11 July 2012 – The jury citation for a major winner at the 2012 Australian Awards for Urban Design, “The Future of Penrith, Penrith of the Future” project, said the vision for the regional centre of Penrith had been created “by valuing the issues, observations and ideas of local inhabitants.

The project “resulted in a concept that embraces urban design fundamentals such as accessible public space, recreational precincts, densification, pedestrianisation, sustainability and connectivity,” the jury said.

Concepts included embracing the river, proposing environmental initiatives that might be supported by the private market and identifying economic opportunities.

Commissioned Penrith City Council, Landcom, Penrith Panthers Football Club and the MCA through C3West and the Penrith Performing and Visual Arts the project was awarded won the “Policies, programs and concepts – large scale” award at the recent Built Environment Meets Parliament summit in Canberra.

The winning team, a French-Australian collective Campement Urbain consists of artist Sylvie Blocher and architects François Daune and Tim Williams, in its nomination detailed a number of “layers” of the project.

Penrith faced similar challenges to other peri-urban areas on the fringes of metropolises around the world including unemployment, lack of transport and services, disengaged and disaffected youth, ethnic enclaves, fragmented urban sprawl and a poor sense of identity, the team said.

“It also has a resource of incalculable value: its people.”

“Via a process of ‘shared responsibility’ with the people of Penrith, ‘The Future of Penrith, Penrith of the Future’ has become a visionary blueprint for the city and a means by which it can engage with the State to enhance its place in the metropolis.

“Our past and current planning processes are not delivering the physical, social, economic, environmental and cultural outcomes that will satisfactorily position our cities for the future.

“In Penrith, the resulting urban form is fractured and disconnected. The public domain is of poor amenity and there is little sense of identity.

“Not surprisingly, the people feel the planning process does not represent or include them.  Their knowledge and ideas are not heard. They feel disenfranchised.  They want something different.

“By negotiating with a diverse group of local stakeholders to commission a project, and by entering into an art-based conversation with the community, Campement Urbain, has been able to translate the ideas of the people of Penrith into a coherent, three-dimensional, integrated project for their future city.

“The people of Penrith see themselves, recognise their ideas and celebrate their stories in the form of an optimistic, achievable project.

“They are proud of their future city. They see it as a connected, inclusive, sustainable river city that plays its role as the western gateway to the metropolis of Sydney.

“Furthermore, the state has recognised the implications and significance of this collaborative integrated approach to urban planning and are now engaging with the city and other stakeholders to develop and realise key aspects of the project and…perhaps, modify their own processes!”

The ideas
Among the ideas generated by the project are a host of sustainable initiatives starting with “listening to and valuing the issues, observations and ideas of the inhabitants of Penrith,” the team summary says.

“Functional elements such as the proposed pedestrian bridge and the multi modal transport hub at the railway station are either already funded, or under consideration.

“The design response to the ideas voiced by the inhabitants, drive an aesthetic of cooling water features, green roofs and public spaces that link active, mixed use precincts of commercial, retail, education and residential buildings.

“It is an aesthetic that consciously links the city centre to the Nepean River and reinforces the city’s position as the western edge of the metropolis and the gateway to the Blue Mountains.”

The summary also said understanding that the river was the central feature of the local government area meant understanding its ecology, its cycles, its many benefits and its potential dangers.

This drove some planning decisions with the people of Penrith expressing “a wish for a green city, a water city, with water bodies to help modulate the microclimate and more trees for shade”.

The summary says it is fortunate council is a major landholder in the city centre with the proposal responding to the community’s aspirations by combining the potential of council’s assets with those of the government and private landholders.

“The mutual benefits of connecting parcels of land and adding value to currently underutilised areas has resulted in new partnerships and collaborations between institutions and landholders”, it says.

“Combining development potentials in a coordinated and integrated way can derive a community benefit.

“Council is prepared to set the agenda and show leadership via their community’s vision and by having the wherewithal to manage implementation.”

The story of growth areas is similar and widespread
The design team said other growth areas at the peripheries of the capital cities, throughout Australia and the world, are not equitably equipped with public transportation and social infrastructure and services, or employment opportunities.

“Poor performance compared to inner-city averages is demonstrated for indicators such as resident skills; local employment opportunities; education, health and community services; housing diversity and housing stress.

“Clearly something needs to change in the manner in which these places are planned.

“We have lost sight of the fact that the extent, and most importantly the quality and sustainability, of the development of cities has been a consequence of their ability to harness innovation or creativity.

“The great cities outcompete their peers in terms of technological, organisational, productive, intellectual and cultural innovation. By some scorecards, cities are economic vehicles and in not applying innovation and creativity in their planning we have profoundly compromised their economic potential.”