We live today in a rather interesting reality at the urban level. The awareness of the trend of more dynamic settlement of people in cities has been widely accepted (by 2050 it can be as much as 75% of the world’s population). Residents seem to be more and more concerned about the well-being of large clusters, in a friendly, comfortable, healthy space. How to take care of such needs? Specialists, who perfectly understand the specificity of the city, combining engineering and the material dimension of urbanized areas with social challenges and urban sociology, are (at least as a rule) spatial planners.

The countries of Western Europe and the Americans use their expert knowledge in the field of spatial management, to seek solutions that improve the quality of life in the city, in a coherent, planned and reasonable manner. Is it possible to rebuild respect for planners in Poland, which has been experienced by the pre-1989 period and the “care” of the central level over all aspects of life and which has lost confidence in spatial planning?

(see: Portal Samorządowy – “Planowanie przestrzenne w Polsce nie istnieje, ale samorządy i tak wykonały kawał dobrej roboty przez ostatnie 25 lat – ocenia w rozmowie z Portalsamorzadowy.pl Bogusław Hajda ze Stowarzyszenia Forum Rewitalizacji.”)

The most important task, which I think the planners are waiting for, immediately, is to change the language of communication, which in the first place should influence a better understanding of their role in the city. Today, the planner is associated with the image of an “official” who prohibits and “limits” the possibilities of property owners who want to “do what they want”. Meanwhile, the planner should be associated with a person who is a link between the inhabitants and the city and its space, a person who cares about the space that fulfills the needs and raises the quality of life of the inhabitants.

It is often colloquially referred to as planners as “architects on an urban scale” and it is architects who should take the example of a modern planner. It is no secret that the subject of architecture and urban planning is highly expert, not necessarily clear and legible for everyone. Not everyone has to be able to read technical drawings or local spatial development plans. Architects for years, instead of complex projections, present refined 3D visualizations with the possibility of viewing the future building at different times of the year, day and night. Such a picture is definitely easier to understand. Planners meanwhile, they are still trying to talk with residents, holding complicated maps and plans in their hand.

It is time for people involved in the city to widely use huge amounts of data collected by public institutions, non-governmental organizations, residents themselves and intelligent devices of urban infrastructure for building modern cities. More and more advanced visualization tools for planners come to the rescue. They help aggregate and present data in a legible way, appealing to the imagination, explaining phenomena. The strength of technology has been appreciated even by the Royal Institute of Spatial Planning of the United Kingdom presenting proposals for ways to implement a smart city in accordance with the principles of spatial planning.

The list of tools being used by planners is already long today, and every day more attractive programs and applications appear on the market, starting with the most basic tools for presenting cities in 3D (ArcGIS Online – Boston’s example, VU.CITY), through advanced and multifunctional tools for spatial analysis and building scenarios of the future development of the city (UrbanFootprint, virtualcityPLANNER), tools that collect and organize spatial data (przykład Manchesteru), tools useful for the analysis of land use and the functioning of the commercial real estate market (LandInsight), tools for data visualization (Tekja), tools based on virtual reality (HoloMaps), to the soon-to-be-needed tools for social consultations (Maptionnaire, participatr).

It is also time that universities, educating young planners, are also more eager to develop this type of competences. Changing the perception of spatial planning is also a task for scientific units that, when teaching theoretical foundations, must be aware of the possibilities that future graduates of spatial management face. It should not be a common situation in which these graduates, in only a few percent, continue to work in the profession, limiting themselves only to the public sector – the rest, however, finds employment in completely different industries.

A smart planner should not only be aware of the value of his knowledge, but above all he should quickly acquire the skills of sharing it with city dwellers. The planner does not have to be identified with the public administration, as Joe DiStefano speaks in a very interesting podium, but he must be a person who increasingly works for many cities as an independent expert. Modern tools seem to be necessary for this.

author: Agata Kuźmińska, Pracownia Miejska, graduate in spatial economy, author of a blog for students and graduates of spatial economy GpNext.pl