2022 PIA National Congress Audience Taylor Burrell Barnett

Opportunities for Change in Crisis at the PIA National Congress

09 Jun 2022

Bec Didcoe provides a wrap up of the 2022 PIA National Congress held in Hobart in May 2022.

For the first time since 2019, planners from around Australia were able to come back together in person to discuss some of the big issues facing our communities.

The theme of the Congress for 2022 was Opportunity in Crisis: Time for a Change to come together and discuss the climate crisis; housing crisis; inequality and cultural crisis; and public health crisis – all of which have been dominating headlines over the last few years and are big problems as need to work together to solve to create vibrant and thriving communities.

I was lucky enough to fly in on Monday afternoon meaning prior to the official start of the congress, I was able to attend a National Young Planners Strategy Meeting as the WA Young Planners Convenor on Tuesday. Meeting other Young Planners from across Australia to share knowledge and ideas was incredibly energizing – as was the opportunity to meet YPs I’ve been talking to over Teams and Facebook messenger for months face to face. I can promise the future of planning is safe Australia wide with the YPs I’ve met who will be leaders of the future.

WA shines at the Awards for Excellence

On Wednesday night, the formalities kicked off with the National Awards for Excellence where I was privileged to be a nominee for National Young Planner of the Year. Knowing the whole TBB team (as well as some friends and family) were back at home in Perth watching from the office (or their home offices) was the only part that made me at all worried about the result because I didn’t want to let the team down. Ultimately, I didn’t come home with the win but as cheesy as it sounds getting to work with this team is a true prize. Huge congratulations to the winner Nicholas Kamols from Queensland who is doing exceptional things over there and no doubt will use the national platform to advocate for incredibly important topics that Young Planners need to have an active voice on. A huge congratulations must also go to our WA winners in 4 of 11 categories! For the 10% state, winning 36.36% of the awards was phenomenal.

Day 1

Thursday kicked off with a familiar face to the WA contingent with the Welcome and Opening Address provided by Congress MC Ingrid Cumming – a Whadjuk Balardong Noongar woman from Freo. Those of you who’ve had a chance to see Ingrid in action would know she is deadly and we were so glad to see her shine on the national stage so that planners across Australia got to experience her warmth and humour like we do here in the west. She shared the welcoming with PIA National President Darren Crombie RPIA (Fellow) who really set the scene for the week to come and helped us recognise the great range of people that had travelled from near and far to be part of the Congress. Keynote addresses from Ms. Maimunah Mohd Sharif, UN Habitat Executive Director and 2021 Young Tasmanian of the Year Toby Thorpe shared hopeful but urgent messages calling for action from urban and regional planners particularly in the face crisis and reminded us we can make change happen.

When concurrent sessions began, I ended up in quite a few sessions considering the housing crisis and was intrigued and excited by some of the innovative measures being implemented in other States to handle impacts on housing supply and demand such as new approaches to rezoning and balancing regulation of short-stay accommodation. With the huge issues we are seeing across WA but particularly in regional areas with adequate housing supply for permanent residents, workforce (both permanent and transient) and tourists there is a lot we could learn from the case studies and experiences over east.

I WAS excited by some of the innovative measures being implemented in other States to handle impacts on housing supply and demand such as new approaches to rezoning and balancing regulation of short-stay accommodation.

Thursday wrapped up with everyone headed to the pub – as planners often do – in Australia’s oldest continuously licensed pub, the Hope and Anchor Tavern. Eric and I had a little TBB team dinner at the pub followed by a great time chatting to planners from around Australia and swapping stories of the projects we are working on and considering what innovations and trends we see.

Day 2

On Friday we began with a great yarn lead by Tyson Yunkaporta who encouraged us all to truly engage with the dialogue of First Nations people rather than just extracting knowledge. Tyson’s keynote was followed by 2020 Australian Planner of the Year Nikki Huddy whose session sharing about the Yarrabah Microgrid Feasibility Study was an absolute stand out for me as a success story of a cross-disciplinary team turning an energy resilience project into a social enterprise project. I can’t in a short wrap up begin to explain the hope Nikki’s presentation gave me for the ways in which as planners we can make a positive impact on our community.

With a passion for how planners can positively impact well-being, I was excited to attend a concurrent session fully dedicated to the topic. Having presented with TBB’s Farida and the WA Young Planners at the PIA WA State Conference in 2021 about the importance of considering the impact of our environments on mental wellbeing and the importance of action on it in WA – including in the draft Neighbourhood SPP being prepared by DPLH at the moment – it was great to see the importance of planning for well-being getting discussed on the national stage. My role for the afternoon sessions was to be a cheerleader, with Tasmanian Young Planners convenor Andrew Holmes and TBB’s own Eric Denholm in the same session. Andrew presented phenomenally and shared some incredible work the Tassie YPs have been doing in urban realm projects which I’m using as a call to action in WA for how much more our YPs can be doing in advocating for important outcomes here. Presenting directly after on Healthy Streets, Eric and James Laing from Stantec absolutely knocked it out of the park in sharing what the Healthy Streets Approach is and an overview of how it can be used to recognise opportunities for better outcomes. Both presentations were received with huge fanfare and it was clear the audience loved the practical, outcomes focused mentality.

Some final keynotes addresses; words from the PIA CEO; and an announcement on the 2023 Congress location and we were done with formalities. The beautiful Glen Albyn Estate played home to our Gala Dinner where we danced the night away and celebrated an inspirational week of discussions on how much planners can take opportunities for change in the face of crisis. Everyone played tourist the next morning (think about half the Congress were at the Salamanca Market) before basically the whole WA contingent got on the same flight home, ready to bring our knowledge home to make a difference in our individual and collective spheres of influence.

I am incredibly grateful to TBB for sending me and I encourage any planners reading this to pencil in the 2023 National Congress in Adelaide as the experience is definitely a hugely positive one both personally and professionally.