Peter Hall

2005 Balzan Prize for The Social and Cultural History of Cities since the Beginning of the 16th Century

For his unique contribution to the history of ideas about urban planning, his acute analysis of the physical, social, and economic problems of modern cities, and his powerful historical investigations into the cultural creativity of city life.

Peter Hall (*1932 – †2014) is a geographer who has devoted his life to the study of the world’s cities from every angle – economic, demographic, cultural and managerial. He has analysed the relentless growth of urban populations and their increasing concentration in huge metropolitan areas. He has examined the resulting problems of congestion, overcrowding, transportation and delinquency, and he has made penetrating studies of the different solutions which have been offered by generations of urban planners. Himself a vigorous practitioner in the planning process, he has been an influential commentator on contemporary developments and adviser to governments and international agencies.

He is particularly associated with the concept of the Enterprise Zone, the idea, which has been adopted worldwide, that urban decline can be averted by demarcating derelict areas in cities and permitting them to be thrown open to entrepreneurial initiative.
As an urban planner, he is unique in approaching the subject from the widest possible historical and geographical perspective. He has studied the problems of the world’s greatest cities; he has written authoritative surveys of the development of ideas about planning in modern times; and he is the author of a remarkable historical study which analyses the roots of urban creativity since the 5th century B.C.
Peter Hall has written and edited nearly forty books, some of them translated into many languages. Of those devoted to contemporary problems of urban planning in the UK, Europe and the USA, the most notable is The Containment of Urban England (1973), an analysis of the British town and country planning system, based on a formidable amount of statistical research. It focuses on the processes of urban growth in England and Wales since World War II and describes how the planning movement tried to contain and guide it. It shows that the planners successfully contained the growth of urban areas and resisted Megalopolis, by averting the physical coalescence of cities and towns, but that in the process they inadvertently encouraged suburbanization and a growing separation of home and work. By restricting the supply of building land, they had forced up the price of land and property and diminished the quality of the housing provided.

Another of Peter Hall’s distinctive achievements is to have charted the history of modern attempts to shape and control the development of the city. Sociable Cities (1998), written with another author, is a penetrating analysis of the legacy of Ebenezer Howard, whose Garden Cities of To-Morrow (1902) became the most influential and important book in the entire history of 20th century city planning and, in Peter Hall’s view, possesses a new relevance in an age preoccupied with the need for sustainable development. (He co-edited a facsimile reprint of the original 1898 edition, which was published in 2003.) Cities of Tomorrow (1988) is a broader intellectual history of urban planning and design. In a lively, uninhibited way it analyses in penetrating fashion the ideas about city planning which have been most influential in the 20th century, particularly in the UK, Europe and the USA. Peter Hall charts the reaction against the insanitary slums of the 19th century city and underlines the irony that the social and political ideals of the early planners were often not shared by those who subsequently put their projects into practice. He gives a merciless account of the catastrophic influence of Le Corbusier and his towerblocks, and his reflections on such subjects as the enduring underclass in American cities or the impact of the automobile are vital contributions to the social history of the 20th century city.
The global dimension of Peter Hall’s thinking is revealed in The World Cities (1966), where he offers an incisive and absorbing analysis of the development of seven great urban regions of the world (London, Paris, New York, Moscow, Tokyo and the great city complexes of Holland and the Rhine-Ruhr). He discusses the social and economic problems to which the relentless growth of these metropolitan areas has given rise and examines the various ways in which governments and planners have attempted to alleviate them. Subsequently, he produced his magnum opus, Cities in Civilization: Culture, Technology and Urban Order (1998). This is a brilliant venture into the comparative cultural history of cities. Lively and engrossing, it is a huge work of 1169 pages, which investigates the exceptional cultural creativity which distinguished the world’s great cities in their golden ages (belles époques), from ancient Athens to late 20th century London. It brings a critical, questioning mind to bear upon a truly formidable range of specialist scholarship. Well-versed in modern social and economic theory, Peter Hall seeks to identify the preconditions of urban creativity and the causes of social and cultural change.

Peter Hall’s work is distinguished by vision, range and intellectual fertility. Throughout, there shines a fundamental optimism about the city and its future, even in an age when information technology threatens to make obsolete the dense concentration of people. His work is not just an analytic study of urban growth and development. It is a celebration of the city’s contribution to the enhancement of human life.
The Balzan Prize for the social and cultural history of cities since 1500 is awarded to Sir Peter Hall for his magisterial studies of urban planning in modern times, his analysis of contemporary urban problems and his penetrating reflections upon the development of the world’s cities over the centuries.

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