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UN Habitat - World Urban Forum 10 in Abu Dhabi, UAE

by RTPI President Sue Manns FRTPI

17 February 2020

The RTPI Corporate Strategy 2020–2030 has as one of its 10 foundations International planning.

The RTPI has 25,000 members worldwide, around 2,000 of whom work across the world, in over 80 countries. It is important to recognise the work that these members do, but also the opportunities that exist for others to follow – the skills and professionalism of RTPI members are highly valued across the world.

The 10th World Urban Forum was held in Abu Dhabi. Organised by the United Nations' Human Settlements Programme (UN Habitat), its focus was on discussing progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals – especially SDG11 (Sustainable cities and communities). The UK has committed to achieve the SDGs at home.

The RTPI is one of the main planning institutes globally. Our Vision, as set out in the Corporate Strategy, is to be the world's leading professional planning body. The UK is one of the countries with the most planners per head of population and probably the highest number of chartered planners. We have a key role to play in positioning planning at the centre of the global stage in the delivery of SDG11. There is global recognition of the fact that we need to get urbanisation right if we are to achieve sustainable development and address the challenges of climate change.

The RTPI delegation, comprising Victoria Hills, Michele Vianello and myself hit the ground running on our arrival in Abu Dhabi. The first meeting was with the UK Government Department for International Trade. DiT are keen supporters and promoter of the skills, values and opportunities for RTPI members to work on a global stage.

We were then honoured to have a private meeting with Maimunah Mohd Sharif, Executive Director of UN Habitat. Maimunah studied planning at Cardiff University and has had a long and distinguished career in Malaysia. She set the scene for the events and sessions planned for the coming seven days and discussed ways in which we could work together to raise awareness of the need to resource and equip planners to deliver the SDGs and tackle the challenges of climate change. She was keen to ensure that the final Declaration resulting from the 10th World Urban Forum would focus on actions and would highlight the importance of planning.

For planning to support this challenge, it is essential that global planning institutes across the world work together. While in Abu Dhabi, together with the Presidents of the Global Planners Network, I signed the Network's Abu Dhabi Declaration 2020, which commits us to working together to build the planning capacity and knowledge we need to deliver the UN SDGs by 2030 and to tackle the global challenges that we all face.

The RTPI is also a member of Planners for Climate Action (P4CA), a platform of civil society, academic and professional organisations convened by UN-Habitat to advance the role of planning in Climate Action.

Above: Sue and RTPI Chief Executive Victoria Hills with RTPI International Committee member Olafiyin Taiwo

It was great to see RTPI GA and International Committee member Olafiyinfoluwa Taiwo representing the RTPI on two of the four working groups. The RTPI is making available its research output and member training materials to the P4CA.

I was pleased to speak on behalf of RTPI members at two events for delegates at the World Urban Forum, the first was on 'Climate Action Through Cultural Engagement' where we shared the stage with other planning organisations.

Above: Discussing climate action through cultural engagement, Sue appeared on a panel with (l-r) Kurt Christiansen (President, APA), Eleanor Mohammed (President, CIP) and Joel Albizo (CEO, APA)

This was followed by a session on the importance of urban play as a driver for culture and innovation organised by the Real Play Coalition – a group of private philanthropies promoting play as key driver for child development. Having provided a UK policy context with a focus on Wales and Scotland, I explained how planning can contribute to ensuring children have the right opportunities for play. I was able to showcase our work in Barnet with Arup and the Real Play Coalition testing a new Urban Play Framework, meant to assess such opportunities in Urban Communities.

Finally, we had an opportunity to put planning, very literally, centre stage in one of the main halls. The theme of WUF10 is connecting culture with innovation and sustainable development. I chaired a RTPI-led session on Plantech, which explored the opportunities that new technology can provide to support planners when delivering the SDGs. It was a great session with powerful case studies from Australia, Canada, Malaysia and on Plantech. Thank you to the many RTPI members who were in the audience and engaged with us.

Above: Sue with (l-r) Eleanor Mohammed (President, CIP), Joe Hepworth (Connected Places Catapult), Ruiz Nik (Malaysian Institute of Planners), Dy Currie (President, Commonwealth Association of Planners)

While we have been in Abu Dhabi we have also had an opportunity to meet with members and other professionals working here, including Arup, AECOM and Atkins. We also met three inspiring RTPI members who have established a UAE Planning Network. Having shared with us the different planning systems that they work with across the region we also discussed how the RTPI can support members working in the Middle East. Some great ideas came out of that conversation which should inform our upcoming international strategy.

The final formal engagement of WUF10 took place at the British Ambassador's residence in Abu Dhabi. Here we met with many of those who had been representing the UK and the Commonwealth at WUF 10 including the Prince's Foundation and the Department for International Trade. Maimumah Mohd Sharif also attended and along with Dy Currie, President of the Commonwealth Association of Planners, saluted what many felt was one of the most successful WUFs. At the reception, all eyes then turned to the Rwandan Government representatives to set out their aspirations for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Kigali, June 2020.

It has been an honour and a privilege to have been part of WUF10 and to have had the opportunity to talk about the importance and value of planning on the world stage. The decisions that we all take, and the extent to which we deliver on the SDGs, will have an impact which will be felt not only by those alive today but for many generations to come.