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Planners have a valuable role in times of crises

28 April 2017 Author: Peter Geraghty FRTPI

I arrived in Brussels to attend the first all-member meeting convened by the Global Alliance for Urban Crises on the day the UK triggered Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon. However, any misgivings for a meeting requiring discussions on a broad range of international cooperation were soon dispelled.

I was there representing the UK Built Environment Advisory Group for Humanitarian Action (UKBEAG). The experience proved to be an invaluable one where it was clear that planning practice was recognised as important in the area of humanitarianism and disaster risk reduction.

I was struck by the positive view of all the participants of how planning can contribute to addressing humanitarian issues and promoting resilience. 

What is the Global Alliance for Urban Crises?

It is a new partnership of over 65 organizations that have come together to better prevent, prepare for and respond to urban crises. The humanitarian landscape is changing. Urbanisation is defining our global reality and will shape our future. The complex interconnection between urbanisation and conflict, displacement and climate change challenges traditional humanitarian responses to crises. Responding to these situations in cities and towns requires different approaches.

The Alliance was launched in 2016 to address these trends and challenges through joining a diverse group of stakeholders who do not systematically work together: local authorities; humanitarian organisations; professional networks of relevant urban expertise (the RTPI is represented here through its membership of UKBEAG); and universities and research organisations.

The focus of the meeting was to devise work plans and a strategy to implement initiatives for the Alliance over the next 3-5 years, according the following priority areas:

  • Tailor humanitarian response to the urban context by developing shared assessment and profiling tools, promoting joint analysis, and adapting coordination mechanisms.
  • Develop or work with existing global, regional and national rosters to facilitate the deployment of urban leaders, managers and technical experts.
  • Build the evidence base on the specific characteristics of protracted displacement in urban areas, and contribute to the design of appropriate and cost-effective responses, with particular regard to protection of vulnerable people, shelter, basic services and infrastructure.
  • Ensure that initiatives focused on building urban resilience incorporate components on resilient response and recovery from crises, and that they leverage greatest impact in cities most at risk of humanitarian emergencies.
  • Knowledge management function to capture and exchange data and information sharing.

The opening address given by Jean-Louis DeBrouwer from European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) which was indicative of the strong support that the European Union has for the Alliance.  

Two other things struck me most. The first was the range of organisations present and committed to the Alliance - the United Nations Development Programme, CANADEM, UN-Habitat, International Rescue Committee, United Cities and Local Governments, International Committee of the Red Cross, and the International Institute for the Environment and Development to name but a few.

The second was how many planners and planning professionals worked in these numerous organisations and the positive view of all the participants of how planning can contribute to addressing humanitarian issues and promoting resilience. There was also a recurring theme that the Alliance must be streamlined and does not duplicate or undertake actions that are best delivered or achieved by its member organisations.

Much progress was made in moving the Alliance forward and to create a forum for discussing and exchanging ideas and actions. Its future will depend on the success of this strategy and the ability to implement the work-plan priorities. It was great to be able to influence the deliberations and promote the role of planners on behalf of the RTPI through its membership of UKBEAG.


Peter Geraghty FRTPI

Peter Geraghty FRTPI

Head of Planning and Transport at Southend-on-Sea Borough Council
Peter Geraghty FRTPI is Director of Planning and Transport at Southend-on-Sea Borough Council. He was Chair of the RTPI Board of Trustees in 2012, President of the RTPI 2013 to 2014, and former Chair of the RTPI's International Committee. He is currently the RTPI representative to the Commonwealth Association of Planners. The view expressed are his own.