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04/10/2017

Making planning an agent of global change

A favela

Six years ago I saw in the work of my planning team in Arup that human development needed to make a radical course correction. I called the desired destination the Ecological Age, and felt it could be reached through the process of sustainable development. 

At that time the Millennium Development Goal of reducing extreme poverty was being approached quickly around the world. But it was clear that we were starting to breach the limits of the Earth’s capacity to support this change. 

Population growth and climate change threatened resource scarcity; science suggested awful consequences. Land use planning was central to creating a more resilient world. But it was largely ignored.

We needed decision-making tools to enable a course correction to be realised by everyone. Ideally, this would be an open-source, free-to-use digital platform that would support a collaborative regional approach to integrated land-use planning, project design and decisions about investments.

“I called the desired destination ‘the Ecological Age’”

Such a tool should integrate planning for housing, industry, energy, water, waste, transport, materials, soils, oceans, wetlands, forests and agriculture. It should work at a local, national and global scale and be one that young people could use in a gaming version to learn about their region.

I brought together leaders in many disciplines to bring tools into use that combined modelling of people (their social characteristics and patterns of consumption and mobility) with resource flows of human and ecological activity and a circular economics model with human well-being at its heart. 

What we created is resilience.io, a downloadable app that blends local information with a library of human, ecological and economic data to build a detailed picture of how a region is functioning. 

This allows city regions to assess their development path and to model sustainable pathways to inform policy decisions.

En route, we created Roadmap 2030 to show how such tools can help to finance and deliver the Global UN Sustainable Development Goals. We tested the tool in the Greater Accra Metropolitan Area in Ghana, enabling the community to reach SDG 6 – having water and sanitation available to all by 2030. 

We have formed the Resilience Brokers Global Programme to slingshot the building, testing and roll out of resilience.io over the next five years. Our aim is to have one demonstrator in each UN country, and to create sufficient funding to match the challenge of mobilising $3 trillion a year for course correction in the whole world by 2030. We are on the way.

Peter Head will give the 2017 RTPI Nathaniel Lichfield Lecture on Planning for Sustainable Development at University College London on 8 November. More information can be found on the RTPI website.

Professor Peter Head CBE is founder and chief executive of The Ecological Sequestration Trust

Photo | iStock

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