The epidemics behind urban planning: The welfare state

Bruno Taut’s “Waldsiedlung Zehlendorf, Berlin”. Photo by Gyxmz – own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31676705

by Prof Ares Kalandides

This is the second and last part of the blog post on the epidemics behind urban planning, Part 1 examined the origins of urban planning in the 19th century, and how the fear of epidemics and the social unrest which would ensue from them, shaped cities in Western Europe and North America. You can read Part 1 following this link.


By the early twentieth century, housing conditions for people of the working classes had once again become appalling in most cities of the industrialized north. In 1902 the Dutch government decided to pass a housing act containing several provisions to address this crisis. Among others, city authorities were to develop building codes setting quality standards for construction, while cities with over 10,000 inhabitants were to develop an expansion plan indicating different housing zones. In terms of housing provision, the act gave municipalities the right to provide financial support to non-for-profit housing associations that worked in the field of public housing. Following the act, Amsterdam’s social-democratic government commissioned the architect Hendrik Berlage with the design for an expansion plan of Amsterdam’s South (Amsterdam Zuid) and provided subsidies to housing associations even into World War I, when private construction had come to a halt.  The plan for Amsterdam Zuid is for a city where green permeates everything, the vast courtyards, the streets and squares. Housing and retail are largely separated and – underpinning the form – there is a political conviction that even lower classes deserve adequate, affordable housing and the role of the state is to provide it.

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The epidemics behind urban planning: The foundations

Hobrecht Plan

By Prof Ares Kalandides

In 1862 in Berlin, the building engineer James Hobrecht undertook the design of a ‘development plan for Berlin’s surroundings,’ today known simply as the ‘Hobrecht Plan’. Hobrecht was part of a broader Berlin movement, which, starting in the mid-nineteenth century and following several epidemics of cholera, believed in the role of central planning in sustaining and improving public health. Politicians such as medical doctor Rudolf Virchow (1821–1902) considered contemporary sewerage, like that already seen in parts of England, to be indispensable for the improvement of public health in the capital. Whereas Hobrecht is mostly remembered for the 1862 Berlin development plan, undoubtedly one of his major contributions is the modernization of the sewerage system.

The ‘Hobrecht Plan’ provided the outline for the development of a big part of Berlin and it is still visible today in large areas of the inner city. It was the first complete street plan for an expansion of the built-up area inside the municipal borders, with the main goal to provide a street pattern for predominantly agricultural areas around the existing city that were to be designated for construction, providing housing for Berlin’s exploding population.

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Place management and housing: Insights and future directions

Housing in Ancoats, Manchester. Photo by Matt from Manchester, England – Flash Ancoats, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3549444

by James Scott Vandeventer, Tom Hindmarch and Steve Millington

The ‘Transforming Places from the Inside Out’ conference, sponsored by One Manchester (an IPM Partner), took place at The Studio in Manchester’s Northern Quarter on the 18th November 2019. The conference included talks from a host of experts, including IPM’s own Dr Steve Millington, as well as discussions with social housing providers and other stakeholders. The day centred on the challenges and opportunities the social housing sector faces as it increasingly adopts a place focus. Throughout, a fruitful dialogue about the intersection of place and housing generated a palpable sense that the emerging housing-place nexus is here to stay, and highlighted some areas that place management can contribute to thinking about place in the housing sector moving forward.

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Short-term holiday flat rental in Athens

Athens. Image by Iason Athanassiadis via Apartment in Athens

By Prof Ares Kalandides

Finding an affordable flat to rent in Athens has recently turned into an almost impossible affair. In the past five years, rents in the Greek capital have risen sharply, whilst at the same time period real wages have collapsed. One of the many possible causes behind the scarcity of rental space is the transformation of dwellings into short-term holiday flats. Airbnb is not the only provider, but definitely the largest and most iconic one.

Indeed, in the centre of Athens alone, the number of listings on the platform rose from 1,500 in 2014 to 7,500 two years later, and up to 16,000 by June 2018[1]. These flats are not distributed evenly in the city, but affect certain areas more heavily (Plaka, Thisio, Koukaki, Exarcheia). In 2016, Koukaki featured as number 5 of Airbnb’s sixteen recommended neighbourhoods worldwide[2] causing residents to form an association in order to stop their displacement. A recent law has made attempts to regulate the development: limits to the rental period (max. 90 days a year); the prohibition to rent out more than one flat under the same tax number (and thus avoid businesses with multi-site rentals); and a progressive tax system for income from short-term rentals.

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How social landlords could hold the key to transforming places


View of One Manchester properties on the edge of the city centre

Guest article by Tom Bassford*

I work in a sector that’s committed to making places better; we own 3.9 million properties across England and provide homes to 17% of all households[1].  We built 26% of all new homes across the country last year[2]. And we reinvest all our profits in homes and communities.

Despite having many shared objectives, the social housing sector has had little to do with the Institute of Place Management – until now.

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Does housing financialisation deliver a viable economy for Greater Manchester?

By Rtype909 [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
by James Scott Vandeventer*

Manchester’s skyline is changing. Fast. While the dominant narrative is that dozens of the buildings transforming this skyline aim to provide more housing in the city centre, the recent report From Homes to Assets: Housing financialisation in Greater Manchester by Dr Jonathan Silver makes clear that these housing developments are overwhelmingly driven by financial institutions and actors who have identified Greater Manchester’s urban core as an attractive site for investment. Indeed, the primary function of these developments is financial speculation. We are witnessing the process of housing financialisation in Greater Manchester. For those concerned about the wellbeing and prosperity of the people living in Greater Manchester, as we are at Steady State Manchester, this poses the question: Does housing financialisation deliver a viable economy?

What is a viable economy?

As we at Steady State Manchester describe in our 2014 report The Viable Economy and in other publications, a viable economy is predicated on a shift in political decisions and societal actions away from the growth-driven instrumental rationality of neoliberal capitalism. Instead, a viable economy demonstrates greater resilience, localisation, and balance as economic activity is treated not an end in itself, but rather as a means to deliver a sufficiently prosperous future without growth. Further, a viable economy subordinates the economic system to the control of society, and organises around cultural attitudes favouring equality, solidarity and cooperation. Finally, a viable economy recognises the finite nature of ecological resources and embraces an ethic of stewardship by minimising imbalances to the planetary systems – including the climate, biodiversity, and nitrogen and phosphorous cycles – upon which human life depends.

“Housing financialisation treats housing as an asset that can, should, and must, generate profit.”

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