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UN-Habitat Adopts International Guidelines for Urban and Territorial Planning

UN-Habitat has adopted International Guidelines for Urban and Territorial Planning intended to inform the United Nation's New Urban Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals.
Bruce Stiftel | @BruceStiftel | May 1, 2015, 11am PDT
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At their meeting in Nairobi last week, UN-Habitat's Governing Council adopted a resolution (25/6) approving International Guidelines for Urban and Territorial Planning. The Guidelines promote planning principles that, in the view of UN-Habitat, will advance the ability of nations to respond to urban demographic changes and improve quality of life. They range across urban policy and governance, social development, economic growth, and the environment, and call for planning actions at neighborhood, municipal, city-region, national, and transboundary levels.

Resolution 25/6 may already be found online, along with the Guidelines themselves. The United Nations also has a press release.

The Guidelines are inspirational and advisory in nature. They attempt to describe consensus best practices from planning work in many countries to suggest approaches to planned change that will be helpful in many UN member states around the world. The hope is that member states will consult the Guidelines when they design or re-design their own planning systems. In part, development of the Guidelines reflects UN-Habitat's belief that much urban and territorial planning now underway has not followed the best professional advice available.  

Habitat's Urban Planning and Design Branch prepared a book of good planning examples, Towards a Compendium of Inspiring Practices, intended to show Governing Council members what planning can accomplish. The 26 case studies in the book are drawn from 22 countries and hold out planning ideals of integrated policy formation and implementation, embracing of environmental dimensions, transformative renewal strategies, compact and connected cities and regions, as well as inclusiveness and participation. The stated ambition of Habitat is to further develop these cases and other cases as examples, and to develop other tools intended to assist governments in making choices about good planning practices, furthering the New Urban Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals. The Inspiring Practices book may also be downloaded.

In my view, urban planners should welcome these UN Guidelines as a significant tool to enable us to advocate for better planning structures and programs in our own countries. The package will not be right, as presented, for any given nation, but the principles discussed should help stimulate adoption of proven planning approaches and more generally to encourage the use of systematic and participatory planning in leading development decisions.

As a planner in the United States, I am struck by the ambitiousness of the planning systems discussed and the degree to which planning in my own country does not live up to the high aspirations set out by this international organization.

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