There’s a lot we can learn from town planning

PlanningMany towns around the western world started out as Roman garrisons. Primitive stockades gave way to fortified settlements which attracted local residents who set up communities outside the fort’s walls. In time, the communities became protected by the Romans and the distinctions between settlers and locals diminished. Over time, the communities themselves pulled down their walls and the towns we know today – open communities, were born.

It was the Roman way and the Romans got acceptance because they brought with them the list of what they did for us documented by that reliable source “the Life of Brian“.

I used this analogy when talking to a friend who runs an internet community. The community is gated, you need to validate your credentials to join – the site is heavily fortified with passwords. Around the site are local communities on linked in and twitter that feed off of and into the gated community. In time, I suspect the gated community will mingle with the external sites as the Romans did. Eventually we’ll see free communication without restrictions.

What’s holding back this process is fear. Concern from regulators that the knowledge held by the gated community is potentially toxic to a wider (retail) audience and a fear by those who sponsor the community that they may be deemed to be mis-selling their wares should the previously mentioned safeguards not be in place.

The Roman means of creating structured communities is at odds with other models. In the last thirty years, the creation of huge towns in China as people leave the land to take part in the nation’s new capitalist model has been anything but structured. People have emigrated to where work is and work has congregated around resources, ease of access and a simple welcome.

This congregation depended on people’s sense of opportunity, rather than out of fear and the need for protection.

Looking at on-line parallels, I look at the way people have assembled at . There are close to 12m people who get Martin Lewis‘ newspapers, people use the site to get vouchers, reduce their insurance costs, pay down debt, get advice on benefits – even to help them with long-term financial planning.

The site is open to everyone and at every click you are welcomed with warm and easy language. The site sets out to demystify financial matters and give people the confidence to get good deals. Nowhere is this better expressed than in the site’s encouragement to people to haggle. Did you know that you can haggle in Marks & Sparks?

The smile on the face of Martin Lewis which hovers over every page is ironic and mischievous and suffuses the site. There is a confidence about the smile born of success (the site recently sold for £86m).

This breezy self-confidence is really important to his site and it’s important to my work. I run the Pension Play Pen group on linked in and attempt to provide a similar editorial style of serious good humour. I’m hoping shortly to take what I have learned on linked in into a wider world where people can find out what needs to be found without having to link in , let alone prove themselves an expert.

Looking at Chinese towns with their social, political and environmental problems, I think of the need for planning and order to harness the energy of the people thirsting for a piece of the action.

I sense some of that urgency in conversations with people I know who run small businesses. Many are intrigued by the advertisements for auto-enrolment and keen to know what their duties as employers will be. They know that better pensions are on the way (some simply because of NEST).

Every month this year, more and more people will find themselves in a workplace pension and more and more companies will have to start preparing themselves to enrol their staff.

We need some Roman organisation about this , but we also need the freedom of movement and availability of opportunity that China offered its citizens in the 80s and 90s.

This is the challenge awaiting those of us ready to engage with the 1.2 million companies that will offer these new pensions in the next five years,


About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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2 Responses to There’s a lot we can learn from town planning

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