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A century of exchange


In the first of a series of blogs to mark the RTPI's centenary, former chief of the American Planning Association Paul Farmer reflects on the 100-year relationship between the APA and the RTPI

Paul FarmerPlanners in the UK and the US have shared experiences and successes for 100 years. Centenaries have been celebrated by the American Planning Association in 2009 and the Royal Town Planning Institute in 2014. Wonderful friendships and productive professional relationships have been developed along the way.
Even before the establishment of APA and RTPI, planners and other design professionals exchanged ideas. Sir Ebenezer Howard visited Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux’s Riverside, Illinois, an early railroad suburb near Chicago, as he was refining his garden cities principles. Riverside’s 1869 plan, unlike places based on a grid, added strong curvilinear components and rural landscapes.
Letchworth and  Welwyn informed Clarence Stein and Henry Wright as they built American communities such as Radburn, New Jersey in the 1920s, Chatham Village in Pittsburgh and the US Land Resettlement Administration’s Greenbelt Towns in the 1930s.

"RTPI has elevated the standards of ethical planning practice"

Thomas Adams, the RTPI’s first president, took part in the third annual conference of planners in the US in 1911 and was instrumental in the creation in 1929 of the world’s first comprehensive regional plan by the Regional Plan Association of New York and New Jersey.
We have exchanged theories and practices on topics from regeneration to transport, affordable housing, and climate change. In the 1990s the two bodies developed a scheme that provided an opportunity for an individual planner to share an experience with a colleague.
Relationships have been strengthened through an annual exchange of presidential, chief executive and member visits and lectures, presentations at each other’s conventions, study tours, and collaboration on research such as the RTPI’s study of the global capacity for planning.
The latter was carried out as an early action of the Global Planners Network, of which RTPI and APA were two of the four founders.This network of nation-based planning bodies was created in advance of UN-Habitat’s World Urban Forum in Canada in 2006. RTPI, APA, the Canadian Institute of Planners and the Commonwealth Association of Planners set out to change planning practice.
At APA’s 106th National Planning Conference in Atlanta this year, APA recognised RTPI’s contributions with its designation as a National Planning Landmark. It noted: “RTPI has elevated the standards of ethical planning practice, and sponsored generations of pro bono services that exemplify the passion and commitment to excellence that inspires community builders in the UK and across the world.”
Let the next 100 years begin!
Paul Farmer is former CEO of the American Planning Association, senior planning official in Meinneapolis and Pittsburgh, and professor of planning and architecture at several universities

Paul's tribute to ethical practice and "generations" of pro bono work is both timely and appreciated towards the end of this Centenary year. It also serves as a clear signpost to those wishing to take up planning practice, as members of the RTPI, and serve the profession into the future. Never has there been a greater need than for cohorts of active planners and environmentalists to guide community building over the next decades.


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