The Urban Summit – from an RTPI perspective

Gordon Brown at the Urban Summit 2002The significance of the Urban Summit lies in its recognition that those working in the fields of planning, regeneration and urban design are doing something very important. Something valued by society and by government. Part of our contribution to the wider global agenda promoted in Jo’burg, Rio, Kyoto and Istanbul.

After more than a couple of decades of fighting for our cause, and even our very existence sometimes, the imperative of joined-up governance means that place – both urban and regional – has been forced back to centre stage. Messieurs Prescott, Lunts and other organisers should be congratulated for the sense of occasion and value which has been bestowed on the practitioners in these important areas. The event gave validation and a sense of belonging to a diverse community committed to delivering better places. Even the Chancellor referred to urban design – I would have celebrated if I had not been in shock!

The RTPI stand was alive with friendly visitors, all providing  positive feedback on the New Vision, website and organisational change. Our representatives were instrumental in promoting the new RTPI associations which many of our non-planner friends said was just what they required. As someone used to taking the flak for our profession and institute, I felt a sense of pride and justification.

We met planners working in diverse areas of regeneration, design, LSPs, URCs, RDAs, EP and CABE. There were also many de facto planners who may not be professionally chartered. We still have to find an appropriate home for them – to help develop their skills, culture and confidence too. None of this diminishes the crucial role played by those working within the statutory framework.

The Lunts-Prescott roadshow has emphatically driven the agenda of sustainable communities further forward. Sessions like the one led by Alison Nimmo on ‘Making it Happen’ explored what has been achieved and how we can become more effective. Her speakers identified that there are still many obstacles, and that there needs to be a continuing raising of standards from current ordinary practice to secure better outcomes.

Innovative thinking was at the heart of the session led by Lee Shostack on the ‘Future of Towns and Cities’. Our longer term challenges include energy consumption and waste, viable urban economies, access to knowledge, all set within the challenging dynamic of demographic shift and technological evolution.

It is in this sphere of long range, radical thinking that I felt the Summit fell a little short. It very effectively corralled a large cohort of people into the territory of the Rogers Report and Urban White Paper, but it kept us within that contemporary paradigm. There could have been more discussion of alternative models of local/regional taxation or of exploring mechanisms for helping communities to embrace change; not to mention different approaches to public–private governance and the delivery of  transformational regional infrastructure. Still these are challenges for the future which, as responsible practitioners, we must continue to research and debate within our wide family of practitioners and legislators.


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