57th World Planning Congress of the International Society of City and Regional Planners
"Planning Unlocked: New Times, Better Places, Stronger Communities"

Planning Unlocked

How to unlock and build back better our cities and communities? Urban and territorial planning is the vaccine. It can only be effective when applied worldwide and accessible to all people. The new planning vaccine needs to enable innovative ideas and strategies to achieve more sustainable territories and implement urban green deals.

We live in exceptional times, of which the "Covid shock of 2020" is only the most recent symptom. Cities and nations worldwide have been grappling with appalling socio-economic inequalities, failing infrastructure, and the prospect of climate catastrophe for a long while. Against a future of more pandemics, ecosystem meltdown, and social unrest, there is only one remedy – planning better, safer, fairer cities. But is spatial planning up to the task? The traditional concepts, methods, tools, and agents of urban and territorial planning seem woefully inadequate. We need new solutions, out-of-the-box thinking, and innovative ideas and strategies.

The main idea associated with the 57th ISOCARP World Planning Congress theme is to unlock our minds and provide planning advocates and practitioners a fresh, new start. The same relates to the congress format - we have to go out of the "beaten track" of the in-person, members-of-the-profession-only event and explore new conferencing and knowledge-sharing opportunities, go out with our message outside the walled congress rooms as well as partner with other disciples and address the governments, the civic society, and the general public.

New Challenges

New Times

Unprecedented events make us question the development paradigms and call for unlocking planning theories and practices for meeting the future needs and incoming challenges. Our practice was very much development-oriented: now we look for healthy and inclusive places and harmony with nature. The mantra of economic growth is still there, but in post-COVID times the new social and economic patterns emerge. Calls for 'de-growing' the economy are getting louder, including measuring progress with indicators of human well-being and conservation of the natural capital. At the same time, the planet-wide climate emergency is ever more evident. Whether officially declared or not, these changes have global, regional, and local dimensions and consequences. Also, these will influence not only the physical form of cities but entire urban environments, including social, economic, environmental, and infrastructural transformations.

Better Places

Meeting these challenges will require planning for better urban places: resilient, biodiverse, inclusive, socially-responsive, and ecologically benign. Some solutions will refer to the traditional urban forms, others will accept the relentless dispersion of population into the peri-urban and rural areas – recently accelerated by the pandemic. In both cases, they will be combined with fresh planning ideas and new technologies transport, telecommunications, energy generation and storage, and waste disposal. Self-sufficiency and community resilience will be the paramount criteria for responding to unexpected emergencies that the future will bring. Nature-employing and mimicking solutions will provide a healthy balance with high technologies. Enhancing biodiversity, while harnessing ecological services, will be a core objective of urban plans, not something that belongs to the protected nature reserves outside the city.

Stronger Communities

Our communities should be much more healthy, resilient, and inclusive. This means empowering vulnerable and deprived groups and minorities, and building social cohesion and harmony while also acknowledging cultural diversity and individual freedom. These communities will be assisted in self-planning, which itself will focus on the localisation of production, consumption, and services. Self-sufficiency, sharing, and collaboration, along with decentralised, autonomous infrastructure, will be the pillars of resilience. The new place-making will be much more people-oriented and people-responsive than before, focusing at the same time on climate adaptation and biodiversity protection.

Our Responses

New Planning Concepts

These changes will also result in new forms of cooperation (and competition) between institutions, stakeholders, government entities, regions, and other types of partners and interested individuals. The congress - organised at this unique moment - should become a venue for the creation of new planning concepts and the start of the process of reshaping the planning profession. We are not only interested in researching the past or analysing the present but, foremost, in charting the future. In this case, the future of our cities and regions and the future of the planning profession. This comes along with shifting from "designing" towards "focusing on action and impact".

New Planning Agenda

We aim to set the new planning agenda, provide a venue for the forward-thinking on the future of the profession and redefine the mission and tools of city and regional spatial planning. The goal is an overhaul of our current paradigms of the subject and process of planning. This shall include reconsideration of the scope of planning and the inclusion of numerous non-obvious aspects of it. Also, the "planning perspective" should be reconsidered and short-term as well as very much long-lasting solutions should be included in the planning debate.

Knowledge Exchange and Education Improvement

We focus not only on "better places", but we strongly believe in the need to support the development of "stronger communities" within these "new times". This requires developing and sharing the best planning practices, exchanging thoughts on current advancements in planning, and pointing out the outstanding cases of successful urban and regional development and transformation efforts. We also understand the need for "improved education" and advancement of the "knowledge sharing and exchange" as the basic driver for this paradigm shift. This shall come along with an understanding that planning is becoming much more diverse in every sense of this word. All these shall contribute to un-locking our thinking on what planning is and should be and provide us with a fresh start to the future. This may also include the concept of un-planning of some areas and sites, which may become a relief to the communities.

Unique Congress Location and Format

Doha: An Ever-changing Place

The Congress takes place in Doha – a unique place for such a discussion. This place is constantly changing and adapting to the new times and realities, which results in the deep physical, social, and economic transformations of the city, not to forget about the environmental and infrastructural aspects of this unique location. Also, Doha sports not only the local but also regional and global importance, which again makes it a unique setting for reinventing planning.

Embracing Local Culture

At the same time, Congress delegates will get the change to experience Qatari culture, hospitality, and history-based yet modern urban atmosphere. Our aim is also to include the particular concepts and aspects of local culture in the congress programme and phrasing of the congress-related events. This shall become a good bridge between the delegates representing various cultures and lifestyles as well as local social and cultural environments.

New Congress Format

The congress will include not only traditional paper sessions. We want to promote the presentation of case studies and projects as the basis for knowledge sharing and exchange and for learning from each other. Special sessions, forums, debates, and roundtables shall take a prominent role in the congress programme as these events may gain the attention of the larger audience. We encourage going beyond design - unlocking planning shall mean also reinventing what planning is actually about. 

As we all want to meet in person, let us meet in Msheireb within an innovative, inclusive, and welcoming public space in the historic heart of Doha. It offers splendid interaction opportunities while allowing and ensuring safe distancing and outdoor sessions. For those who still cannot travel, the hybrid model of participation will be organised, using modern technologies to provide the global audience with a chance to experience the ISOCARP congress ambiance in this unique place.

Congress Tracks:

Themes of the congress tracks were conceptualised in a way that should allow unlocking thinking on what planning is and may become. The aim was also to open up broader topics and set of issues, which shall allow for a more innovative approach towards conceptualising the presented papers and case studies.

Regional Events

Aside from presentations included in the regular tracks, we aim to develop and present several congress-related activities focused on the MENA/Gulf region. These could include tours, project presentations and discussions, briefings on regional specifics, etc. The highlight of this part may be the guided tours with planners as guides, allowing congress participants to discover the theme or the city (which - in case organised in a virtual mode – may be filmed beforehand, but with a live comment during the Congress, so people who are joining remotely can be part of the live spoken, virtual tour, and have interaction with the guide). Within the congress programme, there will be room for just one in-person gathering and several virtual urban studio events.

Special Sessions and Forums


Forums will be conceptualised and organised by ISOCARP in partnership with its institutional members and partners. In principle, these events last at least 90 minutes and include both presentations, discussions, and debates. Local leaders and professionals will be invited to participate in each of these forums. These are excellent 'networking' opportunities for both ISOCARP and institutional members and ISOCARP/Ministry of Municipality and Environment of Qatar (MME) partners, with the World Planning Congress Committee (WPCC) and the Local Organising Committee (LOC) as matchmakers. At least three events of such will be organised, but in case of interest in other topics, organisation of 5-6 of these may be proposed. The initial set of proposals include:

  • Urban Health Forum

  • Planning Education Forum: Bridging theory and practice

  • Culture and Heritage Forum: Embracing locality in the face of modernisation

  • Urban Policy Forum

  • Urban Regeneration Forum

  • Regional Forum: Bringing together regional leaders

  • Territorial Climate Action Planning Forum



Similarly, roundtable and panel discussions on selected topics may be organised. In principle, these events should last approximately 45 minutes each, and within the programme of these the roundtable-like discussions with invited individuals, specialists, and professionals, should play the key role. Roundtables are targeting high-level representatives of various delegations and groups of stakeholders. At least three events of such will be organised, but in vase of interest in other topics, organisation of 5-6 of these may be proposed. The initial set of proposals include:

  • Place-leaders Roundtable

  • Place-makers Roundtable


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