'Men come together to live. They remain together in cities to enjoy the good life.' Aristotle was right more than 2,000 years ago - and the centuries have not eroded his wisdom.
The fortunes of the city have waxed and waned throughout our history, but in my view their prospects now are brighter than at any time in the recent past. This is, in part, because people are beginning to realise that it makes more sense to regenerate our existing urban areas to meet housing demand than to leave them to rot.
Leaving the countryside as green as possible while regenerating the cities to provide homes and amenities is a laudable aspiration, and one which I will continue vigorously to champion. (Indeed, I always have: organisations such as Business in the Community, of which I am the president, have worked for many years to help regenerate the social and economic fabric of often forgotten urban communities.)
Yet if this aspiration is to be turned into reality, some things will need to change - not least the attitudes and practices within the disciplines of much orthodox planning, property management and architecture. These have all contributed to the present malaise in so much of our urban environment. My own involvement in these areas over the last few years suggests to me that we are at last reaching a staging post in our views about architecture and the urban environment and that there is now some evidence that a more humane scale of planning and building can prove its worth. Let me offer one or two examples.
At Poundbury, on the edge of Dorchester, the Duchy of Cornwall is developing a new settlement as a completely commercial project. I was determined that it should offer good housing for rent and for sale; jobs and training opportunities for people living locally; and, in time, as the project grew, also new local shops and decent community services. It was designed to do so in a way which respected the fine traditions of local and regional architecture, house construction and town planning, and would serve to enhance the quality of the historic town, blending it with the Dorset landscape.
Today, despite the early siren warnings of some sceptics, Poundbury is becoming a huge success: 140 homes are built and occupied and 150 people are working in new workshops and factories on the site. Moreover, it is about as far removed from the soullessness of many housing estates and business 'parks' as one could imagine. In short, it is becoming a place with its own spirit and identity, a proper part of the town of Dorchester, and not just a development.
I am delighted that in their recent report on housing, the House of Commons Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs was impressed by the principles which have guided the development at Poundbury and agree that the local vernacular should be respected in the design of housing, where this is appropriate.
On another level, one of the campaigns which I helped to launch in 1992 through Business in the Community, known as the Urban Villages Forum, is making a substantial impact on urban regeneration projects across the country. The Forum brings together many people from the worlds of property and planning to promote the sort of mixed-use urban environment which too much of the modern development industry has often been reluctant to embrace. From very humble beginnings, the Urban Villages Forum is now working with local communities, councils and developers in more than 30 places around the country. It is engaged in this work with English Partnerships, the national urban regeneration agency, and the projects include large derelict sites as well as historic urban quarters such as the Jewellery Quarter in Birmingham and Ancoats in Manchester.
The School housed within my existing Institute of Architecture has proved a notable success in offering a unique series of opportunities for those who find the more conventional approaches to architectural training to be out of step with their needs. In particular, the School's foundation course has been so successful that others now see the merit in this form of introduction to the essentials of good design and building.
Of course, I recognise that the Institute as a whole has had its fair share of problems - what new organisation doesn't? - but we have now tackled them. And we have done so decisively, because I believe that the work of the Institute matters. I want it to flourish, and I am convinced it will: in fact, I am more confident about its future than I have been for some time - and confident too about the contribution it can make to the important issue of improving the built environment of our country.
These initiatives, and others - such as Regeneration Through Heritage and the Phoenix Trust - which I have helped establish to exploit the immense potential of historic industrial and public buildings, are intended to reflect a more holistic view of what cities and towns should be; a view which properly recognises the supremacy of people rather than planning ideologies, the need for neighbourhoods rather than vast housing or industrial estates, and the importance of continuity as well as change.
I know there are many other projects where genuine efforts are under way to promote some of the more timeless principles of town planning, such as pedestrian scale, civic art and respect for traditional building materials - principles which have appeared to be absent from a lot (but by no means all) of modern building. It has always seemed obvious to me that regenerating towns and cities must demand a proper understanding of what has actually made them work - a discipline which was perhaps better understood during the two or three thousand years before the profession of modern town planning was invented. To be 'urbane' is, after all, to be civilised and cultured, the antithesis of the disorder and ugliness that has come to be associated with some urban 'planning'.
Holding these views can be a hazardous business, yet I do believe they strike a chord with the practical realities which face us today. Indeed, I am certain that the drive to regenerate our cities and towns will need to embrace what might be called 'traditional urbanism' (not traditional-ism) if it is to make them as attractive and functional as they need to be, and as attractive and convenient as the people who live in them deserve.
It is this quest for a more humane urbanism which lies at the heart of my decision to start bringing together the various initiatives which I have helped to create in the fields of architecture and the urban environment into a new, more unified and more ambitious effort: The Prince of Wales's Foundation for Architecture and the Urban Environment.
The new Foundation is not just about bringing together, for administrative convenience, these separate initiatives. It is to establish an especially integrated, practical and creative learning and research environment in a way which I believe is rare. When it becomes fully operational next year, the Foundation will embrace formal teaching and training through an expanded School of Architecture and the Building Arts; projects and research; events and publications; regeneration and urban planning; architecture and the fine and applied arts.
It will operate from Shoreditch, in East London, within a former industrial building the Foundation is purchasing and will redevelop, with close contact with its neighbouring community. In fact, I want the Foundation to draw strength and inspiration from that community, which is currently undergoing its own urban renaissance - with new businesses and houses emerging from former industrial sites - while learning the lessons of how some planning in that great part of London has in the past failed the people and businesses who live and work there. And it will develop close contact, too, with the wider worlds of architecture, design and regeneration.
It will offer an innovative learning environment where formal acquisition of knowledge is supplemented by opportunities to study and contribute to real-life projects across the United Kingdom and abroad, developing the existing work of my School of Architecture in projects elsewhere in this country and throughout Europe.
My new Foundation will be modern, but not modernist. Its values and culture will respect traditional techniques in the disciplines of architecture, design and the building arts, but will also encourage innovation and utterly modern applications of these skills. It will not tolerate pastiche, but neither will it deny the past or celebrate the brash megalomania which sometimes masquerades as creative design. It continues to be my view that the best of modernity flows from the best of tradition.
I care deeply about our country's built and urban environment. Of course, the countryside is vitally important to our quality of life; but the cities and towns are crucial to what we are, for they are the living landscapes of the past that link us to the future - in Abraham Lincoln's phrase, 'the electric chord that links...the hearts of men' from one generation to the next.