The renewal of Australia’s neighbourhoods is still going strong, with a resurgence of well-designed, smart, walking neighbourhoods right across the country.

The demands of housing, transport needs and the supply of essential services mean that many town centres are being revitalised to meet the needs of their residents. At the same time, there is strong local government support for sustainable smart cities, meaning that projects which would not have been possible ten years ago are increasingly successful.

I spoke to Hames Sharley’s Shannon O’Shea, Associate, and Malcolm Somers, Manager Planning, about their role in the resurgence of urban neighbourhoods.

They are bringing back community.

In order do this, they need to create spaces that enable communities that flourish. It is essential that long-term planning takes place so that these places continue to provide functionality for many years to come.

“We see today increasing support for well-designed, compact mixed-use, inclusive, sustainable places that capture a unique sense of place and character of value to local communities,” says Shannon.

Urban designers are not limited to space and aesthetic; they step into the shoes of the end user, taking on the role of a sociologist to understand how the community actually want to use their shared spaces.

“Urban design principles apply to all types of development and at all scales reinforcing the need to put people first,” says Shannon, “We have a sound understanding of how community life is influenced by the way in which places are designed and managed.

“An integrated approach that defines key principles of good design, underpinned by local policy, relates to the community, resources, built form, landscape and local ecology. Together urban design and planning can facilitate better design outcomes in a way that does more than tick boxes - by creating places where people want to be.”

Urban designers understand that the built environment needs to encourage the movement of people into and through the creation of public transport networks, walking and cycling infrastructure, public spaces, shopping centres and open spaces. Walkability, a lack of congestion, and social interaction promoting a sense of community are seen as keys to creating a successful urban living.

Successful projects always involve a large amount of community consultation. In order for a neighbourhood to become both lived in and loved by its community, it needs to deliver on the amenities they are seeking. The amenities delivered will draw a variety of groups into the neighbourhood, and it is these people who will ultimately determine the feel of the neighbourhood.

“Urban design has to be accountable, not just to clients and communities, but also future generations,” Shannon articulates, “Places that people cherish need to be managed to ensure their function in the long-term provides a quality of life for current and future generations. Enabling occupants ownership over their environment can be facilitated through strong governance and management, which will continue to influence design decisions.”

The key to a successful urban neighbourhood project is undoubtedly an integrated approach from a multi-disciplinary team involving urban designers and master planners as well as a range of other experts.

“Collaborative partnerships require an understanding of project objectives from the outset, how and when these will be delivered, and what resources are available. Each entity needs to be clear about what they can contribute and that their input is valued,” Shannon explains.

This integrated approach means that stakeholders are working at different levels of the projects to ensure that the objectives can be met.

“By working collaboratively with all stakeholders, we are able to predict potential issues and work with all parties to ensure that the design either fits into the current framework or where necessary, what changes need to be made to update the framework to meet the project’s objectives,” Malcolm explains.

In the same way that people are at the heart of urban design, good design is at the heart of planning.

“Master planners largely drive the project through the government framework to achieve the desired outcome,” says Malcolm, “The most successful projects are those where we work collaboratively with the urban designer to ensure that we can navigate the design through the framework in place.”

There are times when the design team often work with government stakeholders to update and test planning guidelines to ensure that project outcomes are met.

“Effective policies need to provide support for urban design at every level, from strategic to the local planning policy,” observes Shannon, “Incorporating sound design thinking into strategic and local planning policy - good planning and good urban design - all need to respond to the same challenges: how to make successful places in a responsible way, making the most out of what the market can deliver.”

Ultimately, the vision of the project needs to be robust, taking into account that the stakes are highest for those who will live, love, own and shape the future of the neighbourhood.

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