Smart growth stalled by complacent planning

Written on the 12 May 2009

 

COMPLACENT planners, bottom-line driven developers, unimaginative marketing professionals and a lack of public foresight over the past half century have contributed to the demise of traditional neighbourhoods and smart sustainable growth on the Gold Coast.
Managing principal of the US-based DPZ Pacific Demetri Baches, believes true community has been relegated to ‘anywhere urban sprawl’.
DPZ is one of the world’s leading town planning and urban design firms with a close connection to the Gold Coast and southeast Queensland. Baches, the designer behind Little Beach at Paradise Point, believes ‘the tide has turned’.
“No matter the intent of all the policies and the motherhood rhetoric of all the regulations, the default outcome of development in Australia and just about everywhere else in the world, is the standard American-looking subdivision,” he says.  
“Typically in Australia the development path is to mimic whatever last sold well or copy the latest fad from somewhere else. And on the Gold Coast particularly, with its ever-present population pressures, it’s not hard to understand how it’s been allowed to happen.
“Sprawl has a seductive simplicity in that it has been made easy to plan, construct and sell by all the players involved in building the places we live. 
“The attitude is you don’t want to get in the way of growth by having to think about it too much.”
Baches says no-traditional planning, or new urbanism, is starting to take hold in Australia beyond academic circles.  
“The general planning and development communities have started to take note and are beginning to explore its techniques and principles,” says Baches.
“The key principles of new urbanism revolve around interconnected neighbourhoods encompassing a diversity of housing types, public open spaces, and civic sites, in a mixed use, pedestrian-scaled community.
“The most-loved neighbourhoods contain a centre, an edge, a diversity of housing stock, a mix of uses within easy walking distance of residents and a connected network of thoroughfares and open spaces that vary in character.”
Baches notes a shift away from the nuclear family and its needs has had a profound effect on Australian lifestyles, as it has in
the US.
“New urbanism offers a range of block sizes to suit different lifestyles in a move initially seen as radical and challenging to the quarter-acre dream,” he says.
“Many people in Australia are convinced that the explosion of the population over recent years, particularly along the eastern seaboard, has played a part in a perceived breakdown of your social fabric, but the real breakdown is that you are not developing enough real communities to house the changing population.
“Suburbs cannot evolve to accommodate social change, because they are built and frozen in time to cater to a very small percentage of society as a whole. However, things are changing, and for the better, as new planning ideas begin to take hold.”
Baches says that along Australia’s east coast, up to 60 per cent of all urban development is taking place in existing urban areas and the rate is rising.
“Designers are incorporating long-term social, economic and environmental wisdom and have done so by employing techniques that run counter to conventional practices,” he says.
Much of this ethos is based on pre-war communities, when people had to build smart and efficiently without waste. 
“The techniques of planning and building developments back then started and finished with the neighbourhood as the foundation, unlike today’s narrowly focused and specialist-driven processes,” he says. 
“After the Second World War all this wisdom was ignored and eventually lost in a mad rush by architects and engineers to modernise for the machine age and the car.
“The real reasons developments work are not because they move cars about freely, or because of the skill of the architect’s building designs, but because they simply create great spaces for people to live, work and play in. 
“This awareness is only now coming back to light and it requires a realisation that modernisation does not have to mean removing all that is human from our living environments.” 
DPZ’s planning work has influenced community design planning around the world. Its signature is the Town of Seaside in Florida, which won a Time Magazine Design of the Decade award in 1991 and has been heralded as the most influential new town of this century.

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