Cliff Hague: The Sustainable Development Goals 2016-30: How the world fell back in love with planning

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cliff-hague-profileGoal 11 of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals 2016-30 is to “Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.” One of the Targets of this “urban goal” is “By 2030, enhance inclusive and sustainable urbanization and capacity for participatory, integrated and sustainable human settlement planning and management in all countries.“
In contrast planning was in the doldrums globally for 40 years between 1976 and 2006. The first UN summit on places was Habitat 1, in Vancouver in 1976. The Vancouver Declaration put a strong emphasis on planning, 1970s-style, as a rational and directive process: “Planning should promote and guide development, not just control it”. It was downhill from there. The ambitions were not delivered, and the Washington Consensus forced countries into deregulation and privatisation programmes. While Habitat 2 in 1996 proclaimed the aims of “Adequate Shelter for All and Sustainable Human Settlements” , the main rationale for planning in the Istanbul Declaration was that it could help markets to work better.
The nadir came in 2005, when the Mugabe government bulldozed 700,000 poor people out of their homes in Harare, using planning policy and legislation as the justification and the means. UN-Habitat, which was primarily focused on housing, produced a damning report. An academic commentator described the planners as “cold-hearted, negligent and spineless”.
The Commonwealth Association of Planners then worked closely with UN-Habitat, to create a different narrative, a means of “reinventing planning”. This was launched at the 2006 World Urban Forum, which “placed a strong emphasis on planning as a tool for urban development and environmental management, and as a means of preventing future slum growth. This view was accepted not just by government officials and urban planners themselves, but also by civil society groups that wanted planning to be more inclusive, transparent and ethical.” It was the start of the global rediscovery of the potential of planning.

A fuller version of this blog, with links to key references, can be found at

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