Global talk offers strategy insights

Six young planners from Scotland write about their experiences of an international event that investigated the subject of urban trialogues.

The International Society of City and Regional Planners (ISOCARP) annual conference was hosted by the Municipality of Antwerp in Belgium last month. The global association of experienced planners focused on the topic of urban trialogues.

Founded in 1965, with the aim of bringing together recognised and highly qualified planners, ISOCARP has members from more than 70 countries. The network is a non-governmental organisation, it is recognised by the UN and the Council of Europe and has consultative status with UNESCO.

The conference explored the theme of strategic projects. Talks focused on urban trialogues, which are interactions between public and private sectors and the community on planning. They looked at collaborative ways to relate future visions to strategic urban projects.

One of the main messages was that trialogues are crucial in the achievement of participation and the successful implementation of strategic projects. The trialogue concept seeks to view all groups as co-producers. For instance, the community should be an active participant in discussions rather than a group to be consulted which has no direct influence on the development process.

In his opening speech at the conference, the mayor of Antwerp emphasised the vital role played by the public sector in the development process. Many projects are needed in the right places and interconnect with one another to achieve a strategic vision for a town or city.

The public sector will always be a significant actor in the delivery and implementation of strategic urban projects but each sector is motivated by competing interests. The private sector is driven by the maximisation of profit, while the public sector makes decisions based on the public interest. The clear message from ISOCARP is that the two competing interests require rationalisation in the early stages of the development process.

A number of case studies on how the public and private sectors engage with one another early in the development process were highlighted, which range from garden city projects in the Netherlands to an eco-town in India.

The majority of conference papers provided evidence that the trialogue is being realised in a variety of ways in different countries. But the extent to which each actor in the trialogue can influence the planning outcomes differs from country to country. It was clear from the talks that the balance of interaction leads to varied results, which provide food for thought in terms of whether it is right in the UK.

We found the conference a valuable experience. The most significant outcome was the opportunity to meet other planning professionals. We were interested to learn that the challenges and issues that are faced by Scottish planners are also experienced by many others worldwide.

Through our participation in the congress, we have developed an international outlook on planning that will help us in future. We valued the opportunity to share our own experiences with planners from across the globe. This will benefit our careers and have a positive impact on delivering sound planning outcomes in Scotland.

Toby Coke works for Aberdeen City Council, Eamonn Campbell for Glasgow City Council, Ruth Findlay for South Lanarkshire Council, Naomi Sandilands for Edinburgh City Council, Michael Ward for Glasgow City Council and Stuart Winter for Jones Lang LaSalle.

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