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Today is officially World Town Planning Day! An international celebration of planners, good urban design and the contribution they bring to their respective communities.  Held since 1949, institutions from around the globe (RTPI, PIA, APA etc.) will be hosting talks, seminars and events to share insights, exchange ideas and generally move the profession forward.

It’s also a good time for one to reflect on their own sources of inspiration, and on whether or not a worldly view can help enhance one’s own ability to tackle the challenges often associated with planning?

Having worked on projects across the UK, China, Sweden and South America, I find that the experiences I draw on are very much dependent on the context of the ‘then and now’.  For example, when delivering a UK-focused project (which these days I mostly do), I can’t say that I draw much upon the undoubtedly invaluable lessons learnt from say, Malmö. Hmmm, maybe I should start…note to self.

(c)Diligentia – Masthusen, Malmö, Sweden

That said, what I am often influenced by are the experiences of others; my colleagues, friends and peers.   An internationally diverse project team and working environment is one that is not only rich in ideas and solutions, but also in skills and cultural quality too.   The varying nationalities represented within BRE’s Women’s Network committee informed the ‘BEGlobal’ thematic of this year’s event series; one which has really caught the industries imagination!  And I certainly witnessed national diversity temper one-sided views, and enhance the quality of discussions and outputs whilst working alongside colleagues from India, Germany and Scotland on a project in China.

Exploring this further, one can easily see how BRE’s international BREEAM certification schemes (Communities, In-Use, Refurbishment and Fit-Out, Infrastructure, New Construction, and those delivered via the National Scheme Operators) outwardly drive sustainability standards across the built environment.  The benchmarks set within their technical frameworks provide universally recognised baselines for issues such as transport, public health, carbon reduction, ecology and so forth. They empower planners, specifiers, estate managers and project teams alike, to push the boundaries of performance and provide an independent, transparent measure of the achievement.

What is less visible however, is how they also bring together a network of sustainability professionals and experts comprising over 10,000 formally recognised BREEAM affiliates; larger than many professional institutions.  Through stakeholder liaison workshops, training courses and scheme development processes, these sustainability warriors are often brought together to share and debate the issues of the day from across 76 different countries worldwide.

“BREEAM Communities is the optimal tool for collaboration between authorities and developer. At the same time it provides the ability to assess a wide range of sustainability issues within the same project…” Anders Nilsson, White Arkitekter.

Case in point, the BREEAM Communities scheme (applicable to the planning stages of large, mixed use developments) is active across Europe, the Middle East and China. Clients, project teams, assessors and planners alike often tell us how the scheme acts as a common language through which the challenges relating to different practices and terminology can be overcome.  They also tell us how it can unify the team and wider stakeholder group around a set of objectives; ensuring sustainability remains at the heart of the initiative.  In this way, BREEAM enables the flow of different knowledge and skills that support the delivery of high quality development and cultivates creativity.

In the region of Sharjah in the UAE, there is little in terms of formal planning process; no EIA, no transport assessment as standard etc.  When the project team decided to have their proposals certified against BREEAM Communities they used the framework as a road map for the delivery of a sustainable masterplan and also to showcase to a global audience the standard to which they were delivering.  Furthermore, the individuals working closely on, and alongside the project can now apply these skills and different ways of thinking about issues to future developments in similar contexts. And, in doing so, grow and build relationships and knowledge exchanges across an international platform.

And what with the launch of the BRE Academy’s online BREEAM International New Construction training course, the global opportunities for those working on BREEAM certified projects is only set to increase.

So should we all train to be International BREEAM assessors? Not a bad option.  Should we all pack in our day jobs and travel the world nomadically moving from one project to the next? Also not a bad option.

(c)Sharjah Holding – Al Zahia, Sharjah, UAE

However another option (and one probably more feasible for most) would be to expose yourself to, and draw upon the global experiences had from those around you.  In doing so you can broaden your own horizons, enhance the quality of what you do, and in many cases, simply find a more interesting way to work.  Having a worldly view doesn’t necessarily mean constantly travelling or delivering projects outside of the UK (although that can be fun).  For me, it is more about the diversity of the communities that you engage with, and how you utilise projects and common aspirations for a larger benefit. Most importantly, it about how open minded you are to new ideas and ways of doing things that are, well, sometimes uncomfortably different to your own. After all, different might just be better.

Charlene Clear
About the Author
Once in sustainability consultancy, now stakeholder engagement for the Home Quality Mark (#HQM) and #BREEAM. Diversity and inclusivity champion and advocate for #BetterHomes #BetterPlaces. Geographer and Mum getting stuff done.

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