Emeritus Professor Tony Crook reflects on 50 years of the Department

As the Department of Urban Studies and Planning reaches the end of its 50th year anniversary celebrations and events, we thought we’d share the thoughts of Emeritus Professor Tony Crook, who wrote this for the USP’s main website:

As you know, I have been a member of ‘TRP’, as we affectionately know it (now USP!), for many years. I was Head of both TRP and of the Department of Landscape for five years in the mid to late 1990s and then went on to become the Pro Vice Chancellor responsible for academic planning, staffing and capital projects, a role I held for a decade. I have remained research active since retiring and still sit on or chair the boards of many housing and regeneration organisations, including the Board of the Royal Town Planning Institute where I am chair of its Education and Lifelong Learning Committee.

2015 is of course a very special year for our department as we celebrate a half century of research and teaching in planning at the University during which time we as staff and alumni have together created the best planning school in the UK and one of the best in the world. I have used the word ‘together’ deliberately because a good academic department is created by its students and its alumni as well as by its staff and its partners in the wider world.

One of the achievements that matters to us most is the way our alumni have all their marks in their professions and are contributing so much to making places better throughout the world. In my capacity last year as Deputy Chair of the RTPI’s Membership & Ethics Committee, I saw the list of the top 12 best submissions to last year’s Assessment of Professional Competence. I was absolutely delighted to see that half were TRP graduates. This is great news and shows just what an impact you are all making. I believe it also means that we at the University did our bit to help you prepare well for making that impact!

Class of 1970

The Department was established in 1965 initially with an undergraduate course but a postgraduate course was soon added to the offerings. This was a time of great confidence that the planning profession could help make a better world and the University decided to establish a new Faculty of Architectural Studies to attract the ‘brightest and best’ to a range of built environment disciplines and professions, including planning. It was determined from the beginning to attract students and staff of highest intellectual calibre and to ensure the fledgling department was strongly led and it successfully tempted Jimmy James, then Chief Planner at the MoHLG, to become the first Professor of Town & Regional Planning.

The Department decided early on that it would make a distinctive contribution to planning education, with a strong emphasis on research led teaching. This was because we were certain that what planning needed most was those who could think beyond a limited ‘kit bag’ of planning skills and legislation and who could shape the future and who could, in the words of one of our graduates, ‘tell a good argument from a bad one’.

First ever cohort of students return to the Department in 2015

Thus we wanted to ensure all our graduates developed an understanding of spatial planning in the round, not just its regulatory and statutory processes. But we didn’t shrink from ensuring you also understood the world of practice before you entered it and we were the first planning school to establish short term internships for both undergraduate and postgraduate students. We also wanted to ensure that we made major contributions to research that made a difference to both our understanding of planning issues and of potential policies to address them.Early on too we wanted to establish a strong international dimension to our work and to your education and that included establishing strong links abroad culminating in the year and semester abroad programmes as well as attracting students to study here from other countries so you could share in a global educational experience and make international contacts for the rest of your professional careers. In doing this we were determined to emphasise the potential role of spatial planning in helping to create socially just, economically resilient and environmentally sustainable communities throughout the world.

We were also keen to ensure that all our students understood the other professionals they would work with in practice. We were thus the first planning school to develop a dual degree in architecture jointly accredited by the RIBA and the RTPI. This was followed by a dual degree with Landscape Planning, jointly accredited by the Landscape Institute and the RTPI, and then a dual degree in planning and real estate with both RICS and RTPI accrediting it. We also have a dual degree with Geography.

So did we make a difference? Yes we did: let’s look at some of the metrics because from a small ‘acorn’ planted in 1965 and very big and flourishing oak tree has grown:

This year we have 123 postgraduates and 266 undergraduates on taught course and another 50 reading PhDs. We also have one of the largest staff numbers: 27 academic staff and 20 research and admin staff. We are thus one of the largest planning schools in the UK.

And we’re good, very good: top in the research quality ratings, top in student satisfaction, and top in teaching quality; we turn over half a million pounds sterling in research income every year; in the most recent national research assessment our research has been found globally leading, including its impact on policy and practice.

But above all we are making a difference in the world: you are making your mark in making places better and our research is targeted on making an impact in the world too.

Professor Tony Crook CBE FAcSS

Emeritus Professor of Town & Regional planning