by Judith Ryser, General Rapporteur
“Cities Save the World: Let’s Reinvent Planning” was the cri de Coeur of a group of Dutch planners who wanted
to mark ISOCARP’s 50th anniversary in memoriam of its founding member Sam van Embden who gave himself
and his cosmopolitan colleagues the mission to propel planning into its rightly deserved place among the
professionals of the built environment. 50 annual congress themes witness the avant-garde thinking of the ISOCARP family, and the 2015 event was to mark a special moment in its trajectory of work on quality of planning and excellence of planners.
It was also to provide an opportunity for the ISOCARP family which had expanded worldwide to get together face to face and exchange knowledge and experience in hands-on situations. The congress was conceived as a continuum between the past and the future of planning and planners. It was to be interactive, inclusive, diverse, selfreliant,
future-oriented and optimistic: a tall order.
Sustainability was the underlying mission of planning at the 2015 ISOCARP congress. Cities were invited to select themes towards the congress of both current importance and global relevance with emphasis on the key components of sustainability – economy, environment and society. 12 cities in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany responded
with hands-on parallel workshops where physical-material planning remained important, environmental considerations were mainly treated as constraints, and the role of people’s contribution to planning strategies was considered crucial.
What mattered to the organisers was that the findings – positive as well as unresolved – should reach the decision makers at a mayors’ summit at the congress plenary. Cities were showcasing their findings at market stalls to mayors, congress participants and each other at interactive debates. The workshop themes were taken up in the keynote debates led by three keynote guests from their respective perspectives as developer, politician and scientist. The city workshops, the plenary sessions, the matchmaking events including informal visits to Dutch planning offices were interactive. They were designed to engage all participants during the congress and mobilise them to initiate follow-ups.
The young planning professionals were playing a prominent role throughout the congress by participating in the preparation, running and evaluating of the 12 city workshops. The congress organisers had raised grants for 39 who formed part of the congress team, coordinated by the general rapporteur, together with 12 local and 12 international rapporteurs knowledgeable in the 12 city themes. The young planning professionals experimented with an interactive website and prepared an action book toward the future of planning which lies in their hands.
The city themes focused on a broad range of planning issues. Notwithstanding the traditional physical-material content of planning, they included economic, culturalsocial, environmental and institutional dimensions which have taken up an important place in planning. Congress participants brought diverse cultural perspectives from all parts of the world to create and share knowledge.
An innovative feature of this congress was that no powerful sponsor was at its helm. Each city found its own supporters and the local congress organisers took care of the plenary. The venue, a refurbished wharf in the Port of Rotterdam enabled participants to network continuously while joining the common events in a single large shared
space, standing, walking or using flat pack cardboard stools. The smooth running of the congress was facilitated by many volunteers.
The congress was not seen as a moment in time. Quite the reverse, the outcomes were hoped to be carried forward by the participants in joint projects and at future congresses. The congress message was expected to be heard during the EU presidency of the Netherlands and at Habitat III. The 50th anniversary publication and the International Manual of Planning Practice comprising 135 countries contributed to the ISOCARP knowledge base for future international cooperation.
This congress was a high risk adventure. Its reward was the largest ever number of ISOCARP participants from the widest geographic area. The most important achievement was their satisfaction with a place and space which enabled them to engage in direct interaction with so many other planners and prolong their encounters into the future.