Dorte Eklund and Sara Stace
Jane Jacobs – the great American thinker and author of ‘The Economy of Cities’ was not an architect, or a town planner. But her ideas – that seemed so radical when she first wrote about them – did more to shape the face of American cities in the second half of the 20th century than just about anyone else. She was particularly critical of urban sprawl and planning styles that destroyed communities, separated land uses and rebuilt sterile areas. And she was a fierce advocate for citizen involvement in vision making and comprehensive planning. Though she died five years ago, her theories about the ways cities work can be seen in academic discussion across the world. In reviewing her book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, the New York Times wrote that Jacob’s prescription for successful cities was to bring ‘people and activities together in a jumping, joyous urban jumble.’
These were Anthony Albanese’s opening words as he launched Our Cities, Our Future – a national urban policy for a productive, sustainable and liveable future, on 18 May this year.
The National Urban Policy establishes, for the first time, an overall framework for the eighteen major cities of Australia – complementing both the new Sustainable Population Strategy and the government’s ongoing focus and commitment to regional Australia. It also seeks to reinforce the Council of Australian Governments’ (COAG) current reform agenda, including the review of capital city strategic planning systems.
The National Urban Policy articulates the role of the Australian Government in facilitating better outcomes in our cities, whether through direct investment or by influencing the actions of others, such as through COAG.
In conjunction with the launch of the National Urban Policy, the Australian Government announced a number of new funding initiatives for cities:
• Sustainable Australia – Liveable Cities – $20 million to leverage additional resources from State and Territory governments, as well as local councils, for planning, feasibility assessment, design and/or capital works which improve the quality of life in our cities.
• Sustainable Australia – Suburban Jobs – $100 million administered by the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities to develop job opportunities and employment precincts within easy reach of where people live in the outer suburbs of Australia’s major capital cities.
• Sustainable Australia – National Smart Managed Motorways Trial – $61.4 million to retrofit existing road infrastructure with smart technology to improve traffic flows along congested motorways.
In the lead up to the National Urban Policy, the Australian Government, through the Major Cities Unit, undertook an extensive consultation process. In December 2010 it released a discussion paper Our Cities— building a productive, sustainable and liveable future, accompanied by a background and research paper Our Cities—the challenge of change. The Major Cities Unit visited all 18 major cities, with around 450 participants involved in workshop meetings involving a wide range of industry and professional associations, community groups, State, Territory and local governments. Nearly 230 written submissions and survey responses to the Our Cities discussion paper were also received.
Having completed its work on preparing a National Urban Policy, the next item on the agenda of the Major Cities Unit is an annual update of the State of Australian Cities report. The inaugural 2010 report has been a runaway success, with over 460, 000 downloads to date. The report highlights emerging trends and issues to promote discussion and debate on managing growth and change in our urban centres.
Australian Urban Design Protocol
Another item on the agenda of the Major Cities Unit, which had been put on the backburner in order to complete the National Urban Policy, is the development of an Australian Urban Design Protocol. In its review of capital city strategic planning systems, COAG listed as one of its criterion that planning systems should ‘encourage world-class urban design and architecture’.
The Australian Urban Design Protocol will establish a definition and common language for urban design, and will provide a framework to measure, implement and improve best practice to deliver on COAG’s criterion. The Urban Design Protocol is due for release later this year.