The task of the new state planning commission

Playing the long game, playing for quality; the task of the new State Planning Commission.

“The test of a city,” as American urban theorist, Lewis Mumford, famously said, “is the life it makes possible for its citizens.”

For most of us, we moved up Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs some time ago. Regrettably however for the homeless and for people on low incomes, the housing crisis continues to bite in cities throughout Australia.

The vast majority of people who are wellhoused and fed are now interested in the quality of the urban environment and the quality of life that it produces for us on a daily basis.

With this in mind, the State Planning Commission is now focussing upon the quality of urban life in South Australia and especially in metropolitan Adelaide and in the city’s core, the Adelaide CBD.

The Planning, Development and Infrastructure Act passed by parliament with broad bipartisan support in 2016, places a particular emphasis on design quality. With this in mind, the Commission has released one of a series of papers – Design in the New Planning System – for discussion and informed debate.

Now, good design is a lofty aspiration. But when we start to define it, things start to get a bit tricky. Good design is about many things, not one – this needs to be understood from the start. It is about utility, the usefulness of something, it is about the sense of renewal, about endurance. It is also about affordability, aesthetics and beauty. It should also be about stimulation and art. We all know bad design when we see it but articulating what gives our place a “particular” character or personality, has bedevilled designers, planners, theorists and elected officials over many decades.

The Design in the New Planning System paper articulates a set of principles of good design and seeks to create discussion on context, inclusivity, durability, value, performance and sustainability. The paper calls upon planning and design professionals, as well as the community at large, to play a greater role in elevating design quality in all development proposals.

The Commission is seeking to reflect these priorities in the new State Planning Policies and in the new Planning and Design Code to be implemented by July 2020. The Commission is also aiming to elevate design expertise in the assessment process at all levels including at the state level through the State Commission Assessment Panel (SCAP) and through Design Review processes which are required for particular classes of development.

So, what difference will this make? Planning is not about short-term gain, it is about the long-term vision. This means setting-out the frameworks, policies and references to provide guidance and certainty in reflecting our aspirations. Some of this can be reflected in areas in which we can easily control. The public realm is an obvious place to start. Eighty per cent of the public realm is made-up of streets and cities and towns; these are incredibly important places.

For those of you who remember what Hutt Street looked like without trees; a vast desert on a hot day, reflecting concrete and bitumen that forced people into the shadows and verandas on either side. The vegetation of Hutt Street has now produced a boulevard upon which we should now be building. Design standards are not confined to public places; they are reflected in our individual developments, in major development proposals, in public institutional development and the like.

A well-designed building emerges out of the character of its surrounding environment and should reflect accessible, durable, forward-thinking and sustainable aspirations for the community as a whole.

The next stage of the reform process sees the Commission entering into the practical implementation of the reforms passed by parliament. Plant 4 Bowden, The Square at Woodville West, the Tonsley Innovation Precinct are amongst places where we can see what might be possible throughout the metropolitan fabric over time. We will, in the next 20 years, aim to accommodate a substantial new and different population. The purpose of the Commission is to get in front of these changes and to put in place frameworks that take advantage of the opportunities which surround us.

The Commission is made up of prominent Adelaide designer and developer Craig Holden, leading planner and local government professional Helen Dyer, as well as established conservation and public service executive Allan Holmes, along with Sally Smith, General Manager of Planning and Development at DPTI.

The Commission has a packed program for 2019. As well as the Design paper, further papers on the Productive Economy and on People and Neighbourhoods are being released progressively between now and early next year.

The Design in the New Planning System discussion paper will be out in December and on public consultation until February 2019. The public is encouraged to have their say via: saplanningportal.sa.gov.au/have_your_say

Watch this space – emphasis on quality.

Feature image: Bonython Park Playground – Brad Griffin

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