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28/03/2019

Can ‘One City Planning’ break new ground?

Bristol iStock

'One City Planning', pioneered in the United States, offers a route to long-term planning that is fair, transparent and inclusive, argues Robin Hambleton

How many plans have you seen where “Ending period poverty for girls and women in the city” is one of the top three priorities for the first year of the plan?

In January, at a ‘city gathering’ in Bristol, more than 200 civic leaders, activists and citizens from a wide range of backgrounds, shared ideas on how to develop and deliver a new One City Plan.

"The plan covers the period to 2050, setting a long-term vision that goes well beyond electoral cycles”

The other two top priorities for 2019 agreed at the gathering provide an indication of what local leaders are most concerned about: preventing gang violence and knife crime, and developing affordable childcare in three neighbourhoods.

Bristol's imaginative approach to ‘one city planning’ has three distinctive features. First, the plan covers the period to 2050, setting a long-term vision that goes well beyond electoral cycles and medium-term planning horizons.  

It outlines a strategy for each of the three coming decades and specifies the actions that will need to be taken to create “a fair healthy and sustainable city – a city of hope and aspiration, where everyone can share in its success”.  

Second, the plan has been co-created by politicians, community leaders, businesses, trade unions, planners, academics and others. They have shared experiences, explored new ideas, disagreed with each other and, finally, arrived at new strategies.  

Third, a new collaborative governance system for the city has been created to deliver the plan. Leaders of 16 public, private and not-for-profit organisations will serve on a new City Leaders Group to oversee the work of six thematic boards working to implement strategies set out in the plan.

The Bristol One City Plan, while not statutory, provides a solid strategy for delivering sustainable and people-friendly economic growth for the city. What works in Bristol might not be appropriate for other localities. But here are three pointers drawn from the experience.

  1. At a time when authoritarian forces are gathering in many nations, including our own, it is important to stand up for progressive thinking on social, environmental and economic justice.
  2. Planning is an imaginative local activity that cannot be constrained by misguided guidance from distant officials in Whitehall. Sure, successful planners take notice of legal requirements, but they know that there is always space to create new possibilities in their locality.
  3. ‘One city planning’ can work. The New York City One City Plan should be recognised as world-leading in breaking new ground on collective public planning driven by social purpose. But many cities and localities are now developing their own variations.  

Read about Bristol’s One City plan at www.bristolonecity.com 

Robin Hambleton is emeritus professor of city leadership at the University of the West of England, Bristol, and director of Urban Answers.

Image | iStock

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