Since the mid 1980s, so much has been achieved in Australian cities and towns…and yet so much more might have been….if only. The UDF book Urban Voices refers to some achievements but rightly makes no attempt to comprehensively document them, were that possible. However, it does reinforce the importance of three things:
- the fundamental role of urban design to Australia’s future sustainability,
- the essentially inter-disciplinary nature of good city-making, and
- the critical need for integrated decision-making and action.
We know it’s not just the adequacy and good design of physical shelter, but also about where it is in relation to normal supports and integrated into viable energetic communities. Truly the issue is the affordability of living, not just the cost of simple shelter, and so must involve the overall design of cities and all its parts. As I canvassed in Urban Voices, the public housing agencies I have known have done really high class work, sometimes leading the way at times in urban design. They integrated modest but well-designed social housing into neighbourhoods and mixed-use precincts, close to transport and services. But agencies can’t work with little or no money, and it’s an intellectual nonsense to demand they pay their way. The bottom five percent, by definition, can’t pay an economic rent for housing that all of us would view as adequate. Integrated mindsets and urban design So we’re back to integrated mindsets in ensuring we don’t consign the poor to shanty towns on urban edges. Surely our idea of a sustainable Australia excludes the creation of deeply segregated communities in new slums. So that’s also back to urban design. While it too is critical and needs integrated decision- making from a range of disciplines and stakeholders, it is also itself a critical player in the delivery in the right places and ways in our cities and towns of a social housing safety net by public or other subsidised agencies, or clever cross-subsidies. A safety net of integrated low income housing might not be seen as a vote-catcher or sexy, or its absence recognised as a serious spoiler of other public action, but it is one of the qualities of the Australia that I and those who talk with me, including those who share my passion for urban design, want for our children and their children.