The Urban Design Alliance Queensland (UDAL(Q)) model has worked very well – it is now an incorporated association, supported by and affiliated with PIA, RAIA, AILA and AIUS, UQ and QUT. The question is whether it is a model which might be extended to other states. The long-established and successful Urban Design Forum in Victoria does not have the same formal links with the professional institutes. And now PIA has introduced as a national initiative, its Urban Design Chapter – another factor to consider.
In developing an integrated approach to these issues, it should firstly be acknowledged that activities around urban design primarily gain traction at the state level, rather than nationally. Whilst we all enjoy learning from practice and practitioners from around Australia and indeed New Zealand through events like NUDF06, practitioners demonstrably have been getting together more regularly in state-based organisations to interact, and do things, about urban design. Secondly, there are only a certain number of people who are going to be interested enough to join an organisation to do things related to urban design. It is therefore desirable to adopt organisational models that:
- reduce the likelihood of different groups setting up essentially to do the same things, thereby dissipating scarce potential human resources; and
- optimise the potential to attract participants from existing structures.
Potentially, the formal links back to the Institutes can be beneficial. Not only have these links proved to be a source of funding, but they are also logical connections to make, as most people who are active in urban design are from the professional backgrounds that are represented by the institutes. So you don’t have to be one thing or the other, you can be both. If you are a PIA member in Queensland and interested in urban design, then you are encouraged to take up with UDAL(Q), without needing to feel that you are leaving the fold, and you are automatically entitled to membership of UDAL(Q). The best approach to organising urban designers might exhibit the following features:
- State-based organisations that are linked to the planning, architecture and landscape architecture institutes at State level.
- A federation of urban design groups which gets together to carry out activities of mutual exchange and promotion, notably, an annual Urban Design Forum.
- Support at national level from each of the Institutes.
In the case of PIA and its Urban Design Chapter there is a developing recognition that organisation of urban design activities will occur mostly at state level and through collaborative ventures organised at that level. There will also however be opportunities to promote better urban design policy and events through the established national offices of these institutes, and in relation to PIA, that would be a major role of the Urban Design Chapter.
Implicit in this model is the notion that organising for urban designers to get together is most likely to be successful through the energetic activity of grass roots enthusiasts from a range of professional backgrounds, more than through top-down alliances. However, under the proposed model, PIA’s Urban Design Chapter becomes a natural partner and supporter of the federation, dare I say “Federation”. Members of the Federation can consider whether they want to join the Chapter.
The circumstances in each state vary, with different relations between institutes, different personalities involved, different structural arrangements around professional life and different levels of development of organisation around urban design. There will therefore be different rates of progress towards better, collaborative organisation of urban designers. However, why not agree on a preferred approach, as articulated above, as the model to work towards, to make urban design stronger in Australia?