PLAN | Plan it and they will come

Posted on 29/04/2013

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2013-04-28 11.50.55

Yesterday, John and I explored Nundah after poking around some markets. As a suburb that has received the village and SCIP treatment (regeneration), uncomfortably close to a major shopping centre in neighbouring Toombul, Nundah is well situated on a train line for transit oriented development. The suburb has reclaimed its high street after traffic was diverted to a bypass along Sandgate Road. For a Sunday, the cafes and shops seemed busy, though there is a notable shopfront vacancy rate. There’s also a mix of social enterprise, ethnic markets and vintage shops as well as remnants of heritage and fabric giving the area a lively feel, even if the last of the op shops has now closed down. Yet, the area still feels very much like it’s in transition.

Pedestrians ambled to the market next to the train station. The light industrial area situated between the main street and the train line is slowly being redeveloped for bulky apartment buildings with their large footprints and podiums hugging the street wall, set against the finer and older grain of the main street strip. John made a comment about the scale of some of the new buildings was imposing: a scale that, in his opinion, diminished the invitation of the building by creating a cavernous entry. While the area seems to have a comfortable and familiar kind of walkability, there isn’t anything new in its manifestation. There is, however, a definite sense of new streetscapes and local ecology emerging here out of incremental change and (re)construction.

SAMSUNG

A couple of things come to mind that segue from my studies on British new towns and Kelvin Grove Urban Village. In particular, some other level of figuring for the evaluation of masterplans: it’s not as easy as a handful of design or planning principles adroitly applied. In their paper A critique of Masterplanning as a technique for introducing urban design quality into British Cities, Dr Bob Giddings and Bill Hopgood argue:

A causal or even contingent association between Masterplanning and a high quality urban environment seems to be based on scant anecdotal evidence. Meanwhile, a number of concerns are starting to be raised. Included is the notion that such plans are starting to become an end in themselves and bear little relation to real urban settings; that the built environment aspects are only considered two-dimensionally; that the plans are deterministic, inflexible and based on the concept of a completed product whereas the evolution of the city is a process. Further analysis reveals that Masterplanning tends to be a broad-brush technique overlaid upon cities with fine-grained structures and a multiplicity of existing interconnected activities. These are often lost during the cleansing process to be replaced by coarse-grained structures that appear to adopt a static disposition often associated with property-led urban regeneration.

Then as we return to our car talking about the changing streetscapes and the emergence of this new kind of suburban hub (like Wilston and Michelton). We bemoan the state of the train station, with overgrown grass, austere fencing and design, and unwelcoming vibe. The transit facilities seem like the missing piece of the TOD puzzle.

This encounter with Nundah then prompted me to consider again the ways in which we critically engage masterplanning and cityplanning: professionally, publicly etc. What is the public conversation about masterplanning and what languages and practices come into play when we evaluate the efficacy, aesthetics or sustainability of a masterplan given that all plans, presumably, address regulatory priorities? In this morning’s Courier Mail, Kathleen Noonan, wrote:

Few architects will criticise another’s work publicly. Like doctors and penguins, they tend to stick together for survival. I get this. You never know where the next job is coming from. Yet architects and planners and design experts are exactly who you want in the public domain making informed critiques, saying things like “actually, that building is atrocious”.

And, while I appreciate fully the need for journalists to engage in critical and progressive commentaries about cities, they have to do more than quote Jane Jacobs if they are really to engage people in a citymaking process. It’s also not just about architects talking about each other’s work; it’s a public discussion that has to involve critics, journalists and academics as well as communities in the shape of our citymaking. This also requires that we stop making enemies of planners and architects in a complex and cumbersome system of urban governance, and recognise that planning and design are a means to an end that has generally been negotiated by some form of intersubjective, even collaborative, engagement. It also raises the question of ‘the plan’ as a non-human actor in a larger network of actors. Nundah, like Michelton and Wilston, isn’t the pinup of suburban/urban renewal that Kelvin Grove was: here, there is a sense of ‘pimp my suburb’ in the tract of property-led regeneration remaking the city. It appears, however, that there is some need to consider ways in which we can engage a critical discourse and practice of the kind of masterplanning that is rolling out all over our city.

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Posted in: planning