In 2000, Bob Carr decreed that NSW local councils should lift their game in Urban Design, with the implication that councils should recruit or develop staff to expand their competence in Urban Design. Yet initiatives for expanding Urban Design education in Australia have been hard to find, if any exist at all. It is time for a rigorous study of actual demand for Urban Design education in Australia.
Collaborative, interdisciplinary activity
All this article can do is raise some questions and point to some directions for data. The existing programs at Australian universities have varying agendas, but most appear to recognise that Urban Design is a collaborative interdisciplinary activity involving several of the professions that contribute to the making of our cities, suburbs and towns. During its 16-year life, the QUT program has been mainly aimed at, and attracted, architects, planners and landscape architects – from Brisbane, South-East Queensland, interstate and overseas.
The course has been effective in attracting a balanced mix from these professions, including both experienced practitioners and new graduates from the core professions. Over the years, we have also attracted a couple of surveyors and civil/transport engineers, some of whom have acquired planning qualifications and experience on their way to Urban Design. It seems though, that most of the Australian courses (apart from possibly the UNSW MUDD program) are failing to address a latent demand from construction and property professionals. This reluctance seems to relate to conflicting expectations regarding the vexing issue of hands-on design skills versus urban design impacts and knowledge. At meetings of Australia’s Urban Design Educators in 1998 and 2000, this issue remained unresolved.
Some key questions need to be debated:
- What is the purpose of Urban Design education?
- What is the purpose of Urban Design – for better cities perhaps?
- Who are cities for – for designers, or for the people who live and work in them?
A related question is, what is the scope of Urban Design? Are we concerned with the whole city and urban region, or are we only concerned with the set piece and glamour project? It is likely that there will be ‘horses for courses’, but I would argue that we must increase the reach of urban design education into all of those professions that influence the quality of our cities and towns.