Book Review: The Planner

After much hype on twitter, I finally got around to reading the ‘making city planning cool‘ book, aka The Planner by Tom Campbell.

In my work, I’m often asked how to communicate the distinctive qualities of a place that on many levels will then inspire community development. I’m a planner and my answer is always quite simple, focus on authenticity and deliver experience. To achieve this however, it helps if you have influence, if you’re respected, if you’re ‘cool’. I know many planners who have these traits and unfortunately Campbell’s protagonist, James, is not one of them.

James works for Southwark Council and in a nutshell, he’s not that happy with life. He lives alone in a small apartment, is intimidated by his friend’s success and doesn’t enjoy London, as a citizen or as a planner, “you spend your time describing a City, but not living in it“. So with that and the support of a ‘cultured’ friend, James sets himself a task – to give London a go, or accept an offer for promotion and move to Nottingham.

This is where the awkwardness begins. A journey of discovery in small satirical steps and events that continuously brake down James rather than build him up. This was not the ‘cool’ planner that was going to ‘save’ the profession and seems to be at odds with Campbell’s moving article on the importance of planners (a must-read). Why did Campbell choose James? Why not a Jane, a Jan or Janette?

The Planner did leave me with questions, perhaps more than I started with, and does balance well the planning jargon (the thing we hate most) with everyday language. It’s an easy read and in its attempt to convey urban living through the eyes of a planner, should be commended. Let’s hope it inspires others to write more on the topic, possibly even, explore the premise of what a character like James would be like if he were cool?

You can order a copy of the book here and jump to the Guardian’s review here (for a different perspective).

Also, have you read The Planner? What are your thoughts? Leave a comment below.