Strategic Urban Planning for World Cities | MIPIM-World Blog

The world’s major cities are either on a collision course with the future, or they are planning to become masters of their own destiny. Very large cities are difficult to plan and manage, and they take time to change. Globalisation has been the dominant influence on cities in the past 20 years and it has increased the significance of major cities as centres for business, logistics, culture, and decision taking. At the same time it has increased competition between cities, as well as giving them reasons to collaborate and engage in shared innovation. But in many cases, if not all, aspects of the growth in city and regional populations, and change in business base, visitors, and other users, have accelerated well in advance of the ability of cities and regions to invest in the infrastructure, amenity, and facilities required to manage and shape that growth. Most large cities are constantly playing catch-up, and even when they do bring forwards new infrastructure, it is often working at full capacity from day 1, so more is immediately needed.

This constant sense of ‘drift’ from the optimal city management and facilities is something city leaders have to address, to get on top of their growth agendas, and to find ways to solve problems in the longer term that can’t be solved in the shorter term.

World Cities have developed two important tools for doing this: future scanning and strategic urban planning.

Future scanning looks at the future, with the evolution of both known and unknown influences and ask what kind o city will succeed in the local reality of the future. Cities and city regions which have developed scenarios for their long-term future include, London, Paris/Ile-de-France, Chicago, Frankfurt Rhein-Main, Singapore, Hong Kong and Madrid.

Scenario frameworks for cities can:

  • demonstrate the risks of poor planning and the importance of a clear strategy along an enlightened ‘middle path’.
  • Present the pros and cons to different growth types, oriented around the effect of growth on land use, mobility and the environment. They highlight the associated dangers of a poorly planned city region growth model.
  • Focus on the impact of different policy approaches, such as the kind of specific investment strategy, the range of transport provision, and the degree of social/economic inclusiveness.
  • Be constructed around policy-independent trends that cannot be immediately controlled by government bodies, such as trends in the spheres of economics, social fabric, environment and security.

Many world cities have now also developed strategic plans to integrate their long term thinking into a programme of planning and investing for the future. Strategic plans have some unique features.

  • Strategic Plans provide a means to translate visions, values, and ambitions into practical programmes of governance, investment, and management. As such they can link the aspirations of politicians and citizens into one shared plan with practical delivery arrangements.
  • Strategic Plans provides a means to think and plan long term, and act consistently over a long development cycle, within a culture which is often short term in nature. Strategic Plans can be the subject of ‘multi-party agreements’ that can span several business cycles and many electoral cycles.
  • Strategic Plans are ‘Integrated Plans’ and provide a means to see linkages between different aspects of city development and to understand complex phasing and sequencing issues and critical paths to success. For example strategic plans often show links between land use, transport, housing and, environment, or between education, skills, economy, and productivity, or between planning, branding, and promotion. Because city governments often do control land-use planning, but may not control all other aspects of development, administration, and investment in the city, strategic plans are a means to use spatial tools both to integrate, to shape and influence other inputs.
  • Strategic Plans provide a mechanism for prioritisation of key projects and interventions which will have most impact on long term priorities.
  • Strategic Plans help to overcome co-ordination failures in city government and wider city governance by acting as ‘joint plans’ between multiple departments of city government and between the city government and other entities, including central or Federal Governments.
  • Strategic Plans are a communication tool that link past, present, and future and tell the story of the city and its development in ways which are visible and practical, allowing stakeholders and citizens to imagine the future of the city and major change with greater confidence. As such they also stimulate the creation of partnership organisations whose remit is to cultivate and transmit the optimal city image to a worldwide audience of investors, visitors, labour, and publics. They inculcate values of collaboration, energy, inclusiveness and strategic risk-taking into city brand and perception management.
  • Strategic Plans provide a means to understand and articulate investment opportunities and priorities and to frame potential for joint investment between multiple parties. They should act as part of investment prospectus between different tiers of government and other sources of investment capital.
  • Strategic Plans provide a common evidence base, and persuasive ‘case’, and a common time-cycle for other kinds of plans acting to improve the coherence of all planning overall and bring existing plans closer together.


So, as we shall read in the blogs this month, strategic planning can play for cities similar roles to those played in businesses. No surprise that New York, London, Tokyo, Sao Paulo, Johannesburg, Hong Kong, Singapore, and many others create such plans to build their future.

Top image credit: Photobank gallery

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