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100 years on, planning is needed now more than ever

24 June 2014

Future -proofing Society Front CoverOne hundred years after the establishment of planning as a professional discipline, not only are the challenges the world faces today of a scale and complexity significantly greater than in 1914,  the cost of failing to respond to them will also be much greater, says a new report published by a Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI), titled Future-Proofing Society. Despite the enormous challenges of demographic and climate change, however, there are reasons for optimism – if countries adopt and plan for a much broader ‘resilience’ for the next 100 years.

Launched today (24 June) at the annual convention of the RTPI, Future-Proofing Society calls for nations to:

  • adopt a longer-term approach to building resilience into our economic, environment and social infrastructure.
  • recognise that whilst critical, emergency planning is insufficient to prevent the looming challenges of demographic and climate change becoming critical.
  • incorporate a better understanding of how different cities and regions are likely to be impacted differently by these challenges.
  • plan and collaborate across institutional, sectoral and administrative boundaries.
  • create conditions for markets to operate in ways which strengthen resilience.

Cath Ranson, President of the RTPI said: “100 years ago the challenges faced were daunting. Thankfully, planners then proved up to the task. What has changed over the century is the nature and scale of the challenges we face which now represent major threats to nations’ security and stability, and also the context within which planners operate.

“The challenges of demographic and climate change may never be fully resolved but nor can they be ignored or denied. Planners can mitigate some of their impacts and strengthen the ability of our societies to prepare for and respond to the impacts we cannot avoid. There is cause for optimism – if we act quickly and appropriately. Planning is needed now more than ever.”

Whilst rapid urbanisation has long been recognised as the single largest major demographic challenge for developing countries, Future-Proofing Society demonstrates that demographic challenges vary enormously not just between nations but within them too. The UK’s population is for example expected to reach nearly 79 million by 2060, yet within the UK, Scotland’s population is not only growing more slowly than the rest of the country it is ageing much more rapidly. Such differences mean that solutions to the challenges need to be appropriate to each area, and make use of research and data which indicate how places differ.

The Future-Proofing Society paper contains a number of projections on the scale of the problem faced by our societies, for example:

  • Globally, by 2050 there will be more people aged over 60 than under 15.
  • There could be a 40 per cent gap between available water supplies and needs by 2030.
  • By 2030 UK population is expected to reach nearly 75 million people by 2035 and 79 million by 2060, the highest population of any country in the EU.
  • By 2061 more than a quarter of UK population will be aged 65 and over, and the fastest growth will be in the number of people aged over 85.
  • England and Wales had its wettest winter in almost 250 years in 2014.
  • Latest climate change research points to higher sea level rises than previously anticipated (could even result in sea level rise of 3-5m over the next two centuries), displacing millions of people worldwide and causing many billions of dollars in damage.

Future-Proofing Society, is the second in a series of five ‘big picture’ papers (branded ‘Planning Horizons’) published by the RTPI. It is global in scope but contains messages that will resonate with policy-makers at every level of governance.

The first paper in the series, Thinking Spatially, was published on 4 June and can be downloaded here.