I’m involved in the hearing of representations on planning schemes and amendments to schemes and other appeals. Evidence on the design merit of such and such or that questions the merit of particular proposed standards and possible design outcomes meant that I wanted to find out more on the issues and debates involving urban design. This post forum review raises perhaps more questions than I had prior to the weekend.
We heard about the regeneration of the urban waterfront at Geelong and the larger scale design and works in central Melbourne. Clearly the changes have been beneficial on the indicators presented and there is obviously a range of factors that enabled the designs to be conceived and implemented. To what extent were the changes at Geelong enabled through the larger Council structure or the improved pedestrian amenity of central Melbourne largely enabled through the massive ring road systems?
Central parts of larger urban centres are more likely to attract the talented managers and designers and receive the necessary resources. But what about the challenges of the middle suburbs and the new fringe settlements? In this context it was good to hear the plans for the Dandenong centre where the work is directed to making the town centre work a bit better from what is now described as a disparate distribution of functions disconnected from the rail system. And the findings on public transport use in outer urban Sydney were instructive as they put perspective on travel patterns that do not overly involve the city centre.
Can the retrofitting of urban/suburban centres now taking place be avoided through improved structure planning in new development areas of the city where costs appear to overly dictate design? We heard about the prospective decline in world oil production but what may this mean for urban structures? How we are to plan for more expensive fuel and the insecurity of supply is yet to be articulated in a form that governments can respond to in meaningful ways?
Tangible design quality
The good aspect of viewing projects of demonstrable design quality is that it is immediately tangible, whereas planning often involves setting frameworks and regulation that others respond to but often in forms that were not contemplated by the originator. We heard of the need for a paradigm shift and that planning or architecture might not be as good a background to urban design compared to landscape planning/architecture. But is not what is now labelled as urban design mostly the physical manifestation of good planning and what previously was termed town centre design?
It is interesting to observe that the featured urban design projects often concern the interface between land and water and the rediscovery and reclaiming of the waterfront as public space is to be applauded. But I am concerned where this means loss of maritime flavour particularly the untidy layers of the past and present. For instance, the building, servicing and repair of boats or loss of tidal mud flats or wetlands and particularly were the designing takes the cues from what appears to be to the same formulae irrespective of whether the waterfront is Queensland or Tasmania.
A big thanks to Bill, Bruce, Tresca and Sally and all the presenters that enabled the forum to happen.