Young people are often overlooked in the planning process but they can offer valuable insight into the built environment
“Town planning is not merely place-planning, nor even work-planning. If it is to be successful it must be folk-planning” Patrick Geddes, 1854-1932.
Taking the vision of Geddes, oft considered the forefather of modern urban planning, as a starting point, education professionals and those involved in the planning process convened in Edinburgh to look at practical ways in which children and young people can be actively involved in shaping their towns and cities from an early age. Organised by Planning Aid Scotland (PAS), the organisation which works across the country to improve the way people engage with the planning system, the conference highlighted just how important it is for central and local government to work with schools and young people in this area.
Planning is often overlooked and dismissed as a technical and difficult process. Many people’s only experience of it comes when they want to extend their properties or when a major development is set to be built nearby. However, those within the field are working tirelessly to raise planning’s profile and encouraging more people to engage with their surroundings and realise the importance of the topic in their everyday lives. One demographic more keenly neglected than others is young people, despite the fact that inevitably, they will live longest with planning decisions.
Petra Biberbach, chief executive of PAS, said: “We must work harder to ensure that processes are in place to enable better and more creative community engagement – and to empower people of all ages to have a greater say in the shaping of their environment. Young people are often underrepresented in the planning system, yet they will spend the next 50 or 60 years living with the consequences of today’s decisions.”
Tam Baillie, Scotland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People, addressed the conference on the rights of the child and offered a unique insight into what is currently a ‘blind spot’ – the active participation of children in planning and place-making. He said: “I am strongly committed to creating opportunities for children and young people to exercise their right to express their opinions. I am particularly pleased that the conference is focusing on the role of young people in the planning process as we know how important the environment is to children’s development. I believe their involvement in planning processes will improve the outcomes for planning as well as for children and young people.”
Baillie believes Scotland is in an interesting place right now. He added: “The Government is proposing legislation which is going to look at how we can get better at honouring the rights of children, how can we make it much more central in terms of consideration of how we treat, deal with and respect our children and young people. I feel privileged to be here at this moment in time when I think that the direction of travel is giving much more credit and respect to our children and young people. One of the articles [in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child] which is important is Article 12, which is a child’s right to have an opinion and to express that opinion and for due weight and consideration to be given to that opinion. Children have a right to an opinion and we should give due weight to this.
“I think there are lots of great examples of children and young people being involved in planning processes but we don’t do it on a structured basis. Often the reason these things happen is because of the enthusiasm and approach of the staff in a particular area who have grasped the nettle. But then they move on and it is not built into the structures. I think a child’s eye view would help us create a much better external environment and open space environment. It would be beneficial to the planning process to actually consult with children and young people, not as an extra exercise but as a matter of routine.
“Planners should visit schools and not just schools but places where children and young people go. It is actually about getting the people with responsibility for the planning processes to actively and assertively engage with children and young people.”
Minister for Learning, Dr Alasdair Allan, believes the planning system can add value to the Curriculum for Excellence by helping young people to become more active citizens in their local communities. He said: “Curriculum for Excellence is supporting our young people to become active and responsible citizens. Active in making a positive contribution to their education, their school and their local community.
“The message of think global, act local encapsulates a great deal of the Curriculum for Excellence, which despite its name is a way of teaching and learning. We want our young people to be able to follow that advice and think globally as responsible global citizens with an understanding of Scotland and its place in the world. We want young people to have the ability to participate in decisions which affect them and make informed choices, which is very much what our understanding of what citizenship means.
“The significance of the Edinburgh Agreement is for the first time, people aged 16 and 17 will have a vote. Whether in the context of national issues or local planning issues, I believe very strongly that they have an important role in the decisions we make as a society, not least because they will affect young people longer than it will affect us. The work of Planning Aid has a crucial role in encouraging citizens to play a prominent role in the planning process and the subsequent developments which affect their communities. Schools are part of communities, learning about planning in school from an early age would enable children to connect with the changes and developments in their community but also support them as citizens of that community. The Scottish Government’s school building programme highlights the importance of civic participation. A key part of the programme focuses on the consultation before any work is undertaken. I’ve seen that myself. visiting schools where the actual architecture and design of the new schools has been very strongly influenced not just by teachers and councils but by young people as well. Architecture and Design Scotland is working with pupils, teachers and parents to come up with innovative and exciting design solutions to overcome historic constraints and entrenched views which still exist about school design.”
The conference also heard from chief executive of Children 1st, Anne Houston and Phil Denning from Education Scotland, who both gave their insights into how important it is to get young people involved in planning.
Getting the general public involved in planning is a well known problem, however, many people want to change this. PAS itself runs a number of projects for children and young people. For primary school children, they use ‘IMBY’, a cartoon alien who engages primaries four to seven to help them learn about their local area from a planning perspective – exploring the landscape and built environment, and how this is shaped. It encourages active citizenship by focusing on relevant issues, such as mobile phone masts, community gardens/ allotments, shops and recycling. PAS has been liaising with Education Scotland to ensure that the IMBY programme complements the Scottish Government’s Curriculum for Excellence. PAS also has programmes for 12-18 year olds and older students.