Peter Hall and 'Regional Studies': Editorial

Nicholas A. Phelps, Bartlett School of Planning, University College London  and Mark Tewdwr-Jones School of Architecture, Planning & Landscape, Newcastle University

Compared to his prestigious book outputs, Peter Hall wrote comparatively few academic journal articles during his career. The middling ground of the 8,000 word or so academic journal paper has become a staple of academic writing and a near obsession for all concerned – assessors and assessed – given the regular evaluations of academic research. However, Peter’s written contributions to the study of urban and regional studies fall at two rather different extremes of the spectrum of writing formats. Peter freely admitted that he had spent an ‘unnatural amount of his career communicating through journalism’ (Phelps and Tewdwr-Jones, 2014). He wrote hundreds of short journalistic pieces in his career for the likes of The Times, New Society, The Planner and Town and Country Planning. However, at the other extreme he was also a great writer of books and, indeed, a writer of great books. In ‘Why write books?’ (Hall, 2012) it is clear that, although he cautioned against going there, he himself felt at numerous times that he had something big to say. This was most clearly the case with London 2000, Cities of Tomorrow and Cities in Civilisation (Hall, 1963, 1988, 1998), which he also singled out as his substantial works. We might also include Great Planning Disasters (Hall, 1980), though perhaps not Urban and Regional Planning (1975) which is more clearly a textbook. However, this hardly exhausts his authorship or editorship of books as is revealed in a recent collection of essays (Tewdwr-Jones et al., 2014). It is clear that Peter’s contributions here – including some quite obscure ones – were sometimes the product of him being asked to chair or collate larger research projects. He seems not always to have followed his own advice!

What, then, are we to make of Peter Hall’s relatively slim solo and joint authored contribution of five papers, a reflection piece, and an extremely short editor’s foreword for Regional Studies? The papers in this specially produced virtual issue containing Peter’s writing in Regional Studies still manage to encompass many of the intellectual interests revealed across the range of Peter’s entire body of work. The papers here are inflected with elements of the three disciplines that Peter successfully brought together in his career – history, geography and planning. They also are reflective of some of his particular thematic concerns such as with the future of cities, technological innovation, patterns of interaction in urban systems, land-use and transportation planning – often in some combination.

Elsewhere we have described how Peter veered between two extremes in his mode or method of analysis. On the one hand, he was convinced of the value of intuition or direct observation. On the other hand, his early engagement with systems planning theory through the regional planning exercise in the UK in the 1960s left him with a lasting preference in empirical analysis of aggregate evidence bases (Phelps and Tewdwr-Jones, 2014). The former preference was apparent in his historical works but also his dalliances with futures scenarios over the years. The latter preference was evident right from the very start of his career in his PhD published as The Industries of London since 1861 (Hall, 1961) and in several major funded pieces of research on aspects of the British and European urban system, such as the two volume The Containment of Urban England, and Western Sunrise and The Polycentric Metropolis (Hall et al., 1973, Hall et al., 1987; Hall and Pain, 2006). Both these preferences are visible in the articles reproduced here, though it is also probably fair to say that the Regional Studies articles that Peter authored and co-authored were primarily concerned with the latter. That is, they remained a preserve for the sorts of interests, techniques and motivating concerns that Peter and others had at the moment that the journal Regional Studies was established in the 1960s (Sharman, 1967).

Surprisingly, Peter was absent from the pages of a journal he helped to found for the entire decade of the ’70s, although pieces appeared in subsequent decades. This was a decade in which he was involved in coordinating The Containment of Urban England as one of a small number of comprehensive data-driven analyses of urban systems in the UK and Europe (the other two being Western Sunrise and The Polycentric Metropolis). Of the five articles reproduced here, three report on, or prefigure, the latter two of these studies. His review piece on ‘The future of the metropolis and its form’, it appears, gave Peter the opportunity to belatedly appraise readers of the first of these three major studies. Thus one conclusion we might draw is that Peter saw Regional Studies as the appropriate venue primarily for his macro system data analysis.

Among other things the articles brought together here reveal the interest Peter retained in: technical details of how adequately to conceptualise the likes of city regions; forecasting and evaluation techniques, as seen in the first special issue that Peter as editor organised for the journal (Hall, 1970); the difficulties of measuring new flows in urban and regional systems such as e-mail and questions of the veracity of data that extended to the value of qualitative data such as interviews (Pain and Hall, 2008); the lineage of techniques of all sorts associated with measuring and describing urban and regional systems, including notably, with Stephen Marshall and Michelle Lowe (2001) in ‘The changing urban hierarchy in England and Wales, 1913-1998’, those relating to the sorts of stock of activities and functions that used to measure urban centrality.

The articles included in this virtual issue are also interesting in some instances as period pieces. For example, and from the present standpoint, it is hard to believe the state the London economy was in during the early part of the 1980s. And yet in ‘The anatomy of job creation’, Hall mobilised data to compare countries and cities and regions to show how ‘For Britain… high technology has, almost incredibly, contributed to national manufacturing employment decline’ (Hall, 1987, p. 99). If the performance of the South East of England had been rather mixed during the 1970s and 1980s, London’s performance had been exceptionally poor. Reflecting on an emerging literature on the political economy of economic activities in world cities, and prior to the ‘big bang’, Hall speculated that ‘London may be a world city passing out of the world league’ (Hall, 1987, p. 105). The paper is steeped in melancholy, literally. Unusually for such an optimist and skilled writer as Peter, the word melancholy appears five times within five pages in the piece.

Taken together the papers reveal Peter’s inquisitive nature. The word ‘critical’ has perhaps been overly or even, at times, unthinkingly invoked to lend a certain theoretical cache in academic geographical writing. Most would probably not categorise Peter’s writing as theoretically ‘critical’ in the sense of how it is used in much of this recent writing, but then Peter had come to care little for what he described as the endless critical carping apparent in much academic writing on urban and regional studies and planning (Phelps et al., 2014). But what the papers brought together here show is that Peter’s work was certainly critical in the sense that it was concerned with a careful and detailed reading of the available empirical evidence and a questioning of the explanatory power of extant theory in light of the available data. He noted, for example, how ‘some conventional theory does not prove very helpful’ in explaining the sorts of patterns of job loss and job creation presented in ‘The anatomy of job creation’ (Hall, 1987, p. 97). Peter, above all, was keenly aware of, and interested in, the paradoxes and unanticipated and unintended consequences of social and economic processes and planning interventions in a way that often sought to look beyond conventional ideas, as is revealed in his writing elsewhere such as The Containment of Urban England (Hall et al., 1973), ‘Non-plan’ (Banham et al., 1969), and Great Planning Disasters (Hall, 1980).

Despite utilising aggregate data sometimes to help describe and account for change over long periods of time, the articles reveal Peter’s knowledge and understanding of places in detail – a characteristic we have described elsewhere (Phelps and Tewdwr-Jones, 2014; Phelps et al., 2014). His interest in places and their complex make-up as urban centres is revealed in ‘The changing urban hierarchy in England and Wales, 1913-1998’ (Hall et al., 2001), where discussion recognises the various ways in which urban centres can be composed of multiple and overlapping subcentres. Similarly, Pain and Hall (2008, p. 1072 emphasis added) were careful to note how ‘the specificity of the MCR [mega city region] locations, where these centralities occur, illustrates the significance of the distinctive qualities of places in the production and reproduction of global APS [advanced producer service] connectivity’.

The articles gathered together in this issue reveal Peter’s interests not just in the cores of the British and international urban and regional systems, but also the economic peripheries as a significant and enduring issue for public policy. He saw Bristol’s displacing of Liverpool as a second tier city in the urban hierarchy in England and Wales, in Hall et al. (2001), as symbolic of the re-opening of a broader north–south divide in Britain with which he remained deeply concerned. He felt strongly that spatial inequality was something that planning could and should address both at this inter-regional but also at the intra-urban scale as is apparent in his suggestion in ‘Looking backward, looking forward’ that ‘One challenge for planning will be to find ways of breaking up and dispersing such islands of concentrated deprivation. This is relevant because such areas generate very negative perceptions, helping to precipitate urban outflows from inner city areas to more affluent, increasingly distant, suburbs’ (Hall, 2009, p. 811). As well as these ‘old’ manifestations of urban and regional spatial inequalities he was also concerned with the need for planning and public policy to look forward and to address newly emerging spatial inequalities and problems of the ‘sustainability’ of the outer reaches of city-regions, where he saw the need for transport and land-use planning to develop new public transportation and nodes of development to cater to dispersed travel movements.

Readers will have taken their own insights and inspiration from Peter’s work over the years, and the articles collected here will, on re-reading, doubtless provoke further thoughts in this regard. Now is the time and place to read again some of the words of a truly unique and influential geographer-planner; to celebrate his immense contributions to establishing and promoting a field of inquiry that we can all now take a little more for granted as a result.



Banham, R., Barker P., Hall, P. and Price, C. (1969) Non-plan: a radical experiment in freedom, New Society 338, 20 March.

Hall, P. (1961) The Industries of London since 1861. Hutchinson, London.

Hall, P. (1963) London 2000. Faber and Faber, London

Hall, P. (1970) Foreword, Regional Studies 4, 2, 149.

Hall, P. (1975) Urban and Regional Planning. David and Charles, Newton Abbot.

Hall, P. (1980) Great Planning Disasters. Methuen, London.

Hall, P. (1987) The anatomy of job creation: nations, regions and cities in the 1960s and 1970s, Regional Studies 21, 2, 95-106.

Hall, P. (1988) Cities of Tomorrow. Blackwell, Oxford.

Hall, P. (1997) The future of the metropolis and its form, Regional Studies 31, 3, 211-220 [reprinted (2007) Regional Studies 41, S1, S137-S146].

Hall, P. (1998) Cities in Civilization: Culture, Technology and Urban Order. Weidenfeld and Nicholson, London.

Hall, P. (2009) Looking backward, looking forward: the city region of the mid-21st century, Regional Studies 43, 6, 803-817.

Hall, P. (2012) Why write books?, in Hall, P., Saxenian A., Bathelt, H. and Glückler, J. (Eds.) Book Views: Edited by Päivi Oinas, Regional Studies, 46, 4, 559-563, DOI: 10.1080/00343404.2012.674658, pp.559-560.

Hall, P., Breheny, M., McQuaid, R. and Hart, D. (1987) Western Sunrise: The Genesis and Growth of Britain’s Major High Tech Corridor. Unwin Hyman, London.

Hall, P., Marshall, S. and Lowe, M. (2001) The changing urban hierarchy in England and Wales, 1913-1998, Regional Studies 35, 9, 775-807.

Hall, P. and Pain, K. (2006) The Polycentric Metropolis: learning from mega-city regions in Europe. Earthscan, London.

Hall, P., Thomas, R., Gracey, H. and Drewett, R. (1973) The Containment of Urban England. 2 Vols. George Allen and Unwin, London,

Pain, K. and Hall, P. (2008) Informational quantity versus informational quality: the perils of navigating the space of flows, Regional Studies 42, 8, 1065-1077.

Phelps, N.A. and Tewdwr-Jones, M. (2014) A man for all regions: Peter Hall and regional studies, Regional Studies 48, 10, 1579-1587.

Phelps, N.A., Tewdwr-Jones, M. and Freestone, R. (2014) Geography, history and the planning imagination, in Tewdwr-Jones, M, Phelps, N.A. and Freestone, R. (Eds.) The Planning Imagination: Peter Hall and the Study of Urban and Regional Planning, pp. 1-12. Routledge, London.

Sharman, F.A. (1967) The Regional Studies Association: origins and opportunities, Regional Studies 1, 1-2.

Tewdwr-Jones, M, Phelps, N.A. and Freestone, R. (Eds.) (2014) The Planning Imagination: Peter Hall and the Study of Urban and Regional Planning. Routledge, London.