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How Liverpool planned the world
Aug 5 2009
by Peter Elson, Liverpool Daily Post



An exhibition shows how the new art of civic design was invented in Liverpool a century ago. Peter Elson reports

IT ALL started with a notorious libel dispute about – of all things – a bar of soap. Certainly nobody could have predicted the bizarre outcome that an accusation over the diminishing size of soap bars would lead to the birth of town planning in Britain.

Yet this is precisely what happened when a popular national newspapers alleged that William Hesketh Lever’s Sunlight soap bars were deliberately reduced in size while being sold at their original price.

A man only to be crossed at your peril, the internationally famous Merseyside entrepreneur and founder of Lever Brothers, based at Port Sunlight, sued the newspapers in 1907 and won a year later.

The damages he was awarded were the highest of any court case at that time.

Instead of pocketing his libel winnings to buy another stately home or build a mock castle, he donated the windfall to the fledgling University of Liverpool.

As a result, a century ago in 1909, the world’s first Department of Civic Design, which later spawned the town planning movement, was set up.

Perhaps this is not so surprising in retrospect, as Lever created Port Sunlight, the much-lauded model village for his workers.

Although his scheme can be cynically labelled “enlightened self-interest” to improve worker productivity, this beautiful village remains much sought after today.

Also, given his vast art-buying interests, Lever clearly had an aesthetic eye and took the best expert advice in art and architecture.

The libel money also endowed the Lever Chair of Town Planning, occupied by several leading national names in planning and currently held by Prof Peter Batey. There was also enough cash to establish the Town Planning Review, the first international journal on the subject.

To celebrate this 100th anniversary of British town planning education and its birth in Liverpool, the university is staging a special exhibition at its Victoria Gallery & Museum.

Called Making Plans: 100 years of Civic Design, it charts the origins, history and impact of the Department of Civic Design.
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Civic Design Centenary

The Department of Civic Design is celebrating its centenary in 2009 and is hosting a range of special events and activities to mark this important milestone.

Making Plans: 100 Years of Civic Design - An exhibition featuring the history of the Department and the influence it has had upon planning education, research and practice over the last 100 years. The exhibition is being held in Victoria Gallery and Museum, University of Liverpool from 3rd July - 28th November 2009, opening times Tuesday to Saturday 10am-5pm.


Future City: Liverpool City Region in 2030
– Capitalising on Cultural Assets

This was a special project devised as part of the Department of Civic Design’s centenary celebrations and was undertaken in association with the North West Development Agency, The Mersey Partnership and Liverpool First, by our postgraduate students.

We were asked to explore how the success of Liverpool European Capital of Culture 2008 might be built upon and to suggest what a global, culturally- based Liverpool city region might look like in 2030.

With radical ideas – like the creation of the ‘Mersey left bank’, new arts and sports facilities and measures to nurture the creative and knowledge-based economy, supported by a new public transport infrastructure, high speed rail links to Manchester and London and the closure to cars of the Birkenhead tunnel – it presents some innovative ideas for maintaining the momentum of regeneration in the Liverpool city region.

The Centenary Research Speaker Series which will be held in the Department and feature leading researchers whose work addresses a diverse range of subjects and challenges which are of concern to contemporary spatial planning.
These events are open to everyone free of charge. We look forward to you joining us for some stimulating discussion.

We will also be hosting the Association of European Schools of Planning AESOP Congress between Wednesday 15 – Saturday 18 July, and the Royal Town Planning Institute General Assembly meeting on 15 July.

Looking ahead to the autumn, a highlight will be a series of centenary lectures given by leading international planning academics and practitioners which will again be open to everyone. Alumni of the Department are also invited to return to the University for a special dinner. Details about this event will be confirmed nearer the time. Please refer to www.liv.ac.uk/alumni for information.

Throughout its existence the Department has edited the Town Planning Review, one of the leading journals in its field. The Review will celebrate 100 years of publication in 2010 and there are plans to publish specially commissioned papers focusing on the key developments in planning practice and theory since the journal was founded.
Source: University of Liverpool
 
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