PLANNING | Practices of urbanism

Posted on 12/05/2010

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I’ve been doing some research at work on urban regeneration projects and processes. On the back of my earlier post mentioning Anna Minton, I’m not convinced Australia, in general, does regeneration well. I’m newish to the realm of urban planning as a discourse and professional practice, but seasoned in a range of communication, cultural and community practices that are inflected through and in the city, ranging from seed bombing to resident action groups to public art to community engagement to community research to local history etc etc. For me, strategic planning is as much about developing a rhetoric or discourse as it is about casting some potentials into the future.

My current engagement has caused me to reflect on those projects and to consider their relationship to those larger processes of strategic planning and city making. I was reading Jeb Brugmann’s account of regeneration in Barcelona in which he, echoing the sentiments expressed by planning staff of the local authority, talked about the need to engage local values as a movement towards building an image of the city. In Barcelona, the result of some regeneration projects has been to increase property values and ushering in new major mixed use and cultural developments by doing planning rather than urbanism. Minton’s perspective is that too much of the city has been overwhelmed and inscribed by corporate interests to the detriment of civic life and local values.

As I cast my mind back to campaigns around Expo 88, when I was working on a couple of projects founded in research, cultural action and community development, it was near to impossible to have conversations with decision makers about housing and social impacts. I was reading some work produced in 1991 about the demise of boarding house stock in Brisbane from 1987 to 1990 – 22 boarding houses were closed during that time in the inner southside alone causing greater pressures on shelters and other social services. Who really pays for these changing fortunes? What kind of practices of urbanism ensue?

In Barcelona, according to Brugmann, there has been a year of consultation and conversation with the local community so that regeneration benefits that community and coheres with local values. I’d suggest the same needs to happen where large scale infrastructure projects are underway – massive roadways slicing through suburban communities to carry impassable torrents of traffic. Practices of urbanism and practices of cities are equally founded in practices of local culture of urban life and professional practice. It’s more than just planning (or design). This raises, then, the need for richer interfaces between local cultures and professionals.

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