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Ready, set, fire: 10 proposals for joined-up urban design

At the same time as Phil Twyford is sitting down with Government officials to nut out how to operationalise the new Ministry of Housing and Urban Development he also has two sets of proposals on better frameworks for urban design to add to the mix. 

In the wake of the Urbanism New Zealand conference held on 14 and 15 May, the New Zealand Institute of Architects (NZIA) was first off the mark with its five proposals for the built environment.

Wrapped up with its desire to pitch its own programmes and processes – from design competitions to its relationship with M?ori design network Ng? Aho, the NZIA’s five proposals in a slightly paraphrased short form are:

1. Let’s establish a Built Environment and Infrastructure Panel to provide independent expert advice on the design of major infrastructure and urban planning projects (the world needs more panels, oh and could we have a Chief Built Environment and Infrastructure Officer with that, please). 

2. Just as the Government appoints a Chief Scientist and Chief Technology Officer, why can’t we have a Government Architect accountable directly to Jacinda and Phil? (Pretty please).

3. Let’s bring public sector risk and procurement practice into line across all agencies and departments and move towards a longer-term, value-based approach. (Let’s start managing risk for the “greater good”). 

4. For goodness sake, can we have a design-infused National Policy Statement on Built Environment and Infrastructure to provide a clear regulatory position for decision-makers, industry and communities on the Government’s agenda and expectations. (Pretty, pretty please). 

5. While we’re at it can we please also find ways to lower the hurdles to investing in our built environment and infrastructure. (That’s all!)

As declared by NZIA, it wants to support “a new connectedness between government departments, institutions, agencies, professions and the public, and wants to support KiwiBuild by taking a leadership role on issues of architecture, design excellence and the built environment”.

Added to this the organisers of Urbanism New Zealand 2018 convened a post-conference workshop of 22 delegates who have just released their own five proposals, seeking:

1. An improved and fully aligned policy framework to address urban matters.

2. A national policy statement on Urban Form (Urban Design) to be incorporated within the RMA.

3. A national design review process to include monitoring of critical and sensitive projects and programmes such as Kiwibuild.

4. Better evidence-based decision making backed by measurements of value.

5. A coherent, integrated and ambitious design response to climate change.

Spokesperson Gerald Blunt says these are the logical and compelling responses to the problems of poor planning and poor urban management identified at Urbanism New Zealand.

Blunt: “Our cities and towns are already increasingly unaffordable, they suffer from a lack of spatial planning and they are generally unhealthy. The economy is suffering because of poor planning and urban design with planning systems that are overly complex and legalistic. Our strong view is that New Zealand’s ability to develop resilient towns and cities, to a world-leading standard, is dependent on better urban design to generate positive effects for the natural environment, the economy and public health”. 

Commendably, the statement on New Zealand Urbanism in New Zealand issued today by Blunt and crew also draws attention to the slavish modelling of our towns and cities on global prototypes and images. 

It states: “We have an obligation to use the urban environment to tell stories about our own part of the world. This history can be source from tikanga M?ori, P?keh? heritage and the integration of other migrant cultures”. 

In essence, the proposed aspirations of NZIA and Urbanism New Zealand are strongly aligned, if not complete doppelgangers. Being the village of New Zealand it may be they didn’t even swap their reckons that closely. 

The Urbanism New Zealand group, with its Urban Design Forum cross-over, wants to see a new national technical advisory group for central and local government to be formed as a national urban design committee first rather than as a more high-faluting panel.

That said, they would also like it to morph into a permanent government design agency akin to the UK’s touchstone Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE). 

Both these groups, driven primarily by expert professionals, are now on Phil Twyford’s case to chase down face-to-face meetings to get these proposals pre-loaded into a joined-up programme. 

The NZIA’s call is for an “urgent meeting of stakeholders from the finance, community, housing, developer and government sectors to discuss products and packages that could be developed or modified to support KiwiBuild and/or other infrastructure investment”.

It has expressed a concern, for example, that prefabricated housing solutions have often been unnecessarily delayed or subjected to additional costs because they differ from the traditional way of delivering housing.

Within its proposals the NZIA has singled out the publishing of the Rebuild Programme of Work as one of the success stories to come out of Christchurch, because it set out estimated project costs, timing, sequencing and responsibilities across all large public sector service providers in the region. Related to this the NZIA is encouraging Phil Twyford to publish a public sector Programme of Work for all of New Zealand.

The NZIA has also noted that the Australian Government has committed to establishing a National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation to operate “an affordable housing bond aggregator to encourage greater private and institutional investment and provide cheaper and longer-term finance to registered providers of affordable housing”.

It apparently wants this sort of option to be put on the table here too.

And why not? Over to you Phil. 

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