The two day roundtable, launched by SA Premier Mike Rann, saw more than 60 urban designers, landscape architects, architects, planners and other disciplines discuss climate change, living affordability, pollution, traffic congestion, and energy and water limitations. But the emphasis of this highly experienced and diverse group was on action, not just discussion.
“In Australia, the property industry, planning and design professions, state architects, media and communities are all making positive contributions and raising the urban design bar, but it is a rather disjointed process – and sometime counterproductive,” said Mr Horton, SA Commissioner for Integrated Design.
“The AUDI initiative recognises that the process of creating and managing urban places is not the exclusive province of the private sector, government, or any single group. By establishing the Australian Urban Design Initiative we’re bringing together a wide range of individuals and organisations that are committed to quality urban functioning and design. We know that we can only achieve sustainable and responsive urban environments through collaboration across all sectors,” said Mr Horton. Initially inspired by the success of CABE (the UK Commission For Architecture And the Built Environment), the Australian Urban Design Initiative is connecting a growing number of people and organisations, working together as a dynamic network to influence policy formation, decision making and action at national, state and local levels.
“The initiative is a generator of ideas and innovation – a force for change, not just a structure for design review,” said Mr Horton. “The roundtable was not a talkfest; we came together and focussed on practical solutions that will help create and maintain socially, environmentally and economically sustainable urban environments.”
Opportunities for action
It became clear during the Roundtable that there are many opportunities for positive action. A series of models for how to proceed were explored (what to do and how to do it). The complexity of the problem/challenges and contexts related to developing sustainable and well-designed cities was well recognised and generally accepted. The models for action spanned the setting up of a new organisation to a minimalist approach–a multiplicity of actions and strategies to build on current national activities, without rushing into a new urban design focused national organisation.
If it was to be a new national organisation, it would need to cover and be funded by all levels of government, but not be at the mercy of changes of government (as has been the case with UK CABE). The structure could be linear/hierarchical, a community of interests, or a cluster with national leadership.
If it was to be a minimalist approach, a starting point would be to create a range of “projects” aimed at exploring current issues associated with creating sustainable cities in Australia, such as: a ‘Clearing House’ or ‘Knowledge Observatory’ gathering and disseminating knowledge; research, analysis and critique; gathering benchmark examples; building linkages between urban design professionals and professional bodies across the design and development sectors. These projects would have a “sunset clause” and seek to provide a clear end point for funding groups, generate dialogue across the design and associated sectors, and avoid turf wars between professional bodies.
Funding possibilities include COAG or Local Government. The Urban Design Protocol might provide an opportunity to leverage Federal funds. At the sunset of projects, consideration can be given to the closure, extension of the current projects or the introduction of new projects; the creation of a new entity or entities such as a national UDAL based on the experience gained from undertaking the research projects.
Engagement with the overall community
It was well recognised that engagement with the overall community, as well as with special interest groups was crucial. Effective action would need to address all sectors –community, private sector, professional and education institutions, and the three levels of government. There would need to be high level participation, embedding urban design in major projects from the outset.
One of the more interesting models was to pursue the setting up of a ‘foundation’, based on a ’daisy wheel’ of interests and activities, similar to a number of foundations operating in other spheres. The mandate would be focused but broad-based, with multiple funding sources, including endowments. Clearly there is still much work to be done, but the participants left Adelaide with a determination and commitment to promptly pursue actions in their own particular spheres, and continue to work with each other electronically. People who have registered interest in the Australian Urban Design Initiative (aka CABE DownUnder), but who were not at the Roundtable, will be kept up to date by email.