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Our research focuses on transport, mobilities and spatial change and relates to geographic theory. It involves the analysis of transport policies, processes and behaviours that influence the movement of people, goods and information. This research includes all modes of transport, at local, regional and global scales. Environmental, welfare and energy questions and economic and governance dimensions are also addressed.

Dissemination of the Commissions work will include further books, research journal papers and journal Special Issues. IGU Commission on geographical education Documents. IGU working group on geography of transport Documents. IGU commission on changing rural systems Documents.

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They use five key elements: access to water, access to sanitation, structural quality of housing, overcrowding, and security of tenure.


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Using that as the basis, Table 2 from UN-Habitat shows the relative proportion of slum housing by region, worldwide, in For developing countries, the figure is 43 percent; for the least developed countries, 78 percent. This represents a huge differential between Sub-Saharan Africa and the rest of the developing world.

But there is a striking systematic relationship between the prevalence of slum housing and inequality of income rather than absolute income , as Table 3 shows.

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The UN-Habitat analysis suggests that generally throughout the developing world, despite rising per capita income levels, housing is becoming less rather than more affordable, both for owners and renters. But there are major differences between the least and the most developed regions: Latin America appears quite highly developed in terms of housing affordability, suggesting that the process of formalizing informal settlements has been successful overall.

Rather remarkably, most inhabitants of informal housing do not squat rent-free, but pay rent to a landlord. This suggests the degree to which there is an incentive to own.

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Table 3 Slums and Income Inequality. One important key for the people in such areas is to help them formalize their housing: to use communal self-help to provide the necessary infrastructure, so that they begin to turn their informally-built areas into middle-class neighborhoods. In countless Latin American cities, it has been happening and is still happening. In many eastern Asian cities, the approach has been different: the city itself has intervened to tear down informal neighborhoods and provide high-quality housing, first for rent, later for sale, either through public provision or, increasingly, by policies that foster the growth of owner-occupation, as in Singapore.

There is no one right way here; there are different paths towards the same goal. Vast settlements such as Ciudad Bolivar, Bosa, and Usme at first lacked water, drainage, sewerage, power, education, and health care. But they saw consistent improvement, in which the city authorities worked collaboratively with local inhabitants UN-Habitat , It did not fully achieve these targets, falling significantly short on surfacing and lighting of roads, partly because it depended on the sale of a telephone company that failed to go through — but it is nevertheless impressive.

The problem, as in so many other Latin American cities, is that though the city achieved measurable and significant improvements on key measures [1] , none the less poverty rose sharply from 35 percent below the official poverty line in , to Mexico City produces two case studies in the UN-Habitat report. But the resultant developments lacked basic services such as paved roads, lighting, water, and main sewerage. As a result, by the end of the s, only 12 percent of the area was still held in irregular title.

But the quality of basic services varies greatly: 63 percent of households have inside water supply, but 15 percent still have poor roofing UN-Habitat , The second Mexico City case study concerns the Valle de Chalco Solidaridad , a vast informal settlement southeast of the Federal District. This was an agricultural area, where in the early 20th Century, after the Mexican revolution, the land was expropriated and given to the peasants. But after the plots became uneconomic to farm at just the time when, resulting from urban sprawl, the land became attractive to speculators.

The land was subdivided and sold on credit, and between and the population rose from 44, to , Here too, by , 90 percent of the plots had regularized title, and major infrastructure had taken place. Even so, at that date basic housing conditions remained very bad: 78 percent of households had no inside water, 40 percent still had cardboard roofing, and 20 percent of households lived in one room UN-Habitat , The conclusions from these UN-Habitat case studies are very clear, and they give mixed signals.


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  • Informal settlements tend quite rapidly to become regularized, and their inhabitants to receive legal title, while services are progressively provided: first basic ones like piped water, sewers, paved streets, and street lighting, then more advanced services like schools, libraries, and even public transportation service. But the resultant provision is still incomplete, with different standards.

    As a result, the quality of transportation service becomes crucial. Here, too, there is a basic difference in approach. Some Eastern Asian cities have deliberately encouraged high-density development which support top-quality rail transportation systems — and some, like Hong Kong and Singapore, had no choice because they had so little land. China seems to be going the same way, as can be seen in Shanghai. Latin American cities, above all Brazilian cities, have taken a world lead over the past three decades in developing highly innovative urban bus-based transit systems.

    For this there have been very good reasons. As we have seen, rail-based metro systems have been far less developed, especially 30 years ago; Brazilian cities simply lacked the resources for expensive tunneled rail systems, and made a virtue out of necessity. Brazilian engineers took the lead in developing these solutions. But at their best they involved not just engineering but also planning approaches, since they integrated bus service and land-use planning. The central feature of the Curitiba system is a variety of services — express buses running along special bus corridors, orbital services, and local services, all integrated through high-speed transfer stations at a variety of points all over the city, and used as the basis of a land-use policy that encourages high-density development and redevelopment along the express corridors.

    The buses on the express corridors are very high-capacity bi-articulated vehicles with a total capacity of , more akin to a light rail train than an ordinary bus.

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    The comparative capacities of the buses on the different systems vary greatly. All are operated privately on a franchised system. Brazilians make over 60 million bus trips a day; Americans, living in a country with twice the urban population, make only one third as many. These cities are leading their countries in technological and organizational innovation, showing the way for other cities either to imitate them or to go in a different, equally innovative, direction. That is the path of rapid development.

    There are some important conclusions, therefore, regarding transportation. Latin American cities demonstrate that bus-based cities do work: they can deliver good service, with high passenger volumes, at remarkably low cost. But there is a basic question. Can they do so everywhere, especially to the urban periphery?

    If they fail to do this, is the urban transportation problem in the largest cities destined to become steadily worse? I want to argue that it will not, because of the emergence of a new urban phenomenon: the Mega-City Region. This is a pattern of extremely long-distance deconcentration stretching up to kilometers from the center, with local concentrations of employment surrounded by overlapping commuter fields, and served mainly by the private car. Aguilar and Peter M. Ward for Mexico City Aguilar and Ward Latin America is highly urbanized.

    In , in Latin America and the Caribbean, And these included some of the biggest urban agglomerations in the world: Mexico City, with Thus they are increasingly polycentric.

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    In recent decades, it has been observed that central city growth has slowed while peripheral growth has speeded up. In the Mexico City metropolitan region, more than half the population lives outside the central Distrito Federal, which is generally regarded as the city. In Buenos Aires, out of a total metropolitan population of 12 million, only 3. Failure to appreciate or understand this process has led to some quite serious errors. In the s, urban analysts incorrectly predicted further explosive growth of metropolitan areas: Mexico City for instance was predicted in UN publications as growing by the year to 30 million.

    In fact, almost as these predictions were being made, growth tapered sharply and stopped at the 20 million point. There were two reasons for this, neither having much to do with planning. First, because of obvious emerging negative externalities in the Mexico City metropolitan region, migrants from rural areas diverted to second-order cities such as Guadalajara and Monterey.

    In fact more than half the population of the region is now found outside the Federal District. Over the last 35 years, population growth has rippled out in concentric circles at steadily increasing distances from the city center, and the most rapid growth is now in the peripheral areas.

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    This outer zone is characterized by huge informal settlements like Ecatapec and Nezahualcoyotl, with up to one or two million people apiece. Very significantly, these settlements suffered from serious deficiencies in basic infrastructure three decades ago, but had largely caught up by the s Aguilar and Ward , passim. I will return to that point a little later. Equally important however is another point: these outer areas are not just vast residential zones. They now contain economic sub-centers that are increasingly important in their own right.

    And in this process, which could be called the increasing "polycentralization" of the metropolitan region, there is an increasing specialization of function: the more advanced or formal parts of the economy remain within the Federal District, even in its core, while the outer centers attract manufacturing and retail functions. To the north these are dominated by heavy, large-scale and high-technology enterprises such as metal and chemical industries; to the east, they are dominated by small-scale informal activities; in some parts of this zone, significantly, there was a decline in employment in traditional craft industrial employment.

    But there was also a notable growth of services and trade activity in this zone along major transportation corridors Alguilar and Ward , This process has distinct advantages. As jobs develop in the outer rings of these metropolitan areas, the burden of commuting can lessen.

    There is currently a basic problem with all these Mega-City Regions: they suffer from fragmented governance.

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    The Mexico City metropolis has 28 municipalities, and more than half the population lives outside the Distrito Federal. This last case is particularly significant: within the Curitiba metropolitan area the population of the city accounts for only 61 percent of the population — and is falling.

    And, despite the legendary worldwide reputation of the city for delivery of highly innovative services, the evidence from the wider region is far less encouraging: , live below the Brazilian official poverty line, there are 89, substandard dwelling units in problem housing areas, only 58 percent of the area is sewered and only 35 percent of the sewerage is treated. A regional planning authority, COMEC, has existed for nearly 20 years and has generated plans but no action, because it has no effective powers Macebo , In conclusion, therefore, the overwhelming need in all of these great metropolitan areas is for effective metropolitan governance across the entire Mega-City Region.

    Such regions are the new reality of urban existence in the 21st century. They are, as earlier stated, both the solution and the emerging problem.


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    • But they are also the Problem because this demands effective planning, powers, and action across a very wide metropolitan scale. Unless this opportunity can be grasped, the evident risk is that such regions will be characterized by a deepening economic and social imbalance and polarization, between rich central cities and marginalized poor peripheries. The signs are already evident.

      There is some time to grasp the problem and resolve it — but, perhaps, less than we think.

      Human Geography and Urban and Regional Planning

      Aguilar, A. Cities, 20 , Booth, C. Golub, A. Access, 24 , Hall, P. London: Spon. Macebo, J. Cities, 21 , McGee, T. In: McGee, T. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press. Skinner, R. London and Sterling, VA: Earthscan. Wo-Lap, Lam, L. CNN, 11 June The Fundamental Challenge The major challenge, for those of us who care about cities, comes from the burgeoning cities of the developing world, where there is a paradox: people are still flooding into these cities, too many children are being born in those cities based on the hope for a better life; but too often they are being cheated.

      Housing in the Developing World How adequate is housing in the developing world? References Aguilar, A. Return to top.