Sunday, January 17, 2016

Navigating the complexity of urban precincts

Current investment in urban precincts and infrastructure across NSW showcases the importance of an integrated planning and delivery approach across vertical and horizontal infrastructure (buildings integrated with transport and utilities) in support of the drive to create more liveable, sustainable and resilient cities.

A new Plan for Growing Sydney, the Greater Sydney Commission established with real regulatory power to see it effected and an emerging political willingness to engage pro-actively with urban renewal are all positive signs. But it also requires the design and construction sectors to deliver buildings, infrastructure and our shared public spaces in an integrated manner.

In the case of Sydney the Government’s vision for a strong global city, a great place to live will be achieved through:

  • -a competitive economy with world-class services and transport;
  •  a city of housing choice with homes that meet our needs and lifestyles;
  •  a great place to live with communities that are strong, healthy and well connected; and
  •  a sustainable and resilient city that protects the natural environment and has a balanced approach to the use of land and resources.

-        A Plan for Growing Sydney, 2015

These goals cannot even be successfully contemplated, let alone achieved, without joined-up thinking in design and engineering.

The challenges

Our urban world is undergoing rapid change. Faced with substantial challenges to our environmental, social and economic systems, we are being forced to adapt quickly and our cities provide clear proof of this.

Addressing climate change  both in terms of mitigating and being resilient to its effects, delivering prosperity, supporting biodiversity, reducing resource consumption and enabling human health are urgent priorities for our cities, as they compete for global investment and for an increasing urban dweller base.

The COP21 climate talks and the subsequent agreement reached, received unprecedented support from civic and administrative city leaders from across the globe as urban renewal has come to play an increasingly strategic role in planning policy for development, housing and infrastructure.

In the area of urban renewal, precincts provide a rare combination of commercial, technical and social attributes that can balance social and environmental requirements with the need to maintain a prosperous and competitive cityscape. In order to create precincts that will power our future cities, planners, designers and engineers must first successfully navigate the complexity of integrating vertical and horizontal infrastructure.

City needs

In broad terms, we understand a lot about what our cities need for a successful future.

We know that our cities need to be more dense, enabled by multi-modal public transit systems. We know that this will provide better commercial outcomes by increasing land value, and if done appropriately can also qualitatively improve housing through increased accessibility and an improved public amenity.

We know that ecological systems and biodiversity are critical to both amenity and resilience. High quality green space and a renewed urban habitat can support ecological, social and economic outcomes.

We know that we cannot rely on fossil fuels forever or continue to deplete non-renewable resources. We need to transition to a zero-carbon economy. Abundant recycled water is central to mitigating climate-related heatwaves and to supporting urban amenity.

We know that development, transit, amenity, public space, water, biodiversity, carbon, energy, investment, politics and planning policy are intricately linked. 

Managing the complexity of all these issues requires integration of our services to a degree that has never proven necessary until now.

Our response

The transformation of our cities demands an integrated approach to urban renewal in focused development precincts – effectively enabling complimentary development of property, public domain, utilities and transport infrastructure.

Our move to connected, amenable, future-focused cities can be supported by planning reform, equitable housing policy and through innovative, value capture models for infrastructure project finance. All of this calls for visionary thinking across the project lifecycle to inform feasibility, planning, design, construction, operation and end-of-life across a wide range of asset classes.

Our approach to design must inhabit this space integrating multidisciplinary services across environment and planning; transport and utilities engineering; building engineering and sustainability across the built environment. It must be stitched together with collaborative governance – bringing a range of stakeholders into the creative delivery and occupation of our new places.

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