Patrick Geddes

The Father of Town Planning

Today is the 165th birthday of the Father of Town Planning and a botanist, Patrick Geddes, who was born on this day in 1854.

Geddes accomplished much during his lifetime, despite being notoriously disorganized and easily distracted. In addition to his work in planning, Geddes was an ardent botanist and an environmentalist.
People often forget that Geddes was trained mostly in the subjects of biology and botany; it was through that living scientific lens that he was first inclined to view the world. Geddes always conceded an undeniable truth in his work; nature is ever-changing, and humans need to be in nature. Geddes had a profound appreciation and reverence for life. Like any gardener, he saw value in beauty.
Geddes wrote:

"No one who studies animate nature can get past the fact of beauty. It is as real in its own way as the force of gravity."

When it came to planning towns, Geddes dismissed modernist plans for creating what he called "soulless suburbs and concrete slums." Instead, the ever-practical Geddes bought land in Edinburgh and created communities interwoven into the landscape. Bare spots on plans were turned into spaces for gardens.
In 1918, Geddes delivered a farewell lecture to his students at Dundee. Here's is a little excerpt from this powerful speech:

"How many people think twice about a leaf? Yet the leaf is the chief product and phenomenon of life. This is a green world.... and all dependent upon the leaves... The world is mainly a vast leaf-colony, growing on and forming a leafy soil, ... and we live not by the jingling of our coins, but by the fullness of our harvests.
...Growth seems slow... and people are all out for immediate results...  A garden takes years and years to grow – ideas also take time to grow, and while a sower knows when his corn will ripen, the sowing of ideas is, as yet, a far less certain affair.
Star-wonder, stone and spark wonder, life-wonder, folk-wonder, .... To appreciate sunset and sunrise, moon and stars, the wonders of the winds, clouds and rain, the beauty of woods and fields – here are the beginnings of natural sciences.
...[And] we must cease to think merely in terms of separated departments and faculties... So - with art inspiring industry, .... the Tree of Life thus comes into view."

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Patrick Geddes
Patrick Geddes

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