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Latest edition of Planning Theory and Practice considers collaboration and sustainability

30 March 2015

Michael Harris

The latest edition of the RTPI’s academic journal, Planning Theory and Practice (Volume 16, Issue 1), is out now. It’s a typically eclectic mix of papers, but with the characteristic PT&P focus on critical social, economic and environmental issues, and many of the articles reflect a recurring theme of the importance of dialogue and collaboration if we are to respond effectively to these challenges.

All cities have their daunting challenges, and in all cities these are being compounded by increasing uncertainty about their place in a rapidly changing world. All cities, and the people in them, will succeed or fail depending on the ways they find for coping with their ever evolving challenges.

In his editorial (free to access for non-subscribers), Luca Bertolini reflects on Hong Kong’s ‘Umbrella Movement’ protests, and not from afar. Luca visited the protest sites several times in person, and as he writes, he was left with some profound impressions. He notes the significance of social movements such as the Umbrella Movement/Occupy Central, not just for Hong Kong but for cities and their development generally, in raising issues about democracy, citizen engagement and public space among others. He also laments how the overwhelmingly young and educated protestors, with their new ideas and energy, were not met by the authorities by dialogue but instead were first ignored and then ultimately disbanded.

As Luca notes, Hong Kong is not unique: “All cities have their daunting challenges, and in all cities these are being compounded by increasing uncertainty about their place in a rapidly changing world. All cities, and the people in them, will succeed or fail depending on the ways they find for coping with their ever evolving challenges. And all cities can only gather the imagination and commonality that is required to achieve this by mobilizing and bringing together the greatest variety of views and subjects. As planners it is our core task to keep searching for ways of supporting this process. We need to be creative and as critical of ourselves as we demand others to be.”

Continuing the civil society theme, Patsy Healey examines how civil society initiatives in Western Europe are playing an expanding role in the provision of services and in local development as formal government reorganises and retreats. Patsy considers the extent to which such enterprises are pioneering new ways of doing governance work and creating public value, their future sustainability, and their potential for enriching democracy.

Carolyn Whitzman reports on an action research partnership during a three-year project to promote disability-inclusive road development in Papua New Guinea. She reflects on the possible reasons why the partnership achieved certain results and not others, and how collaborative research partnerships can better promote the rights of those who are often marginalized from public space and decision-making.

Changing tack, Britta Restemeyer, Johan Woltjer and Margo van den Brink use two case studies from Hamburg to consider how cities might ensure they are resilient to flooding. They focus on three key characteristics – robustness, adaptability and transformability – but suggest that there is a need for more capacity-building among public as well as private stakeholders, and that resilience strategies need to be integrated into a bigger urban agenda.

Paul Opdam, Judith Westerink, Claire Vos and Barry de Vries address the challenges faced by scientists who engage in transdisciplinary landscape planning, and how what enables such collaboration changes over time. Somewhat relatedly, Carlos Moreno-Leguizamon, Marcela Tovar-Restrepo, Clara Irazábal and Christine Locke consider the challenges for multicultural planning in health service provision, using a case study in from Kent. A ‘learning alliance’ was implemented to target the health needs of different ethnic groups, offering a way of involving new stakeholders in planning.

This edition’s Interface section (also free to access) focuses on sustainability, and critically examines the various ways in which sustainability has been understood in planning policy. Sadly, the impression is that these understandings have often had relatively little impact, and the implication is that we need to do more to establish a shared agenda for sustainable development that recognises the tensions with contemporary capitalism and markets.

In this vein, Ana Morcillo Pallarésab’s article on New York City’s skyline exposes the incapacity of urban zoning to anticipate the devastating secondary effect that high rise buildings can have on urban life. Rounding off the articles, Jan Vogelij, an independent planning practitioner, discusses the challenge of ensuring there is more debate and discussion between the practitioner and academic sides of the profession, and asks the provocative question of whether planning theory is really open to planning practice.

The illustrations in this edition of the journal are by Klaus R. Kunzmann, who has been contributing his travel impressions of cities to the journal for more than 10 years. The illustrations are drawings he made recently in China, when teaching at Southeast University in Nanjing and travelling to other cities in the country. As Klaus reflect, the scale and pace of the urbanization processes in China are breath-taking.

Finally, Mark Scott provides a review of Rebuilding Britain: Planning for a Better Future, by Hugh Ellis and Kate Henderson.

For more information on Planning Theory and Practice, go to: www.rtpi.org.uk/knowledge/publications/planning-theory-and-practice/

About Michael Harris

Dr Michael Harris is Deputy Head of Policy and Research at the Royal Town Planning Institute, where he leads on the RTPI’s research activities. Previously he was a senior associate at the new economics foundation (nef) think tank, and Director of Public and Social Innovation at Nesta (the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts). He has also worked in local government and academia. Michael has an on-going interest in localism, health and wellbeing, and community engagement.