News & Blogs

Community Planning Pioneer John Thompson receives Urban Design Group (UDG) Lifetime Achievement Award

John Thompson, has been presented with the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award at the UDG National Urban Design Awards 2019.

The award follows John receiving an American Institute of Architects AIA Presidential Citation in February this year, affirming his contribution to the architectural profession and his unique standing in the fields of urban design and collaborative planning and placemaking.

John has had a 50-year career as a renowned architect and urbanist, devoted to improving the quality of everyday life in neighbourhoods. From the very beginning of his career in the early 1970’s as a partner at Hunt Thompson Associates, John pursued a pioneering approach; first community architecture and then community planning, working directly with local people to create places that encourage social interaction and help nurture a strong sense of community, often in areas experiencing significant social and economic challenges.

In 1994 John became founder chair of John Thompson and Partners, now known as JTP.  In 1998 JTP’s multi-award-winning regeneration of the former Caterham Barracks marked the first time that a large-scale Community Planning Weekend (aka Charrette) process had been promoted in the UK by a private developer.

Involving local people in the planning process has since been written into English planning policy (through Localism and the NPPF) and is now a required part of every significant planning application, thanks in large part to John’s influence.

In 2006 John was instrumental in establishing the Academy of Urbanism (AoU), a not-for-profit organisation which now has over six hundred members, including the thriving Young Urbanists group. The AoU brings together the current and next generation of urban leaders, thinkers and practitioners to recognise, encourage and celebrate great places across the UK, Europe and beyond.

Throughout the years John has used his remarkable drive, influence and natural charisma to make a significant contribution to the lives of people across the UK and Europe. David Harrison, one of JTP’s founding partners and known as “Harry the Pencil”, collected the Lifetime Achievement Award on John’s behalf, and said:

“At JTP, with residential developers as clients, John persuaded many to adopt urban design principles and mixed use and even in some cases tenure blind projects, therefore adding vitality, diversity and much needed life to the urban environment.

John was unusual for his time in that although trained as an architect he had a passion for creating good places and saw placemaking as the core discipline in his work and visionary initiatives.

But what I think is the most remarkable thing about John was his ability to convincingly communicate these ideas not only to the hundreds of collaborators, including myself and some others present in this room this evening, but also to the literally thousands of so called “ordinary people” who attended JTP Community Planning Weekends at venues all around this country and overseas.”

The Caterham Barracks collaborative planning process features as one of the case studies in “20/20 Visions” along with this quote from John that encapsulates his philosophy:

“The essence of community planning is simple – all around us we are surrounded by people who have within themselves, whether they recognise it or not, a great wealth of common intelligence and knowledge. If we can tap that knowledge and intelligence we can enrich all the processes that we are involved in, we can bring about much better solutions and we can even involve the people in sustaining these solutions in the future.”

IAP2 Australasia leads call for 2020 to be declared UN International Year of Engagement

The International Association for Public Participation (IAP2) and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) are partnering to promote systematic, quality engagement of stakeholders and the public, to help governments and others who lead and design engagement processes to develop structured, well-planned and meaningful engagement.

IAP2 Australasia is working to submit a proposal for an International Year of Engagement and Public Participation.

To find out more click here

UK high streets need cross sector collaboration and shared Vision developed with local community for better future

The House of Commons Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee believe UK high streets and town centres can survive and prosper and their recommendations have been published in the “High streets and town centres in 2030″ report.

However, the report says that urgent action is required to stop the current deterioration, loss of visitors and dereliction that could lead to some high streets and town centres disappearing altogether.

The report recommends that there needs to be “a shift from the retail focused activities of high streets and town centres today to new uses and purposes which foster greater social interaction, community spirit and local identity and characteristics.”

Achieving large-scale structural change should focus on “convenience”, “place making” and creating an “experience” and will require cross-sector collaboration “with a strategic vision for the future developed in partnership with the local community”.

Change will need to be mainly led by the local authority, with the backing of local stakeholders and the wider community to redefine high streets and town centres and ensure their long-term sustainability.

To read the recommendations in full, the report can be found here:

Urban Design Group Event: Charrettes – best practice for 21st Century Placemaking

Urban Design Group Event

Charrettes – best practice for 21st Century Placemaking

Wednesday 06 March, 6:15pm to 8:30pm
JTP, Unit 5, The Rum Warehouse, Pennington Street, Wapping, E1W 2AP

Jane Jacobs famously wrote: “Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.” But how can communities most effectively participate in shaping the places they call home?

Chaired by Charles Campion, author of 20/20 Visions: Collaborative Planning & Placemaking this event will bring together four speakers highly experienced in Charrette and community engagement processes.

Evening programme:
6.15 Arrival
6.30 Welcome and introduction by Charles Campion, JTP
6.40 Individual presentations by panellists
7.30 Panel discussion & Q&A
8.00 Informal conversations and networking
8.30 Close

First conceived in the United States in the fifties and mainstreamed by the American Institute of Architects R/UDAT programme in the sixties, hundreds if not thousands of co-design Charrettes processes have subsequently been held around the world to bring communities genuinely into the heart of planning and placemaking. Despite the demonstrable benefits, there are still many architects and planners who lack the confidence and expertise to collaborate with the public effectively.

Considering these critical issues will be four speakers including Lynne Ceeney, Lytton Consulting; Nick Taylor, The Piece Hall, Halifax, and; Husam AlWaer, Senior Lecturer at University of Dundee.

For more information please visit:

Auroville: A Way Forward Charrette

“An open and collaborative spirit prevailed during the workshops.  People commented that new voices were being heard.”

Auroville was founded in 1968 by the spiritual leader Mirra Alfassa, the Mother, outside Pondicherry, Southern India as a universal town where men and women of all countries could live in peace and progressive harmony above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities.

Much progress has been made over the last 50 years, including the environmental restoration of the land, and more remains to be done to develop Auroville and raise the population up towards the 50,000 inhabitants originally envisioned.

Beginning on 7 January 2019, Auroville’s town planning and development research organisation l’Avenir and an international team led by Andreas von Zadow facilitated the “Auroville: A Way Forward” charrette to work out baselines for Auroville’s next decades and develop a Way Forward Strategy reflecting on:

  • Mother Mirra Alfassa’s vision and unlocking its potential
  • Fresh ideas for healthy and sustainable placemaking
  • Challenges of decision making within a unique self-governance concept
  • Capacity building at l‘Avenir to improve services and outputs

The charrette team included:
Von Zadow International
Dreiseitl Consulting
Eble Messerschmidt Partner

Charrette team member Clare San Martin from JTP tells the story below.

Auroville’s January co-design sessions were an opportunity for the community to consider the difficult issues that have stalled growth and development in recent years and to explore ideas for the way forward. I was privileged to participate as part of the international team facilitating workshops and presenting our work. Over the 7 days of the Charrette I got to know many inspirational people committed to realising the utopian dream of The Mother, the city’s founder.

Over 130 people attended the workshops with a dedicated core of around 60 people participating in all sessions and continuing to work with the visiting team right up to the final presentation, in the true spirit of a charrette.

Much has been achieved in the 50 years since Auroville’s founding. The Matrimandir, a huge, gold-clad meditation centre set in lush gardens, has been built at the centre of the planned city. Large areas of forest have been re-established to halt soil erosion and people have built their lives around a community centred, eco-friendly lifestyle with a focus on unending education. But Aurovillians complained of a growing lack of unity since the completion of the great project of the Matrimandir which bound them together with a common purpose.

Workshops focused on how to re-establish unity as well as; how to address the pressing issue of water shortage through landscape design; potentially re-casting the city plan to reflect more environmentally friendly building types; integrating small scale agriculture; developing education including links with international universities; developing a better tourism strategy, and; widening participation in planning, particularly amongst younger people. There was also much discussion about the need for Auroville to work more closely with the Tamil villages in the bioregion to jointly tackle issues such as water conservation, ground pollution and transport.

A major success of the sessions was consensus on a pilot project to create a shared recreational green space for Tamils and Aurovillians as well as addressing a number of other issues. A concept design developed during the ‘Hands on Planning’ co-design sessions demonstrated how an integrated approach could allow the Tamils to sustainably expand their village, incorporate water management and create a sustainable transport circuit using electric vehicles to benefit tourists and residents alike.

An open and collaborative spirit prevailed during the workshops.  People commented that new voices were being heard. Honest and sometimes uncomfortable discussions took place, which seemed to move towards unblocking the way to progress, but the issues are complex and only time will tell whether the seeds planted at the January sessions will take root and flourish. I will certainly keep in touch and be willing to follow up with advice if asked.