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CAP Surveys of Planning Capacity Across the Commonwealth Countries Receive High Profile at United Nations

08 August 2018

The recent survey of planning capacity across Commonwealth countries was widely quoted at the High Level Political Forum at the United Nations in New York in July.

Representing the United Kingdom Built Environment Advisory Group, former president of the Royal Town Planning Institute, Janet Askew, attended the forum, which is held annually to discuss progress on the Sustainable Development Goals. In 2018, there was a focus on SDG 11: ‘Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable’.  Countries and humanitarian agencies meet with experts to discuss the issues and provide a forum for exchange of ideas.

One session looked at increasing built environment professional capacity in local government to deal with two aspects of SDG 11: in humanitarian situations when there is a disaster (war, earthquake, hurricane etc.); but also for the long term, to plan ahead for prevention and response to crisis. In each situation, humanitarian organisations fulfil an important role in delivering aid and managing the emergency. But their involvement is limited to when the crisis occurs; after the initial intervention, they leave. In addition, their intervention results in the local governments not investing in, nor increasing their own capacity to deal with disaster.

Built environment professionals have a big role to play in this. By creating plans for places, however rudimentary, some crises might be avoided, and if a disaster does occur, there will be some guidance about how to manage, for example, population movement and re-settlement.

Using the data from the CAP survey, Janet Askew was able to report that the number of planners and architects are lowest in the countries, such as Bangla Desh and Uganda, that are most vulnerable to climate change, migration and urbanisation.  The surveys were also quoted by other speakers, including by urban planner, Maimunah Mohd Sharif, Executive Director of the UN-Habitat, emphasising that planners have a vital role to play for prevention and response in countries facing crisis.

Janet Askew was pleased to announce that the Commonwealth associations of planners, architects and engineers have signed a commitment to carry out more research into these issues with the aim of increasing built environment capacity.  Drawing on the CAP and CAA Youth Manifesto, she stressed the role of young people in planning for the future, and the urgent need to educate the next generation of planners.

The commitments were well received. It was agreed that humanitarian agencies and built environment professionals need to work together. This means learning each other’s languages, and this was high on the agenda. The Sustainable Development Goals are inter-related, and there is a big role for Commonwealth planners to work with governments to co-ordinate their implementation, leading by example and good practice.

Janet Askew

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