8 July 2013 —Urban planning firm RobertsDay has released an e-book covering 28 stories of how Australian councils have innovated in urban renewal.
In Great Places Renew, the agency says despite outdated planning legislation that continues to stymie council innovation, six Australian councils have managed to create innovative – and sometimes radical – place design change for their local communities.
RobertsDay principal Stephen Moore said urban renewal was one of the key evolving opportunities for Australian councils today.
“Great places are about so much more than buildings,” he said. “Often, councils already have all they need for a renewal project – it’s just about seeing their place in a different light.
“We worked with one suburb that only had one children’s playground – and it belonged to McDonald’s.
“Yet the town had all this underused space. So our urban planning solution was to transform vacant sites into playgrounds, have car parks double as civic spaces, redeploy road reserves as skate parks.”
Following are extracts of two of the case studies, Coffs Harbour and Bondi Junction.
On this project, RobertsDay helped Coffs Harbour City Council negotiate with state government to amend its draft Coffs Harbour Local Environmental Plan – and in so doing increase local investment, develop place capital and raise its tourism profile.
When the team first met with Coffs Harbour City Council it was still operating with pre-GFC tools, regulations and software. It had a toolkit focused on attracting large developers to redevelop significant portions of its city – and only those with deep pockets could afford to be at the table.
To redress this imbalance, the company helped the council with a submission to state government that revised lot sizes and parking standards, and allowed narrow or “skinny” buildings within the city centre.
Effectively, these changes meant local entrepreneurs could afford to borrow capital and begin regenerating their own city, in turn ensuring economic resilience for the local community.
One of the major contributions to Coffs Harbour City Council was to develop an alternative parking approach.
Under a conventional model, the council was obliged to fund some $8 million worth of parking infrastructure over the next decade. The alternative approach rebalanced parking by creating a citywide green travel plan, including cycle-ways and public transport.
The result was that the council need spend only about $3 million on parking strategies over the next decade, leaving a surplus of $5 million for investment in civic infrastructure and cultural programs – a huge boost for both the local community and tourism.
A place economy
Through its research the company discovered that 10 million people drive past Coffs Harbour each year and most do not stop. Of those who do stop, local rival Port Macquarie has 10 per cent more overnight stays annually and visitors spend $24 million more there than they do in Coffs city centre.
The design response was to work with Coffs Harbour City Council to developits place capital and place branding strategy. This ranged from rightsizing streets and reclaiming public domain to highlighting the city’s great natural assets and extending its cultural activities.
A growing shopping mecca, Sydney’s Bondi Junction also faced a growing challenge: how to balance its pedestrian and local business needs with an influx of visitors and vehicles.
In assessing how to improve movement in Bondi Junction the company thought holistically. Initial research showed that Oxford Street mall has more pedestrians at lunchtime than Circular Quay – yet in the evenings and on weekends those numbers dwindle.
Knowing that people may arrive by car but cannot shop or dine by car, the question asked was: “How can we get more pedestrians and more cyclists or better public transport?”
The solution was to place the pedestrian first, knowing that commerce and culture would naturally follow. A new transport framework for the town centre was put forward, including changes at street level that focused on the pedestrian, followed by the cyclist, public transport and only then the car.
What would the community gain if its streets went on a diet? That was the question put to Waverley Council as it investigated how to future-proof Bondi Junction.
Instead of maintaining 3.5 metre wide roads, the firm suggested shrinking some roads to 2.8 m and giving the balance over to cycle lanes or future light rail systems. Such retrofitting or reclaiming of the streets is doubly beneficial; the vehicle retains what it needs with the residual redeployed for the benefit of pedestrians, public transport and cyclists.
Following the rise of tactical interventions in the US, the company is road-testing four of its recommendations on this project. Four strategic Bondi Junction streets will be narrowed to accommodate wider footpaths, cycle lanes and greater outdoor café seating. But while a permanent change of this kind might cost in the region of $300,000, tactical intervention, a 30-day temporary trial, will cost just $3000.
An ideal mechanism for exploring bold concepts through experimental phases that educate, shift conversations and secure stakeholder support, it is the ultimate software approach – a 30-day free trial before you download permanently.