Bob Jarvis was educated as one of the last of the gentlemen planners at Newcastle University, but later took classes in poetry and contemporary dance.

He is probably the only qualified planner to have an MA in Creative Writing.

He worked at Milton Keynes before “Milton Keynes” existed, then undertook a two year research programme of zen-like isolation in urban design before urban design was re-invented,  joined Tyne and Wear County Council when there was such a place  to work on the environmental design. He was Gateshead’s first conservation officer which he wrote up as Talking About Special Places   for his doctoral research, while his pioneering work for the National Garden Festival bid was re-written as epic poem The Dunston Manuscript.

From 1987 he led urban design teaching in the planning courses at South Bank University. He has run a series of successful project based programmes in London collaborative projects in Europe and a “live” projects.. His research and writing has focussed on town planning as an art  and urban design as choreography. In this work he developed the argument that urban design is the core of town planning and that its ‘real subject’ is everyday life. He placed ideas above technicality with the notion that:

All planners do is talk about places that aren’t , yet  

Key Urban Design Teaching projects 

‘Urban Design’ though it is now claimed to be at the center of what is now called ‘spatial planning’ has not always been so highly regarded, and even today the fine words of professional rhetoric do not always butter the parsnips of day to day planning work. Appointed to the old South Bank Polytechnic it was with the specific brief from the new Head of Planning Mike Gibson to revitalize the design teaching on planning courses. I had come from years of practice in a suicide mission at ‘Deadend District Council’ which I was busy writing up into a bildungsroman of a Ph.D. and an enthusiasm for contemporary dance. In those Thatcherite days, the developer knew best and design was a subjective matter for aesthetes and architects. My job felt rather being in a monastery in the Dark Ages, keeping old skills and beliefs alive. But after various internal battles (of a ‘can white men sing the blues’ nature) led to studio space from architecture and some would say a ‘South Bank Style’ in planning design emerged.

Urban design came back into fashion and recognition and with CABE and UDAL and a thousand and one champions and seminars and consultants. Now everyone is into ‘placemaking’ – even the RTPI – and our role has shifted again : to challenge and question the orthodoxy of imposing phrases, squeaks and fast talk and remind our students that their real clients are still upright mobile furless bipeds who construct protected spaces on several levels and in various shapes and materials for some activities and remain outdoors in a range of terrains and climates for others.

EUFSV – Design

One of the highlights of the undergraduate course’s design specialism is the project based field study visit – devised on the basis that urban designers have to be ready to work in unfamiliar places and absorb that old ghost of ours – the genius loci – and produce a project that looks as if they were born there.

These visits were to Barcelona, Lille, Turin, Milan and Venice. For three years we had Socrates Funding to run a three way joint project with Politecnico di Milan and Ecole d’Architecture de Lille. In Venice we built links with Comune di Venezia and Citta d’Aqua and worked on projects at Sacca San Biagio, on the (long proposed  but never realized) sublagunare rail link and in The Aresenale  well as the hypothetical redevelopment of Santa Lucia Station ~(which was to be moved in one version of the Piano Regalatore)  Prior to the visit they do researched the city with Calvino’s Invisible Cities as the key text.

Urban Design Projects

The ‘urban design’ specialism was established as part of the revisions to the course that the RTPI required several years ago and replaced a range of varied ‘options’ – Urban design, Conservation, Landscape and Culture Place and Creativity.

After many years working on the South Bank Centre until that became too hot to handle as first Farrell and then Rodgers started producing ill fated ‘masterplans’ the idea that these units might be ‘live’ projects emerged. We were lucky to be invited (and funded) by Great Yarmouth Seafront Regeneration to sketch some ideas – since then worked on Ashford, London Bridge, Archway and Central Hackney, as well as the University site and the Bankside-Borough triangle.

The students now undertake a full range of design exercises from area appraisal through to site based sketch schemes. Alongside this and working on the same sites and areas they also learn about design theory through approaching the project ‘in the manner of….’ and reflecting on their working methods and the sources they have used.

Place Performance and Social Usage

Though the changing structure and resources for the courses have meant that the performance element has been squeezed out of The Arts of Town Planning and Culture Place and Creativity lives only in memories of its student’s experimental work – Alan Grey’s performance of Trafalgar Square, Vikki Gregg’s exploration of responses to styles of dress outside Brixton Tube station- it has resurfaced in this postgraduate unit which is gradually being established as an original contribution to the portfolio of the planning courses. 

It draws on a forgotten history of urban design that can be traced to Jane Jacobs’ often overlooked ‘sidewalk ballet’ and David L Thomas’s research at Newcastle. But it also absorbs the dimensions that Struan Leslie has brought to this teaching from contemporary dance and postmodern choreography that can be traced back to Judson Church.Urban design and choreography share the same definition :

 The study, observation, and notation of the way people arrange themselves in space and time, their relationship to others and elements of their physical environment, unraveling the shapes and patterns and stories of purposeful and chance actions to create new settings and sequences.

In 2011 he won a British Academy small grants award to study contemporary Romanian art and he is now a researcher in art history at Sussex University following up this theme.





Following a career teaching urban design and history which led to projects in Italy and research in Romania I studied for the MA in Art History and chose the lonely path of focussing all my work on Romania which my Ph.D. work  has  developed. One of the roles that would like to develop at Sussex is to establish links with other cultural and social research on Eastern Europe.

I was briefly a Student Mentor 


1969                BA (Hons, 1st Class) Land Use Studies, University of Newcastle  Special project: The Evolution of an                              English Townscape Kings Lynn.

1973                MPhil (Urban Planning Design), University of Newcastle

1974                MRTPI membership

1994                Ph.D., Faculty of Social Sciences, Open University Dissertation: Talking About Special Places - a                                 covert participant observation study of local authority planning practice in the conservation of                                   historic buildings and areas.

1998                IHBC Membership

2005                MA(with Distinction)and winner of GoldTel prize in Creative and Transactional Writing, Brunel                                     University.

                       Individual writing project : The Ring Project (a transcription of Wagner's Ring Cycle in the manner of                         pulp fiction, country western songs, soap opera, ...a different style for each scene)

2005                LSBU Nominee for National Teaching Fellowship

2012 -4            British Academy Small Award - Contemporary Romanian Arts as a  commentary and critique of the                           urban environment of the post-communist city

2012- 13         Introductory Romanian Language classes SSEES, London University

2017                MA Art History(Merit) at Sussex University  Term papers and dissertation all on Romanian art