Town Planning Review

Abrams, Philip and E. A. Wrigley (Eds.), "Towns in Societies: Essays in Economic History and Historical Sociology" (Book Review)

Town Planning Review (1980), 51, (2), 227


BOOK REVIEWS can be expedited by Party intervention. On the other, the recruitment, and advancement, of management personnel to senior administrative positions is often done on the basis of 'political' criteria rather than merit. This comes as no great surprise, but it does not augur well for an easy transition from urban administration to urban management, a transition made all the more imperative because of the rapidly escalating demands on the urban system. Generally speaking, the smaller the city, the more remote its location, the lower the level of management skill in urban administration. But even amongst the major centres having a sizeable complement of urban managers, coping with the pressures of rapid growth is difficult at best. Rates of urban growth by region and by category of city size clearly reveal the preference of migrants for the larger cities, especially in European Russia. But as internal migration is still subject to a measure of official control, a great many migrants find their desire to live in the major cities frustrated. In a particularly incisive chapter dealing with urban finances, the disproportionate allocation of financial resources is linked to the inequitable distribution of consumer and cultural services between large and small cities. The gap is steadily widening, thereby increasing the attraction of the major cities, and thus already serious management problems are further complicated. This chapter and the one following on the advent of social planning in Soviet cities will be of particular interest to the town and regional planner. In the Soviet context social planning in cities usually embraces three broad issues: wages and means of improving labour productivity; improving the material well-being of the population; and raising the level of public participation. Social planning at the city and regional level is, in theory, rather more than simply the sum of enterprise social planning. However, Lewis and Sternheimer contend that to date success has been limited since '... "social plans" have yet to integrate social and economic planning to the extent that the concept actually demands'. (p. 128) Given the relatively short time since social planning was first implemented, and given the complexity of the task, it is scarcely surprising that the movement has had limited impact as yet. The authors contend that part of the problem in implementing social planning is related to the weak management thrust in urban government. Notwithstanding these problems, the movement is significant, and is being more widely adopted, even if not in an 'ideal' form, 233 each year. Indeed, it seems somewhat premature to dismiss its potential as an ameliorative force in urban affairs. The rapid growth of the information industry in the Soviet Union has not yet filtered down to the daily management of urban affairs in other than a handful of the major centres. Given the competing demands for the limited supply of available technology, this situation is likely to remain unchanged over the short run. The principal message conveyed by Soviet Urban Management seems to be that the present state of knowledge, influence and finances in the Soviet Union has more in common with cities in markedly different economies and political systems than initially might be supposed. Whether or not one agrees with all the conclusions Lewis and Sternheimer draw from the data, the data themselves and the argument are well worth examining. For its analytic framework and detailed documentation the book serves as a model for Soviet studies. The few misspellings of place-names and the not uncommon confusion of the living space/useful space definitions of housing (p. 101) are but very minor blemishes in an otherwise quite excellent book. JAMES H. BATER University of Waterloo Towns in Societies: Essays in Economic History and Historical Sociology edited by Philip Abrams and E. A. Wrigley, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1978, viii + 344 pp., £7.95 Urbanisation, one of the keys to a study of economic and social development, is of interest not only for its own sake but in relation to development studies in all parts of the world. Recent inter-disciplinary developments in urban history are yielding new theoretical insights and widening the empirical basis of urban studies, many of which are of interest to both academic and practical planners. They include such issues as the role of the town in economic, social and political change; the changing relationships between town and country; the extent to which processes of urbanisation are universal or are culturally distinctive; and the degree to which the Copyright (c) 2004 ProQuest Information and Learning Company Copyright (c) Liverpool University Press

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Author details

Lawton, R.