On this warming planet, with its population more than 50% urban, we urgently need cooler cities and towns. And good urban planning can help deliver them. The aim of ISOCARP’s 54th Annual Congress is no small feat: the Society is calling on the best and brightest of the planning profession to come to Bodø, Norway and tell us how to save civilisation. Nothing less.
Bodø itself is cool in both senses of the word: this quaint and human-scale seaside town is located only 80 km inside the Arctic Circle. The location of the conference is significant: The Arctic has been affected by an unsettling mix of air and ocean phenomena, to the point where many reputable scientists now openly speculate about the possibility of an abrupt and catastrophic climate ‘shift’, rather than the commonly discussed climate ‘change’. Whether shift or change, the planet’s ‘refrigerator’ may indeed be irreversibly broken. If this is the case, the new Arctic climate will not stay there – it will affect the entire globe. The level of risk is without precedent in human history.
This sets the agenda of the 54th Congress as one of the most ambitious in ISOCARP’s history. We believe the future of civilisation now more than ever depends on the way we plan and manage our cities and towns. Their role in the evolving planetary climate drama is three-fold – cities and towns are the villains; the victims, and the potential saviours. Villains – because urban areas are the principal consumers and polluters of the tiny habitable layer on our planet we call the ‘biosphere’. Victims – because more than half of humanity lives in urban areas, and almost all of them are exposed to some form of climate impact. Saviours – because the possible remedies and solutions can be applied efficiently, effectively and in time, only when populations are concentrated. So the root cause of, and the solution to, the global climate crisis are fundamentally urban.
Planning responses fall into two camps: Sustainability and Resilience. Sustainability has been for some time the code word for our aggregate efforts to mitigate the process of climate change. Resilience is a relatively new buzzword which describes our attempts to prepare for, and adapt to, those impacts of changed climate which now appear inevitable. This Call for Contributions thus recognises that not only is human-induced climate change our new reality, but also that Sustainability/Mitigation and Resilience/Adaptation are two conjoined agendas, both indispensable for our survival.
There is considerable and ever louder debate among scientists and policy shapers about the relative weight of the two agendas. The underlying contention is about just how serious and urgent our situation is, and therefore which agenda of the two should take precedence. As the Congress organisers, we take no sides in this ongoing debate. However, we certainly encourage contributors to state their feelings about whether a ‘global (urban) emergency’ should be declared, or not yet. Then, accordingly to the stated view, we expect the authors to position their papers and case studies at any point on the continuum between the optimist view – which still stresses mitigation and the sustainability agenda – and the pessimist view – which argues that it is too late for sustainability and that from now on we must focus on adaptation, resilience and sheer survival.
We encourage this full range of views both because of the series of catastrophic weather events witnessed in 2017 – and then a few more in early 2018 – and because the discussion on whether climate change is ‘accelerating’ and whether we are already experiencing ‘abrupt’ or ‘runaway’ climate change, is now openly present in the mainstream media and in government policy deliberations. Again, we encourage the authors to declare their own – or their organisations’ – perception of the risks involved. After all, this is not new to planners; town, city and regional planning has never been free of the struggle to assess future risk.
Yet another big dilemma for planners these days is whether required mitigation and adaptation strategies should target urban form – especially shape and density – or urban processes which produce the form. After half a century of experience with the widely popular concept of ‘compact city’ we know that this is a good idea, but one difficult to implement in the era of mass auto-mobility, and ubiquitous electricity, telephone and internet. Compact urban form policies typically hit obstacles in implementation. And even when implemented, they often under-deliver in terms of the environmental and social benefits originally expected. It appears then that planning instruments should not be targeting urban form, but urban flows that generate it. In other words, that our policies should target ‘urban metabolism’ – the aggregate flow of resources, energy and information. Or, to be less abstract, the technologies, economic models and cultural attitudes that maintain that metabolism at an untenable rate and volume, producing dangerous level of dependency.
Having said that, it is still true that form affects flows, just as it is true that flows generate urban form. Following this rationale, we conclude that tackling form in ways which will curb flows, while simultaneously regulating flows in ways which will force incremental transformation of form, is the only way to generate sophisticated, radical, truly innovative urban planning, urban design, urban policy and urban economic solutions. These are the solutions that offer hope of navigating the challenging age of climate change.
Radical innovation is the only way to attain ‘cool planning’ – which in turn is supposed to deliver ‘cool’ cities and towns. ‘Cool’ in both senses of the word – as places desirable for living and doing business, and places with a metabolism brought down to the level at which this small planet can support them in perpetuity.
There is no alternative. On a warming planet, cooler cities are the only option.
While the focus of the 54th Congress is on climate change, we wish to remind the attendees and contributors that all ISOCARP congresses are also opportunities for all planners worldwide to come and share their professional experiences, whatever the dominant issue may be. With that in mind, we have provided Track 6 as the ‘general purpose’ congress stream. Here, we invite all papers and case studies from our colleagues’ current or recent research and practice which may not necessarily address the threat of climate change, but nevertheless qualify as ‘cool planning’!
Dushko Bogunovich, General Rapporteur
For information on the tracks click here.
For abstract submission and key dates click here.