09 November 2009
150 years ago, to be precise on the 24 November 1859, Darwin published his seminal book On the Origin of the Species. His influence on our work is slowly but surely gaining ground. Stephen Marshall and Mike Batty amongst many, are assessing his contribution.
Darwin had an important influence on Patrick Geddes, the father of British Town Planning, who we think actually met him in UCL's Haldane Room, which was Sanderson's Physiology Lab in the late 1870s. In fact, despite Geddes working and preaching evolution of one form or another all his life, and despite the fact that his book Cities in Evolution polished in 1915, had an important influence on town and country planning, evolutionary theory has had much less impact on our design of towns and cities than one might have suspected. This is however changing. Complexity theory and ideas about highly decentralised systems and decentralised planning are consistent to an extent with Darwinism and in the year of the bicentenary of his birth and the 150th anniversary of his great book, it is worth reassessing his contribution. Marshall and Batty do this in the 2009 November issue of Town and Country Planning and Batty's editorial in Environment and Planning B, Volume 36 (6), 2009 provides another assessment.
After Darwin came back from his voyages on HMS Beagle, he married in 1838 and lived at 12 Upper Gower Street which is on the site of the Darwin Building - of course - which is part of the south east wing of the quad. He left there in 1842 to go his beloved Down House in south east London where he lived the rest of his life. But he always came back to University College when he visited London, hence his meeting with Geddes who was an assistant in Physiology in 1878-9. An indulgent musing on our speculation is that Darwin penned the elements of his great book in Gower Street although it was many years later that force of circumstance - the fact that Wallace was near to his own publication of evolutionary theory - pushed him to publication in November 1859.
Readers might forgive us for claiming a little of Darwin for town planning as well as for University College, London.