Ditchley and the “Future” of Cities: 1960s TO 2010s

by Aitana García Domingo

Aitana is a graduate of the University of Warwick, where she studied Politics and International Studies. She starts the MSc European and International Public Policy at the London School of Economics and Political Science in September 2022.


As people moved and continue to move to cities, the quality of urban centres has become a determinant for its inhabitants’ quality of life. This interdependence has been the subject of debate at Ditchley with the first discussion on the topic dating back to 1968. For over half a decade the foundation has been exploring cities’ capacity to adjust to an unprecedented scale of growth, with a specific series of five conferences, “Can Cities Survive?”, dedicated to the issue from 1977 to 1979. The purpose of this series was to explore the defects of the cities at the time and the requirements of long-term planning (Ditchley 1968). The following article assesses the identified challenges and trends linked to urbanisation and urban planning discussed at Ditchley. In other words, how should cities be designed, built, financed, and administered? This piece summarizes the main challenges encountered during Ditchley’s journey in addressing this question and the formulation of potential (policy) solutions. In addition to Ditchley’s material, this article draws from an interview conducted with an international expert in urban planning and Ditchley network member. This retrospection into Ditchley’s archives and network is aimed to provide insight into the future, as the UN predicts that almost 70% of the world population will live in cities by the year 2050.

Until the 1990s urban studies had been primarily focused on the Global North with cities in the Global South, especially in Africa, being largely underrepresented (Arku and Marais 2021). A similar tendency can be retraced throughout Ditchley’s events. Grounded on Ditchley’s initial conferences’ emphasis on cities in developed countries (e.g., United Kingdom and the United States) the geographical focus was on the Global North before the discussion expanded to include Global cities.

The article is divided into four sections. The first section aims to provide a picture of the urban challenges and trends discussed across conferences before moving on to the question of which actor should lead in urban planning. Thirdly, it analyses Ditchley attendees’ proposals to address the numerous urban challenges described. Finally, it discusses the prospects of cities and the international transferability of the lessons and solutions put forward at Ditchley.

Trends and Challenges in Urban Development and Planning: 1960s to 2010s

Population Growth

The principal trend defining the past, present, and future challenges of urban planning is the high rates of population growth and migration (Ditchley 1968). Apart from the natural increase of the global population, people have been forced to move to urban areas in search of adequate employment, education, and housing. Population pressures and the increasing density of metropolitan areas are leading to many Western city centres’ strangulation as their growth is hemmed by the insufficient rate of development (Ditchley 1968).

A historic perspective can take account of demographic changes. After World War II, North America started recording a new trend as families began moving to suburbs due to the low housing prices (Gigantino 2019). This population movement was further enhanced by the diffusion of the automobile (Kopecky and Suen 2010). Cities grew horizontally in response (Gigantino 2019). The 1950s also marked the beginning of megacities, meaning the formation of urban spaces accommodating more than 10 million inhabitants (e.g., New York) (National Geographics n.d). The U.S thereby entered a period of urban crisis on a structural (slum housing, inadequate city services etc.) and social level (culture of poverty, inter-group tensions etc.) (Weaver 2017).

Europe greatly mirrors this evolution with its 828 cities accounting for 37% of its population in 1961 and over 40% 20 years later (European Investment Bank 2018). Similarly to the U.S, this trend firstly contributed to suburban areas’ boom and later on to satellite neighbourhoods’ metropolisation (European Investment Bank 2018).

From a global stance, in 2010, 51% of the population lived in cities (UNCAT Handbook of Statistics 2021). This number increased to 56% in the following decade. It is expected that 7 in 10 people will live in cities by 2050 (World Bank 2020).

This scale and speed of urbanisation and demographic trends described above are giving rise to a multitude of challenges therewith assigning urban planning the responsibility of tackling them (World Bank 2020).

Land use

As raised in the conference “The future of big cities”, a long-term unresolved issue in metropolitan growth concerns controls over urban land (Ditchley 1968). At the event “Can cities survive? III - Private enterprise in the contemporary city” it was highlighted how a variety of controls and local reluctance towards the repurposing of land led to acres remaining deserted (Ditchley 1978). In 1979 a Ditchley conference retraced this anti-entrepreneurial spirit and extensive methods of control to past periods of rapid growth and deemed them excessively restrictive viewing the decline in development activities at the time of the discussion (Ditchley 1979).

However, the replanning of land represents a balancing act since it involves overcoming the reluctance to change while guaranteeing the land is rapidly employed to fulfil the city’s needs. As land value increases, so does its value for public benefit, yet authorities must ensure that private enterprises utilise the grounds in line with urban and regional development plans (Ditchley 1969). The profit motive must thus be harnessed in a manner that operates toward the general welfare (Ditchley 1969). This led the 1979 conference to the question of whether land use controls should be lifted to facilitate redevelopment (Ditchley 1979).

Land use ceased to be a dominant subject of discussion in the subsequent conferences. However, improper land use and popular dissent continue to challenge contemporary urban planning with important changes in land use patterns expected in the next thirty years (Yousif Mangi et al. 2017).


The relationship between technology and urban planning is complex. Technology in this specific context can be understood as either a tool for urban planners to design communities to achieve a higher quality of life or, on a practical level, as a means to increase cities’ efficiency through direct innovation in transportation, energy etc. The potential use of technology in cities was first mentioned at Ditchley during the “The Future of Big Cities” conference of 1968. The participants explored the question of how technology could be employed to maximize the efficiency of big cities’ public service provisions including transportation, energy production and sanitation (Ditchley 1968). Yet, the idea of applying new technologies for the purpose of metropolitan modernization was described as “frustrated” by the conference rapporteur in 1968 (Ditchley 1968).

In the following conference, “Urban Transportation”, technology was regarded as an obstacle rather than a planning opportunity, especially regarding urban transportation (Ditchley 1969). This conflicting perception of technology in urban planning aligns with the U.S Analysis Bureau’s first use of databases in the design of direct services, the mitigation of disasters and the prevention of poverty in big cities (TWI n.d). This pioneering use of technology and information marked the beginning of the concept of a “smart city”, which can be defined as “a place where traditional networks and services are made more efficient with the use of digital solutions for the benefit of its inhabitants and business” (European Commission n.d). In reference to the conference, technology was viewed as a revolutionizing force within transportation technology (Ditchley 1969). Given the unpredictability of technology’s impact on transportation, participants were concerned about the feasibility of long-term planning (Ditchley 1969). However, other participants disagreed with the former predictions as they believed that the transport facilities of the time would broadly remain in place (Ditchley 1969). It was another 26 years before technology was newly mentioned in the “The Management of Large Cities in the Developed World” (Ditchley 1995), in which attendees considered the impact of information technology on city development. This thought was picked up in 2019, where attendees appealed to the transfer of knowledge on the employment of technology in cities through city networks (see Central Government, Local Government, and City (-networks)).

A new perspective on the relationship between cities and technology was provided at Ditchley in 2013. Contrary to previous conferences, participants acknowledged the broader developments in the use of technology in everyday life. Videotelephony was in the process of making physical proximity secondary, thus potentially undermining the historical need to move to the city for better professional opportunities. Although this interpretation was initially dismissed under the argument that it underestimated the social, cultural, and economic value of cities to the individual, the “Urban Exodus” caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the normalization of remote working arguably prove the validity of its reasoning (OECD 2022).


The era of environmentalism in urban planning began in the late 1960s and early 1970s (Campbell 2022). This change in eras is lightly reflected in the Ditchley conferences’ thematical focus, with the environmental impact related to the construction of freeways being first mentioned in 1969. Similarly, environmental improvements were viewed in the third conference of the “Can Cities Survive” series (Ditchley 1978), as a key condition to be fulfilled in the distribution of public funding for development. Sustainability discussions on the environmental impact of urbanisation remained marginal until the mid 1990s (Campbell 2022).

In 1995, London was presented as an environmental success thanks to its pollution management and cleansing of the Thames and note was taken of the increasing environmental awareness among city planners. But “best practice” was mainly framed as a means for cities to compete with one another by conserving an attractive level of quality of life. Besides, the environment did not appear to be participants’ main concern as the previously praised London waste disposal and water cleansing strategy was described as a “heavy economic burden”. Climate change was initially perceived as a nation-state rather than an urban policy issue. The shift towards more city-focused action on climate change can be considered a relatively recent development, which would in part explain the topic’s noticeable absence at Ditchley conferences from the 1960s to the 1990s.

In 2013, environmental sustainability and its effects on city inhabitants’ quality of life were newly addressed as one of the main challenges for cities in the 21st century. In effect, global cities’ development could be decisive in the long-term prevention of climate change (Ditchley 2019). Participants discussed the additional pressures from the search for clean energy and the increasing shortage of resources and saw opportunities particularly in transport (for e.g. shared and driverless) (Ditchley 2019).

In sum, although Ditchley rapidly picked up on the era of environmentalism in urban planning, the discussion of the topic of sustainability appears scarce in proportion to the urgency with which the phenomenon of climate change is described. Issues such as the increasing vulnerability of cities to changing weather conditions, the impact particularly on urban coastal locations and a need for adaptation remain yet to be discussed.

Poverty and Unemployment

Since Ditchley’s initial conference on the changes in urban spaces over 50 years ago, poverty and unemployment have remained some of the most long-lasting and challenging topics of debate. In 1984, participants’ pessimism towards the evolution of this trend led them to the following approach: if poverty cannot be eliminated, how can it be alleviated? 

            Twenty years before participants noted how the imbalance in economic structures was causing an insufficient range of jobs thereby leading to unemployment and in turn poverty (Ditchley 1968). Structural changes further challenged the configuration of cities in the 1970s leading to the loss of the traditional manufacturing and service industry and contributing to higher unemployment amongst unskilled workers (Ditchley 1977). Although the issue of poverty was continuously addressed throughout the 1970s in the “Can cities survive” series, director notes seem to suggest a general consensus across conferences; the responsibility of remedying unemployment and poverty was regarded to lie within central governments rather than cities’ competence (Ditchley 1978). Governments were thus seen as responsible for maintaining an economy that would produce employment and introducing an income maintenance strategy (Ditchley 1978). Meanwhile, cities should assume a secondary role by focusing on guaranteeing services to the low-income and vulnerable groups (Ditchley 1978).

Although the issue of poverty was repeatedly brought forward in relation to urban planning, attendees appeared to perceive it as a national problem with effects on the city rather than a city problem.

Inter-group Tension and Migration

Until the early 1960s, the aforementioned urban crisis had been viewed as the sole problem of metropolitan growth (See Population Growth) (Pritchett 2008). American policymakers had thus largely neglected growing tensions between different cultural, ideological, racial, and religious groups in the inner city (Pritchett 2008 and Ditchley 1968).  Contrary to this trend Ditchley included inter-group tension in its first conference on the Future of Big Cities in 1968 (Ditchley 1968).  

In the plenary session, these sharpening divisions were attributed to immigrant communities and other minorities’ higher likelihood to experience disadvantages and discrimination in regard to employment, housing and education (Ditchley 1984). Minorities affected by poverty were also found to live in the highest density areas of cities, thus further compromising their quality of life (Ditchley 1968). Furthermore, in a conference dedicated to the roots of Urban Change in 1977, participants noted local governments’ “ineffective machinery” and inability to provide support to deprived minorities in times of economic stagnation or slow economic growth.

Apart from the challenge of reversing the above trends, later conferences predicted that the rising economic inequalities could lead to social unrest (Ditchley 2013). This heightened risk of social unrest was also ascribed to the implementation of insensitive or non-inclusive public policy (Ditchley 2013). In effect, several European capitals such as Paris (2005) and Berlin (2021) have experienced urban riots over issues such as police violence in deprived areas and squatters’ rights.

Actors: The Distribution of Power in Urban Planning

Central Government, Local Government, and City (-networks)

As stated in the initial Ditchley conference on the future of cities in 1968, the effective planning of metropolitan growth raises the question of which system of management and governance structure is best suited for this purpose. The role central governments should play in urban planning remained a divisive topic in the more than half a century Ditchley has been bringing the question to debate. The spectrum encompasses the possibility of restricting government interventions to the minimum on one extreme and adjudicating full planning and operating functions on the other (Ditchley 1969).

Cities’ perceived inability to cope with metropolitan problems led participants to consider the centralisation of power (Ditchley 1969). Advocates of stronger central government interventions saw national funding as key to the development of urban policy (Ditchley 1977). They appealed for a more equitable distribution of the existing provision, particularly regarding schooling and housing (Ditchley 1984). Central government resources were also seen as essential in the creation of a private market with the provision of public financial support as an incentive to private enterprises (Ditchley 1978).

On the other hand, other conference attendees have also called to be released from central governments’ traditionally paternalistic role, normalised in the post-World War II era (Ditchley 1977). Local governments’ closer link to the citizens was presented as a means to include public opinion in local decision-making (Ditchley 1977). Additionally, unlike central governments, local governments were considered capable of intervening in issues more rapidly and directly, especially on urgent matters (Ditchley 2013). A similar argument had previously been raised in 1977. Yet in the 2013 conference, it was inferred that their dependence on central governments’ guidance and funding could hinder the effectiveness of direct action by city authorities (Ditchley 2013) (see City: Financing and Autonomous Decision Making section).

In reference to the central vs. local government question, others encouraged a multilevel system based on partnerships between central and local governments as well as other actors such as local communities and the private sector (Ditchley 1989). Yet, even the mixed proposal discussed in 1989, advocated for central governments to take the lead in the planning and funding of major infrastructure projects such as road and rail systems (Ditchley 1989). Furthermore, as noted in 1995, such a mixed model demanded that responsibilities be defined and distributed clearly between the central and local governments to ensure accountability, especially in view of central governments’ frequent interventions in capital cities’ planning (Ditchley 1995).

However, the central vs. local government debate lost its initial predominance in the field of urban planning as well as at Ditchley with the establishment of city networks. In contrast to local and central governments, cities offer the possibility for new forms of social contracts with city populations due to their higher accountability and closer proximity (Ditchley 2019). As discussed in the most recent conference on Global Cities, as newly interconnected entities cities have been empowered to cope with 21st-century urban challenges independently of local and national governments. City networks provide a different framework for negotiations and a complementary channel of communication. The creation of such a new context has already delivered in the case of the Carbon Neutral City Alliance, which is guiding global cities to carbon neutrality before 2050. Cities’ empowerment is thus likely to continue as the world currently hosts approximately 400 global city networks.


Originally, from the 1910s to the 1940s, institutions in the U.S constituted the primary actors in urban planning (Ditchley 1977). As popular expectations shifted with the end of World War II, the central government started assuming a more dominant part in urban affairs (Ditchley 1977). Institutions consequently undertook a secondary role in the direction of urban planning (Ditchley 1977). The “Can Cities Survive” series provides further evidence of the longevity of this trend as the third conference portrays central governments as the main urban policymakers while institutions are assigned a limited number of responsibilities within the city development process (Ditchley 1978).

Instead, the 1995 conference highlighted the benefits of institutional empowerment. Contrary to elected actors such as local and central governments, institutions were viewed as more capable of implementing long-term plans. 2013 conference attendees agreed with this idea: empowerment of city institutions would allow for a city’s development under both “good” and “bad” mayors (Ditchley 2013).

Finally, institutions were discussed from an international perspective in 2019 (Ditchley 2019). Supra-national institutions arguably remain nation-state rather than city-focused. The above-described city networks may challenge supra-national institutions’ focus by recognizing cities independently from nation-states. Hence, institutions could play an essential role in further empowering or hindering the empowerment of cities in the urban planning process.


The importance of public opinion in urban planning has generated unanimity across conferences, however, the questions of how and to what extent citizens should be involved in the decision-making processes gave rise to a variety of proposals.

Firstly, it was argued that interventions from the “top” should serve to provide guidance and funds but should never aim to replace the involvement of local people (Ditchley 1989). The former is thus referred to as a “bottom-up” approach (Ditchley 1989).  A possible means to further bottom-up communication was also proposed at a conference in 1995, which suggested devising methods of two-way communication between citizens and local institutions (Ditchley 1995).

Although the 1969 Ditchley conference on Urban Transportation primarily focused on congestion and traffic, it raised several issues concerning the bottom-up approach such as how to determine “what citizens really want” (Ditchley 1969). Provided by the doubts raised by this question participants put forward the idea of breaking down decisions and proceeding gradually to ensure that citizens’ opinions and needs were being considered (Ditchley 1969). However, precaution is needed in the breaking down process as it risks simplifying the complexity of the issue to debate thus providing citizens with a false or incomplete understanding (Ditchley 1969). As concluded in 1977, regardless of the practical difficulties related to citizens’ participation, channels of communication must remain in place to prevent popular dissent (Ditchley 1977).

The 2019 conference newly engaged with the complexity of civic engagement. On this occasion, higher emphasis was placed on the importance of citizen participation as a way of building the city population’s trust and the city governance’s legitimacy (Ditchley 2019). 2019 attendees encouraged “radical experimentation” in citizens’ involvement in urban decision-making as they believed the city population’s input would be key to exploring the growing connection between the physical and the digital in cities.

The Private Sector

The role of private enterprises in urban planning and development may arguably constitute one of the most debated subjects in Ditchley’s initial city-focused conferences with the 1978 conference “Can cities survive? III - Private enterprise in the contemporary city” being primarily dedicated to this query.

            In reference to the issue of land use, private enterprises were first mentioned in 1968 as assistance in the building and rebuilding of cities in these underused territories. A discussion in 1977, within the “Can Cities Survive” series, encouraged the formation of partnerships between city or local government and private enterprises on the grounds that local bureaucrats lacked the entrepreneurial and problem-solving skills found in the private sector. Such partnerships could already be found in the U.S at the time of the conference where inter-linked schemes between private developers and city authorities were being successfully executed (Ditchley 1978). However, the international feasibility of such partnerships created divisions as city authorities in other countries such as in the U.K expressed their antipathy towards the motive of private profit in city development (Ditchley 1978).

Regardless of this sentiment, the following conference “Can Cities Survive III” focused on private enterprises and insisted private enterprises assume the role of “prime mover”. To fulfil this vision participants encouraged central governments to transfer public financial support to private enterprises, create an operational private market and attract private investment. In this context, central and local governments were newly accused of acting unsympathetic towards the private sector thus hampering the necessary cooperation (Ditchley 1978). The fourth and final conference of the series on cities’ possibilities of survival, agreed with the previous event’s emphasis on the stimulation of the private sector’s growth (Ditchley 1979). 

Addressing the Challenges:  Ditchley’s Proposals

Enhancing Land Use

As stated, land use poses a dilemma since it represents an unexploited source of metropolitan growth and profit but also risks not being employed to the benefit of the established development plans (Ditchley 1969).

In 1979, conference participants suggested relaxing controls on land use to counter local governments and institutions’ anti-entrepreneurial attitudes and encourage redevelopment. Yet this deregulation should only be targeted toward specific controls to guarantee that the private enterprises’ involvement in the repurposing of land aligns with the urban plans to be implemented. The removal of certain controls is only to be applied to deserted areas (Ditchley 1979). Additionally, it was agreed that this ease in controls was undesirable in the case of aesthetic controls and building controls (Ditchley 1979).

As land use stopped being discussed in more recent conferences, Ditchley’s solution to the issue of land use may be summarized as targeted deregulation through the cease of controls. This proposal aligns with the overall liberal approach adopted in regard to the private sector’s role in urban planning. Provided by the conferences initial fixation on the U.S and the U.K, the market focus and subsequent interest in deregulation may potentially be traced back to Thatcherism (1979-1990) and Reaganism (1981-1989). However, the former constitutes an unverifiable hypothesis.

It remains up to observation whether these liberal politics of the 1970s would continue to dominate future conferences viewing the close link between land use and environmental protection.

City: Financing and Autonomous Decision Making

The question of how to finance city development is closely interlinked to the above-addressed discussion on the distribution of power in urban planning.

Despite their rising political power, cities lack autonomy around financing (Ditchley 2013). Cities are often left with little scope when it comes to raising their revenues through taxation (2013). Disposing only of a small fraction of their own revenues from taxes, cities struggle to invest in expensive infrastructure as well as to maintain services such as transport (Ditchley 2013). Viewing the restrictions posed by insufficient finance, the 2013 conference appealed to more viable tax bases and cities’ larger access to financial markets. Apart from these proposals, the conference encouraged a more flexible, ambitious, open, and innovative approach to financing infrastructure and public services (Ditchley 2013). The city of Barcelona, for instance, has explored the possibility of taxing tourism to fund new affordable housing – measures included controlling the expansion of platforms for holiday renting (e.g., Airbnb) (Ditchley 2019).

In cities’ process of empowerment, a higher revenue-raising power is essential to facilitate more autonomous decision-making at the city level.

Maintaining the Social Fabric

Across conferences, participants seemed to agree on the long-term benefits of access to education and training and the provision of better schooling (Ditchley 1984).

Yet, “affirmative action” such as positive discrimination in employment divided the Ditchley attendees in 1989. Whilst some opposed the introduction of positive discrimination, others insisted on its importance as an accompanying measure to enhance the effects of higher education attendance (Ditchley 1989). 

In more general terms, several conferences appealed for better accommodation and sensitisation toward minorities’ special needs (Ditchley 1984). The 2019 conference on Global Cities brought this proposal further forward by arguing that such efforts must aim to facilitate a better understanding across groups as well as generations (Ditchley 2019).

Limited Transferability and Prospects

Diversity of Cities and the Issue of Comparisons

Most conference chairs acknowledge the limitations encountered during the debates. Above all, it must be acknowledged that cities are not homogenous (Ditchley 1989). Consequently, what may have worked in one city cannot perforce be applied to another (Ditchley 1989).

From the 2010s Ditchley’s geographical focus expanded to include cities beyond the Global North thus raising the question of transferability: can lessons from cities in the Global North be transferred to the Global South? The majority of participants at the 2013 conference on Urbanisation were pessimistic about the transferability of the lessons learned (Ditchley 2013). Although some cities provided insight into effective initiatives in the areas of waste disposal and transport, the attendees struggled to find a city in a developed country that had been capable of planning ahead of its problems (Ditchley 2013). Furthermore, the usefulness of cities’ lessons was compromised by the aforementioned uniqueness of each urban space. Yet, despite this scepticism, it was agreed that the search for best practices should not be abandoned (Ditchley 2013). In effect, the 2019 conference, which looked at cities globally, encouraged drawing comparisons between cities to overcome urban pressure, support best practice and thus “feed a better science of cities”. To illustrate, Vienna has managed to reconcile its housing, mobility, and energy policy thanks to its long-term vision. Similarly, Scandinavia serves as an example of how to accommodate social policy and land planning. Finally, Singapore exhibits resilience through efficient and optimal thinking. 

The 2019 conference concluded that a cooperative approach to the science of cities might be the most effective. 

Prospects of Planning  

Given uncertainly, regarding the future of cities, the 1995 conference “The Management of Large Cities” concluded that comprehensive and detailed master plans should be substituted by flexible and conscious thinking about the future.

Although flexibility may be key in the future of planning it is no substitute for a long-term vision. Cities can follow a double approach like Singapore’s. The Southeast Asian city implements a long-term 30–50-year strategy as well as short-term plans (5-10 years). The need for such a long-term goal stems from the environmental targets set for 2050 and cities’ essential role in accomplishing them.

Regardless of the diversifying and complexifying challenges faced by cities flexibility is best achieved through a double approach combining both long- and short-term planning to address and meet both long- and short-term problems and solutions.


Ditchley discussions and proposals reflect the historical and contemporary trends and challenges defining city growth and urban planning. Starting with the attention provided to the subject in the 1970s through a city-focused series of events Ditchley has addressed, debated, and predicted the future of cities and their capacity to survive.

Cities’ struggle in the U.S and Europe to accommodate the growing populations triggered an urban crisis that inspired Ditchley’s first conferences. The issues of underused land, the employment of technology, the rising environmental risks, deprivation and poverty and finally cultural and social clashes between groups have dominated Ditchley’s discussions over the past five decades. The entrenchment of these challenges not only gave rise to the question of how to tackle them but also debated who should have a leading role in the process. Having reviewed the potential roles and responsibilities assigned to central and local governments, institutions, citizens, and the private sector the last conference on the subject provides insight into the potential future of cities as global entities in growing international networks. The series of events were also marked by a multitude of proposals encouraging the creation of a private market, recommending the involvement of private enterprises in (re-)development and enhancing the financial autonomy of cities. Issues such as the environment and technology did not receive the same level of attention given the liberal political focus identified in the 1970s and 1980s and thus remain open to future discussion. Moreover, as the conference chairs and Ditchley directors noted, the cross-country and cross-continent transferability of Ditchley’s findings remains limited due to the heterogeneity of cities. However, this is not to undermine the value of general conclusions or to discourage the search for best practice and comparisons – a cooperative method that is likely to be expanded as city networks grow.

In sum, viewing the multitude and variety of challenges affecting the discipline of urban planning, it must be highlighted that good city planning should be flexibly designed to influence demographic trends, and not simply to follow them, as described in one of the earliest conferences in 1969.

Can Cities Survive: Conferences Overview

  • 1977: Can cities survive? I - The roots of urban change

Sir Colin Crowe - 
Director, Grindlay’s Bank Ltd.; Chairman, Marshall Aid Commemoration Commission; British Charge d’Affaires, Cairo (1959-61); Ambassador to Saudi Arabia (1963-64); United Kingdom Permanent Representative to the United Nations (1970-73).

Highlighted Participants:
Mr. Maurice P. Bart -
Director, World Bank, Country Programs Department II, Europe, Middle East and North Africa; United Nations Relief and Works Agency, Damascus, Cairo, Beirut (1952-62).
Sir Bernard Ledwidge -  Chairman. United Kingdom Committee for UNICEF; Ambassador to Finland (1969- 72); Ambassador to Israel (1972-75).
Mr. John Sutcliffe -  Managing Director, British Petroleum Company Ltd., responsible for Middle East Activities.

  • 1978: Can cities survive? II - The potential and limits of planning

Mr. James W. Rouse -
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer. The Rouse Company, Columbia, Marylar (real estate development); Chairman, Institute of World Order; Honorary Member, American Institutes of: Planners, Architects, Landscape Architects; a Director, The Conservation Foundation; Member of the Council The International Institute for Environment and Development.

Highlighted Participants:
Professor H.W.E Davies -  Head of Planning Section, Department of Land Management and Development, Faculty of Urban and Regional Studies University of Reading.
Dr. Hans Pflaumer -  Deputy Assistant Secretary, Ministry for Regional Planning, Building and Urban Development, Bonn.
The Hon. Kevin H. White -  Mayor of Boston, Massachusetts; Member Legislative Action Committee, U.S. Conference of Mayors; Steering Commit National Urban Coalition; Democratic National Committee; Assistant District Attorney, Suffolk County, Mass. (195$ 60); Secretary of State for Massachusetts (1960-67).
Mr. Mahlon Apgar IV -  Principal, McKinsey & Company Inc., London

  • 1978:Can cities survive? III - Private enterprise in the contemporary city

Sir Frank Layfield - 
Bencher, Gray's Inn; Chairman, Inquiry into Greater London Development Plan (1970-73); Committee of Inquiry into Local Government Finance (1974-76).

Highlighted Participants:
The Rt. Hon. the Lord Llewelyn-Davies -  Emeritus Professor of Urban Planning, University College, London; Senior Partner, Llewelyn-Davies, Weeks, Forestier-Walker & Bor, international architects, planners, health service consultants; Chairman, The Centre for Environmental Studies.
Miss Renata von Tscharner -  Assistant Chief Planning Officer, City Planning Department, Berne; formerly Planning Officer, Covent Garden Team, Greater London Council.
Mr. Ialib Bagaeen -  Assistant Mayor of the City of Amman; Director General, Amman Urban Regional Planning Group.
Deputy Mayor Herman Badillo -  Deputy Mayor, New York City; Member, House of Representatives (Democrat), 21st District, New York (1971-76).

  • 1979: Can cities survive? IV - Finance and land use for redevelopment

Sir Frank Layfield -
  Bencher, Gray’s Inn; Chairman, Inquiry into Greater London Development Plan (1970-73); Committee of Inquiry into Local Government Finance (1974-76).

Highlighted Participants:
The Rt. Hon. the Lord Llewelyn-Davies -  Emeritus Professor of Urban Planning, University College, London; Senior Partner, Llewelyn-Davies, Weeks, Forestier-Walker & Bor, international architects, planners, health service consultants; Chairman, The Centre for Environmental Studies.
Mr. Dennis R.G Marler -  Managing Director, Capital and Counties Property Company, Ltd.; Director, Monarch Properties (Edinburgh) Ltd. and other companies; Partner, Marler & Marler.
Mr. Roger Starr -  Urban expert, Editorial Board, the New York Times; formerly Member, Citizens Housing and Planning Council New York, and Commissioner of Housing and Planning for the City of New York.
Mr. H.D.H. Wills, CBE, TD, DL -  (observer): Founder of the Ditchley Foundation.

  • 1980: Can cities survive? V - Making cities liveable

The Rt. Hon. the Lord Llewelyn-Davies - 
Emeritus Professor of Urban Planning, University College, London; Senior Partner, Llewelyn-Davies, Weeks, Forestier-Walker & Bor, international architects, planners, health service consultants; Chairman, The Centre for Environmental Studies.

Highlighted Participants:
Mr. Ed. Berman -  Founder and Programme Director, Inter-Action; Founder: City Farm Movement in the UK; International Institute for Social Enterprise; Chairman: Save Piccadilly Campaign (1972-80); National Association of Arts Centres (1975-79); Founder, British-American Repertory Company (1979).
The Rt. Hon. The Baroness David -  President, Royal Institute of British Architects (1965-67); Member, Arts Council of Great Britain (1972-77); Rector, Royal College of Art (1971-78); Governor, Museum of London (1970-79).
Miss Nancy Hanks -  Vice Chairman, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, New York; former Member, National Commission for UNESCO; Project Coordinator, The Performing Arts (1959-69); Chairman, National Endowment for the Arts, Washington DC (1969-77).
Mr. Simon Jenkins -  Political Editor, The Economist; formerly Editor, The Evening Standard, and the Insight Team, The Sunday Times.


1940s: Normalisation of central governments’ intervention in urban affairs

1950s: Population movements lead to the first megacities

Late 1960s: Start of the Urban Crisis in the U.S

1968: Ditchley Conferences “The future of big cities” and “New towns and communities”

1969: Ditchley Conference “Urban transportation”

Late 1960s-Early 1970s: Appearance of the concept of smart city

Late 1960s-Early 1970s: Start of the era of environmentalism in urban planning

1972: Ditchley Conference “Population problems and policies and problems in economically advanced countries”

1977: Ditchley Conference “Can cities survive? I - The roots of urban change”

1978: Ditchley Conference “Can cities survive? II - The potential and limits of planning” and “Can cities survive? III - Private enterprise in the contemporary city”

1979: Start of Thatcherism

1979: Ditchley Conference “Can cities survive? IV - finance and land use for redevelopment”

1980s: End of the era of environmentalism and start of sustainability

1980: Ditchley Conference “Can cities survive? V - making cities liveable”

1981: Start Reaganism

1984: Ditchley Conference “Cities in recession: the effects on urban reconstruction of economic crisis and rapid structural change”

1989: Ditchley Conference “Urban Regeneration”

1989: End of Reaganism

1990: End of Thatcherism

1991: Ditchley Conference “Transport policy in the 21st century: the quest for coordinated policies in the light of economic, demographic and environmental factors”

1995: Ditchley Conference “The Management of Large Cities in the Developed World”

2000s-Present: Development of city networks (approximately 400 worldwide)

2013: Ditchley Conference “Urbanisation: the century of cities”

2019: Ditchley Conference “Global Cities and their relationship to the nation state”

2020: 56% of the world population lives in cities (4.4 billion inhabitants)

2050: 7 in 10 people are expected to live in cities


Ditchley along with the writer, Aitana Garcia Domingo, would like to express a special thanks of gratitude to Cécile Maisonneuve for sharing her time and insight to supplement this article’s findings.


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