It seems the development and use of urban design frameworks in Victoria, the only Australian state that has them embedded into the statutory planning system, is failing to provide their intended outcomes. Yet in other states the majority of urban design frameworks (UDF) have been successful – why?
Once you get past the marketable urban design, or in many cases, the landscape design of UDFs, it becomes obvious why they fail. Most of them lack any real urban management strategies that are achievable. All the glitzy designs ideas won’t make it past the pragmatism inherent in civil agencies lumbered with implementation if the UDFs are not aligned to the agencies reality.
Both Alun Chapman and Jenny Donovan highlighted the need for better management processes, commitment and ongoing leadership required by local governments. However, while it is easy to direct blame at local authorities, it does not absolve the professional responsibilities of private consultants for ensuring realistic urban management processes are embedded in their products.
The obligatory high, medium or low rating for staging of implementation is not sufficient in dealing with the production of place, and this vagueness would not be acceptable if the client was a private entity. Exploration, analysis and subsequent allocation of resources based upon the local agencies ability to deliver the strategy is what is required. In simple language it means that it must be embedded in Council’s budget and organisational thinking.
To do this requires strong leadership and support from local governments across their organisation. This has been somewhat lacking in the current state of play in Victoria. The recently released New Zealand Urban Design Protocol suggests that a ‘Champion’ is required, and that champion must have the authority and influence to overcome the reluctance and pragmatic ways of certain local government departments.
For a UDF to elevate above being ‘streetscape improvement schemes’, they must move beyond built environment outputs to deliver real solutions for the people of each community. In fact, the ‘community values’ should be the framework’s design generator. This requires fusing practical urban design with municipal strategic direction and governance processes. We must always remember why we are doing a UDF – to achieve better places for people.
It may mean a rethink by some in the way UDFs are done. However, this fusion approach is at the very heart of the Victorian Government’s UDF Practice Note (released in 2002), yet has not received the same attention as design outputs. What is needed is the ability for both local government and the design profession to integrate community visions within the built environment planning process.
An example of fusing the ‘community vision’ within an urban design framework process is illustrated below. The real crux of making it work – once fusing municipal and community values – is establishing commitment in the budgetary, statutory and organisational programs.
If this can be achieved, then Urban Design Frameworks will rise from their alleged demise and provide placemaking without both pubic and private sectors feeling that it is all too hard!