World Town Planning Day: It’s Time To Recruit New-Generation Planners

A friend of mine asked me why I am not to be in government serving the people as town planner, but doing the same thing in not-for-profit mode. Well, my answer was had I waited, it would have been 25 years in waiting next year, as recruitment of town planners has been forgotten. Also, I didn’t want to be in a profession which is considered to be corrupt. Rather, I chose to serve the people as urban planner.

I come from a family with limited financial resources and intergenerational capital. I overcame numerous obstacles in life to earn my academic degrees in India and abroad with the hope that they will help me follow my dreams and contribute in transforming cities and towns. Despite challenges, I was not deterred from my goal of completing my degree and becoming a qualified urban planner.

Over the years, I have become more driven to stay in the profession and not give up on my dreams of facilitating innovation in city management.

Being in the profession of urban regional planning for over two decades helped me visualise the kind of communities I want to contribute to, develop and provide basic services in under-served areas. These are zones that have been greatly neglected vis-a-vis development plans and I believe they need an ethic of care and repair to unlock unnoticeable opportunities the land possesses.

Since this profession provides one with a wide range of competencies and knowledge, it enabled me to work towards meeting needs of people, which in our context mostly relate to housing and infrastructure, and to direct how these may be accomplished in ways that are sustainable and establish liveable neighbourhoods.

Therefore, my focus has been to bridge the gap and establish an environment where all concerned communities may collaborate on the development of liveable communities. This will help build a stronger base for development plans on land that is under the stewardship of chiefs. Particularly since these places have already begun to implement land use and spatial optimisation techniques and to some degree, urban aesthetics of design. Being an urban planner, I am facilitating community to be part of the development of better futures by helping to co-create, reappropriate and reconfigure space.

Now the question is, why plan?

Urban and rural settlements have all grown from an idea and vision over time, a need for shelter, work and food. This was the basis for the planning system that developed at the turn of last century and still holds true. Nowadays, ideas transform into local development plans and strategies set out by governments, local councils and even communities themselves. It all requires professional planners to help shape, discuss, analyse, champion and balance environmental, social and economic goals.

When we are focused on achieving sustainable development, the most effective and desired use of land and buildings have to be determined. It can be a light-bulb moment when young (and older) people realise that most roads, schools, houses and even parks and play areas have been subject to what was traditionally called ‘town and country planning’ at some point.

So the planning profession must continue to support a range of talent that is inquisitive about the whys and hows, and allow new and diverse ideas to flourish in and beyond planning education. Alternatively, taking a graduate route with an academic qualification in planning is a well regarded and established route to bolster career progression and there are accredited degree courses across India and at some overseas universities. All accredited degrees have gone through a rigorous assessment and recognition process in order to demonstrate that they meet the learning outcomes.

For future aspiring planners out there, there are a number of choices for a career in planning. It is not necessary to be in government. Rather, in an urbanising world, demand for urban planner is always in deficit. It is possible to begin the journey at university. But we live in a society there is very little understanding about urban planner. We often remember when the city is waterlogged, or when in congested traffic, quality of air is bad, which means for all ugly reasons.

Let’s say when it’s waterlogged in Ahmedabad, politicians and media say it’s due to climate change and excess rainfall. But when similar situation happened in Bhubaneswar, it’s bad urban planning.

The demolition of the roundabout at Bhubaneswar Master Canteen is an example of how the city is facing a confused traffic junction. Similarly, a cycling lane that is good for everything except cycling, a drainage system that doesn’t understand changing behaviour of  city rainfall and silence just made the city sell its spring for concrete jungle leading to a situation when even in November airconditioner is needed.

It’s important that town planners must open up and express their views. Society must know that for a long time there has been no requirement, no new skills added, no participation in key decision-making and our cities are sinking in every other parameter that measures quality of life.

Just imagine how insensitive city decision-making is from the fact that we borrowed ideas of the western world and created place making items at major traffic junctions, knowingly how badly polluted such locations are. Yet, we call it city beautification. Can’t our town planners see this simple arithmetic that we are exposing innocent lives to smoke chimney of pollutants? The concrete asphalts are adding to city’s heat island. Why will children in this city trade off cycling with cell phone as their first love? There is no end to it.

On this World Town Planning Day, let me remind that the government could not utilise our education and didn’t recruit for nearly three decades, which is reflected in city management.

It’s time new generation town planners be recruited, so that government gets new knowledge, tools, skills to plan, design and manage cities like Bhubaneswar and those upcoming towns around 2030. Otherwise, every rural pocket will be trapped inside urbanisation as slums.

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