Posted by Yvonne on 13.04.2012

What does urban planning mean? One could say that it is the organisation of all elements of a town or other urban environment. In practice it’s a bit more complicated then just that.  It includes plans for safety, aesthetics and common sense placement of everything from houses to factories. Goals for attractive architecture for city buildings are developed and green spaces are planned in.

Good urban planning gets schools into the neighbourhoods where they are needed most, places hospitals in centralised locations, allows for growth and plans highways accordingly. Urban planners must also consider how future growth will affect traffic flow and try to eliminate trouble spots before they become a problem, otherwise the issues that we encounter in Greater Melbourne become more and more apparent.

When reading an article in the Architecturesource, I came across a study from the Grattan Institute, called  Social Cities. The report suggests that green spaces encourage re-connection, communication and community oriented living. Health issues associated with loneliness for instance drop in areas that focus on these characteristics.

And bigger does not necessarily mean better: Simple changes, like installing benches at the edge of a public area or creating a so-called ‘pocket park’, can sometimes be all that’s needed for people wanting to spend time in such an area. Plazas, squares, or a shady park are all places where people gather to rest, people watch, talk, exercise, listen to a concert etc. And the common denominator is that they are welcoming. Melbourne has lucked out; we have  Federation Square, benches along the Yarra River, the Botanical Gardens, Southbank with it’s buskers, the benches on Bourke street in the Mall area, not to mention countless city and inner-urban parks.

People gather in these places because they are attractive, easy to access and encourage social interaction. And how easy is it to then start talking to the person next to you? I often do!

We are currently working on a new development from Stockland, where there is a strong focus to improve health and wellbeing by utilising the environment people live in. ID/Lab was approached to develop a strategy to encourage people to walk and cycle more, and to create more of a community. In close collaboration with SJB Urban, we developed a plan that includes creating pedestrian-priority home-zones, extra safe bicycle paths, a delivery service from the local supermarket, community activities in  the parks, a website and informative, encouraging signage. The ideas developed for this project will ultimately become a blueprint for future residential communities.

The Social Cities reinforces the value of the work we performed there, and will hopefully influence the future development of our city.