Global institutions such as the World Bank and UN-Habitat are at last waking up to the need for a planning approach to the challenges of urbanisation and climate change. Now questions about whether planning has the capacity to respond are beginning to be answered.
Launched in April, an online self-diagnostic tool created for the Global Planners Network (GPN) by the RTPI, the Commonwealth Association of Planners and the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy invited everyone involved in planning human settlements around the world to identify key gaps and suggest priorities for filling them.
The response exceeded all expectations. Around 1,500 planners from 117 countries have so far completed the questionnaire, which paints a fascinating picture of the global status of planning as viewed by those working at the coalface.
From every kind of physical, political, institutional and development profession, respondents describe the extraordinary variety of issues that planners are handling. They outline the many different perspectives of community-based planners working with minimal resources, local government planners, those involved in training planners, in institutions that represent the profession and those operating at the highest national and international levels.
What emerges is a strong shared sense of common purpose, with planners reaffirming their aims of enhancing quality of life through the promotion of development that balances economic, social and environmental objectives in a way that includes all interests in society.
Respondents are clear about the potential benefits that better planning can provide but express a strong sense of frustration that it is not as effective as it should be. Planning faces external and internal barriers to better outcomes.
The external issues relate to the political, legal or attitudinal contexts. Common concerns relate to the lack of political, legislative and organisational support for planning, the absence of resources and, disturbingly frequently, corruption of systems. All too often this can mean that planning tends to be perceived as a pro-rich activity.
In many countries, there are insufficient trained planners. Elsewhere, those who are trained do not always possess the necessary skills to tackle the priorities. Poor or inadequate information in terms of basic maps, demographic information or details of developments can also pose a significant barrier, respondents report.
A majority of planners say they would welcome more opportunities to share experiences or discuss ideas with other practitioners who are tackling similar issues, wherever that may be. This is a strong endorsement for the concept of the network and its commitment to work to connect planners across the world and disseminate lessons and good practice.
Will French is project manager for the GPN. For more information, please email email@example.com.To participate in this work by assessing planning capacity in your country, please visit http://tinyurl.com/2gbffk. For more information on the tool and a summary of the responses received, please visit www.rtpi.org.uk/rtpi_international.