Key thinkers call on planners to act as leaders in facing the challenges of the future.

Planning Theory & Practice Interface: an article on the future of professional planning one hundred years after the founding of the Royal Town Planning Institute

At a time when the value of planning is increasingly questioned, Interface in the latest Planning Theory & Practice asks critical questions about the future of professional planning.

This Interface brings together noted planning thinkers, researchers and practitioners from around the world to consider professional planning one hundred years on from the founding of the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI).  It calls upon planners to act as leaders in facing the challenges of the future.

Challenging theory: Changing practice: Critical perspectives on the past and potential of professional planning is edited by RTPI Fellow Kelvin MacDonald on behalf of the Institute in its Centenary Year. His opening essay asks whether planners have “emancipated society” as the founders of planning hoped. MacDonald poses three big questions for the profession in the twenty-first century: what are the purpose(s) of planning; who planners should be serving; and how the profession can develop?

To MacDonald, these questions call upon planners to step-up as leaders in response to major twenty-first century challenges such as environmental destruction and social injustice:

“Can we, and should we, celebrate the RTPI’s centenary by working globally to define an international standard of professional ethics? I … call for the RTPI to begin a debate with other national professional planning bodies around the world on this as a matter of urgency. That would provide a lasting marker of this centenary, one that both builds on history and sets a new path for the future.”

This is echoed by Mitchell Silver, Past President of the American Planning Association, who argues that:

“Planning needs a renewed sense of purpose and a new role to build a new legacy going forward. I believe planners are guardians of our common future.”

Other contributors to the interface engage with these tough questions. Peter Head OBE, a champion of sustainable development considers how planners might help to create “places of beauty”. Katie Williams discusses what professional planning needs to contribute to ensure sustainable development. Mee Kam Ng calls on planners to work with stakeholders to build sustainable communities.

Vanessa Watson calls on the planning profession to “speak out”, particularly in defence of poorer residents in African cities. Watson argues that:

“If the global planning profession is to build and retain public confidence then a strong ethical stance is imperative, and there is no reason why the RTPI should not lead the way.”

Planning Theory & Practice Senior Editor Heather Campbell concludes by asking how researchers and planners can make the future together:

“The activity of planning is premised on the notion that a future can be cultivated that will be better than the one that would have arisen in the absence of planning. Otherwise to plan would be pointless.  The issue therefore is how each one of us will contribute to the furtherance of planning, not merely to keep planners in jobs, but to confront, challenge and every so often conquer Gordon Cherry’s ‘beast of ugliness’: to create a better world.”


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