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La nuova Carta D'Atene 1998/The New Charter of Athens 1998

The New Charter of Athens 1998. A presentation

The New Charter of Athens 1998 was commissioned and drafted between mid-1995 and early 1998 by the national associations and institutes of planners in eleven countries of the European Union (Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Grece, Ireland, Italy, The Netherlands, Spain, Portugal and United Kingdom) united to form the European Council of Town Planners (ETCP). The final editorial group consisted of: Jed Griffiths, Charles Lambert (ECTP Président d'Honneur, chair of the editorial group), Flemming Thornæs andAlexander Tripodakis. ECTP's corresponding members (in Cyprus, Hungary, Poland, Switzerlandand Turkey) made valuable contributions to the work. The Charter has been officially introduced to the International Conference in Athens (28-31 May 1998) under the Italian presidency of ECTP.

The New Charter of Athens 1998 is not a bare re-writing of the older document, it is an ambitious effort to define the complex configuration that city planning is due to assume in the next century. While stigmatising the short comings of the older Charter, European planners acknowledge that the aims and duties of planning have to change in the years to come, in order to meet a new demand from a changing society.
The first question to rise is about the role of the Charter itself.
In the next decades town planning will be confronted with challenging processes such as: the globalisation of economies, the displacement of activities, the enlargement of the EU.
While the Old Charter has been the manifesto of a self-confident, modernist, technical élite which strongly fostered urban growth, this Charter is confronted with all the nuances of technical and political changes in urban development, which do not easily fit in a few guide-lines.
Three are the underlying concepts of the Charter which seem worth to stress as a starting point for further developments:
- the change of cities is neither random, nor uncontrolled, but results from a combination of social forces;
- more than anything else, the planner is an enabler, who negotiates the adoption of programmes resulting from the mediation of social instances;
- the Charter is a beginning, to be monitored and reviewed at next conferences, with contributions coming presumably not only from the varied world of European planners, but from the whole of the actors of the city.
These statements lead to the following consequences:
- urban change has to be carefully monitored, and the issues addressed by planning can not be stated once for ever; most of the shortcomings of the older Charter came actually from such misunderstanding, and from the confidence that planning solutions are to be enforced always and everywhere;
- planning and governance issues are not severed; the steady process of coming closer of economy and regulatory systems in Europe has affected the way local issues are addressed as well; in turn, this has changed planning procedures and outcomes;
- planning a aims have to be flexible some how planning principles are not set in stone. Planning guidelines then should never fossilise.
This is not to mean that Planning is less important today than it was yesterday.
However open to a wider view, the centrality o f planning is upheld by the Charter, where it is said that problems and pressures which cities are confronted by need to be tackled by town planning. Yet town planning is ubiquitously under pressure in Europe, as trend changes, partnerships spread and procedures in different countries get closer.
What is not easy to draw is the actual configuration of planning activities. Planning is fast changing, due to a double pressure: towards de-centralisation and subsidiarity ; and towards de-regulation and privatisation.
These trends of change can quite vary among countries, and should be carefully examined.
Future developments of the Charter may sensibly separate paths.
In fact, the Charter Is divided in three parts: a) Urban Agenda, b) General Principles of Planning c) Recommendations.
Even if the three parts are strictly linked, they are different for content and length. Actually they differ as well for the need of updating.
The first part, "Urban Agenda", can sensibly be updated every few years, since it depends from the implementation of policies across the Union countries.
The second part "Principles of Planning" depends very much on political trends which are likely to change at a slower pace. However, this area actually needs a considerable attention.
Finally, the last, and presumably the most important part, is meant to last longer, not maybe as the Ten Commandments, but however quite a long time. They probably can be cleansed to meet new requirements, but It could happen even by an incremental process.
Finally, we would like to suggest a threefold way to progress.
In order to fully investigate the future of cities, planners need to invite debating all the stakeholders in the process of change let us call them "the actors of the cities", meaning not only other professional people, whose knowledge is however unavoidable, but also people involved in urban policies. The methodology should be a widespread confrontation among practices, experiences, successes and failures experienced by practitioners, researchers, decision-makers end grass-root activist.
The Ectp however can invite all planners to a discussion which will lead to the careful comparison of the different configuration of PIanning systems in the European countries, which is actually needed.
Finally the Ectp can start a progressive re-examination of the principles of the Charter, taking as the starting point the most relevant social issues. Probably the issues which are at stake in the next few years are either the immigrants waves which are changing the landscape of our cities or the need of a sustainable development in urban and environmental changes. We would like to stress however the need far a cross-fertilisation of the search for factual principles and the assessment of experience: for instance, the statement about "city for all" shall be confronted with the issue of immigrants or the present waves of refugees, etc.