2009 National Planning Conference: World Planning Keynote

Sustainable Urbanization

By David Morley
APA Research Associate

The moderator at Tuesday's 2009 World Planning Keynote set the tone with a provocative question. "How can collaborative planning make planning more effective?" asked outgoing APA President Robert Hunter, FAICP.

The theme of the session at APA's National Planning Conference was sustainable urbanization, and the theme was explored by Blake Hudema, president of the Canadian Institute of Planners (CIP), and Martin Wiley, president of the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI). Both organizations are partners with APA in the Global Planners Network.

Hudema elaborated on the theme of collaboration by referencing five key initiatives of his Canadian organization:

  • climate change
  • infrastructure challenges
  • affordable housing
  • urban poverty
  • healthy communities

"Things that are happening globally have implications for local actions," he said.

Canadian climate change

CIP is two years into a five-year program to address climate change. The program has an end goal of empowering communities to understand global climate influences. "We want to link the science to planning itself," said Hudema.

In Canada, the variability of climate is felt on the ground. Hudema used the example of climate change disrupting the travel patterns of indigenous populations in northern Canada to show that climate impacts extend beyond the developing world.

Strategic infrastructure use is another priority for CIP. Hudema stressed the need for collaboration among planners, engineers, and communities to ensure that infrastructure investments have both social and economic benefits. CIP has focused much recent attention on supporting the shift away from private transportation and toward effective public transit.

At the federal, provincial, and municipal levels, Canadian planners are looking for ways to collaborate to provide affordable housing. According to Hudema, about 5 percent of the Canadian population lacks access to basic affordable housing.

Hudema noted that the rich-poor gap in Canada is widening and that poverty is increasingly concentrated. Settlement in environmentally sensitive lands has exacerbated the problem, as low-income residents bare the brunt of flooding and other hazards.

Many early attempts at government policy have failed, Hudema said, but as long as planners continue to try they will move toward enhancing quality of life. He went on to explain that planners in Canada are looking for more meaningful public participation to improve policy responses.

'Empowerment, security, and influence'

Canada's Urban Poverty and Environment program is looking at a lack of empowerment, security, and influence. Hudema used the example of Vancouver to highlight the pervasiveness of problems associated with urban poverty. British Columbia's largest city is known for its wealth and beauty, but it also contains a vulnerable population of the urban poor.

"We're looking at improved health care programs, youth programs, drug prevention, and other interventions," he said. Planners in Canada are trying to support effective public-private partnerships to address urban sustainability. Hudema believes that transferring responsibility to the private sector is essential for the long-term success of the Urban Poverty and Environment program.

CIP is working with the Heart & Stroke Foundation of Canada to look at health issues and to inform community planners and leaders about how to create healthy neighborhoods. The program looks at community design, land use, transportation, and human activity patterns.

Hudema concluded with examples of how CIP is taking its knowledge and experience into the global community. He described the institute's work in Grenada, Trinidad and Tobago, and Guyana to improve institutional coordination and capacity to address hazard mitigation, economic development, and social equity.

In 2010, Canada will host the Global Planners Congress with a theme of translating science into action. "Our local planners must become global citizens," he said.

Welsh floods, London gales

Martin Wiley, president of the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI), took the stage to compare and contrast the planning challenges facing the U.S. and the U.K. in the coming years. Echoing Hudema's sentiment about the broad reach of climate impacts, Wiley used the examples of flooding in Wales and summer wind damage in London to illustrate how planners must adjust planning interventions in response to climate change.

Wiley pointed out that the U.K., like the U.S. has an energy problem. Without a 30 percent increase in renewables, nuclear, and behavior, the U.K. will be stuck with an untenable dependence on Russia for energy by 2012, he said.

U.K. housing is very different than in the U.S., Wiley said, and British affordable housing is dependent on housing associations rather than local governments. Still, both countries have to deal with NIMBYs.

Sharing and diversity

Wiley listed a number of areas such as infrastructure, public transit, and health impact assessment where U.S. planners can learn from their colleagues in the U.K. He emphasized that planners in both countries have much work to do, and stressed the importance of long-term stewardship to reverse economic decline: "We must demonstrate that planning interventions produce results."

The RTPI president cautioned planners in the U.S. and U.K. about exporting our solutions to developing nations, stressing a need for sensitivity to cultural diversity.

"The rationale for global cooperation is that shared knowledge and experience increases the chance of local and customized solutions," said Wiley. "Engaging your community is essential for long-term changes in behavior."

Wiley noted that every profession and every agency are formulating responses to the global challenges of climate change. Therefore, planners need to work together to make the case for the essential nature of planning.

In Wiley's view, the Global Planners Network wants to extend web-based knowledge sharing and support the creation of national planning institutes in other countries. "Other professions are producing global standards," said Wiley. "Maybe we should look at producing global sustainability standards."

"Planners are obvious leaders in economic recovery," he said. "Can we take up the challenge?"

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