Shaping Australian Cities: Driving Global Competitiveness Through Strategy and Design

The 10th International Urban Design Conference will be held at Surfers Paradise Marriott Resort & Spa, Gold Coast, Queensland from Monday 13 – Tuesday 14 November 2017. 

Australian cities
James Tuma

James Tuma, National Director – Design, will be joining us this year to discuss “Shaping Australian cities: Driving global competitiveness through strategy and design”.

What makes a city globally competitive? Where do Australian cities sit in the global context? How should we shape them?

Cities are human kind’s greatest achievement and challenge. Predictions indicate that by 2050 well over half of the world’s 5 billion people will live in cities. Investment in cities and real estate worldwide is estimated to more than double from 2012 to 2020. Cumulatively, cities globally represent the greatest opportunity to enact and effect change at a planetary scale.

This body of work considers the emerging language and strengths of cities and identifies ten strategic opportunities for Australian cities to address when it comes to their design and place in the world. This guidance is by no means exhaustive or definitive, however it aims to provide the foundation stones of creating a compelling national conversation about our shared urban future.

 This 10th International Urban Design Conference is an opportunity for design professionals to exchange ideas and experiences, to be creative and visionary, and to contribute to redesigning our urban futures.

Secure your spot for this year here.

Psychogeography: A Way To Delve Into The Soul Of A City

Psychogeography, as the term suggests, is the intersection of psychology and geography. It focuses on our psychological experiences of the city, and reveals or illuminates forgotten, discarded, or marginalised aspects of the urban environment.

Both the theory and practice of psychogeography have been around since 1955, when French theorist Guy Debord coined the term. While it emerged from the Situationist International movement in France, the practice has far-reaching implications. It’s relevant, for instance, in contemporary Sydney.

Psychogeographers advocate the act of becoming lost in the city. This is done through the dérive, or “drift”.

Because purposeful walking has an agenda, we do not adequately absorb certain aspects of the urban world. This is why the drift is essential to psychogeography; it better connects walkers to the city.

Psychogeographers idolise the flâneur, a figure conceived in 19th-century France by Charles Baudelaire and popularised in academia by Walter Benjamin in the 20th century. A romantic stroller, the flâneur wandered about the streets, with no clear purpose other than to wander.

In his 2013 Paris Review article, In Praise of the Flâneur, Bijan Stephen observes that the use of the flâneur “as a vehicle for the examination of the conditions of modernity” fell out of favour in the ensuing decades. Stephen poses the question:

But as we grow inexorably busier – due in large part to the influence of technology – might flânerie be due for a revival?

psychogeography of a city
Photo: article supplied

Walking as an act of insurgency

The revival had already begun, thanks to popular contemporary psychogeographers, notably Iain Sinclair and Will Self (whose book ‘Psychogeography’ was published ten years ago).

In his book London Orbital, Iain Sinclair describes a walk around the M25 and the “unloved outskirts of the city”. He observes:

I had to walk around London’s orbital motorway; not on it, but within what the Highways Agency calls the ‘acoustic footprints’. The soundstream. Road has replaced river. The M25 does the job of the weary Thames, shifting contraband, legal and illegal cargoes, offering a picturesque backdrop to piracy of every stamp.

Sinclair describes his walk as having a “ritual purpose” to “exorcise the unthinking malignancy of the Dome, to celebrate the sprawl of London”. He also describes walking as a virtue.

Self sees walking as “a means of dissolving the mechanised matrix which compresses the space-time continuum”. He describes the solitary walker as “an insurgent against the contemporary world, an ambulatory time traveller”.

Psychogeography is therefore useful in showing that walking is not only an art form in itself. It is also crucial in understanding the complication between the histories and myths of urban landscapes.

This article was originally published by The Conversation.

Click here to read the entire article.

Higher-density cities need greening to stay healthy and liveable

Access to high-quality public open space is a key ingredient of healthy, liveable cities. This has long been recognised in government planning policy, based on a large body of academic research showing that accessible green spaces lead to better health outcomes.

However, cities are home to more than just people. We also need to accommodate the critters and plants who live in them. This includes the species who called our cities home before we did.

Greening cities that are becoming denser is a major challenge. Green spaces and density are both good for health outcomes when designed well. However, higher-density development can place added pressure on green space if not well planned and managed.

The South Australian government is leading the way in the design of public green spaces in denser cities by bringing together the multiple actors needed to create change. This includes the Heart Foundation, Departments of Health and Ageing, Environment Water and Natural Resources, Office for Recreation and Sport, the South Australian Local Government Association and the Office of the Chief Architect, as well as researchers from RMIT University and the University of Melbourne.

This is the new shift required for urban greening practice – led by practitioners with support from research evidence provided by (and in collaboration with) academics.

In Victoria, Planning Minister Richard Wynne has called for the suburban backyard to be maintained in the refreshed Plan Melbourne 2017-2050. This policy recognises the importance of private green space by establishing minimum garden areas in new developments.

Another major challenge is increasing urban heat and climate change. Some tree species we know and love will no longer be viable in cities that are several degrees warmer than they were.

Suitable species for future climates need to be selected, as the City of Melbourne has recently demonstrated. Increasing temperatures and the resulting loss of old trees will have adverse consequences for public health, ecology and biodiversity.

Understanding how best to achieve these benefits, and the trade-offs involved in delivering them, is particularly important today. Our cities are growing rapidly. We are seeing increasing populations, greater housing density, rising temperatures, growing rates of obesity, diabetes, stress and depression, and declining native biodiversity.

Originally Published by The Conversation, continue reading here.

How do we create liveable cities? First, we must work out the key ingredients.

Liveable communities and resilient cities are buzzwords of the moment. But exactly how do you define a “liveable” community or city? Our research focuses on this exact question.

In an extensive review of liveability definitions used in academic and grey literature in Australia and internationally, we found some consistent factors. Critical factors for liveable communities are:

  • residents feeling safe, socially connected and included;
  • environmental sustainability; and
  • access to affordable and diverse housing options linked via public transport, walking and cycling infrastructure to employment, education, local shops, public open space and parks, health and community services, leisure and culture.


These are the essential ingredients for a liveable community. They are needed to promote health and wellbeing in individuals, build communities and support a sustainable society.

The Victorian Department of Health and Human Services agrees with our definition. It has been adopted in the recently released Victorian Public Health and Wellbeing Plan 2015-2019. This plan provides the overarching framework to support and improve the health and wellbeing of all Victorians.

Originally Published by The Conversation, continue reading here.

The Future of Architects

How we will move between and around our Cities?

I believe Architects in the future need to be more interested in what makes cities work rather than style individual buildings. That is certainly born out by the work of Weston Williamson which recently celebrated its 30th anniversary.

On looking to the future it is sensible to reflect on the past. As Steve Jobs said “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. “

I am an avid reader on the subject of ancient history, the Persians, the Ancient Greeks, the Egyptians. But I am particularly intrigued by the Roman Empire. A comparison of our cities today and Rome two millennia earlier is interesting to consider. If Tiberius was to return to Rome now he would be astonished by many things. The growth and influence of Christianity for instance and the scale of the buildings dwarfing Augustus’s Pantheon. But also computers, televisions, radio, mobile phones, cameras and other technological advances would amaze the visitor. Building materials and construction techniques unimaginable in ancient Rome allowing much greater possibilities.

But the biggest shock might be the way we move between and around cities. The cars, buses, trains, airplanes, helicopters. This has probably had the biggest affect on our cities as it has dictated land use and planning and will continue to do so. Some of these changes can be predicted but others allow such immense possibilities it is only possible to forecast change without the knowledge of what that change will be.

Whatever the changes are they suggest great possibilities to architects.

The economist Paul Buchanan explains that we have traditionally travelled around 1 hour to work. This would be true in 16 AD as it is now. The workers of Rome might have walked or rode to the fields or construction site or port for an hour to their employment each day. With new technologies that hour increases distances enormously.  Weston Williamson have recently drawn up a scheme for a hyperloop, a vacuum tube with a maglev train travelling at 1000k per hour between Perth, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane which will change the way people commute and choose to live in the east of Australia. The need to combat climate change will be a spur to these advances. If we want to move people out of their cars we have to make public transport much better. We have also envisaged how new cities based around high speed transport could be car free, green and pleasant environments.

“Look back over the past, with its changing empires that rose and fell, and you can foresee the future, too.” Marcus Aurelius

Chris Williamson
Founding Partner
Weston Williams+Partners