The recent publication of ‘Urban Voices – celebrating urban design in Australia’ recognised the achievement of 100 editions of the Urban Design Forum quarterly but, importantly, also made it clear that urban design is still ‘a work in progress’.
When the first edition of UDF hit the streets in October 1987, serious consideration of urban design was an exception rather than the rule in urban decision-making, and a course at QUT was the fledgling beginning of the need for urban design education. Since then, in a series of progressive and backsliding cycles, urban design has now become mainstream. Key steps have included:
• State and national urban design forums and conferences, including commercially run events
• The annual Australia Award for Urban Design, initiated by then-PM Paul Keating in 1996, with on/off patronage by various PMs
• Numerous urban design courses in many states
• More, (but not enough) urban designers employed by local government
• On/off urban design initiatives by the Federal Government (eg Building Better Cities, and the now-defunct Major Cities Unit).
As previously indicated, the publishing of ‘Urban Voices’ by UDF Inc has raised the question ‘where to for now for UDF? – and it is instructive to reflect on the incisive original 1986 aims of Urban Design Forum: UDF is a network of enthusiastic and creative people committed to making a significant contribution to improving the functioning and quality of our cities and towns. Its intentions are to be: inclusive, dynamic, influential, and non-institutional.
Formally, Urban Design Forum Incorporated is a non-profit organisation set up with the following statement of purpose:
• to encourage the better design of our cities and towns and regions
• to provide a forum where ideas and comment about urban design can be expressed
• to produce, publish and distribute a regular publication
• to be involved in other activities which contribute to the above purposes
• to co-operate and liaise with any individuals or groups who have compatible purposes.
The contemporary challenges
So how does that translate into the challenges in the second decade of the 21st century? In Melbourne, where UDF began, those involved have been reflecting on the transitions that have occurred over the past 25 years, and what the next transition will lead too. Colleagues in other states have also been contribution to this discussion. In Australia, and internationally, there is a plethora of networks, debates, blogs and conferences where the importance of skilled and effective urban design is assumed, not challenged. But we are not there yet, and our cities, towns and regions still suffer from development where ‘best practice’ urban design has not been achieved. This edition of UDF, No 105, is the second last in hard copy format. The June ‘grand final’ edition will be the last (more about that below).
UDF has always operated on a shoestring, with modest sponsorship and lots of volunteer time. The next part of our transition is exciting and encouraging. We are working with new generations of people interested in urban design: they have set up an ‘Urban Design Society’, at Melbourne University, with links to other urban design students and graduate networks.
This is the current state of play. Although the UDF hard copy will no longer be published, and we are not intending to organise conferences, the transition can use the formal status of UDF (an incorporated body) to: • Nurture the involvement of the next generation, particularly in the set up and running of a dynamic website and social media
• Support/facilitate ‘public conversations’ with an urban design agenda
• Liaise with other relevant groups (eg Victorian Local Government Designers Forum, Queensland Urban Design Alliance; Western Australian and Victorian Urban Design Chapters of the Planning Institute of Australia; the Future Melbourne Network, PIA, AILA and AIA)
• Keep promoting the ‘Urban Voices’ book as an important ‘peg in the ground’ for the contemporary relevance of urban design. (Some events organisers are giving their presenters the book as a gift, as an alternative to the mandatory bottle of plonk in silver bag!)
Write for the ‘grand final’ UDF hard copy edition
The intention of this edition is to contribute to the contemporary urban design debate. (It is not a valedictory for the UDF hard copy). The requirements are simple:
• think beyond the issues and challenges embodied by the 53 authors in ‘Urban Voices’ – what are the quantum leaps we need to make now that can match the progress made since the 1980s?
• 400 words (concise wisdom is effective wisdom)
• One or two images (300dpi jpeg format).