Urban development in Australia has always hugged the coastal fringe and its sustained growth over the last 20 years has only reinforced our tenacious connection to surf and sand. Low density expansion of our cities and towns and the suburbanisation of Australia’s coast are a source of concern with regard to water consumption, climate change and the impacts of urban areas on fragile coastal ecosystems.
Exploring the challenges of water and the urban landscape thus inspired the theme for this year’s NUDF Conference in Mandurah, WA on the ‘Contested Coast’. The conference program spanned two very full days of speakers, site visits and a workshop where delegates had a chance to display some of their new ideas and old wisdom in the service of Mandurah. Participants at the 2007 NUDF Conference heard speakers from across Australia on the challenges of:
- competing interests in coastal development;
- growing tensions between working ports and surrounding urban areas;
- water restrictions and learning to survive without “water features”;
- celebrating water in a drought ridden continent;
- water sensitive urban design and integrated waste water treatment; and
- getting cosy with bushtop roofs and living walls.
The presentations provided an excellent overview of many issues related to how we use and value water in our towns and cities and the vulnerability of our waterfronts and coastal communities. They put forward local insights and challenged listeners to push the status-quo.
Innovative design workshop
A feature of this year’s conference was a discussion and design workshop on the host city, Mandurah. The workshop brought delegates together to examine some of the development challenges facing one of the fastest growing cities in the country a once sleepy little coastal village which 30 years ago was only known for its crabs and family-friendly holiday shacks. The City of Mandurah asked delegates to think about four troubling development locations: the already lukewarm and swiftly cooling Old Town Centre, the red hot waterfront, two new train stations which have been simmering away soon to be opened as part of the Perth to Mandurah Rail link, and a big box shopping centre where traffic congestion is starting to boil over into road rage.
Each area presented specific contextual opportunities and constraints yet they also stimulated broader debate. With the prospect of rising sea levels, should we be intensifying development along the coast of waterside cities? Should our cities and towns think about promoting an urban drift inland or to higher ground, even if it could mean the decline of our historic town centres? When we regenerate the public realm and urban structure around ‘big box’ developments, how do we retain a healthy balance between historic economic centres and ‘big box’ centres? How can we consolidate the urban form around regional transport infrastructure and improve linkages with the local network of public transport, cycling and pedestrian movement corridors?
The conference went off without a hitch, apart from a slightly crazy bus driver who drove conference delegates between Perth and Mandurah! So with out minds now full of new ideas and the experiences of others, where do we go from here? We can only hope that with increasing discourse and global pressure on waterfront settlements and urban water supplies, we will return to our offices to digest and perhaps reassess policy and design strategies with a new outlook.
A big thank you from all of us at the Urban Design Centre to all of you who braved the wet and windy weather, and we look forward to seeing you all again next year!