How do they do it? Geoff Vigar

Written by: Jez Abbott
Published on: 23 Jan 2015

Geoff Vigar

Geoff Vigar is professor of urban planning and director of research at Newcastle University's School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape (SAPL). He gained a degree and diploma in planning from Cardiff University and spent a year at Eastleigh Borough Council in Hampshire. Research posts have included a stint at Sheffield Polytechnic, evaluating the impact of the South Yorkshire Supertram. He became a lecturer at Leeds Metropolitan University and then at Newcastle in 2000, becoming a senior lecturer, then Professor of Urban Planning from 2012. He recently co-authored a centenary publication for the Royal Town Planning Institute with Dr Paul Cowie and Professor Patsy Healey, called Success and Innovation in Planning.

Q. What are your objectives in your current role and how are you measured against them?

As director of research I promote and facilitate research among 50 or so colleagues, and ensure our research is noticed beyond the university. My own research focuses on the interface between planning practice and theory, with key interests in plan-making, urbanising edge cities, and public participation in planning. In terms of how I'm measured, like all universities these days we are subject to the usual plethora of key performance indicators. I also have two annual appraisal processes: a personal development review and a personal research planning process. These look at research income generated, teaching and course evaluations and facilitating the wider public impact of my and the school’s research, all of which is benchmarked against our peers.

Q. What key lessons have you learned during your career that help you to fulfil those objectives?

A. Planning is both art and science. Sadly, all too often the discipline is seen as little more than a mechanism for policy delivery, with a heavy focus on performance indicators and managerialism. Somewhere in all this, the crucial element of creativity can be lost.

See other disciplines as vital complementary forces. Working with architects, computer scientists and people with other skills has given me crucial perspectives on areas such as design and participatory processes.

Build in capacity for surprises. If you know what you're going to find at the outset, there's not much point starting the search; working with communities and developers invariably throws up challenging surprises.