To accredit or not to accredit is an all or nothing issue. So far throughout the nation we have left the picking of urban designers to the ‘buyer beware’ notion. I have never been a proponent of accreditation in the first instance. Instead, for 25 years I have advocated for the value and importance of urban design/urbanism education. Checking educational credentials is always a great help. Has your legal adviser actually been to law school?
Regrettably, the professional as well as the lay community is unwilling to accede that there is knowledge and understanding about the nature and heritage of urban settlements which is not generally taught in courses other than urban design programs. Thus, formal urban design education in Australia has been very poorly supported. Most courses are only marginally viable. Strange! – in the most highly urbanised nation in the world.
Perhaps this is because we have inherited the British suburban tradition. The rural, city fringe setting is more desirable than the more intense settlement. Continental colonisers, the Spanish, Portuguese, French, exported an urban culture where proximity to business, urban amenities and power is more highly valued.
If we are going to accredit or recognise urban designers/urbanists as specialists, let us make sure we do it for two good reasons:
• to strengthen interest and demand for urban design education
• to help us to build an urban tradition.
Since settlement, we have been largely doing development and not valuing urbanity for its own sake.
When we talk of accreditation of urban designers, we are also talking of a matter of great public interest – the quality of our urban settlements. Accreditation must be grounded in the vast body of knowledge, research and urban heritage, be accountable, transparent, supported by a diversity of interest groups and open to periodic review.
Google search indicates that only three countries have a formal accreditation of urban designers – Britain, India and Hong Kong. Interestingly, the last two also share many British traditions, especially professional structures.
In Britain, the Urban Design Group administers a ‘Recognised Practitioner in Urban Design’ roll.
The Indians have an Institute of Urban Designers and Hong Kong has an Institute of Urban Design.
While accreditation standards and requirements of the three cases cannot be directly compared, there are distinct and important similarities:
• proof of education,competence and experience is very rigorous
• there is one set of standards (one accreditation ‘board’) for the territory/country concerned
• the accrediting institution is outside any of the other recognised professional bodies
• the accrediting ‘agency’ is entirely dedicated to achieving excellence in urban design.
Urban design is not the province of any one professional group. It is the centre of the wheel which links us all into the common cause of creating human habitats. So too any scheme of accreditation must be outside the present professional silos. Let us all join to build higher standards for ourselves, the public and start nurturing an urban culture.