UD2: What Stops Urbanism, and Why the Design Profession Needs a New Approach

The upcoming 2018 International Urban Design Conference will be held at the SMC Conference and Function Centre, Sydney, NSW next month over 12 – 13 November.

The conference will showcase innovations in projects and research embracing and creating transformational change in urban environments.

Joining us at the conference is Ms. Tanya Vincent, Principal Manager Urban Design with Transport for NSW who will present on ‘UD2: What Stops Urbanism, and Why the Design Profession Needs a New Approach’.


Every design report, masterplan and planning strategy promises a contextual, humanist urbanism with design excellence, yet something always seems to happen between the paper and the product. If the theory, principles and masterplans are in place, what is really stopping urbanism?

This article is about the production of streets, places, infrastructure and subdivision. It explores how the atelier model of architecture is unsuited to the industrialised, compliance processes behind the design and delivery of urban design and too often fails to deliver the principles promised.

The article charts the project arc from the vision to the outcome against the waning influence of principles and the dominating power of rules. Examples demonstrate how the focus on principles is no match to the accretion of rules over decades and the rigorous enforcement by multiple agencies.

The design profession’s strategies to address this imbalance are evaluated: educating the industry with design guidelines, codifying principles (e.g. sustainability, crime prevention) and design review panels. The first two strategies are found to be weak; in particular the idea that enlightened individuals will overcome the systemic barriers. Guidelines without a genuine policy change are found to rely on the weakest of policy mechanisms – inspiration and hope. The danger of codified principles (e.g. Movement and Place) intended to guide the design process evolving into prescriptive compliance tasks and reducing the creative space in which designers can be trusted to find the contextual, holistic solution is highlighted.

Alternative approaches are offered. Examples include a mechanism within the existing compliance system that values the contextual, holistic solution over the compliance of the parts, similar to the SFAIRP method in risk management; a focus on our own education of the industrialised procedures; and tackling the sub-urban regulations deep within the technical standards that stop urbanism.


Tanya Vincent is Transport for NSW Principal Manager Urban Design currently working on the Sydney Light Rail project. She explains the project as “12km of route equals 24km of urban design” and enjoys working with many talented professionals to balance the tensions between link and place through the city. She speaks frequently on urban issues, most recently the University of Sydney Alumni event on Urbanism and the Driverless Car at the Art Gallery of NSW.

Tanya’s experience in policy, projects and education bridges the disciplines of architecture, planning and urban design. Prior to joining Transport for NSW, Tanya was an Associate at JBA and previously the Urban Design Advisory Service. Recent urban design projects have included co-authorship of the Growth Centres Housing Diversity SEPP and DCP package, Landcom’s 21st Century Compact Housing initiative leading to NSW’s first display village of torrens title, attached housing at North Penrith, numerous master plans and industry publications such as Landcom’s Residential Density Guide, Better Residential Subdivision, and the UDAS Street Design Guidelines.

As a leading practitioner in neighbourhood design, Tanya was awarded a 2011 Churchill Fellowship. In 2015 she was awarded the Institute of Civil Engineers Outstanding Presentation of the Year.

For more information on the 2018 International Urban Design Conference and to secure your spot visit the conference website at urbandesignaustralia.com.au


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s