The Shape of Cities: Urban Planning and Management
The dialogue was moderated by Mr. Stephen Bradshaw, Producer, BBC-Panorama, Attleborough, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The panellists were Professor John Friedmann, University of British Columbia, Canada; Dr. Ossama Salem, Chief Executive Officer and President, Capacity-Building International, Maadi, Egypt; Ms. Tasneem Essop, Minister of Environment, Planning and Economic Development, Western Cape Government, South Africa; Professor Charles Choguill, King Saud University, Riyadh; Mr. Herbert Girardet, Director of Research, World Future Council Initiative, Chepstow, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and Environmental Consultant and Senior Adviser to Eco-City Dongtan, China; Mr. Dritan Shutina, Executive Director, Co-PLAN, Institute for Habitat Development, Albania; Professor Cliff Hague, President, Commonwealth Association of Planners; Mr. David Siegel, President, American Planning Association; Ms. Lajana Manandhar, Lumanti Support Group for Shelter, Kathmandu; and Mr. Brian Field, Senior Economist, European Investment Bank. Dr. Deborah Thomas, President of the Trinidad and Tobago Society of Planners, served as rapporteur.
The major issues and concerns debated in the dialogue were as follows. While it was true that sustainability was the new watchword of urban development, and, drawing their most recent inspiration from the World Summit on Social Development held in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2002, many city managers and other stakeholders were seeking to maximize not only environmental but also social and economic sustainability, there were significant differences of opinion about the most important priorities for sustainability. The purpose of the dialogue was to examine the relationships between poverty, economic development, environment and spatial planning in the context of sustainable development. Two cases studies of emerging strategic approaches to planning were discussed. There was a particular focus on the role of urban planning, and what was coming to be referred to as the “new urban planning”, which was proposed as a tool to address those tensions.
Tracing the developments in the field of planning and sustainability over the past six or seven decades, with particular reference to North America, Professor Friedmann concluded that while planning had evolved and adapted itself to changing circumstances, it was still not adequate or effective enough in its present form: the tools of planning had succeeded neither in containing urban growth nor in resolving the tensions between environmental, economic and social dimensions.
Dr. Salem pointed out that the North American reality was very different from that of the rest of the world, especially the Middle East region, which was characterized by heavily centralized government systems and weak local authorities. He pointed to a number of local and global sustainability issues and the tensions often seen between them, and expressed the view that good local governance was the key to reconciling the green and the brown agendas, a link often not understood or considered by policymakers.
Ms. Essop asserted that a key role of local government was to defend the public interest. She also emphasized that there could not be a separation between issues of the environment, social justice and economic development. In response to a question as to whether the sustainability agenda was the same for the developed and developing world, she pointed out that the assumption that there was homogeneity within each of those two spheres was itself incorrect, and the question should not be “which agenda”, but “whose agenda”. The one common factor in both developed and developing countries was that the poor bore the brunt of environmental degradation and poor planning, and their involvement in setting the agenda was therefore crucial.
Professor Choguill presented a vigorous defence of planning, reinforcing Professor Friedmann’s point that planning had indeed continually adapted itself to changing realities, though it was still far from perfect. Planning was a necessary condition for sustainability, even if not sufficient in and of itself to ensure it. Pointing out that some so-called best practices, such as “smart cities” or “compact cities”, developed in and for the developed world, could not in fact be easily transferred to the cities of developing countries, he warned against allowing such “best practices” to become a substitute for thinking, analysis and innovation. Urban disasters, he noted, were not a result of planning (or non‑planning) alone, but were in fact a product of many factors, including political decisions and policies.
A number of issues were raised, including the need for planners to re-educate themselves by living and engaging with communities. Ms. Manandhar called on planners to not just inform the communities or even consult with them but to be accountable to the people. Youth representatives appealed for greater engagement of young people, women and other traditionally marginalized groups in planning processes. Questions were raised as to whether planning education had reformed sufficiently to produce planners who could handle the new and growing challenges facing cities and towns in both developing and developed countries. One speaker pointed out that planning would never be able to resolve all the problems of sustainability unless people and communities and individuals took responsibility.
The second segment of the dialogue focused on two case studies, illustrations of emerging planning approaches from two countries on two continents. Mr. Girardet described the case of Dongtan Eco-City in China, a proposed city for 500,000 residents, where environment was envisaged to be at the core of the city’s development and was expected to integrate concerns of liveability and sustainability. Questions were raised, however, as to the extent to which both the planning process and the Eco-City itself would be inclusive and pro-poor.
Mr. Shutina described the strategic planning process in Albania, which was aiming to build more inclusive and sustainable cities in a complex, transition-country environment, integrating plans with budgets, and helping to create urban citizenship out of the anarchy of a post-communist society. He also reinforced the point made by earlier speakers that without decentralization and local governance reforms, development strategies for cities could go only so far and no further.
The final segment of the dialogue focused on the emergence of a new planning approach that was slowly gaining currency among planning associations and networks. A think-piece had recently been developed on the subject. Professor Hague described planning as something which started promisingly, stopped mid way and was abandoned after a few half-hearted attempts to fix it. He spoke about the “New Urban Planning” and its 10 guiding principles as a possible way to fix some of the problems of the traditional approaches to planning: to address new challenges of slum formation; post‑disaster and post-conflict recovery; to bring the big picture into sharper focus; and to achieve sustainability, inclusion and pro-poor development. He also touched upon the outcomes of the recently concluded World Planners’ Congress, organized in the run-up to the Third Session of the World Urban Forum, and stressed that the shift from rhetoric to reality would require development of planning skills as well as institutional strengthening of planning associations.
Responses from participants included proposals to add transparency and ethics to the 10 principles, to include rural as well as urban human settlements in the discourse, and on the need to engage with the private sector. It was suggested that urban design could be used as a tool for negotiation and for engaging different stakeholders, especially the community, in decision-making. The example of Seville, Spain was used to illustrate how planning was being linked with budgets.
In that connection, Mr. Field, speaking for the European Investment Bank, asserted that the Bank would no longer respond to wish-lists of ad hoc policies produced by cities but would only support municipalities whose budgets were informed by coherent plans developed in consultation with the citizens. Planning, therefore, did matter. A private-sector developer argued, however, that the “New Urban Planning” was no more than rhetoric from planning institutes and associations, and that planners needed to recognize that wealth creation and poverty reduction were the same side of the same coin.
Mr. Siegel presented an action plan for taking the “New Urban Planning” agenda forward. The objectives of the action plan were to develop a knowledge base and share it widely; develop global capacities for planning; define and promote concepts of sustainability and sustainable development; promote human equity and empowerment in planning; and engage in outreach to bring other stakeholders on board.
The rapporteur highlighted the shift from planning being an agent of the State to an agent of the communities and issues such as accountability of planners and political leaders alike, especially their accountability to communities; the importance of decentralization and good local governance in bridging the green and brown agendas; the importance of modernizing planning systems; and the use of planning as a tool for negotiation.
The dialogue concluded that rapid urbanization, the urbanization of poverty and an unprecedented growth of slums formed the backdrop to the discussion on planning. The question was whether planning was responsible, alone or at least in part, for the problems faced by cities. Some felt that planning tools were limited and outdated, and the developed-world model had not been successful in other parts of the world. Others were of the view, however, that planning had adapted along the way and could certainly contribute to tackling issues of sustainability, poverty reduction and inclusion. Given the scale of the problem, it was clear that there could be no sustainable development without sustainable urbanization and no sustainable urbanization without effective planning, even if other powerful forces were at work.
The discussion clearly brought out that planning was not just a technical issue; it must also have a strong ethical basis, and planners needed to see themselves as agents of change. Values such as a pro‑poor orientation, inclusion, transparency and environmental sustainability must form the backbone of new forms of planning, and the role of young people, especially young planners, in setting those values was critical. Consequently, a change in planning education and training was warranted.
Development was characterized by tensions and conflicts between competing interests and required an effective mechanism for negotiation and mediation. The feeling of the meeting was that urban planning and design could be powerful mechanisms to resolve conflicts at different scales in cities. Balancing the interests of the private sector and the community at the same time required strong local government and good governance, of which planning was an integral component.
A set of principles that addressed both the ethical basis of planning and also the ways in which it effectively mediated between competing interests was on the table. They would be discussed and reviewed in the months to come and revised before the Fourth Session of the World Urban Forum. Planners, and their associations and networks, were invited to contribute to the discussions to develop the new agenda for planning further. It was held to be essential that other stakeholders – civil society, the private sector, indigenous groups and others – should participate in that process.