Planning's Future - Futures Planning: Planning in an Era of Global (Un)certainty and Transformation: The 3rd World Planning Schools Congress Perth, Western Australia, 4-8 July 2011

Article excerpt

The Global Planning Education Association Network (GPEAN) had an ambitious idea for the new millennium - an international conference of planning educators that was launched with the 2001 World Planning Schools Congress (WPSC) in Shanghai. The objective is to bring together the finest scholars from nine regional associations of planning schools, every five years. Following the 2006 congress in Mexico City, the Australian and New Zealand Association of Planning Schools (ANZAPS) volunteered to organise the 2011 congress in Perth, Western Australia. The principal advantage of a joint academic congress is the opportunity to interact with scholars from many different regions, but transporting the participants to one location can be challenging. So GPEAN and ANZAPS were taking a risk - would the global planning academy assemble in Western Australia?

Perth: the city

Perth is the capital city of Western Australia, an enormous state with vast natural resources that encompasses over one-third of the country. The city (pop. 1.4 million) is located in the southwest corner of the continent, with its CBD on a dramatic waterfront site on the Swan River, 20 km upstream from the historic port of Freemantle. Although European settlement began in 1829, Perth is essentially a modern city, expanding from a post-war population of 350,000 under the guidance of a 1955 regional plan prepared by Gordon Stephenson and Alistair Hepburn. With a sunny climate that rivals Los Angeles and an attractive waterfront setting, Perth often joins Melbourne and Sydney on lists of the world's most liveable cities. The city's booming resource economy, modern architecture and can-do attitude remind me of Calgary. As local historian Jenny Gregory (2008) points out, Perth also shares many of Calgary's planning issues - limited historic preservation in its booming CBD, vast low-density suburban development and extensive automobile use. Peter Newman, the prominent sustainability scholar, is located in Freemantle and has been active in encouraging the region to revitalise its electric rail network and enforce transitoriented development.

Perth: the host

The congress host was ANZAPS, with the University of Western Australia's Dr Paul Maginn as conference chair. UWA is a large, public comprehensive research university, located on a lovely waterfront site in an inner suburb of Perth. The opening reception was held at UWA's beautiful Winthrop Hall, but the remainder of the congress took place at the new Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre on the edge of the CBD. Delegates enjoyed a sweeping panorama of the Swan River waterfront from the glass-walled lobby of the convention centre during every break. Most delegates stayed in central hotels and learned to navigate the maze of mid-block arcades and second-level pedestrian bridges that interconnect Perth's CBD in the Modern style of Minneapolis or Calgary.

Keynote speakers

Dr Rob Freestone (University of New South Wales) started the congress with a lively and engaging presentation on 'Teaching Tomorrowland', reminding us of different approaches for planning's orientation to the past, present and future. Freestone, Australia's leading planning history scholar, cleverly walked us through the important planning issues of the recent past, illustrated by the changing views of central Perth from King's Park (see Figures 1 and 2). Rob argued that practicing planners may spend too much time focused on the perpetual present and that the profession must maintain a futures orientation to remain relevant to society. The planning academy can reinforce this orientation by 'Teaching Tomorrowland' with a better array of courses devoted to long-term planning, risk analysis and futures.

Billy Cobbett (City Alliance) brought the global elements of the congress theme forward with his keynote address 'Formalizing the Informal: Preparing for a World of Cities'. He reminded the delegates of the problems of rapid urbanisation throughout Africa and Asia, illustrating that traditional Western master planning techniques were inappropriate for these cities. …

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