Landscape Architects: our next generation of political leaders?

If you’re one of the many who have been shocked about the recent election of Donald Trump as the next President of the United States and what it means, several questions arise.

Now seems like a good time to reflect on the qualities and real world professional experiences many of us wish our political leaders had.

While those of honesty, integrity, passion and leadership are self-evident, the increasing complexity of our urban areas – the site of residence for 65 per cent of the world’s population by mid-century – means professionals with a key understanding of how to negotiate these territories should become one of, if not the, essential characteristic to lead.

With that in mind, could landscape architects be those professionals who deliver this next suite of leaders to the world?

At the fantastic Festival of Landscape Architecture in Canberra, the vexatious issue of politics and landscape architecture boiled away as one of the festival’s key underlying themes.

Landscape architects design the world outside, the spaces of the city between and within the built environments. They design the public spaces for all people and successfully navigate the challenges and opportunities of complex systems.

While working to protect and sustain environments, they seek to creative positive experiences for all. Often seen as the collaborators that hold trans-disciplinary teams together, landscape architects are instrumental in negotiating with and between stakeholders regarding the built environment.

Further to this, the largest growth area for landscape architects within Australia is within the local and state government spheres. These roles complement and extend upon the traditional remit of landscape architectural practice by effectively positioning the complex natural, cultural, social, economic complexities about ‘the city’ at and within the forefront of government decision making.

Landscape architects become advocates and change makers for ecological and cultural systems operating at the local level, and affect broader regional changes to make real change on the ground for all people.

Landscape architects have the potential to shape a future that is sustainable, that encourages healthy and diverse natural and built landscapes, and that supports resilient communities. Political leadership needs the skill of the landscape architect in managing, planning and designing quality places. It needs our willingness and proven ability to collaborate with other professions and communities and our advocacy to drive reconciliation between human activities and the environment.

In line with the pressures of rapid urbnaisation, cities are having to deal with the increasingly complex problems of climate change, food security, loss of global biodiversity, loss of character and disparate social equity.

Politicians and national leaders of the future will have to be able to weave together these prevalent issues with the political, economic, environmental and social territories of our cities.

Within the (now) geological epoch of the Anthropocene, Donna Haraway’s quote ‘staying with the trouble’ provides perhaps one of the strongest indicators for how our global humanity might achieve a liveable future. The rhetoric our politicians need to aspire to is, a ‘making-with’ – that is, reconciling both a living and dying together within a damaged world as a collective, rather than the self-making of any one individual.

Landscape architects are collaborators, stewards of the world, and one of the essential creative intelligences vital in the (re)making of our cities and regions. If ecology in all its dimensions (environmental, social, cultural, digital and economic) has become the new platform for activism, then landscape architects must be at the forefront of being the carrier of this for future generations.

I vote staying with the trouble.

This article was first published on sourceable.net on 21 November 2016.

Image: Adelaide Design Manual, City of Adelaide

The Economic Value of Public Space

Cities hold the economic key to the future of the global economy.

Countries that cultivate livable cities that support vibrant communities and highly skilled adaptive work forces will be the sustainable growth cities of the future as well as successful.

But livability is a tricky thing. How many great cities build vibrant communities based on their exceptional sewer system? How many businesses and visitors do you attract to a city boasting a great rubbish collection system? How many cities promote themselves to new residents and investors on a comprehensive water supply network?

The reality is that these and many other public services are expected in a good city, but the most successful cities, the richest communities, the fastest growing cities are those that place a high priority on their public realm – their parks, open space and public plazas. Investing in well planned, meaningful public amenity makes good economic sense.

Intuitively, designers understand this, but how do we convince government, developers with investment dollars, policy makers and the decision makers that this is the case? With often very little measurable economic data to highlight the economic return on the capital investment in our parks and open space, it is increasingly difficult to influence investing more in our public realm.

However, as landscape architects know, its not just the economic benefits; it is the health, environmental and societal benefits of great public spaces in our cities that foster, encourage and demand smarter investments in great public open spaces.

There are some direct measurable outcomes:

  • Land directly adjacent or close to well designed, accessible and quality green space can generate increased property values.
  • Better quality open spaces provide can therefore lead to increased rates paid to local government.
  • Businesses are often attracted to locations that offer well-designed, well-managed public places, and these in turn attract customers, employees and services.
  • Good-quality and well-maintained public spaces increase the number of people visiting retail areas, leading to improved trading for local retailers.

The indirect economic benefits are also obvious:

  • Parks and open spaces reduce public health care costs by improving general physical/mental health and well-being.
  • Parks and open spaces increase natural cooling for our cities.
  • Popular parks and open spaces promote community pride, fostering more activation and in turn reducing crime.
  • Parks and open spaces provide important social and community connections.

Outlining these principles provides a clear and lucid argument for better parks and public spaces in our cities.

However, with the pressure on our increasingly urbanised populations, why is quality public open space in our cities too often seen as a “nice to have” rather than a valuable investment for which the return is high?

Our federal government recognises the importance of great public spaces and parks to our cities.

“To secure the ongoing prosperity and wellbeing of our communities, we must ensure that our cities meet the needs of current and future generations,” reads a passage in the government’s Our Cities, Our Future national urban policy. “We must ensure that economic growth can be sustained and increased without compromising the natural environment or our quality of life. This is the basis of a sustainable future.”

So whilst strategic government policies at the highest level advocate for an equal balance between social, environmental and economic initiatives for a more sustainable Australia, often the harsh reality is that it is still the economic drivers that most influence our decision makers – the cost of building better public spaces and parks.

Designers need to understand and communicate in the language of our decision makers. We need to quantify and qualify every positive aspect of our public spaces and park systems, where possible, into a value to make the business case.

We need more qualitative research into the opportunity cost of not pursuing better public spaces and parks, into language our political decision makers better understand.

A better, more productive conversation between government, universities, practice and industry is required to take a leading role in representing the best our cities can be.

In turn, we can more effectively argue and promote the immediate and long-term return value of our public parks and open space against their capital and ongoing management costs.

Only then will our parks, open spaces, streets, and the space between our city buildings be recognised as the priority amongst the list of essential public infrastructure (such as roads, pipes and conduits) that is currently prioritised over good quality, liveable and successful public spaces.

This article was first published on Sourceable.net in November 2016. 

Image: Forecourt, 45 Pirie Street, Adelaide. Image: Ben Wrigley. 

Why cities matter again

For those of us passionately working for a better deal for our cities and regions, the election of the Hon. Malcolm Turnbull as our new Prime Minister is a big deal.

In the days after the change in federal leadership, it became clear the dark past of hushed tones and wish lists for city shaping infrastructure, tucked away in a bottom drawer for a rainy day, for a day when the inevitable happened and cities mattered again, were gone.

That day has come, and after only 30 days in power, the new PM proudly announced a $95 million Australian Government investment in stage two of the successful Gold Coast Light Rail project, something many of us thought near impossible under Tony Abbott’s previous mantra of “cities [being] a matter for the states.”

In a broad ranging series of recent interviews, it was made clear the new emphasis is also backed up with sound reasoning, that the Australian Government has a role to play in shaping sustainable economic, social and environment outcomes in city shaping projects. Turnbull was reassuringly blunt.

“We shouldn’t discriminate urban mass transit, urban rail,” he said. “It’s sort of a penetrating glimpse of the obvious. I know it’s change but, why would you discriminate between one mode of transport and another?”

The first major change in policy is to support infrastructure priorities, but not to prioritise them based on what type of vehicles are of primary benefit, or which industry directly benefits (roads, trucks and freight, as it was with Infrastructure Australia’s previous priorities). That’s not to say that roads are off the agenda, but it is clear that the imbalance with urban rail projects, in particular, is gone.

The other big announcement is Australia’s very first Minister for Cities and the Built Environment, the Hon. Jamie Briggs, who days before was the Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development. It is the first time in Australia there has been such a Minister, and the step partially recognises the roles planners, architects, landscape architects and engineers play in developing and sustaining our cities. The cabinet position reinforces positive messages in regard to investment confidence, which translates to improved prospects for cities and stable employment, better options for mobility and cleaner, greener outcomes, among other outcomes.

The sharp realignment of a new national cities and built environment policy provides a major opportunity to reinforce some very good work by the states, local and capital city councils. It resets the conversation about the value of innovative responses to problems such as congestion, liveability and economic development, brings the smart city movement to the front, and opens the door for new ways for the governments to take part in taking our cities to the next century.

A more rational approach also means scalability is possible, suggesting smaller projects such as Gold Coast’s Light Rail stage 2 can receive federal government funding assistance. The aim of all governments will now be to prove a project’s goals and value to the economy, as well as its citizens and the environment. Malcolm Turnbull’s approach also ensures that decision making and policy is not fixed, and as he said in his interview with The Guardian recently.

“…the aim is to make sure everything you are doing is calculated to get to that goal and if something isn’t working as well as you want, chuck it out. I’m not afraid of people saying, it’s a backdown, or a backflip, an agile government is prepared to abandon policies that don’t work,” he said.

Much has been made of an agile economy, and indeed Australia has weathered global challenges better than most. However, as the Prime Minister points out, taxpayer funded investment is far better being a partner to projects with returns back to government, as opposed to the current model of simply doling out cash.

Partnering eschews a different approach, which can realise greater benefits as well as value far beyond the capital investment, an area that requires far more scrutiny and clarity in my view.

Experience suggests that light rail projects in particular can alter a city’s future to sustainability, as well as changing paradigms across the board. Sydney’s Light Rail project, the next big city changer now commencing construction, will provide greater travel choices once a more integrated inner Sydney transport net is completed. This includes the second harbour crossing for rail, a new bus plan, and new interchanges as well as reducing reliance on private vehicles.

The model for the project, a Public Private Partnership, could be reimagined to realise greater benefits to the economy. This could include more rigour, measurement and debate during the business case preparation, to consider improved livability: better quality and performing streets, increased green infrastructure, more commercial, business and retail opportunities and the like.

Turnbull has espoused the virtues of innovation, competition and productivity, citing them as key objectives during his time in office, citing them as being crucial to Australia’s prosperity.

One thing is for sure: cities are back, baby!

This article was first published on sourceable.net on 3 November 2015. 

Its time for a National Green Infrastructure Policy

The Australian Institute of Landscape Architects (AILA) has written to the Australian Government requesting that the country takes a global leadership position on Green Infrastructure and formally acknowledges Australia’s urban landscapes as key drivers for improved health, environmental and social outcomes by 2055.

A National Green Infrastructure Strategy is the figurehead of four key recommendations made in a submission to Infrastructure Australia’s 15 Year Infrastructure Plan for Australia.

With close to 80 per cent of Australian adults predicted to be overweight or obese by 2025, AILA is urging the Government to consider the tangible physical, social, economic and environmental impacts well-designed public spaces and cities have been proven to produce.

The four strategic recommendations proposed by AILA’s submission are:

  1. A National Green Infrastructure Strategy from the federal government to provide guidance on how infrastructure projects can be a catalyst for enhanced landscape outcomes through green infrastructure investment. The strategy will include a policy statement to articulate the government’s position on infrastructure investment and investment action areas
  2. Minimum ‘SITES’ Ratings for federally funded projects to encourage a global standard of integration of natural and physical infrastructure
  3. A National Green Infrastructure Training Program for built environment practitioners, including engineers, planners and senior level policy makers involved in the planning, design and development of infrastructure across a diversity of asset classes
  4. A Project Briefing Guide for Integrating Landscape through Infrastructure

In proposing its key recommendations, AILA cites the global transition away from single purpose ‘grey infrastructure’ to more multi-purpose infrastructure that mimics nature, provides critical ecosystem services and promotes healthy and active living.

With state and local governments primed for accelerating green infrastructureopportunities at the project development level, national leadership from Infrastructure Australia would catalyse greater value for federally funded infrastructure investments.

The four strategic recommendations are to be included in the 15 Year Infrastructure Plan, and align with the federal government’s noted aspirations for the plan (themselves reflective of an industry led approach) which includes:

  • Embedding the benefits to society of green infrastructure – driving national prosperity
  • Enhancing our quality of life
  • Leveraging federal, state, local government and private capital
  • Ensuring federally funded infrastructure is resilient and designed to work with nature, not against it
  • Providing better integration of land use planning and infrastructure planning
  • Building more integrated governance across all levels of government to deliver better value for the community.

By providing a national policy on green infrastructure which is measurable and assessed against nationally agreed criteria, industry and the broader professions have more incentive and better opportunities to embed the benefits of a greener approach to projects, as well as creating better places and landscapes as a result.

The new policy is backed up with training programs to measure their projects via the SITES tool, a nationally accredited Green Infrastructure Training Program, and a very useful Project Briefing Guide for Integrating Landscape through Infrastructure Development. These tools will make embedding the approach, and real outcomes, more achievable for the private sector, demonstrating wider benefits as well as project benefits.

Ultimately, the proposed changes would add significant value to all projects beyond their initial capital costs. AILA would argue that to do nothing and continue on our current chartered course is a far worse scenario for the health and well-being of Australia’s future.

The 2015 Intergenerational Report Australia 2055 notes that “Australian Government health expenditure is projected to increase as a proportion of GDP from 4.2% in 2014/15 to 5.7% of GDP in 2054/55.”

Approximately 80 per cent of the rise in costs to the taxpayer funded health system relates to non-demographic factors such as the general population seeing more doctors, having more tests, and taking more medicine. With an aging population, the physical and mental benefits to society of regular engagement with the natural environment are well known and documented. The time to embed the benefits must start now at a national level.

The costs of chronic disease to western society has overtaken infectious diseases as a major cause of death. Over 60 per cent of Australians are considered overweight or obese now, and this figure is expected to grow to 80 per cent if we make no changes to how we develop our cities and regions.

The embedded costs of a more holistic integration of green infrastructure and a greener city landscape will address these issues. For example, the benefits of a greener street, more street trees, better footpaths for a more walkable suburb, creating pleasant natural outlooks, enabling more bike riding opportunities (leisure and commuting) and finally enjoying the natural environment are simple solutions that provide more incentive for Australians to exercise and have a healthier lifestyle.

AILA also strongly argues that any capital costs associated with more landscape in our cities far outweighs the short-term cost savings of the common value management pressures or removing landscape from any given infrastructure project. Often seen as afterthoughts, an integrated landscape solution is everything but an afterthought.

Our cities and regions are very complex things, often guided by three levels of government and their associated policies, strategies, codes, election promises, community-led demands and many other conflicting requirements.

One of AILA’s principal objectives is to advocate the benefits of ‘the space between buildings’ as being of equal if not greater value than the floor space where most of us live, work or play.

The benefits of fresh air, walking, sitting, strolling, watching, enjoying, riding, playing and living in our streets, squares, parks, riverfront, harbours and gardens is a human need, and access to quality green space is a core part of democratic society.

Think of your favourite green spaces – any one of Sydney’s majestic harbour front parks, a stroll through Adelaide’s magnificent botanic gardens, a ride along Melbourne’s Yarra River, enjoying Kings Park in Perth, relaxing within Darwin’s new waterfront, promenading along Salamanca Place in Hobart and enjoying the planned landscape of Canberra’s Parliamentary Triangle. These are experiences all involving an immersion in the landscape.

We are making the strong case of the importance of green space, how integration is essential, and how greener thinking can make our cities better, healthier, successful places. Landscape architects are trained and have the experience to embed, create, highlight and deliver these things.

Often the ‘hero’ in our cities and towns is made to be the building.

We need great buildings in our city – and there are so many across all of Australia – yet it is the brilliance of cities where green space is prominent. Colonel Light’s plan for Adelaide that is surrounded by 770 hectares of green space – the lungs of the city – with six squares for breathing space ordered through the plan, Sydney’s remnant harbour front reserves and the Botanic Gardens, Brisbane’s Southbank, Melbourne’s beautiful parks, Hobart’s Mt Wellington, Perth’s Kings Park, Canberra’s planned and integrated park lands; these are all the landscape features of our cities. We may sometimes take these places for granted, but when they are impacted by development or threats, we react. Melbourne’s Royal Park is a great example of the community impacts of infrastructure development.

Most professionals and developers are aware of the benefits of a well-designed and integrated landscape. Our task is to continue to build the value ‘beyond the project’ to the city, to achieve carbon reduction, better shade, connected green space, food security, and to embed the benefits in government policy to ensure the societal challenges of obesity and heart attacks are removed by improving our health and well-being.

It’s time Australia recognised the benefits of green infrastructure to chart a greener future for us all.

This article was originally published on Sourcable.net (https://sourceable.net/its-time-for-a-national-green-infrastructure-policy/#)

The $53b economy lurking, wasted, in our congested cities


I’m not anti-car. I have 3, I reluctantly admit. Our household proudly has a family Skoda, for daily things and to ferry our family of 5 about. We love it: it is very fuel efficient, sporty, and large enough to do all the things we need it to.

I have another car, the previous family car, relinquished to taking me to extra-ordinary things like late meetings and functions, and to take me to the tram stop on a semi-daily basis (however its days are numbered).

The last one is a recent acquisition, fuelled by my interest in 1970’s classic European cars, a excellent example of Volkswagen’s shift from air cooled and rear engine cars, to water cooled and front wheel drive cars. Call it my Achilles’ heel. The Money Pit.

All three were carefully selected based on many factors: their design, desirability, durability, drivability, functionality, and cost of ownership.

I make no apologies that I like cars. I am also a strong environmentalist, or perhaps a pragmatic environmentalist.

For now, cars still provide the principal means to move about our hilly middle ring Adelaide suburb. In our family we do have more bikes than cars, and I have just taken delivery of an electric boosted pedal bike to use to get to work. Like the Neanderthal, I am slowly adapting…

I realise that I am partly to blame for the congestion happening to our cities. They are more congested, more polluted, less people friendly, and driven by more bitumen and concrete to cater for increased individual movements – and mostly by cars. It seems to be me, we are not yet fully willing to sacrifice individual mobility for the sake of the greater environmental good.

Our jobs are not always where we want them to be, our schools slightly less so, our food needs are centralised in large boxy suburban centres surrounded by car parks (let alone where the food comes from), and our entertainment is spread across the city.

Our recreation is slightly better, as us middle ringers have backyards (they are becoming smaller, and in our case, are producing some self-sufficiency) and for us, we have ready access to the open spaces near the foothills. However the opportunity to downsize and move closer to a more sustainable living situation is still not easy.

In 2015, cars still by and large drive our behaviour. Some may argue this obsession with individual mobility in the form of car use has increased in recent years: we’re building more roads that ever and taken the accelerator off building the equivalent public transport projects. Yet, according to many sources, we have reached what many are calling ‘peak car’.

The options to move closer to most Australian cities are still limited. Housing affordability is one thing; of equal concern is equitable access to quality public green spaces. Yet we build more roads to and away from our city centres.

We need to rethink how our cities work. The housing bubble that is undoubtedly occurring in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane highlights the problem. More housing, more people, more cars, more activity, more demands. More pressure on public investment to fill in the gap. We are at a critical juncture in regards to ensuring people are the focus – not investors, not bankers, not service providers, not utility providers, not planners, not placemakers. The focus needs to start with people. Demographics. Trends in mobility, trends in open space usage, layering greener investments into the mix, ensuring everything has multiple uses, making democracy the centre of decision making to ensure our cities are designed better, for people.

Ultimately we should be making it easier to walk to the shops, ride to work, grow our own food if we want to, deal with pollution and waste locally, and recreate near where we live. These are tangible, achievable and worthwhile objectives if we want to meet the challenges head on. They are good for us, good for the economy, and good for the planet. But where should the policy start? Who blinks first?

The Commonwealth historically had a role, depending on the colours of those assuming the Treasury benches, in shaping our cities. The current federal government has stepped back from a leading role in cities, evident in the Prime Minister Abbott’s constant reference to cities ‘being a matter for the states’.

Us ‘city sympathisers’ are stepping up our advocacy as a result of the policy vacuum.

The Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council (ASBEC) recently responded to the 2015 Australian Government ‘State of the Cities’ report calling for urgent change in city policy as a result of what AIA president elect, Professor Ken Maher, says is a ‘$53 billion-per-year cost of congestion time bomb’. This is equivalent to the economies of Bulgaria or Ecuador, wasting away every year in Australia’s congested cities. This is an incredible statistic.

The report, a joint exercise with most of the planning, engineering and design professions, calls for a new ‘Minister for Cities’ to lead the commonwealth government’s urban policy development.

This is a good move, to re-establish (with a greater role) the former Major Cities Unit of Infrastructure Australia, disbanded by the Abbott Government, and to reinforce the economic powerhouses that are Australia’s cities. The structural changes in our economy, the future economy, and how we facilitate the changes in our cities need to be recognised and led at a national level. We could easily recover this lost economy: with better, more connected, easier to move around, and better for people, cities…

Transparent indicators proposed in the ASBEC report will measure the liveability of our cities and provide measures to identify shortfalls and strategies to improve their performance, and ultimately, for their people.

The City of Unley, an inner Adelaide suburb, for example, only has around 2.6% of the city classified as open space, yet its northern boundary is to the Adelaide Park Lands, all 776 wonderful hectares of it. The city has no major pieces of open space, and has a population intensity of over 3,000/people/hectare – the highest in South Australia. By comparison with Sydney and Melbourne, it is not high. However with ambitious population growth targets set by the State, cities like Unley need to rethink their open space strategies to perform and meet future pressures of more people.

The new ‘green’ is no longer a quantum of open space, measured as a percentage of total area.

Our streets, backyards, parks, creeks, car parks, main roads, private and public spaces will all contribute greater value to our city’s landscape, creating a new integrated ‘green infrastructure’. If you like, healthier cities for healthier people.

Through an integrated policy approach, we can start realise the benefits of linking drainage corridors as valuable assets with amenity and environmental value, streets as parks and habitat, car parks as multiple use green spaces, backyards as the new sharing spaces.

With a new and improved wider policy framework, setting national targets, our cities will be able to not only meet quantum targets of performance, and with a collaborative approach, they will be able to work across local and state boundaries to best address the pressures we continue to face. And begin to address a massive $53b problem associated with congestion to our national economy.

Right now it is still too easy for me to keep 3 private vehicles. I dream of the day where the only car I have is the one I adore as an object, used infrequently, recycled from another era, and cared for – and not as an essential daily appliance.

It is this behaviour change that will see us all into a new, more sustainable, greener future. Our cities might even start loving us back for it.

This article was first published on the industry website, Sourceable.net 


Oh no, not another master plan…

Master plans can be useful things that need a dose of pragmatism, a sprinkle of vision, wads of engagement and a prescription for reality…

There has been a bit of an argument in my office regarding ‘master plans’ and ‘master planning’.  Are they the same? Is it one word or two? How do we solve word peace with a master plan?

Well, in my job I do a lot of them. After all, I work for a city council, it’s almost expected we do a lot of them for many, many things.  Master plans (see below) can be useful things, as I shall outline. However they are things that need a dose of pragmatism, a sprinkle of vision, wads of engagement and a prescription for reality.

Firstly though, the word ‘master plan’?  Is it one word or two (i.e. ‘masterplan’ or ‘master plan’)?

Secondly is it a verb, noun or an adjective (an action, thing or describing word)?

According to the Macquarie Dictionary, and fortunately for me, it is two words, and it is a noun.  So no argument there then. The process of creating a master plan (not masterplanning, it doesn’t have an entry in the dictionary) has in effect, the same outcome – to create ‘a comprehensive plan, often lacking details on individual items, but providing an overall picture’. Look up ‘plan’ and the description includes all the words you might hear in this space.

So why are master plans created?

Master plans are as much about a process of sorting stuff out in a spatial or process sense, as planning a product.  They reflect a point in time and usually broad aspirations as much as guiding outcomes and things we can deliver.  Many argue they are good for delivery, and indeed this can be a feature of a good master plan.  We can also use the process to plan a process for anything. A wedding. A city. Winning a tender. Planning a space. Buying something. Creating a plan. Doing something for anything.

In the public sector, they are arguably political and democratic documents, reflective of a need for broader planning and strategy of a place, reflecting policies of one or all tiers of government.  Elected officials require master plans to shape policy, strategy, engage voters, change minds, create investment, and deal with land in government ownership. Essentially, they are about generating a better city/suburb/town/place based on opportunity.

In the private sector, they facilitate expenditure efficiently, guide shareholders and stakeholders, stage investment, and create certainty of outcomes.

In the hands of people who can guide and develop the process, they are very useful documents and effective.  They provide the basis of talking to people, sounding out ideas, capturing comments and opinions, and providing aspirations. Good master plans are easy to read, largely graphic based, provide information and reflect the aspirations of an area.

For example, a master plan for a major precinct in any of our cities explores the possibilities for a site and posits a future and outcomes. One of the most critical elements of a master plan is the understanding of the site.

A good master plan analyses the site best and worst properties and usually landscape architects are the most skilled in doing this essential task.  A site’s aspect, views, lay of the land, existing features, built form, vistas, materials, uses etc are all mapped and explained as the starting point for guiding the development of the site.

Scenarios are the key to a good master plan.  A transparent yet design-led master plan, with good data, evidence, analysis and discussion can yield relatively good results and better outcomes.   Understanding the voluminous needs of those affected by a master plan is critical, as are the outcomes of the authors. These need to be clear, understood, valued, agreed and delivered upon. How will a street look? What is the impact on me? Will I benefit or lose out? Can I still use something? Is there opportunity to listen to my needs?

A bad or poorly conceived master plan however, in the hands of those less experienced, ill prepared, defiant, obstinate or incompetent can be disastrous. They can be replaced quickly, criticized, dumped, lead to major controversy, lose value or become toxic politically.

To a ratepayer, taxpayer, resident, visitor, layperson, someone who doesn’t come across master plans or just plain cynic, I plead: these are the pages of a democratic, elected society. If used properly, they can provide the things we respectfully desire.

These are the tools of the elected, a method of engaging the masses. A way of evolving our society. They are not perfect, and whilst most of them manage to somewhat plead achievement of perfection, they are a way of allowing ‘orderly’ development (in planning speak).

As with all ideas and expression, take it all very lightly and ask what you can do for your local master plan and what it can do for you. Here’s a little secret – the power of the written word, in an A4 format, with a respectful font (Arial works best), return address and hand signed signature, with a reasoned argument, always elicits a response from elected people. It is known fact. This (relatively) primitive exercise still requires a response.

In this space, I am a born optimist. I believe the process of listening, responding, developing ideas, asking for advice, and developing something concrete is a sound and valuable process for expending public or private funds.

So get active, respond, attend workshops, vocalise your views and shape your local master plans.

They are not always a demonstration of an afait acompli.

However, as so beautifully espoused in the landmark ABCTV series ‘Utopia’, all you need for a master plan is a (very) loose idea, a logo, and a website.

This was originally published on Sourcable.net on June 25, 2015



Capital Metro: helping reshape Australia’s national capital

I wrote this for the Canberra Times in 2014 in the early stages of the project’s design, and as the debate continues, it is important to remember a city is shaped by its mobility in all forms, and light rail is just one part of an integrated system.


capital metro