BOOK REVIEW | The Planner | Tom Campbell
(Book blurb begins) James is exactly what you’d expect from one of London’s most promising, young town planners. He’s cautious, respected by colleagues and performs well in team meetings. But while James understands the glitter and grime of the city better than almost anyone, he hasn’t actually experienced much of it. And, as he watches his university friends blossom bewilderingly into rich and successful adults, he has the nagging sense that he has somehow fallen by the wayside. That is, until he meets Felix, who navigates the glamorous and cynical capital with sophisticated ease. Felix introduces James to a London that he has never known, and which doesn’t feature in the planning manuals: a world of private clubs and executive football boxes; of book launches, contemporary art galleries, suburban drug dealers and dates with women even more exotic than the peculiar vodka shots they drink. But London is an expensive city in many ways, and the world Felix has opened up comes at a cost. James may know how to design housing estates and high streets, but is it really possible to redraw the masterplan for his own life? And what will he lose along the way? (Book blurb ends)
The Planner (2014) by Tom Campbell tells the story of two months in the life of James Crawley, a young town planner working in the public sector for Southwark Council (south London borough across the River Thames from the City of London), who is having a ‘mid-life’ crisis in his early thirties. James has learned to play it safe. He knows a great deal about regulating city life but very little about actually experiencing life in one of the greatest cities in the world. In James’ opinion, he lacks a ‘worldview’. This is when he meets Felix, a brand planner in the advertising industry. Felix takes on James as a project to help him develop this worldview to better guide him. Felix does so by introducing James to the darker social mores of London. As one might expect, this includes recreational drug use, observations in class, professional, and sexual politics, and a pseudo-erotic rite-de-passage.
The personal revelations in The Planner are hardly surprising (people are not always as they appear) or earth-shattering (people are stupid and need to be told what to do, i.e. what one might expect from someone choosing town planning as a profession). This is especially true since it is readily apparent this is the worldview James already holds at the start of the story, so acute self-awareness is the only lesson he learns on this journey. However, it is in the atmospheric description of the social mores of Londoners (including lingering remnants of the class system) and the locales/neighborhoods of London itself where Campbell’s The Planner really shines. This includes all-too-familiar witty commentaries on the dreariness and inherently self-defeating proposition of the town planning profession itself in the absence of naked tyranny. Some of it is very cynical (e.g. everything is branding). You may not be entirely satisfied where The Planner ends up but you’ll enjoy the journey getting there, which so often describes what the city is really all about… Mark’s Grade:
You can purchase The Planner by Tom Campbell from Amazon here.