Genuinely sad to read of the death of Sir Peter Hall, the urban planner responsible for dreaming up a number of mega-projects that have shaped London, among them the M25, Crossrail and the Thames Gateway. He also came up with the notion of a new London airport in the Thames estuary, subsequently supported by Boris Johnson, which (despite the considerable wildlife impact) I support – because the aircraft noise in must of western London (including Barnes, where we live) is already insupportable, and likely to become worse.
I didn’t know Hall well, but my town planning M. Phil. at UCL (where he taught at the Bartlett School of Architecture, which was the School of Environmental Studies when I was there, 1972-74) and subsequent work in areas like environmental impact assessment brought me into contact with him on a number of occasions, most memorably on the margins of a TCPA event. He was always charming and stimulating, though I confess I didn’t always love his ideas.
The Financial Times obituary flagged above recalls that Hall once promoted a Detroit-style network of motorways for London, with elevated walkways to take pedestrians out of harm’s way. When I left UCL, I joined TEST, run by architect-planner John Roberts – and much of our early work was for clients like the Department of the Environment, focusing on ways to improve the pedestrian’s environment. Elevated walkways were anathema to us.
Still, such towering figures are allowed their glitches.
And there are other aspects of his life story that I found endearing, as I read about them. The Times obituary, for example, which is hidden behind Murdoch’s paywall, notes that Hall recently tripped and cut his head while in Liverpool. After waiting for two hours in an A&E unit at the local hospital, he gave up and returned to deliver his speech with a plaster “haphazardly” covering the wound.
When I was hit by a car driven by a Mongolian woman (her second day out on British roads, and I was in a cycle lane at the time) while biking through Olympia in 2006, I was ambulances to hospital, but had to stand around (I couldn’t sit with another set of cracked ribs) for nearly two hours. Like Hall, I eventually gave up, and with a palmful of painkillers offered by a slightly panicked nurse as I left, cycled home, shrieking every time I hit a bump.
It almost had me feeling that Hall’s segregation of cars and other traffic was the way to go, though in the end we are going to have to tame and civilise motorised traffic in cities in ways which I suspect would be inconceivable to today’s motorists and urban planners.