Patrick Geddes: A Scottish Polymath for the World

The way cities look and feel may not be something many people notice. However, the look and feel of a city has much more impact on ones daily life than many realize. During the 19th century in the UK, when the great hand of industrialisation was seemingly chaotically shaping the rapidly growing towns and cities without much attention to form and function, Patrick Geddes developed new and innovative thinking regarding urban form and planning. Today, his legacy is found in locations all over the world. No less than in Ballater, Aberdeenshire, where you can stay at one of the hotels in Ballater to begin an exploration of Geddes’ life and work.

Born in 1854, Patrick Geddes initially studied at the Royal College of Mines in London. Afterwards he developed an expertise in zoology for which he lectured on at Edinburgh University, continuing to write and research on the sexual reproduction. Later he was to be Chair of Botany at the University of Dundee and then Chair of Sociology at the University of Bombay. How then did such knowledge produce one of the first urban planners? Geddes is considered a polymath in that he was able to develop a deep understanding of a very diverse range of disciplines. In this sense, his concern with urban form and function as a reflection of and influence on how urban society operates is no stretch of the imagination. If one considers his background in the animal kingdom, the appreciation of organic systems of development feedback links directly into an understanding of urban form that is also part of the development of the human animal as well.

Geddes’ work was instrumental in shaping city planning throughout the UK, but also internationally. Working in areas as diverse and Mumbai and Tel Aviv, his methods were integral to the construction of 20th century urban space. Today one can potentially see his influence from the location of a central Glasgow hotel to a Jewish temple in Israel. Geddes truly was a renaissance man whose work is still important today.

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December 14, 2011 | Author: | Posted in Destinations

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