Austin Williams

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LM network resources
Global warming.jpg This article is part of the Climate project of Spinwatch.
Austin Williams at an LM network event
Stanley Feldman and Vincent Marks, Global Warming and other Bollocks: the truth about all those science scare stories, 2009, including a chapter by Austin Williams of the LM network

Austin Williams is an architect, organiser and writer associated with the libertarian anti-environmental LM network. In particular, he has written for Living Marxism, led the Future Cities Project, ManTownHuman, Bookshop Barnies and the defunct Transport Research Group, participated in Audacity and in Institute of Ideas events, spoken at the Manchester Salon and the Battle of Ideas, adjudicated for Debating Matters, appeared on WORLDbytes and written for Spiked [1] and Culture Wars.[2]

Austin Williams, Enemies of Progress, 2008. In the Guardian, John Vidal and David Adam wrote "when you see the words 'progress' or 'reason' in a book title, you can bet it has been written by an extreme libertarian arguing for the right to pollute, or an ageing Living Marxism cell member - or both."[3]

Current and Recent Roles

Williams has been a lecturer of Architecture and Urbanism at Xi'an Jiaotong-Liverpool University, Suzhou, China since 2011, since when he has also contributed regularly to The Architectural review as their China correspondent[4]. He has also been the managing editor of the architectural journal 'Masterplanning the Future' (MPTF) since 2013. He is the director and founder of ManTowNHuman (a play on the Manifesto title ‘ManTowNHuman: Man Towards a New Humanism’), which was established in 2010. He has also been an architectural producer for the NBS Learning channels since 2009. A 2007 biographical note states that he was a Visiting Tutor at the Vehicle Design department of the Royal College of Art[5]. He has been the director of the Future Cities Project since its foundation in 2006 and has also organised the Bookshop Barnies since 2005. He has also appeared at nearing 30 Battle of Ideas events since 2005[6], on panels often heavily weighted with others with links to the LM Network. He was a writer and illustrator for the ‘Short Cuts guide book series’ from 2005 until 2011. He was a regular contributor to the Times between 2004 and 2013, and contributed articles to a host of publications during this time including BD, Blueprint and the Economist. He co-ordinated the ‘future of’ festivals between 2003-2010, which looked at the future of various societal/architectural issues such as congestion, infrastructure, local vs global, and community. He spoke and wrote for Audacity between 2003 and 2007 and was a regular writer for Spiked between 2002-2010[7].Between 2000 and 2005 he was the Technical Editor for the Architect’s Journal, for whom he continued to contribute articles until 2013. He also wrote for the Daily Telegraph between 2001 and 2006.

Previous Roles

He was the director of the Transport Research Group from around 1997[8] until 2005[9][10]. He wrote for Living Marxism and LM between 1997 and 2000 contributing 4 articles and 5 commentaries. Before this he was an architecture critic for BBC London for two years and was a practising architect between 1987-2000[11].

Education

Austin Williams was born in South Wales on 24 April 1959 and studied for a BSc Diploma in architecture at what was then known as the ‘Bartlett School of Architecture, Environmental Design, Town Planning and the Built Environment’, but has since been re-branded as ‘The Bartlett’, at University College London.

Views

Climate change sceptic

Williams was the organiser, on behalf of the Future Cities Project, of a panel on climate change at the the Battle of Ideas festival at the London's Royal College of Art, which was organised by the Institute of Ideas. 'Williams, picked the panel, and he's on it too. The first article on Austin's reading list to accompany the debate mocks "climate change doom-mongers". Like the Government's chief scientist, Sir David King perhaps? Williams himself adds a sarcastic self-penned piece reviewing a conference on renewable energy', the Press Gazette reported.[12]

Books: Critic of Sustainability

He is the author of a book attacking advocates of sustainability, The Enemies of Progress: Dangers of sustainability, published in May 2008 and standing in June 2010 at 343,203 in the Amazon.co.uk sales ranking. [13]


In 2009 he had a chapter, 'Unsustainable arguments', in Global Warming and other Bollocks: the truth about all those science scare stories, edited by Stanley Feldman and Vincent Marks. Other authors in the book included Eamonn Butler, director of the Adam Smith Institute.

A promotional description of Williams's book, The Enemies of Progress: Dangers of Sustainability, stated that "this polemical book examines the concept of sustainability and presents a critical exploration of its all-pervasive influence on society, arguing that sustainability, manifested in several guises, represents a pernicious and corrosive doctrine that has survived primarily because there seems to be no alternative to its canon: in effect, its bi-partisan appeal has depressed critical engagement and neutered politics. It is a malign philosophy of misanthropy, low aspirations and restraint. This book argues for a destruction of the mantra of sustainability, removing its unthinking status as orthodoxy, and for the reinstatement of the notions of development, progress, experimentation and ambition in its place." The book features an endorsement by Frank Furedi.[2]

In the Guardian, John Vidal and David Adam wrote that "when you see the words 'progress' or 'reason' in a book title, you can bet it has been written by an extreme libertarian arguing for the right to pollute, or an ageing Living Marxism cell member - or both. So it is with The Enemies of Progress: The Dangers of Sustainability, a book by Austin Williams that argues, very roughly, that planning is bad, all development is good, and sod the lot of you. Judge for yourself how batty it is with this endorsement from former Sunday Telegraph editor Dominic Lawson: 'A much-needed diagnosis of the bleak anti-human pathology described as environmentalism'."[3]

Writing for Living Marxism (1997-2000)

Williams wrote 4 articles and 5 commentaries on UK transport policy, for Living Marxism, between 1997 and 2000. He argues that campaigns to introduce speed limits lack evidence, that speed can actually reduce accidents and that blaming car drivers for accidents shifts the blame from lack of investment in infrastructure:

Blaming speed for accidents presents the road safety issue as an abstract argument about the need for individual restraint, but ignores the very real measures which the authorities need to take to prevent specific dangerous situations arising... massive investment in road infrastructure in the UK is not on the cards. Instead, drivers themselves are blamed for accidents. I think that this is a dangerous evasion[14]

Traffic control an invasion of the private sphere

He also seeks to portray the car as an unfairly maligned vehicle stating 'Car drivers will become the Smokers of the New Millennium, banished to the margins of the city'[15]. In addition he argues that the government seeks to extend this negative viewpoint to all transport in an effort to modify people's behaviour, and that this is against the principles of expansionist endeavour:

When the government launched its long-awaited White Paper 'A new deal for transport' at the end of July, everybody from Friends of the Earth to the Automobile Association agreed in principle that it was a positive step forward...There is a broad acceptance of the prejudices which underpin the proposals - specifically the prejudice against the motor car. The need to reduce reliance on the private car is the unquestioned assumption that runs through the whole document... instead of simple anti-car policies, we now have a fully-fledged anti-transport policy...At root the debate is not about transport policy at all, but about social policy. It is about encouraging responsible citizenry through the medium of transport. Britain's roads are in crisis, we are told, and in partnership with New Labour we can all lend a hand...It seems the purpose of transport policy into the next century should be to create a situation where people don't travel outside their own parochial boundaries, if at all. This is the biggest indictment of transport policy at the end of the millennium; a policy that encourages parish-pump values instead of broadening horizons, celebrates physical exertion over engineering, and tells us not to travel at all unless absolutely un-avoidable[16]

Environmentalist elite capture

Elsewhere he seems to suggest that a successful anti-car lobbying industry has promoted formally extremist actions into legitimacy:

A decade ago, police arrested a group of guilla transport activists for painting a cycle path on the road in Fulham. Going out at dead of night, with paint-spraying equipment 'borrowed' from the council, they completed a short stretch of cycle lane before returning the paint sprayer in the morning. How times have changed - today, cycle lanes are painted on by council employees in broad daylight. From the heyday of Swampy and the battle for Newbury, we have now arrived at a period of consensus about the need to the 'relaince' on the car[17]

He also argues people fear to criticise a transport heirarchy which places cycling and walking as the elite mode of travel:

The government has succeeded in creating a new hierarchy of transport. This hierarchy prioritises walking and cycling over all other forms of mobility. Regardless of the vicissitudes of the debate at any given moment, that discussion is not open to question. Nobody dares[18]

Writing for Spiked (2001-2010)

Between 2001-2010 Williams wrote 34 articles for Spiked, many of which were again on issues relating to transport. In addition he sought to downplay modern fears of pollution and decried a lack of vision in modern architecture to challenge the 'orthodox' position which puts concern for environmental limits at its centre.


Environmentalism dominant in architecture

He argues that a consensus around the need to plan for environmental limits, beginning with the architect, represents a more insidious reality which seeks to socially engineer communities and ban anything contrary to the mainstream:

New Urbanism primarily advocates close-knit communities based on ‘neighbourhoods [that are] compact, pedestrian-friendly, and mixed-use [which] bring diverse ages, races, and incomes into daily interaction, strengthening the personal and civic bonds essential to an authentic community.’ (8) They decry suburbia, car-prioritisation and sprawl. New Urbanism is fundamentally a reactionary movement for urban stasis. However, the vacuum of architectural discourse, the inability and unwillingness of leading architects to bother to provide a theoretical framework to their designs, together with the acceptance of environmental limits, has cleared the way for New Urbanism to look like a dynamic organisation with exciting ideas. It has also been helped by the fact that New Urbanists do have a moral framework that has been unchallenged by the architectural mainstream. Indeed, such is the acceptance of the ethical codes of community-building that infuses most New Urbanist thinking that most architects are complicit with the tenets of car-reduction, reduced environmental intrusion, locally-sourced materials, participatory design, a sacrosanct urban-memory and the privileging of (sic) nature of humanity...The Charter for the New Urbanism looks to forming ‘identifiable areas that encourage citizens to take responsibility for their maintenance and evolution (where) streets and squares…enable neighbours to know each other and protect their communities.’ While these sound like pleasant homilies and an innocent nostalgia for the reinvigoration of neighbourliness, there is a less tolerant aspect to the pattern-book approach of the New Urbanists, in which disharmony can be designed out and neighbourliness engineered in[19]

Carbon reduction = Anti-humanity

He argues that the desire to reduce energy consumption is a 'ritualistic frenzy' with no purpose, that even if CO2 emmisions do cause climate change it is not logical to reduce their emission, that rational debate is the real answer and that reducing emmisions is anti-humanity:

For some celebrity hypochondriacs, OCD has become a fashion statement, for others it is just a chain around their neck. But there is one major obsessive compulsion that has become a central feature of all our lives to the extent that there is real kudos in becoming its victim. Far from reducing anxiety, the latest OCD – Obsessive Carbon Dogma – actually raises anxiety in order to give itself some therapeutic rationale. Fear of rising tides, of population growth, of China and India, of motor cars, of energy use, and of most other aspects of contemporary society, has led us to develop an infatuation with carbon and the mindless repetitive trivia of everyday life. Such is the extent of this compulsion that it has even become government policy in many developed countries...There is a simple cure for OCD sufferers and it is up to us who haven’t succumbed to the Obsessive Carbon Delusion to save them from themselves. We simply need to argue for rationality and reasoned debate. We should point out that not only should our world not revolve around reducing carbon emissions, but it is, in fact, CO2 that makes the world go round. Humanity is not simply the sum total of its carbon emissions – in fact humans make carbon meaningful. We would be nothing without expending energy, and lots of it, to transform the world and to make us what we are....Even if carbon emissions are causing global warming, and even if global warming has the potential to cause dangerous sea-level rise, it still doesn’t follow automatically that we should use less carbon. Maybe we should use more carbon. More carbon energy to create flood defences, build escape roads, construct new cities, expand cheap flights to improve the ability of people to choose where they live. Unfortunately, the more that we become blinded by a carbon infatuation, the more we are in very real danger of losing sight of our options and our humanity. The cure for OCD is to use, create, invent and develop more things. Rather than keeping our heads stuck in our bins, this is the creative way to solve problems[20]

Career Chronology

Other Links with the Network

Battle of Ideas Panel Appearances

2005

2006

2007

2008

2009

2010

2012

2013

2014

Contact Details

45 St Lawrence Court,
De Beauvoir, London N1 5TP
Phone: +44 (0)7957 534 909

External resources

Publications

1997

1998

1999

2000

2001

2002

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

2008

2009

2010

2011

  • Austin Williams in Alex Danchev Ed., The 100 Artists' Manifestos: From the Futurists to the Stuckist, Penguin Classic, ISBN-10: 0141191791, 27 January 2011.
  • Austin Williams & Alastair Donald, The Lure of the City: From Slums to Suburbs, Pluto Press, ISBN-10:0745331777, 12 September 2011.
  • Austin Williams, Shortcuts: Book 3 - Legal and Environment, author / illustrator, NBS, 2011.


Notes

  1. "Articles by Austin Williams", Spiked website, accessed 2 May 2010
  2. 2.0 2.1 "The Enemies of Progress", Imprint Academic, accessed July 2009.
  3. 3.0 3.1 John Vidal and David Adam, "Seeing red over green", The Guardian May 21, 2008.
  4. See Austin Williams, 'Author Archive', The Architectural Review, accessed 27 March 2015.
  5. "The Human Footprint – has civilization gone too far?", The NY Salon, February 13, 2007.
  6. As of December 2014.
  7. [hhttp://www.spiked-online.com/index.php/search/results/3ca9bb36e3fe29a717586f9718de600d/ "Search results: Austin Williams"], Spiked Online, accessed 8 March 2011.
  8. See Stephen Goodwin, 'Environment: Greener cars up to task', The Independent (London), 15 November 1997.
  9. Based on a Nexis search for 'Austin Williams' and 'Transport Research Group'. The last article populated was 2005. See Austin Williams, 'Prepare to be seriously inconvenienced Austin Williams examines the proposed expansion of congestion charging', The Daily Telegraph, 21 May 2005.
  10. "At a glance", The Future Cities Project, accessed July 2009. (Scroll down to the "Battle of Ideas" section").
  11. See Austin Williams, ‘Staff Profile – experience’, Xi'an Jiaotong-Liverpool University website, accessed 27 March 2015.
  12. "The Battle of Ideas: It’s a twisted old battlefield", Press Gazette, November 3, 2006.
  13. "Sales Ranking", Amazon.co.uk website, accessed 11 June 2010
  14. See Austin Williams, 'Futures: Speed reduction can kill', LM 111, p. 36, June 1998.
  15. See Austin Williams, 'Pedestrian transport policies', Living Marxism commentary, 18 June 1997.
  16. See Austin Williams, 'Futures: The government's anti-transport policy', LM 113, p. 37, September 1998.
  17. See Austin Williams, 'Car-less whispers', p. 120, Last Magazine, Summer 2000.
  18. See Austin Williams, ‘No U-turn on transport’, LM Commentary, 15 January 2000.
  19. See Austin Williams, 'New Orleans and the New Urban vision: Progressive architects have left the building', 9 February 2006, Spiked, accessed 30 March 2015.
  20. See Austin Williams, 'An epidemic of OCD: Obsessive Carbon Dogma: From living in virtual darkness to minutely measuring their water-use, greens’ fixation with carbon counting is verging on a mental illness', 24 September 2009, Spiked, accessed 30 March 2015
  21. See Adam Carey, 'A contrarian with a big idea for mankind; Encounter with Austin Williams', The Age (Melbourne, Australia), 14 August 2010.
  22. See Austin Williams, 'Reunited: 'in My Day, We Rarely Stayed In College, The Times Higher Education Supplement, 5 November 2004.
  23. Now known as 'The Bartlett' only.
  24. Dates based on the article wrriten by: Adam Carey, 'A contrarian with a big idea for mankind; Encounter with Austin Williams', The Age (Melbourne, Australia), 14 August 2010.
  25. Note: His Staff profile suggests a shorter time was spent as a practising architect. It states 'I am a Chartered Architect and was (sic) practice for 13 years as an architect and project manager. See Austin Williams, 'Staff Profile', Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University website, accessed 16 January 2015.
  26. Projects were mostly in the north-east of England.
  27. See Adam Carey, 'A contrarian with a big idea for mankind; Encounter with Austin Williams', The Age (Melbourne, Australia), 14 August 2010.
  28. Based on Staff profile which states 'I am a Chartered Architect and was (sic) practice for 13 years as an architect and project manager. See Austin Williams, 'Staff Profile', Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University website, accessed 16 January 2015.
  29. See Stephen Goodwin, 'Environment: Greener cars up to task', The Independent (London), 15 November 1997.
  30. Based on a Nexis search for 'Austin Williams' and 'Transport Research Group'. The last article populated was 2005. See Austin Williams, 'Prepare to be seriously inconvenienced Austin Williams examines the proposed expansion of congestion charging', The Daily Telegraph, 21 May 2005.
  31. See Austin Williams, 'Who wants communities?', 25 September 2013, Audacity, accessed 16 January 2015>
  32. See Adam Carey, 'A contrarian with a big idea for mankind; Encounter with Austin Williams', The Age (Melbourne, Australia), 14 August 2010.
  33. Based on a Nexis search for 'Austin Williams' and 'Architect's journal'.
  34. See Austin Williams, 'Author Archive', Spiked, accessed 26 March 2015.
  35. See Austin Williams, 'Shut that Door: Austin Williams suggests that you leave your house unlocked', 31 May 2007, New Humanist, originally published in 2002, accessed 16 January 2015.
  36. For example, see: Austin Williams, 'All Planned Out? The Worldwide Impact of the British Town and Country Planning System', 18-19 May 2007, Audacity, accessed 16 January 2015.
  37. See Austin Williams, 'Why is construction so backward? - reviewed by Austin Williams', 2004, Audacity, accessed 16 January 2015.
  38. See Austin Williams, 'Staff Profile', Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University website, accessed 16 January 2015.
  39. See Adam Carey, 'A contrarian with a big idea for mankind; Encounter with Austin Williams', The Age (Melbourne, Australia), 14 August 2010.
  40. See Austin Williams, 'Who is Future Cities?', Future Cities website, accessed 26 March 2015. States: 'He is the founder of mantownhuman and an independent programme-maker, writer and illustrator of Shortcuts...' suggesting the role is ongoing.
  41. See 'BookshopBarnies, Future Cities project website, accessed 27 March 2015.
  42. See Austin Williams 'Global warming debate raises tempers', 26 March 2010, BDonline, accessed 26 March 2015.
  43. See Adam Carey, 'A contrarian with a big idea for mankind; Encounter with Austin Williams', The Age (Melbourne, Australia), 14 August 2010.
  44. Based on latest publication to date of Shortcuts book with his involvement.
  45. See Austin Williams, 'A Return to Critical Thinking', 7 May 2010, Blueprint, accessed 16 January 2015.
  46. See Austin Williams, 'Staff Profile', Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University website, accessed 16 January 2015.
  47. See Austin Williams, 'In defence of cities', 2 December 2011, The Economist, accessed 16 January 2015.
  48. See Austin Williams, 'Author Archive', The Architectural Review, accessed 27 March 2015.
  49. See Austin Williams, 'Magazine Launch', 24 March 2013, MPTF, accessed 27 March 2015.
  50. See Tony Gilland, ‘What is Community?’, 29 October 2005, Battle of Ideas, accessed 26 March 2015.
  51. See Austin Williams, ‘Nature's Revenge?’, 29 October 2006, Battle of Ideas, accessed 16 January 2015.
  52. See Austin Williams, ‘What does sustainability mean for the developing world?’, 29 October 2006, Battle of Ideas, accessed 16 January 2015.
  53. See Austin Williams, ‘Carbon, carbon everywhere?’, 29 October 2006, Battle of Ideas, accessed 16 January 2015.
  54. See ‘Design in denial?’, 1 October 2007, Battle of Ideas, accessed 16 January 2015.
  55. See Austin Williams, 'Age of the metropolis: What is the future of cities?', 27 October 2007, ‘‘Battle of Ideas’’, accessed 16 January 2015.
  56. See Austin Williams, 'Designing Behaviour', 28 October 2007, Battle of Ideas, accessed 16 January 2015.
  57. See Austin Williams, ‘More than bricks and mortar?’, 28 October 2007, Battle of Ideas, accessed 16 January 2015.
  58. See Austin Williams, ‘Damned if you do and damned if you don't: The Three Gorges Dam Controversy’, 12 July 2008, ‘‘Battle of Ideas’’, accessed 16 January 2015.
  59. See Austin Williams, ‘Innovation in Architecture Late-Nite Review’, 23 October 2008, Battle of Ideas, accessed 16 January 2015.
  60. See Austin Williams, ‘The Battle for Progress’, 2 November 2008, Battle of Ideas, accessed 16 January 2015.
  61. See Austin Williams, ‘Sustainability in Architecture: Late-Nite Review', 15 October 2009, Battle of Ideas, accessed 16 January 2015.
  62. See Austin Williams, ‘India's Future: Slumdogs or Millionaires?’, 1 November 2009, Battle of Ideas, accessed 16 January 2015.
  63. See Austin Williams, ‘The future of transport: the highway to hell?’, 25 October 2010, Battle of Ideas, accessed 16 January 2015.
  64. See Austin Williams, ‘Happy-clappy architecture: designing for well-being’, 30 October 2010, Battle of Ideas, accessed 16 January 2015.
  65. See Austin Williams, ‘Bookshop Barnie at the battle: Voodoo Histories’, 30 October 2010, Battle of Ideas, accessed 16 January 2015.
  66. See Austin Williams, ‘Innovative engineering: within limits?’, 31 October 2010, Battle of Ideas, accessed 16 January 2015.
  67. See Austin Williams, ‘Innovative engineering: within limits?’, 31 October 2010, Battle of Ideas, accessed 16 January 2015.
  68. See ‘Bookshop Barnie with Natalie Haynes’, 2 November 2010, Battle of Ideas, accessed 16 January 2015.
  69. See Austin Williams ‘Bookshop Barnie Martin Jacques’, 26 October 2012, Battle of Ideas, accessed 16 January 2015.
  70. See Austin Williams, ‘Pop-ups: overhyped and everywhere?’, 19 October 2013, Battle of Ideas, accessed 16 January 2015.
  71. See Austin Williams, ‘Master-planning for the future?’, 19 October 2013, Battle of Ideas, accessed 16 January 2015.
  72. See Austin Williams, ‘In Conversation: China’, Sunday 20th October 2013, Battle of Ideas, accessed 16 January 2015.
  73. See ‘Bookshop Barnie: Paul Morley’, 25 October 2013, Battle of Ideas, accessed 16 January 2015.
  74. See Austin Williams, ‘Bookshop Barnie with Professor Rana Mitter on China’s War with Japan’, 18 October 2014, Battle of Ideas, accessed 16 January 2015.
  75. See Austin Williams, ‘Cities in the machine age: all systems, no soul?’, 18 October 2014, Battle of Ideas, accessed 16 January 2015.
  76. See Austin Williams, ‘From bullet trains to driverless cars: where is transport going?’, 18 October 2014, Battle of Ideas, accessed 16 January 2015.
  77. See Austin Williams, ‘What is good architecture?’, Sunday 19th October 2014, Battle of Ideas, accessed 16 January 2015.
  78. See Austin Williams, ‘Lessons from Asia: what is a world-class education?’, 19 October 2014, Battle of Ideas, accessed 16 January 2015.