Image: James St in Brisbane reinforces an existing street with retail and entertainment buildings to attract people during the day and night.
A copy of an article published in the Queensland Planner in 2011.
Andrew Hammonds is at the leading edge of Urban Planning and Design. He's the recently elected President of the Urban Design Alliance of Queensland (UDAL) and teaches the PIA CPP course on Urban Design. His experience covers both private and public roles. He has established www.placefocus.com to provide news, tools and learning on urban design and placemaking. We asked him the questions…..
Q: What is your definition of urban design?
Urban design creates authentic and quality public places for people across our urban environments. This focuses our attention on the outcome - which is the creation of places. It confirms that the focus of urban design is to meet the needs of users of places – who should determine the benchmark of success (not the designers). It also acknowledges that good places which are economically vital, environmentally responsible and socially equitable share qualities honed over thousands of years. It reminds us that our area of influence is not just cities but the suburbs as well as the towns and centres in the regions of Queensland.
Q: Do you call yourself an urban designer?
The short answer is no – the long answer has been germinating for a few years. There are two key words here – urban design and urban designer. Successful urban design involves a collaborative and multidisciplinary process of place creation (more on this later) involving users, community, stakeholders, developers, builders, professionals. In my view an urban designer needs to understand urban design and have training and experience in design. Many good urban designers have dual qualifications in design or planning. There are also planners in Queensland who have the skills and experience to take a design leadership role without having formal design training. They, like me, benefited from a planning degree with design teaching and integrated learning with design students. I have purposely honed my project facilitation and placemaking skills rather than design. Facilitation of the collaborative process is equally important as design – have a look at the marshmallow challenge at http://www.ted.com/talks/tom_wujec_build_a_tower.html. This is why I call myself a planner (urban design), rather than an urban designer. Keep in mind that there is no accreditation for urban design or ‘urban designer’ in Australia (although AILA is considering a proposal).
Q: Is Urban Design a new tag for Planning - how do they differ?
I don’t think so, as urban design is collaborative and multidisciplinary process it cannot be ‘owned’ by any one discipline. Planners make a significant contribution though - particularly where we reengage with our town and city making skills to facilitate good places in conjunction with managing the development ‘system’.
Q: Some may say Urban Design is simply putting lipstick on the pig - how would you respond?
Harsh, but unfortunately true, particularly in the past! This tends to happen when one discipline (planning, landscape architecture or architecture) dominates the process and doesn't involve others. This shouldn't be called urban design. We also need to spend time understanding a place so we can propose the right solutions. This may involve urban design and/or economic, environmental or community strategies like tenancy mix, car parking plan or festivals and events. In some instances it may be better to do nothing!
Q: Can a community be well planned with little regard for Urban Design?
When I ask people this question some pick new places like South Bank, but most pick a place built before WWII. For example, West End in Brisbane would be one of mine. It was designed by surveyors and developers and built by builders. While the word urban design didn't exist, they built places which reinforced the street and made it safe and comfortable for pedestrians. Which I call ‘urban manners’. In some ways urban design is about re-learning principles and practices of town and city making which we have developed over the last 2000 years or more but forgotten in the last 60. According to William H Whyte : It is difficult to design a space that will not attract people. What is remarkable is how often this has been accomplished!
Q: Can you cite some good examples of Urban Design in Queensland?
Fortunately, there are lot to pick from. My focus here is places which have benefited from urban design intervention or been created from scratch: James St in Brisbane for reinforcing an existing street with retail and entertainment buildings which attract people during the day and night; Kelvin Grove Urban Village for using public buildings to create a new street based centre (“town and gown”); The Esplanade in Cairns for sleeving a new and fun place into the city for locals as well as visitors; and Palmerin St in Warwick for complimenting historic buildings with a contemporary streetscape, anchored by a shopping centre in the town centre.
Q: What's the key to creating a quality place?
We have identified 13 Place Qualities on our website! Of these two stand out. Character is the hardest to ‘manufacture’ – it comes from the history, environment and culture of a place. South Bank is an example of a good place which is working hard to develop into an authentic part of the city. The second quality is diversity – which needs to be considered from day one (or probably before!). It is influenced by smaller street blocks and allotments, day and night time activities, housing affordability, density, public buildings and older buildings. West End in Brisbane is a classic example which demonstrates these outcomes.
Q: What are some of the common challenges Urban Designers have to overcome - cost?
Not necessarily cost - good urban design does not have to be expensive. Wickham St, Fortitude Valley is a good place because of the diversity of uses at street level, awnings over the street and 4- 6 storey buildings which help to enclose the street which is a public place. This is not expensive. It simply isn’t dominated by carparks. It is cost-effective to design buildings which have fewer carparks which are located at the back or underneath. What is a challenge is to ask people to do the opposite of what we have been telling them to do for the last 50 years! Challenging the retail and carparking paradigm is also difficult (near impossible?) – have a look at http://www.storyofstuff.com and the “The High Cost of Free Parking” by Donald Shoup.
Q: What's the best way to make people feel better about their surroundings?
Does Urban Design cross over into Social Planning? While everyone is different, I acknowledge Maslow's ‘hierarchy of needs’. We have physiological and safety needs; we want to belong and we want respect of others. Good urban design can facilitate these outcomes for people. Just think of how a place can make you feel hot or cold, safe or unsafe, comfortable or un-comfortable... Social planners have a critical role in helping us understand the needs of the users as well as the community.