‘It’s time for a new philosophy of planning – ‘civic art'', says TCPA

The Town & Country Planning Association (TCPA) has called for a new philosophy of planning based on civic art to restore planning as a humane and powerful force for enabling better lives.  

It has launched That Word Art! Putting Art Back into Planning, a new guide for councils setting out how reuniting art and planning can help to deliver a more inclusive and stimulating post-pandemic future. 

Through its project exploring the artistic roots of planning, the Association highlights how founders of the planning movement – influenced by the likes of William Morris and John Ruskin saw what they did as a fundamentally artistic practice. Often using the term civic art, they viewed art as central to liberating people and enabling happier lives through cooperative approach to society.  

But the Association argues that, today, planning has largely been stripped of this humane approach, leading to soulless bolt-on housing estates being built across the country. They suggest that plans are often silent about art, with art itself limited to statues on roundabouts. While pointing to some brilliant exceptions to this rule, they make clear that if experiencing and participating in art is a vital part of securing people’s wellbeing, there is no doubt that we need to do much better at bringing art and planning together. 

‘That Word Art! help councils to do this. The document provides a broad overview of the opportunities to reunite art and planning, and of how such opportunities can be delivered through practical action. It also puts forward a set of principles, based on the idea of civic art, to guide the development of art strategies. These highlight, amongst other things, the need for strong local leadership and a corporate commitment, as well as creative consideration, of how to pay for artistic action. 

The publication is part of a wider TCPA project which explores how planning might reconnect with its artistic roots. 

Hugh Ellis, TCPA Policy Director, said:

From Bournville and Letchworth to the millions of generously built and high-quality council homes, we were once capable of doing much better. In trying to answer the question about what went wrong with the way we plan, there is a strong common thread. We forgot the humane, idealistic, and artistic foundations of planning. The TCPA aims to help put the passion and inspiration of artistic practice back at the heart of the planning process, and this is just the start of our work on this field. 



  • The Town and Country Planning Association works to challenge, inspire and support people to create healthy, sustainable and resilient places where everyone can thrive. 
  • A link to the Art & Planning Guidance can be found here.
  • For further information, or comment, please contact [email protected] or call +44 20 8132 5455
  • Cover image: The Girl – Copyright Rights Community Action Ltd.

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