Sir Patrick Geddes

The Scottish sociologist, biologist, educator, and town planner Sir Patrick Geddes (1854-1932) is famous for his concepts and achievements in town planning.

Patrick Geddes, born in Ballater on Oct. 2, 1854, was brought up near Perth. Through boyhood explorations of Perthshire and the Highlands, Patrick learned to see rural and urban life as a whole and began to study all living things, including man, in relation to their environment. He graduated from Perth Academy at 16.

After an 18-month apprenticeship in a local bank, Geddes began studies of chemistry, geology, and biology, along with drawing and cabinetmaking. At 20, however, he found his real goal—zoology under T. H. Huxley. Then, while on an expedition to Mexico, a crisis of temporary blindness turned him from "eye-minded" extrovert into philosophical classifier of sciences and inventor of graphic "thinking machines" from folded sheets of paper. Thus arose his combination of Auguste Comte's sociology with Frédéric Le Play's occupational economics of Place-Work-Family into his own graphic double-action formula of Place*Work*Folk::Folk*Work*Place.

Returning to Scotland in April 1880 with weakened eyes which thereafter kept him from the microscope, Geddes became an inspiring lecturer in botany at Edinburgh University and carried on an incredibly varied intellectual and practical life. He urged the application of energy and biology concepts to statistics and economics; lectured on cooperation and socialism, capital, and labor; and campaigned for university extension and other educational reforms.

In 1886 Geddes married Anna Morton, a gifted musician, and they founded the Edinburgh Social Union. Moving into a workers' tenement, they cleaned up by example and personal labor many of the worst slum dwellings along the Royal Mile.

Accepting a part-time professorship in botany at University College, Dundee, in 1888 (held until 1919), Geddes organized the first summer schools in Europe at Edinburgh (1887-1898) and founded the Outlook Tower (1892) as "the world's first sociological laboratory." Here also came into focus his town planning concepts of civic and regional survey, or "diagnosis before treatment," and of "conservative surgery" instead of wholesale destruction of slum areas. Though biology was being crowded into the background, Geddes did publish the milestone Evolution of Sex (1889), in collaboration with his later-famous pupil, J. Arthur Thomson.

In 1897 Geddes and his wife went to Cyprus as private "economic missionaries," reclaiming arid farmlands and starting rural industries as realistic answers to the unsolved "Eastern question" of blundering colonial politicians. In 1899 and 1900 he made lecture tours of the United States, organizing meanwhile the American Section of the International School at the Paris Exposition of 1900. In Paris he launched a bold plan for preserving the best national pavilions of the "Rue des Nations" as permanent international museums and institutes—a UNESCO nearly 50 years ahead of its time! Impossible of realization then, the project has since been termed the greatest of Geddes's "magnificent failures." Another of these was his epoch-making survey of Dunfermline in 1903-1904 for the Scottish trustees of Andrew Carnegie's $2,500,000 gift to his birthplace. Rejected by them but published at Geddes's own expense, the resulting Study in City Development is today a classic of Geddesian thought and planning methods.

The decade 1914-1924 took Geddes to India and Palestine. He made diagnosis-and-treatment surveys of some 50 Indian urban areas. Among these his 2-volume Town Planning towards City Development for Indore in 1918 vies with his 1915 classic, Cities in Evolution, in awakening citizens as well as planners to the practical significance of his P*W*F::F*W*P formula. Both works are seasoned with neologisms coined to express new concepts, such as "paleotechnics," "neotechnics," "biotechnics," "conurbation," "megalopolis," "kakatopia," and "eutopia."

In 1919 he gave his farewell address at Dundee, then accepted the chair of sociology and civics at the University of Bombay. Returning to India via Jerusalem, he there made city plans for the military governor and designed a university for the Zionists which, had they built it, would have given the world a model of interdisciplinary and interfaith higher education that might well have provided solutions to age-old Arab-Jewish-Christian conflicts.

In 1924 serious illness forced Geddes's return to Europe, but on reaching southern France he made a remarkable recovery and was soon building a small-scale Outlook Tower and University Hall near Montpellier. In 1925 he could thus open his final project, the Scots College, as the first unit of a Mediterranean "Cité Universitaire." The New Year's Honors of 1932 listed Geddes as Sir Patrick for his services to education. He died in Montpellier on April 17, 1932.

Further Reading on Sir Patrick Geddes

The most recent book on Geddes is Philip Mairet, Pioneer of Sociology: The Life and Letters of Patrick Geddes (1957). Philip Boardman, Patrick Geddes: Maker of the Future (1944), contains some semifictional material now being weeded out for a revised edition. The first book on Geddes, Amelia Defries's The Interpreter Geddes: The Man and His Gospel (1927), is rather disorganized but contains authentic transcriptions of some of his "teaching talks." Another important document is Lewis Mumford's evaluation of Geddes in The Condition of Man (1944).

Additional Biography Sources

Boardman, Philip, The worlds of Patrick Geddes: biologist, town planner, re-educator, peace-warrior, London; Boston: Routledge and K. Paul, 1978.

Kitchen, Paddy, A most unsettling person: the life and ideas of Patrick Geddes, founding father of city planning and environmentalism, New York: Saturday Review Press, 1975.

Mairet, Philip, Pioneer of sociology: the life and letters of Patrick Geddes, Westport, Ct.: Hyperion Press, 1979.

Meller, Helen Elizabeth, Patrick Geddes: social evolutionist and city planner, London; New York: Routledge, 1990.

Meller, Helen Elizabeth, Patrick Geddes: social evolutionist and city planner, London; New York: Routledge, 1993.

Patrick Geddes: a symposium, 1 March 1982, Dundee: Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art: University of Dundee, 1982.