#PlanCon18: Key takeaways for the year ahead
This years’ Planning Convention ended in a resounding success, with interesting debate and discussion on the topic of resilience in the profession. As per usual, this blog will summarise the year’s event, but this time I want to talk about how the discussions more specifically tie into our key theme. Planning is going to continue to gain influence through resilience in…
Some fascinating stats came to fore regarding planning’s strengths and weakness in promoting diversity. London has a population that is 41% BAME, though across the UK the figure is 12.83%. However, planning sees BAME make just 7.4% of the industry, though this is considerably better than the wider Built Environment’s 1.2%. Interesting themes were brought up to raise awareness of the hurdles that exist, such as cultural barriers and a potential lack of role models. Fortunately, 20% of the current RTPI students come from BAME backgrounds suggesting a positive turnaround.
Unlike with other industries planning has a strong reputation for gender diversity, with a relatively equal makeup of men and women in the sector. To be able to plan communities that work for the diverse population in the future, planning must make more effort to encourage diversity in its own ranks. Fortunately, the future looks bright in this regard.
One final point that is not spoken about enough when it comes to diversity: physical disability. Especially when considering the design for our future homes, communities and infrastructure, the industry cannot plan for fully inclusive society unless we do more to consider this. With regards to diversity, the road ahead looks positive, but a takeaway of mine is that we need to talk about planning’s impact on disability more.
The end of this month will see my quarterly report come out and this time it’s focused on diversity across planning & architecture. If you’re not on our mailing list, get in touch directly to receive the report on its release.
…Playing a role in placemaking
But really what I mean by this is solving the housing crisis (I’ll get onto the placemaking bit in a moment). Planners certainly cannot do that alone, but the industry naturally plays a massive part in doing so. Some interesting ideas were put forward, such as housebuilders having success with building to rent (a longer-term investment) and cheapening self-build sites. Generally, it’s the younger generations who want to buy homes but cannot afford them – to solve the housing crisis we need to plan to allow for those with less money saved to buy or rent new homes.
Positively, the discussion about building new homes always came with the determination to build them in the right way. Planners have a responsibility towards placemaking, if you’re going to do more to build new homes it’s imperative it’s done by building useful and affordable places that people want to live in. Richard Bacon MP highlighted that 67-75% of people would prefer not to buy the current product of housebuilders. Affordable self-build plots would change this as it would encourage a diverse range of buildings to the homeowners liking. Regardless of what route is ultimately decided, planners must be placemaking to create great communities. Doing this will ensure a resolution to the housing crisis but through the resilience of the desire to make spaces people want to live in.
…Influence in Devolution
An interesting debate I hadn’t considered, certainly not in relation to resilience, is the impact of devolution and the influence planners can gain from this. First brought up by Lord Kerslake during the keynote speech, he suggested more devolution (and subsequently more money at the local level) would help with combatting the housing crisis. Later the talk became focused around the increasing influence that cities have with further devolved power.
With Brexit looming (give me some credit for getting this far before mentioning the ‘B’ word) it was widely agreed we’d need more city-to-city relationships. With further inaction from the government, it seems possible that we may see empowered metro mayors exert more influence to increase housebuilding. Could this also lead to devolved tax raising? It was nicely put that cities ‘are economic powerhouses but need to become empowering powerhouses’. One thing is for sure – if more power is devolved there lies an opportunity for planners to gain influence over this process. A resilient profession will be strengthening our relationships with metro mayors and local powers.
Smart and sustainable have been buzzwords in planning for a significant time now, but we need to evolve our approach into integrating climate resilience into planning. I thought most interesting was the concept that we often learn and work in specific, sometimes niche areas within the sector. This silo approach doesn’t encourage us to look at the bigger picture, which is how we should be approaching climate change. By planning with a more interdisciplinary approach we’ll all be implementing effective climate change procedures as the norm.
It was regarded by the expert panel that we need to make it relevant and real when integrating it into decision making. One way of doing this (nicely tying in with the devolution argument) was to look at giving more power to local communities. We regularly look at combatting climate change from a national perspective (i.e. encouraging wind power) or an individual perspective (i.e. recycling). However, we don’t look at it from a communal level. To achieve our ambitious targets local communities will have to take more action themselves – different places have different needs. Planners could have a major impact in leading this.
The day closed in a similar tradition to previous years, with five young planners providing their perspectives on the profession. Always enlightening, this year they focused on five technologies we should be embracing in the industry in order to remain resilient as our society rapidly continues to evolve.
As a recruiter, I have conversations about big data with clients and how it can impact planning, though so far this remains at a more economic level rather than within broader urban planning. I think VR (and AR) are going to be a critical element for how planners will communicate with the public in the future – I wrote a blog on gaming which to highlights how this might happen (you can read that here). Blockchain is the current buzzword in business at the moment, but I’d never considered its potential within planning before, so it’ll be intriguing to see how much impact it has over the coming years. I thought most interesting was the concept of crowdsourcing: communities working together to collect information. An interactive way to engage and actively change your city (I recommend looking at how it impacted Baraka, Congo), this is something I’ll definitely be researching more myself.
What was so positive about the day is that while there’s lots more the planning industry can achieve, we’re making positive inroads to many more opportunities and ensuring it’s as resilient as ever.
I now head up the Planning & Architecture team after joining mid-2016. My background has always been in recruitment, learning my craft while working across a range of different sectors including FMCG Marketing and Employability & Skills. I have expertise in recruiting across the UK as well as internationally which is great fun as I love meeting a wide variety of different people. I work with some of the best companies and people in the industry – what more could I want? Well, a sausage dog – I don’t have one…yet!
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