cities Group to improve the conversation around how cities grow and evolve across the world.

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