Ann Arbor, MI

Planners for Future – or: how should we (re-)act?

The new decade starts in 2020 with intensified talks about environmental change, climate change and a global crisis. These challenges do not only excel the global dimension of human activity. They also exhibit the emergence and growth of strong social movements like ‘Fridays for Future’, ‘Extinction Rebellion’ and many more.

Social movements of younger people like Fridays for future (but also Scientists for Future, Parents for Future, Cyclists for Future) organise themselves in groups around a global agenda. They do not put forward their personal well-being but demand immediate action with a global and intergenerational outlook. More fundamentally, they do not follow a spatial agenda and do not demand the implementation of a yet-developed alternative from their shelves. The organization of these movements is fast, online and highly fluid while the political message remains clear throughout local and national groups. They demand existing institutions – and therefore also planning and the actions of planners – to change. Further local and regional examples often explicitly connect climate change, sustainability and justice agendas. Should planners join the Global Climate Strike? While climate scientists view the general claims as justified (such as Hagedorn et al. 2019), the lack of explicit spatial demands build a challenging connection to planning.

Recent years have already witnessed a growth of civil society activism on the neighbourhood and city level. Should planners engage in activist initiatives and work as a counter-force to market-led developments, as Kunzmann (2016: 1318) proposes? How can co-designed planning in partnership with many actors make specific urban and rural places better (Horlings 2016)? If institutional change in planning practice is gradual and incremental (Bisschops/Beunen 2018: 14), how does this process unfold and how can it be motivating for many and diverse people today? On a broader scale, questions arise to strengthen inclusive and imaginative aspects of planning for transforming established institutions (Albrechts et al. 2019).

And now? This is an introduction to a theme that is – in my belief – hugely important for spatial planners. It builds upon discussion within the ARL Youth Professional’s Forum North Rhine-Westphalia on 4th December 2019 in Bochum (organised jointly with Kerstin Meyer and Viola Schulze Dieckhoff). Boundaries get increasingly porous – what was utopian some years ago moves to the core of debates (tangible examples range from much more space for cyclists, removing parking spaces and re-introducing night trains even to engaging against private housing companies and changing basic paradigms of spatial development).

Let’s engage in the debate between spatial planning and global movements and explore where thoughts get spatial and where they take us…


Albrechts, L., Barbanente, A., & Monno, V. (2019). From stage-managed planning towards a more imaginative and inclusive strategic spatial planning. Environment and Planning C: Politics and Space, 18 (3).

Bisschops, S., & Beunen, R. (2018). A new role for citizens’ initiatives: The difficulties in co-creating institutional change in urban planning. Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, 15 (1), 1–16.

Hagedorn, G., Kalmus, P., Mann, M., Vicca, S., van den Berge, J., van Ypersele, J.-P., Bourg, D., Rotmans, J., Kaaronen, R., Rahmstorf, S., Kromp-Kolb, H., Kirchengast, G., Knutti, R., Seneviratne, S. I., Thalmann, P., Cretney, R., Green, A., Anderson, K., Hedberg, M., . . . Hayhoe, K. (2019). Concerns of young protesters are justified. Science, 364 (6436), 139–140.

Horlings, L. G. (2016). Connecting people to place: sustainable place-shaping practices as transformative power. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, 20, 32–40.

Kunzmann, K. R. (2016). Crisis and urban planning? A commentary. European Planning Studies, 24 (7), 1313–1318.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.