While this obsession to discover how the user will discover, inhabit, or even abandon a particular space pre-occupies urban development. There are other professions outside the realm of the recently ‘accredited’ profession of urban design who have or continue to form cultures that impact directly on the places that we wish to create.
Pedestrian accessibility and ‘taming’ the car seem to be key axioms of today’s urban designer. Yet in pure cultural terms we have little control over these outcomes unless the vertical form dictates the horizontal elements. In the domain of the car, and the network system that supports its continued use, it is only within the inner city condensed urban form that ‘taming’ is empowered. It is clear in the suburban edges and accompanying highways the horizontal form of urban space is the defining manifest.
Engineering efficiency causes cultural clashes
Engineering efficiency in road construction reached its peak in Melbourne during the post-war period and even continues today. These engineers calculated, planned and built road systems that moved large volumes of traffic in short spaces of time. This legacy is causing significant cultural clashes for a world that is changing due to economic, social and environmental pressures.
The grid road network that overlays the south eastern spread of Melbourne has little regard for ecological flows of nature and scant respect for the social construct of its communities. Even today the intersection design of these transporter routes are indicative of a built environment that has surrendered to the car.
Two-lane roads soon become four in an ever increasing need to accommodate increasing traffic numbers. However, the strangest thing happens once you clear 100 metres from this intersection, the road shifts from four lanes down once again to two. Relying upon high school science education, it becomes clear that this volume of traffic will not fit and soon a culture develops to ‘adjust’ to the built form provided. Anywhere in a rational world means outside lanes speed past motorist to avoid the crunch.
Pedestrian accessibility is never achieved due to the distance needed to travel horizontally and therefore our suburban built form remains forever poor and disconnected. Victoria is coming to grips with recently losing eight people over one weekend in numerous car accidents, and the response of the acting Police Commissioner stating that if it was murder there would be a community demand for a Royal Commission. The questions need to be asked: are our built forms creating the wrong cultures? And why aren’t other players involved with urban development not taking the responsibility of sustainable development that addresses these social outcomes?
The pro-car advocacy that has recently been embracing the city of Brisbane, which has already the infamous record of being the most car-dominated city on Australia, is frightening in the progression of a true sustainable solution for our urban form. Removing bus access for cars clearly illustrates that this city has failed to learn from the failings of the modernist movement and the reclamation of the street for its people is paramount for its survival in the de-industrialised world.
Filling up streets with isolated steel boxes does not provide social cohesion, economic injection or environmental harmony. Brisbane City is unique in Australia because of its relative small street widths due to a cultural decision and topographical conditions. Culture has formed the very city it is today, engineering efficiency as proposed could have significant consequences that as shown will be felt continuously for years to come.
Urban design is not about a single profession – it involves all stakeholders that shape our communities and this involvement means being responsible for these outcomes not just as a single solution but addressing the flow-on effects these place on our lives and future.
In this debate about how our culture is transformed by the built environment – especially in regards to cars, Graeme Davidson’s alludes us to our possible future: ‘…Only later, as the road fills with traffic and your life is locked into drive-time, as the scenery changes and neighbourhood ties begin to fray, do you realise that the road you thought you took is not the road on which you are now driving…’ (Car Wars – Davidson 2004, pp 260)