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


Paris is leading the world in progressive urbanism – here’s how

paris urbanismAt a time when cities are under pressure from growing populations, global warming and worsening inequality, we need to be making the most of our urban spaces. In the face of these challenges, Paris is leading the way toward a more transparent, democratic form of urbanism, to keep the city growing in a fair and sustainable way.

Last year, under the direction of mayor Anne Hidalgo, the city opened up 5% of its annual budget – worth €20m – to popular vote. Parisians were invited to select architectural and urban projects, to be funded by City Hall. The winning projects included public arts installations, co-working spaces, new pedestrian spaces, community gardens and vertical farms.

But local authorities across the world are facing tight budgets and decreased funding from central governments, which is limiting their capacity to improve our cities. So for now, the scope for publicly funded urban regeneration projects is limited.

An alternative solution is to lend or sell publicly-owned land and buildings to private investors, who have the capital to fund major urban developments and upgrade infrastructure. Yet privately-led regeneration comes with its own problems: private developers seek returns on these new developments, which means they often fail to address local needs and accelerate gentrification.

Yet it seems Paris has found a way to navigate this process in a more transparent and engaging way. In 2014, Mayor Hidalgo launched Reinventing Paris – an international competition inviting proposals for “innovative urban projects” to redevelop 23 sites across the French capital. Selected areas included old public baths, abandoned electricity substations, parking lots, disused hotels, empty plots of land and industrial brownfields.

Earlier this year, the 23 winning projects were announced. These are currently undergoing a final round of review and – pending final approval – construction should start in 2017.

For the competition, the City Hall relaxed its planning rules to encourage participation from smaller organisations, which are less familiar with the intricacies of Paris’ rigid planning system. In the first two stages, the only constraint for proposals was that an architect needed to be involved. To read more click here.

The 9th International Urban Design Conference will be held in Melbourne in November.  To express your interest in the 2016 Conference CLICK HERE.