2011 National Planning Conference

International Plenary

By Joseph A. MacDonald
Senior Research Associate

In his introduction to the well-attended International Plenary on Monday morning, APA President Bruce Knight explained the interest that the American Planning Association has in international planning.

APA has members from 86 countries around the world. APA remains the largest national planning organization in the world, and APA maintains that the issues of climate change, sustainability, and resilience are important to the entire global community, not just the United States.

For planning perspectives from other nations, Knight presented speakers Marni Cappe, former resident of Boston and Smith graduate, now president of the Canadian Institute of Planners; Dyan Currie, president of the Planning Institute of Australia; and Richard Summers, president of the Royal Town Planning Institute (United Kingdom).

Canada

Marni Cappe reflected on the Canadian planning experience in a time of climate change and planning for sustainability. She took the audience back to the Brundtland Commission Report from the UN in 1987 that defined the concept of "sustainability," with its reflection on how current actions should not compromise the needs of future generations, then jumped ahead to the latest gathering in Montreal where Canadian planners recommitted themselves to the importance of planning in the face of climate change and sustainability threats.

Cappe highlighted water as the latest planning priority for Canada as a whole and the tremendous pressures facing one of Canada's most abundant resources, especially the Great Lakes and the Arctic Ocean. Cappe also emphasized the tremendous threat of climate change to First Nation communities in Canada, particularly the Inuit populations in northern Canada threatened by permanent thaws of the permafrost and shrinking sea ice. Finally, she discussed Canada's outreach to Guyana in northern South America. Under threat of tremendous challenges (second poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere and nearly 75 percent forest cover), Canada and Guyana are working together to provide a national government initiative (low carbon strategy) with local support through training and education to build grassroots capacity.

Australia

Dyan Currie offered the audience a visual perspective of the recent slate of natural disasters that have plagued Australia. From the searing brushfires that scorched parts of Victoria State in 2009 to the 800-year flood event that inundated portions of Queensland, Currie emphasized the history of both drought and flood that was captured eloquently in the poem, "My Country" by Dorothea Mackellar: "I love a sunburnt country, a land of sweeping plains; of ragged mountain ranges, of drought and flooding rains."

Currie offered heart-wrenching pictures of the devastation, but equally uplifting images of the tremendous outpouring of support from volunteers, emergency managers, state and federal governments, and planners. She emphasized the need for vigilance by planners in the face of climate change and its effects on communities. She also emphasized recent initiatives within Australia to broaden planning and sustainability dialogue beyond traditional urban centers and beachfront communities to interior regions of the country; essential in the face of continued population growth.

Finally, Currie described the ways in which the Planning Institute of Australia is reaching out to other nations confronted with catastrophe: namely Sri Lanka, following the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004, and Christchurch, New Zealand, following its recent earthquake.

United Kingdom

Richard Summers updated the audience on the UK planning story. His opening remarks reflected recent hostility toward the spatial planning community from many, including the prime minister. "Planner bashing" had become popular in Britain, akin to the "banker bashing" that was common during the recent recession.

He also discussed changes coming to UK town planning with a brief discussion of the "Localist Bill of England," designed to eliminate the regional level of planning and replace it with first-time neighborhood planning. While the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) favors the concept, efforts are under way to ensure there isn't a reduction in the need for spatial planners as a result of the proposed shift in planning scale.

Summers then turned to international planning efforts by RTPI, particularly through the Global Planners Network. Summers praised the work of GPN members, describing how their efforts were invaluable considering GPN has no staff, no funding, no office, and no leader. However, he said, there is a tremendous need for diverse funding for GPN efforts and a re-commitment to spatial planning efforts around the globe by the leading members of GPN (United States efforts in China and Latin America; Canada's leadership in the Caribbean; Australia's outreach to Pacific Islands).

Summers cited the need for UN Habitat support and introduced the GP2N (Global Planners Practitioners Network) as a way to strengthen support for planning in communities that need it the most. Richard illustrated this need by providing comments extracted from a GPN survey of developing nations: "planning is not socially accepted here ... we lack the planners we need to address our most pressing issues ... we don't have any planners to deal with climate change ... our planners lack the technical knowledge to develop solutions."

Summers urged the audience to continue their efforts, support global planning, and to seek collaborative solutions with one another; sentiments reiterated by Knight, Cappe, and Currie.

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