Q is for (design) Quality
As our cities densify, and taller buildings become more common, design quality has become an increasingly important issue. Why is it important? How can it be guaranteed? And how can it be assessed?
Lower, infill buildings have relatively limited impact on the visual quality of the environment, rarely being visible beyond their street-block. Taller buildings can be visible across a much broader area. This has a significant influence on the character and appeal of whole urban districts.
O is for Overdevelopment
Overdevelopment is a legitimate term, referring to buildings that are too big for their site. Unfortunately, it has been devalued through its use by those wishing to object to a proposed development but unable to express why.
Australian capability in the healthcare sector was recently showcased in a trade mission to Malaysia and Indonesia. Twelve Australian companies met with local industry and government leaders to discuss their healthcare delivery model and present innovative solutions in architecture, town planning, urban design, hospital management and engineering services.
By Max Walton
So for the second year running Melbourne has taken the title as the world's most liveable city. The Economist Intelligence Unit, which measures cities against a number of criteria including healthcare, education, infrastructure, culture and crime, places Melbourne ahead of cities such as Vienna, Vancouver and Sydney. However, staying at the top of the 'liveability' tree will require a shift in the state of mind of planners and designers alike. It will need a more creative approach to development from all sectors of the industry.
I is for Integration
The word “integration” is strewn liberally throughout our planning schemes.
ResCode calls for development to be integrated with the street. (See “Frontages (residential)”, in the August 2012 Planning News.)
State policy exhorts us to integrate land use planning, urban design and transport planning, and encourages us to design activity centres that integrate housing, employment, shopping, recreation and community services. ResCode wants schools integrated with the neighbourhood and community facilities; the built environment to provide an integrated layout, built form and urban landscape; and subdivision to integrate with the surrounding urban environment.
What does all this mean?
David Lock Associates (DLA) has submitted a response to the proposed reformed zones for Victoria. As part of an ongoing review of the Victoria Planning system the Government is considering:
- New and improved residential, commercial, industrial and rural zones
- Rationalising and removing unnecessary zones
- Associated processes that can support the new and improved zones
In general, the principle of the zone reform is welcomed. We do believe that the rationalising of zone structure will achieve greater clarity in the planning system. However, DLA believe the proposed reform process should be undertaken in conjunction with the emerging Metropolitan Strategy. It is considered the directions outlined in the Metropolitan Strategy will assist in strategically justifying the application of the reformed zones.
G is for Gated communities
‘Gated communities’ are bad. The Safer Design Guidelines tells us so. But as with all doctrines, if the basis for it is misunderstood, an irrational fear of gated communities can lead to a worse outcome.
Gated communities draw an almost visceral reaction from planners, because they imply exclusivity, which offends the intrinsic egalitarian basis of planning. Social planners promote mixed communities to foster tolerance and inclusiveness.
There is another reason to discourage gated communities: they reduce permeability. Permeability is the ease with which people can pass through an area, whether by foot, bike, car or bus. The need to divert around large, impenetrable precincts creates longer and less legible journeys.
E is for Equitable development
It is hardly surprising that the first wave of inner-urban renewal plucked most of the low-hanging fruit of large sites. Developers are now turning to the smaller sites, which are less able to accommodate the sort of generous setback possible with larger projects. How does this affect the future development of neighbouring properties?
Australia is a developed, highly urbanised and comparatively prosperous nation. It is relatively sparsely populated in low-density towns and cities which hug its coastline. These urban centres, mainly developed in the last 150-200 years, are generally sprawling, car-dependent places dominated by detached houses. Current urban design challenges include retrofitting cities to improve their sustainability and resilience to a changing climate, while also accommodating escalating housing demand fuelled by population growth, falling household size and an ageing population.
C is for Character
The concept of neighbourhood character has turned Melbourne’s suburbs into an endless battleground pitching residents against developers, with planners stuck in the middle.
Most of the arguments about character relate to density. People are familiar with the manifestations of their neighbourhood’s density – such as the vibrancy of Fitzroy or the greenness of Donvale – and they fear change to it.
Mark Sheppard, Urban Designer at David Lock Associates
As our cities densify, and taller buildings become more common, design quality has become increasingly important for developers, planning authorities and communities.
Lower, infill buildings have relatively limited impact on the visual quality of the urban environment, rarely being visible beyond their street-block. Taller buildings, on the other hand, are visible across a much broader area. This has a significant influence on the character and future appeal of whole urban districts.
A prominent mediocre building can blight its vicinity by downgrading the identity of the area and affecting the outlook of existing and yet-to-be constructed nearby buildings. In contrast, an award-winning design sets a benchmark for quality that raises expectations and can fundamentally shape the image of its surroundings. At its height, the ‘Bilbao Guggenheim effect’ can transform a whole city. Quite simply, the architectural quality of prominent buildings can have a positive or negative effect on large numbers of people.
Max Walton, Senior Urban Planner and David Klingberg, Principal, David Lock Associates
Every now and again, it’s a good idea to take stock of where we are, where we’ve come from and where we’re headed.
There’s a lot of discussion at the moment about what the future is going to look like and a lot of energy is being put into how best to make this a reality. Good policy development takes time. But in the meantime, are we losing sight of the here and now?
Despite the work being done inside government departments and ministerial offices on a new Metropolitan Strategy for Melbourne and the Regional Growth Plans for Victoria, we are not engaged in a genuine discourse about what a spatial vision for Victoria should actually entail.
Last week, the Minister for Planning released a suite of planning reforms for Victoria that include some of the biggest changes to planning zones since the late 1990s. According to DPCD, these reforms seek to allow a broader range of activities to be considered, improve the range of zones to better manage growth and simplify requirements.
The major changes are for residential, farming and commercial zones.
Key changes to the residential zones include:
- The existing Residential 1, 2 and 3 Zones will be replaced with Neighbourhood Residential, General Residential and Residential Growth zones.
- The Neighbourhood Residential Zone aims to restrict housing growth in areas identified for preservation. According to the Minister, in this zone, you can expect to see single dwellings with some dual occupancy.
- The General Residential Zone will be used 'in most residential areas where modest growth and diversity of housing is provided' (consistent with existing neighbourhood character). In this zone, you can expect to see medium density housing, with a mixture of townhouses and apartments.
- Lastly, the Residential Growth Zone will be applied in 'appropriate locations near activity centres, train stations and other areas suitable for increased housing activity'. In this zone, you can expect to find apartments and town houses of up to 3 storeys and higher.
Further information to each of the zones can be found on the Department of Planning and Community website.
Comment on the proposed residential, commercial, industrial and rural planning zone reforms will be received by 5.00 p.m. on 21 September 2012.
A is for Active frontages
“Active frontages” has become the ubiquitous catch cry of planners and urban designers. Activity centre structure plans are liberally festooned with stressed street edges. But is it a case of active frontages everywhere, nor any latte to drink? (Sorry, Sam.)
Max Walton Senior Urban Planner at David Lock Associates
Whilst the announcement of a ‘bold’ new vision for Melbourne’s Central Business District was identified by the Minister for Planning as the prelude to much broader engagement on the new Metro Strategy there remains a genuine lack of transparent discourse on city planning in Melbourne and Victoria. The lack of such an open and honest discussion on the future of Melbourne has created a vacuum of strategic planning policy. This could be a missed opportunity to re-evaluate city planning in Melbourne and the State. This paper argues that a more spatial approach to planning in Victoria is required, one that results in a clearly understood and agreed city vision and framework.