Restoring sanctity of planning profession

COOPER Chibomba.

HAPPY New Year. Hope you are having an exciting 2018. Zambia’s cities are currently facing an urban crisis, as evidenced by the recent cholera outbreak in Lusaka city.

We did not find ourselves in this crisis by accident. Our cities are in a crisis because our planning system and professional planners are not recognised as key players in shaping the community spaces.
Planners are gatekeepers to all development initiatives. Yet, many developers think that they can do it by themselves and only run back to professional planners when there is a crisis.
Our country is at a point where urban informality is widely accepted as a norm, business is championed and the entrepreneur respected. It sometimes seems that there are few professions more shameful than the local town planner. The citizens have been asking the question “where are the planners?” We have raised our hands in those crowded rooms, yet no one listens when we speak. Instead, we get a lashing for the things the respected champions have created. What a mess!
While the trend of architecture has soared over the decades and property developers have displaced banks as the new super-rich, the local town planner, has become laughable shorthand for a certain kind of impersonal, under-whelming dullard (slow or stupid person).
With the representation of planners in developmental initiatives invariably unflattering, planning has become unpopular, disconnected from the public and increasingly beholden to the developer rather than the people it is meant to serve. Yet, people do still care about the cities they live in. It is therefore important that dialogue between professional planners and people be a two-way process.
Urban planning requires far-sighted politicians, strong communities, active citizens and innovative developers. It is time to recognise the intrinsic value of planning. Planners must be empowered and allowed to confidently negotiate firmly with politicians and private capital. There is need to reduce political interference in the urban planning process, as this has adverse effects on development and it completely disturbs the flow of the planning process and renders insignificant the role of the urban planning professionals.
To attain efficient and effective planning, political intervention in urban planning must be avoided so that planners will have the full capacity to execute their duty. Professional planners are a pivotal human resource that both local authorities and central government should take advantage of and engage in issues of development. Everything has its basis in planning.
Ultimately, planning brings about provision of basic service needs, and the lack of it is detrimental to a community. An example at hand is the current cholera outbreak, which has emanated from unplanned areas without basic services. But due to lack of political will, the planning profession has suffered all sorts of attacks.
If planning was considered first, a lot of issues would be under control. Programmes would be implemented as planned and there would be effective utilisation of scarce resources. But if the planning profession is overlooked, budgeted programmes will suffer in the name of arresting the outbreaks, hence having uncompleted projects or programmes, or worse still incurring budget overruns.
Planning is at the centre. Allow me to address policy makers in Government, elected officials and the private sector. The gatekeeper that stands to guide and safeguard our communities, ensure access and implores you to avoid the pitfalls you would otherwise face, is asking you, today, to appreciate his role.
Professional planners are desirous to contribute to development that favours all, not just some, because our only business is the public. We exist to serve the public interest. That is why as the most influential profession in creating liveable and sustainable communities, our task is that you just don’t listen to our advice but that you will follow it.
Together with you, we are much stronger. We continue to stand ready to avail ourselves to service, and we do this because we believe that planning is the most effective preventive option and, at the same time, the only way to guarantee success. Take time today and appreciate the planner.
The author is Zambia Institute for Planning president.

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