Canadian convention raises spatial planning objectives to global scale

RTPI climate change initiatives struck a chord among Commonwealth and global professionals and highlighted the value of adopting common goals and shared approaches to improving communities, reports Ann Skippers.

Just for a minute we thought we might change the world. Earlier this month, I joined planners from all over the world at the Canadian Institute of Planners Convention in Montreal.

Under the overarching theme of climate change and communities, the Commonwealth Association of Planners (CAP) and the Global Planners Network (GPN) also held their respective biennial meetings around the convention.

Despite sterling attempts by staff and members to explain the ins and outs of the RTPI's international work to me, it is a world full of acronyms and complexity. In Montreal it suddenly fell into place.

Attending my first CAP meeting was a revelation. The Commonwealth is divided into regions with the UK in the Europe region with Cyprus and Malta.

Under the direction of retiring secretary-general Cliff Hague - who will be replaced by another RTPI past president, Clive Harridge - and president Christine Platt, CAP is raising the profile and potential of planning with work on reinventing planning, gender, the State of Commonwealth cities, capacity building and food security.

Platt has also launched a young planners network. A competition to mark the occasion was won by Jeremiah Atho Ongo, George Wesonga Auma, Alex O'Reilly and Jaya Ramlall and meant a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go to Canada for these young planners.

CAP's work is immensely important and not just in the profile it gives to planning or the mutual support it provides to planners in the Commonwealth. It is a way of ensuring that spatial planning stays on the agenda of governments.

As well as presenting a paper to the convention in which I outlined the emerging localism agenda and talked about the RTPI's manifesto and climate change commitments, I participated in the third GPN congress. The RTPI is a founder member of the GPN, established in 2005.

The network believes that there can be no sustainable development without sustainable urbanism and no sustainable urbanism without effective planning. The simple, but effective, idea behind GPN is to be an advocate for planning.

It provides a way for institutes and associations to work together, share ideas and information and, equally importantly, provide a home for those planners who do not have a professional organisation.

Sharing a stage with Canadian Institute of Engineers president Marni Cappe, Planning Institute of Australia president Neil Savery, Platt and American Planning Association president Bruce Knight, I helped launch a communique on behalf of the GPN.

I particularly welcomed the emphasis on working with other planners and professionals, as this is something I have firmly believed in throughout my career.

Another commitment is to work towards more inclusive and participatory planning processes. As well as tying up with the localism agenda in the UK, community planning and the grass roots have never been more important. One of the convention's keynote speakers, Jan Gehl, received a standing ovation when he reminded us all of the human dimension of our work.

In fact humanity was a recurring theme, from conversations over coffee to the opening speech from anthropologist and explorer Wade Davis about what it means to be human from his specialist perspective. His answer was a thousand different voices and he urged us to take a more cultural perspective to climate change.

The communique also focuses on building capacity around the world, an area in which the RTPI has been active in researching, and links to our seven commitments on planning to live with climate change. Our online compendium of best practice and the first distance learning continuing professional development module on climate change, available later this year, offer a much-needed resource and reflect another objective - to upskill.

By engaging with planners from around the world, I realised just how highly the RTPI is regarded. But what I also learned is the similarity of the challenges we face. In Montreal just for a moment I thought that we could change the world and I hope that feeling never leaves me.

- Ann Skippers is RTPI president. For more information, please visit

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