on the beginnings of AESOP
image: the first meeting at Schloss Cappenberg
Transcript interview
Patsy Healy

Mariana and Neil: Can you tell us about the beginning of AESOP?
Patsy Healey: [00:00:00] Partly that people have often asked about that story. I think it's also interesting, and I'm going to perhaps start with an Earth was I doing in the 1980s? And what was I reacting to? I think. Let's get, first of all, a personal reaction to the politics of the 1980s, because it was when Thatcher came was elected in 79, and I was then at the Oxford Polytechnic. And I can remember one of my colleagues, Glen McDougall, and we've been writing on Planet Theory together, and she said she'd voted for that choice. How would you do that? She said, Well, well, I was just so much to the left. I wanted to get rid of the Labour Party, but really to make it so well, it was this the best way to do it? I puzzled and then everybody was absolutely horrified and thought this terrible Leon neoliberal project been introduced and all of that. It's interesting to think why was everybody so horrified, which suggests that the people in the kind of planning field, they weren't very much acquainted with economics or the discussion in economics, which was some of the feeling of a neoliberal project.

So they saw it as kind of the form a range from social democratic right to kind of the far left. They called themselves the new left, in that there were a lot of very radical Marxists and things like that in the 1970s.

So that was quite a lively period. And those discussions are going on. But they really very few people have been looking at kind of new classical economics and also the discussions that were going on there.

So it was even more of a kind of shock to be of a political shock. But one thing that I felt among my colleagues in Oxford Polytechnic, they were true that they had moved away from being interested in planning, as I understood, to urban and regional planning, about qualities of space, of place, about spatial relationships, and the importance of that and how you brought that into public policy. How you related what was needed to be done collectively to people's individual lives and their everyday life kind of worlds. So I thought, well, if everybody's just talking about how to fight the Tories, this actually is not kind of the way it was over politics, over focusing on the politics, which is important and power and all of that. But it's also we're losing track of, of the kind of on the ground practicalities of, like you were saying in your projects. How does the development project get produced? What's going to be the difference in the way in which money is being invested in urban development and all of that sort of thing? So much, so I was reading David Harvey and the logic of capital and how finance are the three dimensions and how it all flows into the built environment. Really revelatory, wonderful work. But in a way, he's moved on to lots of other things subsequently. But that was foundational in giving you a way. I was looking at the property development industry we were looking at. We had some research for government actually at the time, a very big project. They were interested in a project on the implementation of development plans. And so we had to recast that and say, well, actually because they were thinking that, oh, the developing plan says what happens where? And we had to say, actually you need to have a process view of this. When does a development plan influence development activity? So we were, I think, a bit of a struggle with that.

So all that was going on, and I was reading at the same time I was reading have been having most of that time I was reading Giddens at that time and trying to put these various ideas.

So I was beginning to try to put various ideas together.

So we were doing practical research, and we were doing a lot of and a lot of group research. I was working with the School for Advanced Urban Studies in Bristol actually at that time with Sue Barrett, Jackie Underwood, Colin Fudge, Murray Stuart. They pretty much all, sadly, some of them are no longer with us, but all pretty much dispersed. But we were all looking at kind of practical on the ground stuff, so getting around different places.

So that was all full, all very interesting and stimulating. But one thing that I had been concerned about, it seemed to me in Britain, although we sometimes read the American literature, we were being very myopic. And partly everything was about, Oh, it's Thatcher, she's driving everything wrong. Could you just have a look at other countries? And at this moment, rather than sitting there being horrified about what's going on, we have to think about. Okay, so this wonderful question, what is to be done? Okay, so what is it that Mrs. Thatcher said there was no alternative.

So we need to think about what are the alternatives.

So we actually need to be looking much more broadly. And it was for me, it was both of a subject critique that we were not looking widely at experiences well elsewhere, but it was also an intellectual critique of the narrowness of British planning academia. I think that that's what it was. It was either focusing on British politics or was it focusing on British practice, and it wasn't looking more broadly. I was getting interested in land and property development processes I was getting interested in. I think what we've now come to call discourse is narratives of how people talked about the environment and how they thought about a city and which is an A, and we have in England, particularly in southern England, a very distinctive way of saying very anti-urban strand coming into our thinking.

So I thought, no, no, we need to. There are other ways of thinking about these things. We need to be challenging that. So it was in that context I was sort of thinking about myopia, the myopic kind of spectacles, and then sort of two things happened, and I can't quite get the dates straight, but something around 1981 82, a group of Italian academics came visiting, and they were on a tour around British planning schools. They selected a few, and they included Ox Poly because we've been doing this work on planning theory, and we produced a book called for what was it called Planning Theory or something, anyway? Healey, MacDougal and Thomas. That's what it was. We got various papers and things, and so they picked that up as an interest in planning theory, and they were interested. They come from the polytechnic or digital arena, and they, they were sort of interested. They came around for a visit, and it was really interesting because they were similarly there were me and my colleagues. We were thinking about these different strands of theoretical discussion, and we were wanting to open things up, and they were in a similar position. They were wanting to open up the academic discussion. They wanted to get away from an overall over design oriented focus of planning education on what planning was about, much more process view. They were interested in the different ways we did things practically and the relationship between theory and practice.

So we had these very energetic conversations. It was led by Luigi Mazza, and they came with Franco Corsica and Alex Ruffini. That was the group coming from Torino.

So they came and then Luigi Mazza came again, you know, Sandro Baldacci.

So he's a younger colleague of Luigi about Luigi Mazza eventually moved to the Polytechnic or to Milano. And so that's so.

So if you want to know more about Luigi Mazza, but you can ask Sandro about future three you will be aware of. But anyway, the result of that was lots of extremely intensive conversations that we create. We came to this idea it would be good to have a planning theory conference. It was in Europe, but it was that we were trying to get anybody anywhere, particularly the Americans and the Europeans.

So we created this great event in 1986 in Torino, which was the Planning Theory conference, and that was a tremendous exercise in network building because that's when people like John first would come and meet. Luigi, met some colleagues and then other Italian colleagues etc., and John Friedman and Leoni, San de Kock were coming over and got into the mix. And who else? Cemal Mandelbaum. It's really sad when you think, then they're not with us any more.

So many of these people are Judeans, of course, who also had become a good friend of mine.

So we had that kind of loop and that was going on and that led to lots of interactions. And eventually Luigi Mazza set out what were the first beginnings of what became the planning theory generally. And so he liked to do things, but he didn't really like to carry on with them.

So they got handed over, and eventually it became the planning theory journal.

So there was. It was that good, that going on in kind of my sphere of discussion. But in the middle of all of this, though, I think it was in my breaking out from remember the British myopia, I realized this is a very interesting memory and I can't get the dates right. But at some stage in all of this, I got one. We had some master students who were coming to Oxford probably in the late seventies, and one of them was your guy, Gamboa from Mexico. Mexico City. And he, I don't know in what stage, but he invited me to go to Mexico City.

So I thought, Right, Yes, I think that sort of thing.

So, but what I remember is I remember the various discussions we had and wonderful helicopter ride across Mexico City was great. But the most the thing that I most grip or the most strange was that on his desk was a whole collection of reports and things about the Institute for Urban Development, the Center for Urban Renewal at Berkeley in the US. And I began looking at this and I thought, I have to go to the US, and probably it's Berkeley I have to go to. And I knew nobody I, I had, I don't know. When I first met John Forester, it was at a seminar in the UK, which might be 1982 on Rational Planning, which is published by Mike Perrine and I think, and Peter Beattie was it as a collection.

So I can't remember whether I went to the before or after meeting coming across John Forester, but I went to the U.S., I just thought, I need to go to Berkeley and I think lots of people from all over the world think they need to go to Berkeley, and they find everybody in Berkeley has gone visiting somewhere else.

So beautiful was there and Andreas Faludi was there. But no. Yes.

So all these people from other places were there. But the most important thing, and it was two things actually, I met Margaret Mayor who is lovely, met her two weeks ago in Berlin, who's who's been working on social movements for many years. And so, but she was at that time based in Berkeley and whatever it was. And I lodged in her house because she had a room to spare for lots of reasons.

So but from there, when I was visiting the department, trying to find out what they were all about, what were they talking about, whatever they, of course, weren't at least bit interested in. BE That's Berkeley, the strange people here, the whatever. But I met Judy Innes and that was really for me, first of all, the beginning of a very good friendship, an intellectual friendship. But Judy was very busy. She was very busy in institution building in the context of American planning, academia.

So that would just at the moment from the American collegiate schools of planning, we're breaking out of the overall whatever it's called, the American Planning Association, it's called. Now, it wasn't called that at the time. That had been everybody was in one big group, but the academics thought they needed their own arena, so they were creating what became a CSP, and they were also creating their own journal, which became the Journal of Planning, Education and Research. And they were trying to make sort of make a kind of distinct scholarly trajectory for planning academia in the U.S. But Judy was also heavily involved in the all the women in planning movement.

So there was a very energetic woman in the planning group. Anyway, she said, what she said to me was after, because that would have been in the spring, I think it was. We often had discussions whether it was 1983, 84, 85. We can neither of us remember. I think it has to have been the spring of 85 that we were having these discussions.

So I was in the middle of arranging this conference in Turin to sit in 86, but we were. And of course then I looked Judy in and John in and everybody to that. But but but Judy was what Judy says. You have to go to the next accept conference. You must not avoid it.

So I said, okay, Right.

So I arranged to go to that conference. I don't know how I managed to get oh, by this time I was dean of faculty, you know, I'd forgotten that. Yes. Anyway, whatever it was, I thought, well, I just have to go. Why? Why did I think I had to do all these things? I think John Friedman, the late John Friedman with whom I eventually developed a really nice exchange and we both I think he helped me conclude that I was essentially exploring. I was wanting to own as a new world. It was a new set of ideas. I need to expand my horizons or something. I think, you know, if I think about it, I'm always driving What is what are people thinking there? What is a different way of thinking? How could we think differently? So for some reason I was continuously exploring. I couldn't sort of stop anyway, so I felt I should go to What is this? What is this? HSP What are they all discussing? So I went to CSP and by an extraordinary chance, there happened to be two extraordinary chances. The chance one was that there was a plenary session on planning in Europe that had been brought up. And who was it? I can't remember who had brought it together. And there's an American Canadian name that I should remember that I, I cannot currently recall a and I can't get most of the name in there. Anyway.

So there was this panel, and I was actually planning to go to as well as go to some of the women in planning sessions and do other things that Judy told me I should do and whatever. But the there was a class concerned was going to speak at this event. And the other another person who was going to speak was Mike Batty, who you may have come across because he's very much interested in complex systems and jihadists and all those kinds of things and fact geography courses or whatever it is, fractal logics. But I know not for ages because he was a key figure getting around, even thinking very differently to me. But we sort of knew each other anyway. He was going to be the speaker, so for the also with class. But he got pneumonia.

So I don't know how he came to know. I think people do get pneumonia for working too hard and not taking time off when they've got the cold and then suddenly it catches up on the various other people I know who are hyperactive, who have got pneumonia as a result of neglect anyway.

So for some reason he knew that I was giving, how he knew that I have no idea. There might have been some gathering in the UK that enabled this knowledge to pass through, and he said, I can't go, can you do my talk? So I thought, Oh, right. Okay.

So then I was thrust into a plenary position, so and then so that, so that, so that had two effects. And the two effects were firstly that I got known in the US, I had to give an energetic talk and anyway that seems to I got known in the US. I think by that time I am quite sensitive to audience.

So I picked up a kind of the way you had to do it in a in an American context. But also Clarence and I met up and we got discussing and I can remember we had kind of both of us of thought we were the conference was in Atlanta, Georgia, and it was one of those enormous hotels. But we are completely enclosed in a hotel. All the are staying in the hotel, the conference rooms in the hotel.

So we thought there must be a city somewhere here. And we both tried to go walking around. And in the middle of that I've been back since and really is very difficult in the middle of Atlanta, Georgia, to walk around. It is a kind of city like we know, cities, etc..

So we've been looking to know where is this place, etc.. And we come back kind of feeling, we feel that this was really not coming to her. As Europeans, we're feeling very alienated. We missed this context, but so we got chatting, and I was talking about my sense of the myopia. We were reflecting what the CSP conference was doing. And he was also, of course, class, as you'll know extremely well, networks. I knew class already because I knew him from urban and regional development. He got friends in Cardiff with Jeremy Olden, the late Jeremy Auden. He was often at Cardiff. He sometimes came to Newcastle to the Center for Urban and Regional Development Studies, but he'd been very much in this urban and regional development lot who did actually have a bit more economics in their understanding as opposed to was in the urban and urban development, a much more interesting community action and all of those kinds of things.

So we hadn't overlapped very much at that point. But, but, but, but class was hugely well networked across Europe at that time. And he was feeling that things were too introverted. But he also thought that there was something some other, I think, clouded his view. I don't know, he probably said. But his feeling was that we were getting over dominated by an American kind of planning a discussion world, and there were a lot more interesting ideas that should be brought into discussion.

So he was wanting to say, we must get some of these interesting ideas that are going on across the European space, and we should do something. Can we do something so that fit in with my sense, an arena which would get over the British myopia and bring these together as well as the institution build well, the planning theory discussions that we were so, so we thought we had to do something. But I can always remember saying to class, I want to I know it was my strong feeling, which is perhaps why I remember it, I think, plus, I can't do this. We can't do this from Britain. We can't do this from an English-speaking place. This has to come from a much more from continental Europe. That's where the initiative has to come from.

So you have to do it. I think that was the case.

So we went on and reflected, and I think by the end when we ended, it took a little bit of reverberating around us. Class tested out his various networks, and he brought in various other people because he was very well networked, much more so than I ever was in these different European arenas that he was aware of. And I was able to bring in some of the more the Planet Theory networks and some of the other links.

So eventually the clouds brought together something which you must have seen​​ it in Schloss Cappenberg that you see in the photograph. Yes. Which we wish we were showing it because and how we were seeing it. That strike was about two weeks or four weeks ago. A class got to his 80th birthday and there was a special seminar, online seminar about his 80th birthday.

So we were looking at this photograph again. And yes, so someday I'll show it somewhere else and maybe in Berlin as well. Anyway, so it's quite a memorable photograph. It is rather dark, and it was snowing and everything, and I can remember that. But anyway, so that was said. That was it in January or February 1987. And it was at that that Andreas must have been there because he offered the first conference in Amsterdam in autumn 87.

So, so it was interest Cappenberg. We said, Yes, let's do something. And then we had the first event. It was having a conference was the first event.

So I think that's that's how it all began to come together, sort of. And by this time I was really heading into kind of institution building mode, I think about it really. Anyway, that must be the end of that bit of the story. We wonder. [00:00:00][0.0]