Reflecting on a year as president

A year representing the RTPI entailed focusing on the widespread urban renaissance of city centres around the UK, explains Clive Harridge.

After several months back in my day job at Entec, life as RTPI president seems but a distant memory. While my role was a great honour, it was daunting to follow in the footsteps of eminent past presidents such as Raymond Unwin, Sir Patrick Abercrombie, Sir Colin Buchanan and Gordon Cherry.

My theme as president was "time to get real about sustainable development", with a focus on climate change, environmental justice and sustainable communities. The year began with pressing for a planning policy statement on climate change and arguing for higher standards of environmental performance in new developments. Substantial progress was made in all of these areas.

My lasting impression of being president is experiencing the transformation of our cities with huge investments in central districts. This is part of an urban renaissance in the UK that is in full swing and changing the face of our urban areas. My role offered the unique experience of visiting many cities in the UK, meeting planners and other professionals who are making the urban renaissance happen.

Manchester is an excellent example of urban renaissance. In 1990 around 100 people lived in the centre of the city. This figure has now soared to 25,000. Such growth is being repeated across the country. In the heart of Bristol, for instance, major mixed-use development is further enhancing the city centre as a place to both shop and live.

Recent development in the centre of Doncaster focuses on improving sustainable transport links to and from the town. Similarly, there has been a spectacular turnaround in Sheffield. For around 20 years the city has been devoid of major commercial development, but after proactive regeneration it has a thriving property market, bringing shops, jobs and people back into the centre.

While this is all good stuff, there is still so much that needs to be tackled - the continued flight of the middle classes from cities, the poor supply of social housing and the failure to keep up with the challenges of climate change, as well as increasing social polarisation and community segregation.

One of the high points of my presidential year was representing the RTPI at the World Urban Forum (WUF) in Vancouver. The WUF was organised by UN Habitat, which aims to tackle global problems of urban poverty and poor housing.

The RTPI was one of the key players in the small group that prepared for the WUF and the preceding World Planners Congress, and I am proud to have been a part of it. Together with our international colleagues, we took a huge step in the right direction in securing planning's rightful place in helping to deal with global problems of poverty and rapid urbanisation.

Planning is now part of the UN Habitat agenda like never before. This is another example of how the RTPI can work effectively on a global scale, exerting influence at the highest international levels.

Being RTPI president was a fantastic experience and I enjoyed every minute of it. It was a successful year for promoting the RTPI and the value of planning at both a local and international level.

None of this would have been possible without the support of my Entec employees and I am grateful to them for enabling me to take on the presidency. And now back to the day job.

Clive Harridge is the RTPI's immediate past president.


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