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Global essays help mark RTPI centenary

21 March 2014

A special edition of Planning Theory and Practice, the internationally regarded research journal, features essays from a group of distinguished practitioners and commentators on planning from around the world on the theme of professional planning one hundred years on from the founding of the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI).

Some planners have become complacent or worn down by attacks on planning or limited to a regulatory role mandated by government. Planning needs a renewed sense of purpose and a new role to build a new legacy going forward. 

                         Mitchell Silver

Published this month by Taylor and Francis to celebrate the Centenary of the RTPI, the eight thought provoking essays ask absolutely critical questions about the future of professional planning. All have a common theme and message: calling on planners to act as leaders in facing the challenges of the future.

kelvin macdonaldEdited by RTPI Fellow Kelvin MacDonald (pictured left), his opening essay asks whether planners have “emancipated society” as the founders of planning hoped. MacDonald poses three big questions for the profession in the twenty-first century: what are the purpose(s) of planning; who planners should be serving; and how the profession can develop. To MacDonald, these questions call on planners to step-up as leaders in response to major twenty-first century challenges such as environmental destruction and social injustice.

Mitchell Silver, Past President of the American Planning Association, issues nothing short of a global clarion call for a renewed sense of purpose in planning:

“Far too often, planning has been characterized as a profession of regulators, administrators and bureaucrats. Some planners have become complacent or worn down by attacks on planning or limited to a regulatory role mandated by government. Planning needs a renewed sense of purpose and a new role to build a new legacy going forward. I believe planners are guardians of our common future. Planners deal with uncertainty about the future.”

Peter Head OBE, a noted champion of sustainable development and founder and executive director of the Ecological Sequestration Trust, in his essay considers how planners might help to create “places of beauty”.

Katie Williams, Director of the Centre for Sustainable Planning and Environments at the University of West of England, discusses what professional planning needs to contribute to ensure sustainable development, concluding with the need for planners to: “learn, educate, inspire and lead.”

These essays are a valuable reflection on the ways forward for planning, as envisaged by planners and academics from across the world. Each is challenging, and the collection as a whole forms a unique and lasting contribution to the RTPI’s centenary year.

                           Janet Askew
                 RTPI Vice President

Mee Kam Ng, Vice-Chairman of the Department of Geography and Resource Management and Director of the Urban Studies Programme at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, calls on planners to work with stakeholders to build sustainable communities.

Vanessa Watson, executive committee member of the African Centre for Cities and co-chair of the Association of African Planning Schools, calls on the planning profession to “speak out”, particularly in defence of poorer residents in African cities. Watson argues that:

“If the global planning profession is to build and retain public confidence then a strong ethical stance is imperative, and there is no reason why the RTPI should not lead the way.”

In her essay, Heather Campbell, Senior Editor of Planning Theory and Practice and Professor of Town and Regional Planning at the University of Sheffield, asks how researchers and planners can make the future together:

“The activity of planning is premised on the notion that a future can be cultivated that will be better than the one that would have arisen in the absence of planning. Otherwise to plan would be pointless.  The issue therefore is how each one of us will contribute to the furtherance of planning, not merely to keep planners in jobs, but to confront, challenge and every so often conquer Gordon Cherry’s ‘beast of ugliness’: to create a better world.”

These essays can be downloaded for free from the Planning Theory and Practice website.

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