2008 National Planning Conference

World Planning Keynote

By Joe MacDonald, AICP
APA Research Associate

Wednesday's 2008 World Planning Keynote at the APA National Planning Conference was moderated by APA President Robert Hunter, FAICP, and delivered by three leaders of planning organizations around the world: Janet O'Neill, incoming president of the Royal Town Planning Institute in the United Kingdom; Blake Hudema, president of the Canadian Institute of Planners, and Party Secretary Shi Heping (represented in Las Vegas by Jiang Licheng, First Vice Mayor of Zhenjiang Municipality).

O'Neill is just the third woman to lead the Royal Town Planning Institute in its 92 years of existence. With 21,000 members, the Institute shapes its mission around policy that is debated, devised and delivered by Britain's central government, a characteristic that distinguishes UK planning from planning activities in the United States.

Four issues dominate current and future global planning policy sought by the Royal Town Planning Institute: climate change, natural disasters, rapid urbanization and poverty. Former Prime Minister Tony Blair has emphatically stated that while the consequences of global climate change are potentially catastrophic, planners have the power to address such consequences to mitigate or even counter their effect. The Royal Town Planning Institute also recognizes that the natural disasters that may be exacerbated or caused by climate change will have their greatest impacts on developing nations. Such countries are experiencing rapid urbanization and, even more importantly, rapid urbanization of poverty. Estimates are that the global poverty rate of one in six estimated in 2001 will grow to one in three by 2031.

O'Neill described the evolution of the Global Planners Network as a response to the global planning policy issues that highlight the Royal Town Planning Institute's policy framework. Meetings in 2002 in Nairobi, Kenya; 2004 in Barcelona, Spain, and 2006 in Vancouver, Canada, culminated in the Vancouver Declaration, where planners united for the first time around the threats from climate change, natural hazards, rapid urbanization and its associate poverty. The Global Planners Network was born and an agenda was established to focus on action to further develop the world's capacity for planning. For its part, the Royal Town Planning Institute and the Commonwealth Association of Planners developed a self-assessment diagnostic tool to help nations inventory their strengths and weaknesses prior to the first Global Planners Network meeting in October 2008 in Zhenjiang, China (immediately followed by the World Urban Forum in Nanjing, China). Elements of self-assessment in the tool include the role of planning; the number of planners, use of skills, access to information and research and communication with the global community.

Blake Hudema, president of the 89-year-old Canadian Institute of Planners, described how he is leading nearly 7,000 members in the development of Canadian planning in a global context. The Institute's theme is "Shaping our Communities: Sustaining Canada's Future and this theme has been taken abroad to guide planning activities in the Caribbean, Africa and China. Yet, while lending capacity abroad in developing areas that need guidance and support, the Canadian Institute of Planners retains strong focus on communities within Canada.

The second largest country in the world in terms of land area, Canada's 33 million residents are primarily concentrated in urban areas (80 percent). Municipal planning issues mirror those in United States cities: urbanization and sprawl, public health concerns, affordable housing, environmental preservation, climate change, infrastructure, and water quality. In particular, securing affordable housing remains a concern in the one of the wealthiest nations in the world where 5 percent of the population does not enjoy safe, quality, affordable housing.

To address the issues facing Canadian towns and cities, the Canadian Institute of Planners drafted the Canadian Urban Vision, a national urban vision and strategy. Some of its guiding principles are that urban solutions must come from urban places; solutions must address the critical needs outlined; the solutions must generate spinoffs that can be transferred across the country and solutions must be performance-based. Cost-sharing and monitoring are other important considerations.

A national symposium on climate change and related planning challenges will be held in July 2008 in Iqaluit. The Canadian Institute of Planners will use this forum as an opportunity to consider the Canadian Urban Vision in the framework of global climate change and develop a research and practice agenda to think big picture about the planning problems Canada faces. Information integration and strong links between planning and political decision-making will be critical. Solutions must be collaborative, through building capacity and establishing strong partnerships among stakeholders.

Party Secretary Shi Heping's representative from Zhenjiang, First Vice Mayor Jiang Licheng, illustrated some of the challenges raised by Janet O'Neill and Blake Hudema and offered some solutions that have come about through the work of the American Planning Association in Zhenjiang, China. Zhenjiang, like many cities in China, faces special challenges due to rapid urbanization, diversifying economy and environmental degradation. Starting with the 1978 reform by Deng Xiao Ping, the monumental shift in China's settlement patterns as meant over 660 cities and a national population that is nearly 44 percent urban. Rural-to-urban migration at the rate of 12 million per year will create an urbanization rate of 65 percent by 2050. Despite its 3,000-year history, Zhenjiang's 3 million residents, like those in so many other Chinese cities, faces typical problems of rapid growth: lack of affordable housing, congestion, lack of jobs and poor environmental quality. 

Zhenjiang has adopted the theme of "people first, environment improving, industry upgrading." As a city, it seeks not to be the biggest (although it is one of the top 50 "power cities" in China and is located in the sixth largest urban belt in the world) but rather achieve its optimal potential. The southern mountains and the northern rivers form a natural framework for "one city, two wings." Leaders in Zhenjiang recognize the need for scientific and proactive planning and have opened their urban planning market to the world for outside support and counsel. Input has come from the American Planning Association, Atkins International and two area universities. The result has been the New Garden City concept that Zhenjiang has fully embraced.

Zhenjiang has adopted 2012 goals as part of its five-year plan (mandated by the Chinese government) that center on three aspects of its New Garden City aspirations: environment, industry and humanity. Development of Zhenjiang's urban environment means adopting New Garden City principles. Just as "the first falling leaf knows the fall is coming," Zhenjiang's leaders realize that sustainability and environmental health require proactive planning to protect natural resources, particularly the two primary water features that have defined Zhenjiang for centuries: the Yangtze River and the Grand Canal. Industrial development means a shift from heavy industry to modern services, with productivity and responsible investment measured by the Green Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Zhenjiang's theme for industrial development is "economy increasing, energy-consuming declining and pollution reducing." Finally, Zhenjiang wants to be a "copyless city" in terms of its humanities (a concept American planners refer to as livability). Preservation and promotion of historical culture, natural ecology and modern lifestyles afforded through recreational opportunity will ensure Zhenjiang as a model for other Chinese cities seeking to thrive in the 21st century.

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