GPN session at World Urban Forum

July 14, 2022

The GPN held a networking session at the World Urban Forum Session 11 in Katowice (Poland) on 30 June 2022.

Introduction

The event began with an introduction from Timothy David Crawshaw, President of the Royal Town Planning Institute, which is currently chairing the GPN. It was followed by a short president from panel members.

The WUF GPN panel
The WUF GPN panel

Eleanor Mohammed, President of the Commonwealth Association of Planners (CAP), reported on actions being taken by CAP to empower and represent the Global South of the planning profession. In particular she referred to good work done at the Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM) meeting in Kigali (Rwanda) also in June this year. At CHOGM a network of African Planners was set out, initially to be covering East Africa, in which peer-to-peer knowledge sharing can be taking place.

Olafiyin Taiwo reflected on the work of young planners in the Commonwealth and the launch of the Commonwealth Youth of Sustainable Urbanisation network at GHOGM.

Piotr Lorens , gave a perspective from the host country of WUF11 and also TUP the Polish Association of Planners. In Poland a new planning law is being introduced attempting to reduce urban sprawl, but it is meeting with resistance in practice.

Timothy David Crawshaw  then drew delegates’ attention to the vital work of planners in dealing with issues of public health. This has become so vital in the wake of a global pandemic.

Discussion

wuf-11-gpn-event-audience-02We then had a good span of time for delegates to contribute their own views in a discussion hosted by Richard Blyth Head of Policy at the Royal Town Planning Institute. This was kicked off by using the annotation of the New Urban Agenda made by ISOCARP which focused on the parts of the NUA where planning is mentioned. The idea of the discussion was to consider how the NUA might need to be updated to create a New Planning Agenda .

The first part of the discussion looked at the topics which exist in the New Urban Agenda currently and where urban planning is featured. The list of these topics for planning includes:

  • Housing
  • Road Safety
  • Transport for all
  • Water
  • Culture
  • Freedom from Violence

Delegates [from countries including Netherlands, Eswatini, South Africa, United Kingdom, Morocco] challenged the NUA list to include more coverage of nature and biodiversity. The global biodiversity crisis is probably of even greater significance now than in 2016. There is greater knowledge and practice in green infrastructure than ever before, including using nature-based solutions to achieve outcomes for people and to increase resilience.

It was suggested that the NUA could have a greater emphasis on the connections between planning and long-term threats such as sea level rise and coastline management.

It was also suggested that there should be a focus on emergency and crisis response in the context of increased displacement and migrations both within countries and internationally and the role of planning in addressing those challenges.  The current war in Eastern Europe also throws up the need to consider how planning needs to react to the challenge of an increasing number of displaced people, both within countries and internationally as the result of conflicts. The NUA also needs to address displacement due to the impact of climate change.  The challenges of voluntary migration of people from cities to beauty spots in high income countries, which causes local people to be priced out of housing was also noted. Telecommuting has changed power relations, widening opportunities for people with high value occupations, but not for those involved in direct services and manufacturing which require continued attendance in specific workplaces.

The NUA recognizes the ongoing need for greater connections between transport and land use planning. It goes so far as to recognize that the techniques used to evaluate transport schemes need updating. According to delegates this issue remains critical. The danger posed to people with limited power in cities, such as walkers, disabled people and often women and children, from the way in which mobility is managed remains very serious. More generally, the meeting highlighted capacity and skill gaps that need to be addressed globally.

The delegates suggested the link between planning and health and wellbeing should be emphasized as there is a growing body of evidence highlighting the key role of planning in addressing these issues.

The meeting also raised the issues of spatial justice, landownership and access to land, human rights and poverty, equality and diversity should be considered together with governance, collaboration, leadership, and financing mechanisms.

In the second half of the debate we moved onto looking at how planning should work. The NUA says quite a lot about this: for example it says that plans should balance the short and long term , and plans should  be integrated and polycentric.  The WUF11 delegates also called for planning to be agile in order to deal with a world which seems more quick changing than it was: in some countries urban planning is crisis management. And greater concern to be paid to non-statutory planning processes .  It seems that the NUA considered that planning should be done by governments and cities alone and it doesn’t leave much room for other actors except in “participation”.

Since there may only one or two-hundred thousand planners in the world, and over 7 billion people, it follows that non professional input is critical.  “80% of the knowledge is in the community.” But it doesn’t necessarily follow that the planning which is non governmental is of the people. Large multinational corporations also “plan”. This activity is sometimes not open to sufficient challenge.

Delegates raised issues of human rights and questioned whether planners’ codes of conduct are sufficiently robust in this regard. Does remaining neutral on issues of poverty effectively mean planners are taking sides?

Information technology has evolved very quickly – change has been accelerated by the pandemic.  Big expectations are being made of “Data” to establish planning in areas where it is less developed, and to speed up planning in richer countries. However, data is never value free and questions around data collection and ethics should be addressed Which data about persons is being held by which organisations? And does increasing reliance on technology mean that many citizens are excluded from genuine participation?

There was broad agreement that in an interconnected world of social media the skill of communicating planning ideas to the public and also understanding the public’s concerns is of growing importance. It is probably now time to ensure that planning teams should include specialists in communication, using the greater variety of forms now possible.

It was felt that change management should be a required planning skill, and this term can also be used to explain what planning is to nonplanners and close the some of the knowledge gap and empowering communities by prioritising bottom-up planning approaches

In our discussion we had quite a lot more to say about how planning should be carried out. We said that planning education is important and that planning schools should not only follow practice but also lead it. The delegates also noted the impact of globalization and that cities are planned and managed in a highly volatile context.  To respond, planning needs smart and faster methods.

Whilst the NUA calls for increased capacity for urban planning across the world.  We know from more recent assessment such as by the Commonwealth Association of Planners that urban planning capacity is weakest in the parts of the world undergoing the fastest urbanization: 2.5 billion people will be added to cities in the next 25 years. Capacity development is therefore key.  We would go further and also express concern at some approaches resulting in the best talent from the Global South being recruited to work in international agencies and in the Global North.

Conclusion

The event was concluded by Timothy David Crawshaw, RTPI President, who summed up the discussion briefly and thanked delegates for contributing.

These notes are now available especially to ISOCARP and Commonwealth Association of Planners as a short record reflective of sentiment across the global profession. And they form the basis for thinking about a New Planning Agenda.

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