Imagine a country where growing population is not a problem, where planners don’t struggle to find 5 years suitable land supply for delivering new homes by tens of thousands a year. There are no fierce arguments about fracking, wind farms or high speed railway lines. There is no devolution of city-regions or emergence of neighbourhood planning so the governance system doesn’t have to be restructured. There is no pressure on establishing new levels of power sharing and promoting collaboration to map out future developments and provision of services.
Welcome to future Hungary in between 2050-2100 – according the most comprehensive research done for decades. Many challenges British planning systems will be facing within the 21st century simply won’t exist here. It sounds almost too easy, but there is a darker side to the story.
The lack of population growth means an unseen scale of decline as it is estimated to go down from 9.9 million to 8-8.5 million. Forecasts show an ageing society, where the ratio of people over 65 years will expand by 50% while the age groups between 0-65 years will be less by 25-35%. Continuous urbanisation will slowly drive people to more resilient city-regions around the capital and some of the regional centres. It is good for the city-regions but bad for areas already experiencing depopulation bearing the biggest part of the estimated 1.5-1.9 million people population decrease.
Budapest. Photo credit: Pank Seelen/Flickr
Changing urbanisation and demographic trends will have serious consequences for smaller towns and villages. These places won’t be able to safeguard their communities. Finances available to keep running basic infrastructure (e.g. energy, transportation) and provide services (social care, education, health) will be getting less and less, till cost of provision becomes too high to continue. Due to decreasing population there will be less demand for homes, property prices will be falling and there will be a huge increase in the number of abandoned, derelict homes.
The economy will also see significant restructuring, now substantial tourism and agriculture are expected to lose importance. Forecasts on retail consumption and GDP show either stagnation or decline at its best and the country’s economy will be even more polarized spatially. Consequences of deprivation and living on low income will hit the most vulnerable people, who have got the least capacity to adapt living in those areas already under pressure.
Exposure to the impacts of climate change and vulnerability to them will be different through regions. The country will see 30-40 more sunny days when heat hits 40 Celsius and less frequent but far more intense rainfalls. Precipitation changes in the watershed areas of the main rivers in the Carpathian basin, combined with new rain patterns will influence the water security. Extreme flooding will be more frequent, while long periods of drought will endure in other places. Natural ecosystems and agriculture will try to adapt, therefore major shifts will be happening in land uses, crops and vegetation cover.
Impacts of demographic changes and increasing urbanisation on city-regions; map source: own edition, Czirfusz et al. (MTA, 2016)
So how this story is connected to the Planning Horizons series?
The series raised our awareness too, without it we probably wouldn’t have started looking into existing researches with the goal of analysing country specific challenges in mind. We got the idea by reading the first book, the project started with a simple email that I sent with a project brief attached to the RTPI. In the email I proposed a pilot project aimed at making more mainstream, international planning research available to Hungarian planners by translating and publishing online the RTPI’s Planning Horizons series in Hungarian. After receiving support from the RTPI’s Head of Policy, Mr Richard Blyth, I started approaching some prospective Hungarian partner organisation, to lend its support and resources. Finally the Hungarian Society for Urban Planning (MUT) embraced the pilot.
The Planning Horizons is also proved to be a great lever in involving a small group of volunteers to think about the future of Hungarian planning, and of ways to engage the planning community to discuss it. We set up a network of a relatively simple international project team based in three cities Edinburgh, London and Budapest, and used Skype, Google drive and tons of emails as a way of communicating and working together. Duties and roles were delegated according to skills and competences. The RTPI provided the copyrights and had a right to decide on desktop publishing design, the MUT was responsible for monitoring the quality of the translation and dealing with media communication leading up to the e-book launch event, while the volunteers did the job of translating, design editing, and most of all liaising with the other parties and managing the project.
In February on the 50th anniversary of the MUT the Hungarian edition of the “Térben gondolkodva” (Thinking Spatially) was launched. Part of the e-book launch event was a panel discussion where we had the privilege of having Mr Phil Williams, president of the RTPI to present the series and talk about issues and challenges of British planning.
Following the launch we engaged with a wider audience through social media channels and contacted two of the leading actors of the Hungarian architecture and planning media scene who published book reviews and released detailed abstracts both online and in print. Up to June the e-book had 227 reads, readers spending more than 17 hours reading it. The e-book has also had 1394 impressions – readers who only skimming the pages. The professional audience liked the new publication and more importantly the themes of the e-book remained part of the professional debate and clues suggest that a wider public audience could be also interested.
The project lasted from April 2015 till May 2016. It was a long learning period for all of us with many ups and downs, especially for the volunteers, because we are planners able to take up many roles, but conveying ideas and concepts from one language to another, and dealing with the professional media and press to follow it up was certainly not yet included into our skills.
In Hungary, planning’s mission and role is not an often discussed topic, and the planning system hasn’t seen any major review in the last 20 years. When looking into the future there should be so many questions to be asked ask about managing future changes, but no one is asking them, no one seems to link up existing research results and running sectoral programmes and looking at them from planning’s perspective. Then came the Hungarian edition of the “Thinking Spatially” making the case for future challenges and inspired some planners to look forward. It revealed a latent demand for peering through the keyhole of Future’s door and acting on it.
The next stage of this volunteer initiative is more exciting. We plan to join up with another civil organisations to widen our outreach towards students, planning officers and consultants, as well as to use the publications of the remaining book in the series as milestones on the way to a conference called the “next100years”, where a succession of short presentation (like the short TED Talks) of invited researchers would paint up a picture of that challenging future scenario, which would be then followed by panel discussions of professionals sharing their thoughts on the role and mission of planning in that other, future Hungary.
Roland recently graduated on the MSc in Real Estate and Planning programme at Heriot-Watt University and he is a licentiate member of the RTPI. He is a graduate volunteer at Planning Aid Scotland and the leader of the Planning Horizons Hungarian editions imitative. He worked for the Ecorys Group in Hungary where he specialised in urban design, integrated urban development strategies and master planning. At the moment he is working as a night auditor in a hotel in the outskirts of Edinburgh and looking for an opportunity to get into planning.