100 years of planning

An exhibition tracing 100 years of town planning in Edinburgh opened today (Tuesday 23 September) to celebrate the centenary of the Royal Town Planning Institute.

The temporary exhibition, situated in the City of Edinburgh Council's Waverley Court administrative headquarters as part of Doors Open Days, takes the visitor through ten decades of the Edinburgh skyline from 1914 to the present day.  

From the father of modern town planning, Sir Patrick Geddes, to the man who designed Edinburgh's iconic police boxes, Ebenezer James Macrae, the exhibition takes a look at the personalities who have made significant contributions to the cityscape of the Capital.

Providing a remarkable insight into the changes which have occurred in the city over the last hundred years, the exhibition presents the opportunity to learn lessons from the past. As Edinburgh adapts to the changing social and economic conditions of the future, Sir Patrick Geddes’ concept of ‘Conservative Surgery’ - keeping the best from the past whilst improving the environment of the city for the future - will remain an important consideration for planning.

Edinburgh was at the forefront of town planning many years before the establishment of the Royal Town Planning Institute, and the New Town of Edinburgh, built between 1765 and 1850, is considered to be a masterpiece of city planning. Along with the Old Town, this area of Edinburgh is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Councillor Ian Perry, Convener of the Planning Committee, said: “This exhibition provides a fantastic opportunity to take stock of planning in Edinburgh over the last century.

"Edinburgh is an internationally renowned historic city with a World Edinburgh Site and the exhibition is a great insight into how this has been achieved.

"We are in the final stages of preparing Edinburgh’s first city-wide Local Development Plan to determine planning policy for the next ten years and so the exhibition is very timely.” 

As part of Doors Open Days the exhibition appears in the Urban Room of Waverley Court on East Market Street until Sunday 28 September. It will then appear in various venues across the city over the next nine months including the Council owned and managed Usher Hall and Museum of Edinburgh, as well as Waverley Station and the Scottish Storytelling Centre.

Additional information:

Important personalities highlighted in the exhibition span the decades, and include:

1920s: Sir Patrick Geddes - Edinburgh is fortunate to be so closely associated with Geddes, the father of modern town planning in the 1920s.

1930s: Ebenezer James Macrae - Macrae was influential, both as an early adopter and promoter of the idea of conservation, and as the creator of large swathes of inter-war Council house schemes, numerous schools, and the iconic Edinburgh police boxes.

1940s: Sir Patrick Abercrombie - Patrick Abercrombie was an extremely influential figure in UK planning. Abercrombie’s proposals for Princes Street included the creation of three separate decks. The upper level was to be a service road with all traffic diverted from it. The middle level, in the gardens, to be a car park and promenade area, with traffic restricted to a tunnel a level underneath. 

1950s: Councillor Pat Rogan -  Rogan was a prominent campaigner in the move to improve slum housing in Edinburgh. He took Harold Wilson on a tour of the slums, and the future prime minister pronounced them the worst he had ever seen. 

1960s: Sir Basil Spence - was one of the most important and versatile British architects of the post-War period. He is associated with many buildings of the period including the design of residential blocks on the Canongate (1961-69), Mortonhall Crematorium (1967), and Edinburgh University library on George Square (1965). 

1970s: Desmond Hodges OBE - Desmond Hodges became the first Director of the Edinburgh New Town Conservation Committee (ENTCC) in 1972. During his 22 years overseeing the project, the ENTCC carried out over 1,200 repair projects and offered over £7.5 million in grants. 

1980s: Sir Terry Farrell – An architect, he has been influential in Edinburgh’s modern changes and was responsible for the Edinburgh Exchange District as well as designing the Edinburgh International Conference Centre.

1990s: Professor David Begg - Professor David Begg was a Convenor of Transport who promoted innovative transport policies in the 1990s. His policies included giving buses priority on key ‘greenway’ routes, such as banning cars from driving along Princes Street. Many people strongly disagreed with his methods, but they set out the transport agenda that is still pursued today. 

2000s: Enric Miralles - Miralles was a Spanish architect and graduate from the School of Architecture Barcelona, whose largest project came in the form of the Scottish Parliament Building. 

About the Royal Town Planning Institute

The term 'Town Planning' and its statutory practice goes back to the Housing, Town Planning, Act 1909 - which was the first Act of its kind to give local authorities the powers to prepare schemes for land which was being or was likely to be developed.

On the 11 July 1913 a provisional organising committee was established in London and an invitation was sent to potential members to join a Town Planning Institute. A first meeting was convened on 2 November 1913 and chaired by Thomas Adams who on the 13 March 1914 became the first elected president of the Institute. Today the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) has 22,000 members nationally.

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