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How to plan for the new economy: RTPI practice advice published

08 May 2017

The RTPI has published new practical advice to help planners in cities and city regions respond to the growth of the digital economy and guide its future development.

The digital technology sector is among the strongest drivers of growth in metropolitan areas. Tech jobs are created two times faster than the rest of the economy with the average salary 44% higher than the national average.(Source: Tech City UK)

Richard Blyth, RTPI’s Head of Policy and Research, said:

“Innovative hubs don’t just thrive by chance - they are frequently the result of good planning. City planners are uniquely placed to bring together the conditions that are attractive to technology firms, such as highly skilled employees who prefer a more social lifestyle and proximity to workplace, broadband connectivity, good transport, physical compactness.

“But beyond attracting the technology sector, city planners also need to avoid creating “tech ghettos” that exacerbate social inequality, as well as use technology in the planning process itself to innovate and serve the community better.”

Sharing best practice

The practice note contains recommendations and shares best practice in these areas:

Attracting the tech sector – Planners have at their disposal different tools to create an attractive environment for tech firms, from large scale intervention such as creation of innovation districts (Dublin’s Dockland) or investment in upfront infrastructure (Bristol’s Temple Quarter, to smaller scale intervention such as providing wi-fi and cycle-friendly streets.

Avoiding a segregated economy – Studies have shown that the higher the proportion of tech employment in a city, the more unequal it is. Planning can help to mitigate this effect. In the East London technology district, Hackney Community College has started an apprenticeship scheme with local tech firms to grow the local skills base which will help to spread the economic benefits of the sector.

Adopting technology in planning and creating Smart Cities – The digitisation of planning has the benefit of freeing up time and resource so that planners, especially in local authorities, can focus on more strategic issues, as seen in neighbourhood planning in the Lake District. On a macro level, technology can be used to collect and aggregate huge volumes of spatial data previously stored in disparate places to help planners, politicians, investors and residents to improve various aspects of their cities – from traffic management (Barcelona) and pollution to social care (Birmingham), waste management and energy use (Los Angeles).

The advice note covers the broad area of digital computing technology development and includes firms in information and communications technology, digital content, biotech, ICT manufacturing, and financial technology.

Read The Digital Economy and Town Planning – Planning’s role in the growth of the new economy here.