Ottawa lies on a rising incline that culminates in steep river cliffs overlooking the Ottawa River. The Canadian Parliament building takes centre stage on the cliff top, while alongside is the romantic fantasy of the Chateau Laurier hotel, an early 20th Century railway hotel. And it is here on 31st May 1919 that the Canadian Institute of Planning (CIP) was founded.
It was therefore highly appropriate that the 2019 Conference was held in Ottawa – albeit in the more prosaic 1970’s edifice of the nearby Westin hotel. Drawing 800 delegates – over 10% of CIP’s membership – the Conference was held over four days and included a range of activities, comprising seminars, lectures, workshops, study tours and, of course, some celebratory receptions.
The President’s Reception on the first evening was the opportunity for the American, Australian, Commonwealth Planners and RTPI Presidents to join the CIP President in speaking. (I congratulated CIP on its centenary and wished them well for centuries to come, observing that, as planners, our work is never finished!)
Shared issues with the UK: underperforming malls, decarbonising housing stock, Plantech, community engagement
The first day of the Conference was used for a number of extended study tours (by bike and on foot) and workshops. The urban design workshop I attended had young Canadian planners enthusiastically embracing the challenge of designing mixed-use redevelopment of an ageing and underperforming shopping mall. With the mall’s property-owner and developer in the room, this was a chance to share ideas for an imminent planning scheme.
A second workshop examined the challenges in seeking stakeholders’ agreement to decarbonise energy use in current housing stock in various parts of the nation that face differing climatic and current energy-use conditions. One size definitely does not fit all.
Community engagement was a recurring theme in many of the seminars and presentations sharing best practice in current approaches. As one speaker put it, the challenge is to turn NIMBY into YIMBY – to which RTPI Chief Executive Victoria Hills contributed the UK Housing Minister’s proposition of “SLIMBY” – something lovely in my backyard.
The use of digital technology featured in several of the presentations. The US company, Microquest, demonstrated the use of their planning game application to consult on options for transport investment in Saskatoon. Their mantra of “mobile first” (making the app run well on a mobile phone) and making it fun enabled people to learn and reduced the need for laborious explanations.
Similar lessons were drawn by Dyan Currie, Chief Planner for Brisbane, Australia (and CAP President) who explained their app-based game, used to great effect in engaging all parts of the city and all demographics in planning Brisbane’s Future Blueprint, reaching one in five households.
Planning for indigenous communities
A major theme in the Conference was planning for indigenous communities. In Canada, as in Australia and New Zealand, the fundamental problem relates to the competing demands of (intensive) colonial/European land uses with the (extensive) land management practices of the indigenous peoples.
Unlike Australia (see my blog of 24 May 2019), in Canada there is a multiplicity of treaties, most rooted in a Royal Proclamation of 1763 that essentially promised no land occupation without agreement to sharing the land. But language difficulties hamper interpretation of the treaties with the written colonial version often differing from the oral indigenous version passed down from elder to elder.
In the complexity of the land control/land sharing controversies, land use planning is hugely challenged: to date there are still only a handful of Official (Local) Plans in northern Canada. Court actions are a major force in planning reform, introducing a duty to consult indigenous peoples for the first time as recently as 2004.
An example was given of a land use plan being approved by a Planning Commission reserving 80% of the land for traditional land management practices and 20% for mineral extraction and related transport routes, only for the Territory’s government to reject the proposed plan and reverse the proportions – leading to protest, court action and the quashing of the plan, which must now begin again. So you think planning in the UK is complicated?
Putting RTPI on an international stage
In between, Victoria Hills and I took the chance to present on planning for infrastructure and development in England, drawing out the need for strategic reconsideration of Green Belts in order to meet development needs in a sustainable manner – an issue that resonated with our audience, given similar issues in green belts around Ottawa and Toronto.
This was yet again a great conference, offering the chance to learn, share experience and put the RTPI on an international stage. Congratulations to the Canadian Institute of Planning!
Ian Tant is President of the RTPI.