Cities currently are a major contributor to global warming. In the future they must become sustainable. The design professions and especially planners, urban designers and architects need to rethink how to design and manage the built environment more effectively in the context of addressing environmental sustainability. At the heart of the issue is the need for planning law and process to be completely transformed to ensure appropriate emphasise on environmental sustainability, and for the new development framework to be integrated across the nation at state, territory and local government levels.
Planning controls in Australia today are commonly underpinned by ‘scenographic’ concepts of what make an attractive place based on successful urban models with relatively low density levels. These ‘scenographic’ concepts are translated into planning regulations designed to expedite economic activity as a priority. The regulations for designing cities and buildings are in effect straightforward rules of measurement aimed at delivering as much ‘certainty’ as possible to all involved in the development of property, within scenographic parameters.
Some current planning legislation may have new environmental requirements but these are essentially ‘bolt-on’ measures, often superficial and at times contradictory to the basic planning codes. As a consequence, all current planning and building design frameworks need to be rethought from first principles to achieve environmentally based and site specific requirements for the design and management of the built environment.
Development control should focus on the public domain
In this new planning framework, it is proposed that objectives formed from environmental principles should be focussed on the design of the public domain. Each area, precinct and street will have the basic development controls. Private property controls will be reduced and based on achieving public domain outcomes.
For example, private property controls are also proposed to be defined in terms of environmental criteria and in relation to public domain issues.
Architecture in this new environmentally- based planning framework may have greater expressive opportunity and will also be more objectively defined to deliver environmentally sustainable built infrastructure. Architecture is then recognised as one aspect of the process, and with more community focus on the design of the public domain.
A relatively straightforward but perhaps difficult to implement ‘first step’ of the reform process is the application of a consistent vocabulary, including definitions, to the legal frameworks and processes controlling urban development across all political jurisdictions in Australia.
Another way of expressing the aim of any planning code in the future is to not have planning legislation limit the range of solutions, tools or concepts that are available to use to provide architecture and other built infrastructure. Instead planning and urban design frameworks will define objectives that have to be met through a further site specific design process, providing certainty in respect to the design of the public domain.
Architecture in this environmentally-based planning and urban design framework is given a clear role and responsibility to produce site specific solutions meeting mandatory public domain design criteria. Recognizing and supporting the full range of collaborative skills required to design, deliver and manage the built environment is ultimately a planning and legal responsibility – and integral to achieving sustainable cities valued for amenity and cultural significance.