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Celebrating World Cities Day and the role of planners

30 October 2015 Author:

As we celebrate World Cities Day this Saturday 31st October it is time to reflect on how the global community is addressing global challenges and what we, as a profession, are doing to help.

Most countries are facing issues such as rapid urbanisation, traffic congestion, adapting to climate change, loss of natural and cultural heritage, food security, and pollution. For the first time in our history, there are also more people living in cities than in rural areas. ‘Our struggle for global sustainability will be won or lost in cities’, as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon remarked in 2012. 

It is therefore significant that September in New York, one of the world’s biggest cities, witnessed the recognition of cities by the United Nations (UN) as being at the forefront of today’s modern challenges and solutions. The UN’s new global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) include SDG 11 on Sustainable Cities and Communities. Next year the SDGs will be adopted by participating countries at the Habitat III conference in Quito, Ecuador. The conference will set a new global development agenda for sustainable urban development over the next 20 years.

Another key international event is the UN Framework on Climate Change’s Conference of the Parties (COP 21) due to take place in Paris in December. The aim is for a new international agreement on tackling greenhouse gas emissions. This new international legally binding treaty will supersede the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. Signed-up countries will commit to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and aim for low carbon societies to enable societies to adapt to climate change, and for global warming to be kept within a 2 degrees centigrade limit.

Being able to respond and quickly adapt to these challenges and commitments will depend on delivering better places and better developments. This will require good planning - and so the help of town planners.

That is why we feel it is important to articulate to politicians, city leaders and policy makers why they need planners, how we guide development, fit into the development process and promote sustainable development.

Delivering Better Development, launched on 4th November as part of the World Town Planning Day Online Conference, answers these questions highlighting the roles, skills and areas where planners work within the built and natural environment.


Produced by the RTPI with assistance from the Global Planners Network, this international publication is aimed at non-planners, politicians, leaders, communities and others and demonstrates how planners help to achieve sustainable development. It describes how planners have a broad overview and understand how places work, what places need in order to function better and improve health such as adequate housing, transport, infrastructure, schools, greenspaces and utilities. In addition, we explain how planners make places more economically successful, engage with stakeholders and communities, and include measures to adapt to climate change.

So where have we played a positive role in improving cities?

In Delivering Better Development we highlight case studies such as the masterplan for Tshwane Inner City, South Africa, where the vision is to be the leading African capital city. In St Louis, planners have reconnected and regenerated a deprived area and enabled the existing local community to remain whilst benefitting from improvements. In Derry/Londonderry, planners helped divided communities re-connect after conflict by building the Peace Bridge. In Auckland, city planners have created a plan for a sustainable, compact city that will adapt to a growth in population but will continue to protect the waterfront and the city’s unique natural beauty. Planners have also helped communities recover from natural and man-made disasters as demonstrated in Sri Lanka after the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami.

Closer to home, in 2014 Dundee waterfront won Scotland’s best place. This regeneration project could only have been achieved with good leadership, political will and the long-term strategic overview of planners who engaged local communities. The majority of this year’s finalists in England’s great places are also cities. Without the help of good planning and planners, the heritage, regeneration and liveability of cities like Bath, Letchworth garden city, Bristol and Liverpool would not have been preserved or realised.

As professionals, planners have the training, skills and experience to help city leaders and communities to create practical solutions and visions to guide development and adapt to change.

Cities need planners. The world needs planners.