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The future of Placemaking and Urban Design

Brett Gawn's conversation with Local Government Magazine

  • 17 October 2016
  • Author: Brett Gawn
  • Number of views: 1091
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The future of Placemaking and Urban Design

In May this year Local Government Magazine published an article on this topic. The article is a good read and can be found here. UDF committee member, Brett Gawn contributed to this by answering the following questions posed by Mary. 

When it comes to place-making and urban design how will the role of local authorities change over the next 10 years? What can local authorities do to make the most of these changes?

Good urban design and the creation of great places within existing urban areas often requires larger sites than generally exist within one lot or contiguous ownership. To achieve a good urban design outcome requires the aggregation of a number of lots to provide scale. The private sector has difficulty in doing this. Councils and or Govt may need to consider assisting with this by facilitating the aggregation of land into larger holdings and vehicles for development of those areas. (An example of this is the Tamaki Redevelopment Company.)

Another change I believe is for Local Authorities to be able to form teams of people from their various departments to work together both within Council and with the developer’s design team to work up master-plans for these larger development sites so that when formal planning applications are lodged there are no surprises for the LA or the community. Some of the learnings from dealing with Special Housing Areas needs to become norm for Councils.

Another change that I would like to see is a more macro and risk management approach to responding to development proposals – a bit less of inefficient sweating over minor matters. This would mean that an assessment of a proposal might start with the question “is this proposal on balance a good thing for the community?” If so – can the Council staff take a facilitative approach to working with the applicant to make it happen?

Councils are likely to face more standardisation over planning codes and guidelines through amendments to the RMA and National Policy Statements that will likely include urban design criteria.

In terms of placemaking and urban design, what are the 3 big issues that local authorities will need to consider in the next 10 years?  

o What challenges will local authorities face in achieving this?  

o How can they overcome these challenges? 

Different areas are facing different issues.

Auckland and some of our other cities have serious growth issues that require intensification of the existing urban areas. Higher density requires a lot of thinking about improved streetscape, pedestrian and public space amenity, successful public transport and significant “brownfield” redevelopment of existing areas.

Other local authorities are facing zero or negative growth and need to work out how to cope with that without losing their vitality and their urban amenity. Urban design for them will be about using scarce resources to maintain and enhance key public spaces and areas of their towns and cities to strengthen the existing community.

What criteria will be critical for good placemaking and urban design in the next 10 years?

Well written Council Planning documents (District Plans, Design Guidelines and Codes of Practice – perhaps more use of NZS 4404:2010)

Recognition that good urban design is important in place-making and requires a multi-discipline approach from both skilled and experienced professional design teams working for developers and within Councils

A balance between a whole of life asset management approach to assets and good urban amenity – the recognition that great towns and cities need to be people orientated and this may cost a little more in operations and maintenance, and on the other hand, urban designers need to ensure that we create assets that are easy to maintain and operate.

Should local authorities even be looking at getting involved in placemaking and urban design? 

Yes- I think they need to be aware that it is important for the success of their towns and cities.

o Is that their role? 

Their role is to encourage it politically and through their planning and other regulatory documents and to be as facilitative as possible with developers who are attempting to create great places.

o If not, whose role is it?

It is the development community – encouraged by the public sector - that needs to lead in good place-making and professionals such as ourselves need to be encouraging our developer clients to make the places we design and build provide the best urban amenity we can in the circumstances.

Urbanist Jeb Brugmann will be a keynote speaker at the LGNZ (Local Government NZ) conference later this year. In his book ‘Welcome to the urban revolution’ he argued that the 21st century’s greatest challenges can, and must, be met through improved approaches to city building.  

o To what extent do you agree with this view?

Improved city building is only one of the important responses needed to combat things like climate change, food security and distribution, availability of water and energy. To say all these can be met by improved city building is overstating it’s importance to some extent.

Which NZ cities, towns or places best ‘get’ the idea of good placemaking and urban design right now?

o What are they doing well?

o What can local authorities in other places learn from them?

I’m a bit biased but I love the Wellington CBD. I think the Hobsonville Land Company is doing a fantastic job with the redevelopment of the Hobsonville Air Base. And I think that Oamaru is an example of a small town with low or no growth that is doing very well.

 I think they have all understood the environmental, cultural and heritage attributes of their place and have worked hard to build on those. Walkability is encouraged, the buildings and public spaces work together to create human and sometimes inspiring urban spaces and the infrastructure supports this feeling; there is good storytelling around the natural, cultural, historical and built attributes of the place. They have formed partnerships between public and private sector and created an environment where the whole community has a pride and willingness to contribute.

 
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