16 April 2012 – Contrary to what many may think, more consultation can promote more development, not less. There is however one caveat – by consultation we mean active participation, not lip service. Providing the community with choices.

There is a growing body of Australian research that has identified international benchmarks and best practice in thinking about cities. Studies of international cities have shown that those that enjoy broad community support for their city’s policies both consult and develop consistent plans over time. The Grattan Institute’s 2010 report, “Cities: Who Decides” carried out research on eight cities considered to be successful and found:

• Broad levels of meaningful public participation in the planning process at the strategic level
• The development of thoroughly researched alternative scenarios that are canvassed publicly.
• A strong regional approach (not state and local governments with powerless regional groupings)
• Planning commissions answerable to boards that are expert and representative
• Plans, that once consulted thoroughly, are followed through and not changed frequently, giving all groups some certainty

Encouraging the community to participate in the decisions that governments make about the city is fundamental in developing plans that are embraced and supported by the community. Engagement needs to extend from the broad strategic to local levels.

A Case Study – Illinois State Planning Act and Metropolitan Plan

The Illinois State Planning Act requires:

• That plans address the general to the specific – from broad issues such as land use planning and transport as well as economic development and the more detailed considerations of urban aesthetics and civic design. The fact that a physical outcome is the end result of a Planning Act is well recognised
• A Metropolitan and Regional Planning Commission. Commissioners include politicians, mayors of each county as well as the resident and business community.
• That research is carried out, and that the research be publicly available to those interested.
• That programs of public participation (not just consultation) are established and Plans encourage greater citizen participation in regional planning.
• That a Council for Economic Development advise the Commission.

The Chicago Metropolitan Plan is regional in scale and integrates the broader region and the city centre. The key elements are:

• Commitment to public participation and the right of all citizens to access information. There is an entire section on the Practice of Public Participation
• The organisational chart places the Citizen’s Advisory Committee at the second highest tier
• The 2040 Regional Comprehensive Planning Process sets out a very clear process where a vision is set, strategies are evaluated, a preferred scenario is developed, and then capital projects identified and agreed
• An analysis of employment clusters showing which are growing and clustering together. Given the difficulty of bringing significant amounts of jobs to Greater Western Sydney it is critical that a more sophisticated analysis is brought to bear on where jobs will be located in the future.

Philip Graus is a partner of Cox Architecture and member of a number of design based panels including the North Sydney Design Excellence Panel, and university juries. Industry involvement includes the UDIA Urban Renewal Committee, as well as the Australian Institute of Architects and Planning Institute of Australia Built Environment and Urban Design Committees respectively.