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World Town Planning Day turns 70

Words: Simon Wicks
World Town Planning Day logo

November 8 2019 is the 70th World Town Planning Day. Where does it come from, and what's going on this year?

Across the world, the years following the Second World War were a time of upheaval, recovery and change. As nations everywhere emerged from an all-consuming conflict, their focus turned to rebuilding – and, ideally, improving on what had gone before. 

The international order was evolving. The United Nations was founded in 1945 and the Commonwealth in 1949. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the UN General Assembly in Paris in 1948. As empires were dismantled, the spread of democracy and rights was raising consciousness of the need to improve the lives and living conditions of people everywhere.

In Argentina, it was a question that pressed heavily on the mind of one particular urban planner. Carlos Maria della Paolera (born 7th September 1890 and pictured right) was a South American born graduate of the Institut d’Urbanisme, where he studied from 1921-1928.

In his mid-50s as war ended, he already had a distinguished career behind him, having founded the first chairs of urbanism at the Rosario and Buenos Aires Architecture Schools in Argentina between 1929 and 1933. In 1946 he founded the Higher Institute of Urbanism at the School of Architecture at the University of Buenos Aires. In Argentina, his work had a particular focus on the improvements that would be needed to avoid the growth of shanty towns – in particular, air and water quality.

But Paolera worked with an international consciousness. In 1935, at the international Urbanism Congress, he had been involved in the creation of the flag of urbanism (below left), still in use today. In the postwar years, realising that with the growth of international networks, planning knowledge also needed to be disseminated and celebrated, he formulated the idea a "Jour Mondial De L’Urbanisme" – a World Urbanism Day.

Supported and encouraged by his international colleagues, including the English planners Thomas Sharp (a former TPI president) and Sir Frederic Osborn (who had been a TCPA chair), Paloera created the Permanent Secretariat of World Urbanism Day in 1948. The following year, on 8 November, he launched the first World Urbanism Day (more commonly known nowadays as World Town Planning Day).

Planner and historian Lester Hillman MRTPI picks up the tale: "His World Urbanism Day would be ‘a special day to recognise and promote the role of planning to create liveable communities’ to ‘advance public and professional interest in planning both locally and abroad’.  Paolera, having put the call out for the year ahead, was heard by some 50 cities. Later notes, from 9th October 1958 two years before Paolera’s death, indicate a sustained and rich international network for ‘Jour Mondial De L’Urbanisme’. 

"In following decades WTPD (World Town Planning Day) became less prominent, with the notable exception of Turkey where the flame was kept alight. WTPD nevertheless has an honoured position in leading the establishment of kindred global commemorations. The world calendar has since welcomed Earth Day (1970), Environment (1972), Heritage (1982), Architecture (2005) and others.

"In the 1990s the International Society of City and Regional Planners (ISOCARP) helped revive WTPD. By the time of the 50th anniversary in 1999, WTPD was marked in about 30 countries and on four continents." 

Paolera died in 1960, but was succeeded by his son Claude (born 1931) who became an architect planner and worked in his native Argentina, the United States, Chile and Brazil over the course of his career, chairing the Urban Planning Council of the City of Buenos Aires between 1976 and 1977. According to Claude's daughter Carolina, he kept the spirit of Jour Mondial De L'Urbanisme alive as leader of the Permanent Secretariat of World Urbanism Day.

“My father was an architect and he followed his own father steps,” she tells The Planner. “He was also into town planning and environmental impact. He loved his job and every year he would organise World Town Planning Day celebrations.

She continues: “He died six years ago, and before dying he wanted to leave everything arranged and to contact one to each other all the people who were into this subject (World Town Planning Day).”

What’s happening this year?

2019 marks the 70th anniversary of World Town Planning Day. To celebrate, RTPI groups in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Yorkshire and London are holding events ranging from panel discussions to interactive workshops with school students. 

Internationally, Hungary is hosting the Annual Conference of Urbanism at which RTPI head of policy Richard Blyth is the keynote speaker; while Canada is hosting a week-long online conference tracking four themes: healthy communities, climate action, social equity and economic development. This will feature a webinar with RTPI planning practice officer Sarah Lewis. 

Images | Wikimedia Commons (Carlos Maria Della Paolera)