“Vivendo discimus – By living we learn”

Patrick Geddes

by Lafayette (Lafayette Ltd), half-plate nitrate negative, 30 December 1931

Sir Patrick Geddes (2 October 1854 – 17 April 1932) was a pioneering Scottish town planner (someone who makes decisions about the use of land and space). He introduced terms such as region, habitat, green belt and megalopolis. In all of his work he tried to be sensitive to the “main human needs”, such as good health, need for socialising and access to green spaces. His work as a planner was also considerate towards the existing heritage of the area through the method of “constructive and conservative surgery”. The best example of this is slum removal in Edinburgh’s Old Town in the 1880s, performed by Geddes and his wife Anna.

Daughter Norah Geddes followed in her parents’ footsteps by focusing on actively involving young people in changing places for the better. Her plan was to create places and projects that brought poorer and wealthier communities together. Like her father, she cared deeply about people’s health. Patrick Geddes’s other significant work includes collaboration with architect Sir Frank Mears (Norah’s husband) on projects in the Middle East, such as the plans for Jerusalem (1919) and Tel Aviv (1925). Geddes was also active in France – he founded the Collège des Écossais (Scots College), an international school in Montpellier (1890). Geddes developed the research method of Regional Survey, which is the inspiration for this guide.

Patrick Geddes believed that the key to improving a place lies with an empowered and educated community. He saw geography (the study of people, environment, space and place) as “the only complete science”, linking human and natural sciences. This way of thinking was the basis of his Regional Survey.

Regional Survey can be described as the ‘stock taking’ of an area – essential to effective planning involving everyone. Through this exercise the researcher could identify the features characteristic to an area and their connectedness on local, regional and global level. Regional Survey was supported by the technique of Survey-Analysis-Plan – a structured way of learning about an area, thinking about its challenges and opportunities and proposing positive change for the benefit of its people.

Geddes supported the use of visual education – use of maps, pictures, diagrams etc; these were used in the Outlook Tower in Edinburgh, his centre for Regional Survey. A key example of visual education is the Valley Section, showing how people, their activities and the environment influence each other.