Make what you will of statistics, but for an un-organized group to draw 237 delegates (according to the official list) from all over Australia for three days of intensive sermons and reviewing of achievements is no mean accomplishment. The organizers announced an attendance of about 350 which might have meant a last minute burst of interest. Either way, it was an impressive gathering with a colourful team of presenters and speakers, led by Victor Dover, Charles Bohl and Brian O’Looney – all from the cradle of New Urbanism, the USA, with a strong supporting cast of local wise men and women. The energy does not appear to have diminished.
Proportionately, NU seems to have really caught on in NZ. There were four representatives from Auckland City Council, but Waitakere City Council was really carrying the flag with 15, four of whom were councillors! Conspicuous by their low numbers was the education sector. One might have thought that good town and city making takes an even partnership between the private and public sector. Yet, only about 25% of the delegates represented local government.
Add to your toolkit or armoury
Notwithstanding some oversupply of ‘show and tells’ and being a little low on intellectual challenges, there was much that any built environment practitioner or public servant could have taken home to add to their toolkit, or even armoury. Here is a sampling from my 16 pages of notes:
- good towns, neighbourhoods, centres of any kind need careful overall urban structuring which is largely absent from more conventional planning. (Is this going to lead to more turf wars between planners and New Urban structuralists?)
- we need to shift the mindset from administering finance and development to building cities and places
- town centres are more than just re-configuring retailing, from the big box to a different kind of box -town centres can actually work without too much retail, anchored around civic and community amenities.
- for any town centre, a good and vital pedestrian environment is essential – whatever your understanding of ‘active fronts’ may be, space entry doors (at least) every nine metres
- built form (form codes, etc) is more important than zoning – we cherish the older places not by their zoning but built form
- high quality public realm is the catalyst – but many are still working out just what it is about
- don’t always look for site consolidation – there is a vital role that smaller blocks/properties can play
- traditional style town centres are still offering more jobs than any other models
- plan for incremental growth and change in emerging town centres
- you have to make parks really good
- take care that good urbanism does not get squeezed out by over zealous green conservation
- bear in mind that in most of our larger cities 60% of travel is local!
- rear lanes – use them!!!
- Prof. Ed Blakely brought us all down to earth with the real challenges: we must plan for climate change; the old demographic base is gone; we must think of a new housing mix and transportation; diminishing oil supplies will force change upon us if we don’t.
And here is my short wish list for next time:
- perhaps fewer guilt edge immaculately painted water front estates as examples, and more of the gritty and grotty bits of towns which need New Urbanisation just as much
- a little more brain food by way of ideas and challenges
- free registration to full time academics, students and local government councillors
- after being PowerPointed out, I almost wish for an informal OHP show with a few old fashioned slides!