Recently, representatives of the Urban Design Alliance of Queensland met with senior policy advisors on design and planning to Brisbane City Council. The one thing on which there was broadest agreement was that, with all the rapid growth and planning challenges ahead, there is just not the urban design capacity and capability to maximise the potential. This rang loud alarm bells for some of those dedicated to urban design education and practice.
By whatever definition, urban design in the end it is about the quality of public space which is a public good. Thus the use of the urban design approach has to be of greatest interest and relevance to all levels of the public sector. A campaign has been embarked on to convince our politicians that it is part of their responsibility to embrace urban design (as a process and an outcome) across the whole of government and all departments. The case and the campaign are built around the following premises and strategies:
- The development of knowledge and skills must be seen as an investment, not an expense. Multiple millions of dollars are assigned to any number of hard infrastructure projects every day, but not urban design education.
- More post graduate skills and understanding in the public service does not mean another layer of bureaucracy. Just expand the capacity and education of some of the present staff.
- Most of those in the public sector will not be engaging in “design”. However, they must have enough understanding of the concepts, principles and language for a different kind of thinking about cities, towns and the urban environment. Cities and towns are not merely a collection of projects and developments mixed with infrastructure, but a tapestry which forms the setting of life for 90% of Australians.
- The public sector, within a host of major departments and at all levels of seniority (especially policy), must build into its human resources structures the requirement for urban design understanding. There needs to be an appropriate career structure and opportunities for those with urban design qualifications, so that they can plan their futures and have security in their investment in additional knowledge.
- The government (governments) must support formal urban design education with resources to ensure that a program is of a high standard and does not collapse through lack of enrolments or short-term falling off of interest.
- The public sector must actively encourage, value and support locally relevant research in urban design and urban studies. It is part of the investment in knowledge.
- The public sector must take a position on the recognition and accreditation of formal education programs or demonstration of competency. This is not necessarily an advocacy for the institutionalisation of the practice of urban design but the delineation between those making a personal commitment and investment in new skills and knowledge and others claiming expertise through interest, opportunism or informal ‘apprenticeships’.
There are signs in Queensland that this message is at last being heard and understood by senior politicians. Perhaps if our colleagues in the other States adopt similar campaigns, we could eventually see that Australia gets the cities and towns it deserves.