Art, Inclusion and the Young Planners Conference 2022
After 2 years of online CPD sessions, virtual catch ups and seeing people through screens, the Thames Valley RTPI Young Planners Committee brought the Young Planners Conference back with a bang!
RTPI Young Planners Conference 2022
Hosted in Milton Keynes, a team of 12 Bidwells' planners explored the theme of “Utopia or Dystopia” with other young planners from across the UK. The interactive sessions were led by a variety of planning professionals including international speakers who set out how we can learn from each other’s practices.
Milton Keynes was a fantastic setting to discuss the topic of Utopia or Dystopia given its recent city status offering plenty of first hand opportunities to explore the unique planning merits of the city of MK through a rather wet cycle tour of the “Red Ways” (Milton Keynes segregated cycle and pedestrian network providing safe and accessible routes into and out of the city centre), walking tours of Campbell Park and lots of interactive discussions on what makes a city a city.
The breakout sessions provided opportunities to delve into more detailed discussions on topics such as planning for all, bringing public art into communities, emerging technologies, and building for biodiversity. The conference certainly provided food for thought particularly sessions exploring topics such as planning for all and the function of public art.
Planning for All
A buzzword in the planner’s dictionary, the conference encouraged attendees to really think about what ‘utopia’ means. Is it a permanent state, an end-goal, or an ever-changing vision? Does it change depending on where we are in the world and what we are doing? And what does utopia mean to different people?
It was that last question that laid at the heart of the ‘Planning for All’ breakout session which tackled the question of ‘Whose utopia are we planning for?’ With focus on neurodiversity and how the built environment impacts the day-to-day lives of those with dementia and autism, the session opened our eyes to how, what for some of us might seem a minor inconvenience, can for others severely affect their ability to navigate a space. Including some outrageous examples of accessibility design fails, the session emphasised the importance of putting ourselves in other people’s shoes when planning. The session also encouraged attendees to think not only about how we can plan for more inclusive environments but how we can make the planning system itself more inclusive to ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to valuably participate.
The ‘Social Model of Disability’, also discussed at the conference, provided a particularly fitting framework to summarise the session. The model, rather valuably, poses that people are not disabled by their impairment or difference, rather, they are disabled by the external barriers they face in society. Whether that be physical barriers in the built environment, or communication, organisational and attitudinal barriers, planners and alike hold great potential to overcome such obstacles, and only when we do so can we truly achieve utopian settlements for all.
Bringing Art into Communities
‘Utopia is about how we would live and what kind of a world we would live in if we could do just that’. This quote from Ruth Levitas, in her book on The Concept of Utopia encourages you to really think about how we could go about living in a utopian world. Particularly, how might public art, enable this kind of a world.
The talk on ‘Public Art’ explored the fast-paced environment in which we as planners work and live in as well as the pressure on developers to deliver infrastructure and housing in an ever-changing economic atmosphere. These factors mean that public art is so often an afterthought in the design process. Moreover, public art should be considered an integral aspect of the early design process, whether it be a community-led or a top-down process. Indeed, who should decide what kinds of public art should be in a place and where should it be located?
A condition at the tail end of planning consent, public art often goes unnoticed. However, public art can be used as a tool for placemaking, for bringing value and inclusivity to the cultural, aesthetic and economic aspects of a community. It not only contributes to a place’s identity but creates a sense of belonging and should be integral to urban regeneration, so why is it forgotten?
To create this utopian world, public art needs to start at the very top in National Planning Policy, filtering down to district and then into community levels so that it becomes part of the way we plan our homes, our streets and the places we work. Through fostering the principles of well-designed places that incorporate public art, together, utopia may become part of the world we live in.
The lessons learnt from these sessions and the connections made over the two days have certainly broadened the minds of young planners and given the opportunity to question the planning system to improve and enhance the key role planners play in bringing people together collectively to create better places to live, work and enjoy.