Ten Ingredients for liveable and sustainable urban design

Taking the European lessons learned and where Perth is at today I decided to have another go at defining the key ingredients of liveable and sustainable new developments. I think it is not as hard as is often make out and that these key ingredients can be narrowed down to a ten simple ingredients. These ingredients or perhaps commandments, however, are not etched on stone tablets  so I’d appreciate your feedback on what I might be missing:

Ten Ingredients for liveable and sustainable urban design

  1. Gentrification is not the same as rejuvenation. Mandate a diversity of housing types, sizes and levels of affordability.
  2. Invest in high quality public parks and spaces for people to meet and recreate in. Make space for spontaneous community to flourish and especially for children to enjoy.
  3. Plant street trees and lots of them. Trees are wonderfully generous towards even the dullest modern architecture.
  4. Activate the street level with ground level shops and cafes. There should be a different business every ten metres on high streets and these ground floor usages should be diverse, meet local needs and be open diverse hours. This is essential to creating a “cities of short distances”.
  5. Embed sustainability features into the design from the start. Water and fossil fuel based energy is going to be a lot more expensive in coming decades and our designs should plan to be future proof.
  6. Embed high quality and high frequency public transport into the development from the start. Preferably light rail or street cars that create investor certainty and influence a denser built form.
  7. Traffic calm streets. Keep cars to fringe of residential developments or at least design them so cars don’t dominate. Local streets are for people so make cars last in the transport hierarchy.
  8. Waste removal and storage needs to be well planned and designed into new developments so high levels recycling can occur and other waste turned into energy not just landfilled.
  9. Greater urban density is essential for our centres to be more liveable and sustainable. Global evidence suggests there is a sweet spot between 4 and 8 floors. There is no need to obsess over the height of buildings though; it’s normally not the most significant amenity factor if you get the rest right.
  10. Mandate and integrate the above. This requires risk and leadership but future residents will thank you for it.

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3 Responses to Ten Ingredients for liveable and sustainable urban design

  1. René-Frederic Plain says:

    Very interesting to see that old Europe is a model and I can recognize our european architecture in your tips. Shops at the ground floors and trees in the city center are what makes us love our cities, missing it so much when going to the US.

  2. It’s great to see one of our leaders taking pro-active role with regard to these issues, which are fundamental to all of our lives. Achieving positive change ultimately depends upon our leaders being engaged in this process.
    I think that the “ten commandments” you cite are all very good, and I hesitate to say any more, though I think that some do need qualification.
    For instance we can not expect to activate all of our streets with shops and cafes. And Jan Gehl would likely argue that ten metres is still too great a distance between businesses. He favoured five to seven metres based upon a survey of our most successful retail streets that he conducted in the Perth CBD some years ago.
    Also whilst I do not disagree about Perth as a whole needing to achieve greater densities (for a variety of reasons), nor with the built form typologies suggested, I do not believe that this issue should automatically be bundled together with the “height issue”. They are in fact two separate considerations. What is most important is to achieve the highest quality outcome without sacrificing design excellence in the process.
    There is a veritable alphabet soup of key issues to look for in good design, but here are some pointers that you might consider adding to your “commandments” as taken from “Responsive Environments” (by Ian Bentley et al, 1985):
    a) permeability,
    b) variety,
    c) legibility,
    d) robustness,
    e) richness,
    f) visual appropriateness, and
    g) personalisation
    Many of them you allude to anyway.
    Finally dealing with transition is often one of the greatest urban design challenges, but whilst we may have to suffer some inconvenience now, as you say ‘future residents will thank you for it’.
    Keep up the good work.

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