Under ‘Pride of Place’ the primary, and most laudable, aim of the Framework Plan was to encourage the development of new thinking for old places (be they streets, plazas, towns or cities), with the express purpose of creating tangible improvements over a set period of time, (usually 15-20 years).
The major point of difference between the Framework Plan and other Master Plan approaches was that it involved a more holistic approach to problem solving – one that attempted to draw together a range of professionals and their individual skill-sets to investigate the many and complex issues that make up a ‘place’. In addition there was a more pronounced emphasis on built outcomes, on people as the end-user and, long overdue, the acknowledgement that the effects of time had to be taken into account.
To some it had echoes of social engineering, but to others it was a way of focussing change by applying new ideas about urbanism to places needing change (although ‘New Urbanism’ was often referenced as the driving ethos, it might be more accurate to refer to it as re-applying age-old ideas of Urbanism). To all, however, it was acknowledged that good design was to be the underlying ‘driver’. Such visioning inspired many to a great deal of pioneering zeal and some very interesting ideas were propounded.
Pragnatism overtakes vision
Unfortunately, this initial focus on design excellence was to lose headway under the inexorable weight of the Victorian planning machine. An entrenched reluctance to place too great a dependence on conceptual design and a bureaucratic need to maximise the procedural output, ensured that pragmatism soon took over.
The fundamental building block of the Framework Plan-the ‘Vision’-started to become less valued than the writing of the planning policy needed to enact it. As an urban design tool, the Framework Plan was seen as lacking in its ‘Planning’ focus and, as a result, the emphasis moved away from the development of the concept to the production of the vaguely defined instruction-typified by the ubiquitous (and often anodyne) ‘Urban Design Guideline’. The Plans themselves became mere lists of ‘design’ requirements to be ticked off by the respective Planning Officer, as and when ‘completed’. In many instances this resulted in the Framework Plan becoming a catalogue to aid the processing of planning permits, rather than a catalyst for wide-ranging reform.
Local Councils then further confused the process by employing the Framework Plan to generate the design ideas, following this with the more traditional Structure Plan to develop the planning policy. Inevitably, each plan received a different emphasis, and different firms with often widely differing philosophies and design imperatives were employed to produce them. Rather than innovative ‘design’ being allowed to flow naturally into ‘planning’ policy in the one document, as envisaged in the original thinking on the Framework Plan, many of the outcomes lack the conceptual rigour needed to ensure their survival.
These concerted attacks on the raison d’etre of the Framework Plan, combined with insufficient support for subsequent place-making and often inadequate funding for capital works, have resulted in a decline in the relative value of the Framework Plan in Victoria and, consequently, the possible demise of a very good idea.