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08/03/2021

Covid has shown us that it's time to address inequality in the built environment

Words:
Image illustrating inequality

Sue Manns’ experience of being RTPI President has been unlike any other’s. But a year of Covid has been profoundly enlightening when it comes to understanding the strengths and weaknesses of our places and spaces

I suspect no one was prepared for the year we have just experienced, least of all me as I took on the role of RTPI President. The pandemic and lockdown restrictions brought into sharp focus the strengths and weaknesses of our places, exposing the inequalities inherent in our way of life. As we look to the future, we must not forget what it has taught us all about the importance of sustainable, resilient and inclusive places.

The digital world into which we were thrust provided an opportunity to reach out to new audiences and planning was rarely out of the news. Debates were wide ranging, from how to deliver better places, health and well-being, better designed housing, affordable housing, the decline of the high street, climate change, through to how the planning system should do it. 

One topic which had particular resonance was the importance of equality, diversity and inclusivity, both in the way in which we engage with communities and within our profession. 

“In the 1980s women made up 15 per cent of the RTPI membership. By January 2020 it was 39 per cent; progress, but still some way to go”

We all use spaces and places, but we all do it differently and the way that we do it changes throughout our lives. With complex issues, such as those tackled by planners, it is simply not possible for one person, or a group of people from similar backgrounds, to have all the relevant insights. Seeing things from different perspectives leads to more informed, and sometimes different, decisions. We need to listen to the many voices across our communities – not just those who shout loudest. As the pandemic has reminded us, we are planning for everyone.

Turning to the profession, in the 1980s women made up 15 per cent of the RTPI membership. By January 2020 it was 39 per cent; progress, but still some way to go. Our BAME members are equally under-represented; there is much to be done. The lack of diversity is greatest at senior levels. In essence the higher you climb, the wider the gap. This cannot be right. Talent does not rest disproportionately within one section of our profession or our membership. This imbalance matters and it matters deeply. 

In February 2020 I launched the CHANGE Action Plan, which is part of the RTPI Corporate Strategy, to help achieve a more balanced profession. At the same time, planners have themselves stepped up to deliver change. Women in Planning was founded in 2012 and has been making a difference through its CPD and networking events. In 2020 two new diversity networks, the BAME Planners Network and the Neurodiversity in Planning network, were launched. It was an honour to recognise the dedication of the founders of these networks as recipients of the RTPI President’s Award for Planning Achievement 2020. 

Sue Manns is Immediate Past President of the RTPI for 2020 and director of Sue Manns Associates

Photo | iStock

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