Archive | Urban design

Next in green ratings – urban sustainability

Next up in green ratings is the Star community rating system. Version 1.0 was released at the annual meeting of the US Urban Sustainability Directors Network in Portland, Oregon, at the end of September and it will have a general release of all products & services in March.

It’s the first voluntary framework for evaluating & quantifying the sustainability of US communities, combining:

  • a framework for sustainability that covers the social, economic & environmental dimensions of community
  • a rating system that drives continuous improvement and fosters competition, and
  • an online system that gathers, organises, analyses & presents information required to meet sustainability goals.

The concept was launched in 2007 at Greenbuild by ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability, the US Green Building Council and the Centre for American Progress. The National League of Cities joined the programme in 2008, when a formal partnership was established, and Star Communities was incorporated in 2012.

The Urban Sustainability Directors Networkis a private professional network of municipal government sustainability professionals intended to make it easier to exchange information & collaborate.

Link: Star Communities

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Attribution: Star Communities release, story written by Bob Dey for the Bob Dey Property Report.

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New urban design panellists appointed

Published 24 August 2012

Auckland was anything but a design-led city until the effects of having a council urban design panel started to be felt, mayor Len Brown told the newly appointed panel on Wednesday.


The Auckland City Council created an urban design panel in 2003 in the wake of controversy over the design – and unwanted impacts, including a lack of transparency over bonus floorspace – of the PWC Tower on the corner of Albert & Quay Sts. The Manukau City Council created a panel in 2006 on a pilot basis, put it on a more permanent footing in 2007 but never really used it well.

The mayor mentioned pride as a strong force among Aucklanders wanting to encourage better design. He told of quietly having a coffee in Parnell early one morning and being approached by someone who told him: ‘Every decision you make should make this city more beautiful.’

“That resonates with me,” the mayor told his Town Hall audience this week. “And that’s not just in the environment but how we build multi-level developments.”

He said he wanted to see quality in the apartment developments of the inner-city, making them an option for families as well as the mostly singles & couples who occupy the present stock.

One thing that has impressed him in the development of the Wynyard Quarter is the planting of native trees & shrubs along Jellicoe St, “in the way they are found in the bush, in groups”. He said the Viaduct Event Centre was proving to be a spark for Aucklanders’ social lives and the promenade along North Wharf “genuinely tugs at the heart strings of our people, making them proud”.

Peddle Thorp Aitken Ltd director Richard Goldie took the panellists back to 2000, when the PWC Tower was being questioned. The first change was that it resulted in a design workshop being held: “A sense was growing that perhaps the design of our city should be planned.”

Important in the process of the new panel was an ability to identify excellence, followed by the dawning of a discretion not just to create but to achieve an excellent Auckland. The city went from ’She’ll be right’ to ‘We’ll get it right’.

Professor John Hunt, one of the 2 original convenors and still holding that position, said the Auckland panel didn’t have the sophisticated designs to review that were considered in the UK by the Commission for Architecture & the Built Environment, “nor the luxury of what the Vancouver panel does: Thumbs up or down at the table.” The Auckland panel advises, without a statutory role.

“Our approach in Auckland has been one of support, coaxing, getting people over the bar and just slowly nudging that bar up.”

While the panel process had led to better outcomes, panellists had been curious why presenters of many of the rejected projects never came back: “We reviewed a large number of hastily prepared developments, chiefly apartments. The developers had a lease or option on the site, got turned down and went away, so in the early days the panel had success in stopping projects.”

Although the panel hasn’t had a statutory role, Professor Hunt said a distinctive & strong point about it was speed: “We’ve hammered out a recommendation before we went home.”

Council design champion and environmental strategy & policy manager Ludo Campbell-Reid told the panellists: “In the age of bean-counting & business cases, putting a value on design can be hard. In time, people will understand. There’s a passion which is emerging in Auckland, that things are changing and people want a better city.”

Mr Campbell-Reid spoke of pride, prevention of bad design, and progress. One word missing from the occasion, though, was transparency. It’s been the custom for the panel to consider designs in private if they haven’t been put forward for consent – and it’s some years since the panel has opened its door to media.

That’s understandable, but if the city is to take design seriously – and make building developers realise that theirs is not an isolated footprint on which they can do what they want, regardless, but is a patch on the citizens’ quilt – the council & the panel need to encourage at least a public audience, if not public participation, at an early point.


The 39 members of the new council urban design panel:

Brian Aitken (chair), Peddle Thorp Aitken Ltd, architecture

Janine Bell, Boffa Miskell Ltd, planning

Peter Bourke, Awatea Capital Ltd, property

Greg Boyden, Jasmax Architects Ltd, architecture

Kevin Brewer, Brewer Davidson, architecture

Pip Cheshire, Cheshire Architects, architecture

Patrick Clifford, Architectus Auckland, architecture

Henry Crothers, Architectus, landscape architecture

Andre de Graaf, Construkt, architecture

Rachel de Lambert, Boffa Miskell Ltd, landscape architecture

Michael Geale, Michael Geale &Associates Ltd, property

Lance Herbst, Herbst Architects Ltd, architecture

Rau Hoskins, design TRIBE, Unitec New Zealand & co-chair Nga Aho network of Maori design professionals, architecture

John Hunt (convenor), Auckland University School of Architecture & Planning, architecture

Shannon Joe, Warren & Mahoney Architects, architecture

Annette Jones, Beca, architecture

Andrew Lamb, Infratil Infrastructure Property Ltd, property

Gavin Lister (chair), Isthmus, landscape architecture

Jane Matthews, Matthews & Matthews Architects Ltd, architecture

Graeme McIndoe, McIndoeUrban Ltd, architecture

David Mead (Chair), Hill Young Cooper Ltd, planning

Kobus Mentz, Urbanismplus Ltd, architecture

Dr Diane Menzies, Unitec, landscape architect

Simon Mrkusic, Pragmatix Ltd, architecture

Ian Munro (Chair), Urbanismplus Ltd, planning

Tracy Ogden-Cork, Motu Design Ltd, architecture

Andrew Patterson, Patterson Associates Ltd, architecture

John Potter, Boffa Miskell, landscape architecture

Alistair Ray, Jasmax, planning

Nigel Richards, McConnell Property Ltd, property

Nick Roberts, Barker & Associates Ltd, planning

Jeremy Salmond, Salmond Reed Architects Ltd, architecture

Graeme Scott, ASC Architects Ltd, architecture

Rewi Thompson, Rewi Thompson Ltd, architecture

Will Thresher, Thresher Associates, landscape architecture

Mark Townsend, Auckland University School of Architecture & Planning, architecture

David Turner, Unitec, architecture

Christina van Bohemen, Sills van Bohemen Architects Ltd, architecture

John Wardle, Stephenson & Turner Architects Engineers, architecture.

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Attribution: Panel function, story written by Bob Dey for the Bob Dey Property Report.

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Urban design rules go to council forum

Published 21 February 2012

The Auckland Council’s planning & urban design forum will consider a series of measures today which would sharply increase council control over development ahead of the introduction of the new unitary plan, which will set out more precise rules on where development can occur.


The unitary plan will be the implementation document putting the council’s Auckland (spatial) Plan & long-term plan into practice, taking over from the district plans of the 7 territorial councils that the Auckland Council replaced in 2010.

The new council’s built environment unit has been putting together a number of documents which relate more to the feel of Auckland – changes to the urban design panel, scoping an urban design manual & an urban design strategy, and creating an action plan to match its requirements under the national urban design protocol called Tools for creating a liveable city.

The design manual is intended to establish design guidelines & best practice notes for new development, with a specific focus on residential subdivisions as a first module.

The council built environment unit team who put the Tools for creating a liveable city document together said they hadn’t conducted any consultation when they developed it, but would engage with other council units & council-controlled organisations before producing the final version.

Oddly, consultation with Maori was ruled out on the basis that “the recommendations of this report do not have specific relevance to Maori”. For development of guidelines – or, potentially, rules – on reshaping the Pacific’s biggest Polynesian city, that seems a serious omission.

The same omission applied to production of the urban design manual, although the authors conceded the manual was “likely to have potential relevance to Maori in terms of housing design and the principles of papakainga”.

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Attribution: Council forum agenda, story written by Bob Dey for the Bob Dey Property Report.

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Expansion planned for urban design panel concept, velodrome decision deferred

Published 13 December 2010

The council’s unitary plan & urban design forum has recommended expanding the former Auckland & Manukau City Councils’ urban design panels as a single independent design panel covering the new whole region.

The existing panels of about 40 experts would be amalgamated, gaps in membership identified and the council would fund the full cost, estimated at $350,000/year, for at least 3 years.

Forum chairman Cameron Brewer said: “The Auckland & Manukau panels have both made a major contribution in lifting urban design standards. The forum is keen to see the concept expanded across the entire Auckland region. We’re confident the full council will accept our recommendation and the public will view this as an early win for urban design.”

The panel would provide an independent peer review & advice service to the design & development industry & the council, supplementing the internal urban design advice given by the council’s built environment unit.

The recommendation will go to the full council meeting on Thursday 16 December for ratification.

Velodrome decision deferred

Auckland Council’s strategy & finance committee deferred a decision on a new velodrome last week for more discussion at a workshop today. Cllr Cathy Casey had proposed deferring the decision, which was over the council making up the $19 million shortfall.

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Attribution: Council release, story written by Bob Dey for the Bob Dey Property Report.

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Proposed Shore schedule of notable trees out tomorrow

Published 15 September 2010

North Shore City Council has decided a list of notable trees to be scheduled, is sending letters to their owners today and will publicly notify the required plan change for further submissions tomorrow.

Council city environmental group manager Trevor Mackie plan change 36, a summary of submissions & maps would be notified.

But a number of councillors were upset by the approach. Cllr Tony Holman commented: “I do like trees but I also do like things to be done properly, and I believe this whole process has been beset with problems.”

He said there was to have been a veto for people who had trees notified on their property, but eventually the veto was overcome. “Worse, so far as I am concerned, was the secrecy with visits to properties. Property owners were not advised that people from this council were going to go on their property to assess their trees, nor were they advised afterwards that their trees were to be nominated, and now at least 1500 of them are going to be notified, in today’s envelopes.

“At last people whose properties are affected – and trees nominated by others – are going to be told. About bloody time, somewhat secretive and lacking in the sort of information this council has normally been very good at.”

Mr Mackie said tree owners would be able to find out from the submissions who’d nominated their trees, although in many cases the nomination might have come from the community board.

The decision to notify was passed by one vote.

The further submissions period will run for 4 weeks, after which council staff are to assess the trees. However, that will take the plan change into the era of the replacement Auckland Council.

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Attribution: Council committee meeting & agenda, story written by Bob Dey for the Bob Dey Property Report.

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UK gets redevelopment masterplanning guide

Published 14 October 2009

The UK Homes & Communities Agency and English Heritage launched their first joint ‘How to’ guide last week, outlining a new development-led approach to masterplanning which advocates assessing the historic character of a site at the earliest stages of redevelopment. Agency chairman Robert Napier said: ‘This important collaboration between the agency & English Heritage makes a major contribution to how we masterplan & regenerate strategic sites, assisting us in our objective of helping deliver sustainable communities across England. This is set to transform the way sites are redeveloped.”

The guide, Capitalising on the inherited landscape – an introduction to historic characterisation for masterplanning, is the product of a joint pilot project between the 2 agencies.


Website: UK masterplanning guide


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Attribution: HCA release, story written by Bob Dey for the Bob Dey Property Report.

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Institute of Architects launches place-shaping document

Published 2 September 2009

The Institute of Architects launches a publication called Shaping our places: a manifesto for the built environment at Parliament today.


It’s a guide stating the institute’s position on 5 concepts – community, sustainability, affordability, heritage & urban design – provides the value case for good practical design and is intended to spark debate and influence decisionmaking.


Institute president Richard Harris said: “Shaping our places is timely because our towns & cities are falling short of what they could be. We have to do better, and we can do better. Consistently building great places to live, work & play is critical to our prosperity as a nation.”


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Attribution: NZIA release, story written by Bob Dey for the Bob Dey Property Report.

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Manukau councillors argue against national urban design policy statement

Published 22 September 2008

Some organisations, such as the Environmental Defence Society, welcome the introduction of national policy statements on a variety of issues because they define more clearly where you can & cannot go, what you can & cannot do.


The society has been promoting more prescription in the coastal policy statement for that reason. But when it comes to urban design, there is plenty of scope for disagreement, and that’s what happened at the Manukau City Council’s policy & activities committee last Thursday.


A group of councillors argued against national prescription and sent the proposed submission on urban design back to staff for wholesale changes, which will go to the council forum this Tuesday, 23 September, for approval.


The Ministry for the Environment’s background paper on the scope of a national policy statement says: “The way(s) we develop & adapt urban areas are key factors in creating successful towns & cities. Urban design can contribute to this success, particularly in areas experiencing significant growth pressures. How we manage growth will have a significant influence on the liveability & sustainability of these areas.”


Fine, but in Manukau a number of councillors saw no need for central government intervention. Said Cllr Michael Williams: “We’re talking here about matters of local significance and these are best decided by local councils. We already have the ARC (Auckland Regional Council) on our back about what we should be doing. The last thing we want is both the ARC & Ministry for Environment on our back.


“The cost of housing in the UK is prohibitive, in part because of these restrictions. The country is devoid of any decent property rights.


“I would be comfortable with some guidelines, but not something prescriptive that binds local councils.”


National policy statements would sit at the top of the planning hierarchy, so regional policy statements would have to fit in with them, as local council rules have to fit in with regional statements now. Although local councils can revise their rules, policy creation doesn’t work back up the tree: a revised local policy doesn’t force those above to change.


Given that, Cllr Maggie Burrill said Manukau was “damned if we do and damned if we don’t. Our plans have to fit in regardless of how we want to see our city… There are no appeals on this.”


She believed the introduction of such a powerful planning tool was “a huge abuse of power” at central government level, and the council had to make its opinion felt: “If we don’t take some steps to mitigate it, we’ll have no grounds at all to say we don’t like it (later).”


Cllr Dick Quax expected the national policy statement to result in higher compliance costs: “We’ll be asked to apply the state’s policy and transfer it to council, and council wlll carry all the liability for it, and it actually infringes on people’s private property rights… Why would you transfer the ability to design from property owners to officials at the Ministry for the Environment?”


Want to comment? Email [email protected].


Attribution: Council committee meeting & agenda, story written by Bob Dey for the Bob Dey Property Report.

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Braying at a developer’s consultant no way to demonstrate council leadership

Report containing comment, published 15 July 2008

The braying, personalised attack on Terry Mansfield as a consultant working both sides of the fence – delivered at an Auckland City Council committee meeting last week – carried more messages than the comparatively inconsequential one that some politicians dislike a particular project & its developer and will happily stoop low in saying so.


Mr Mansfield & Jasmax Ltd director Greg Boyden stood in for Redwood Group Ltd managing director Tony Gapes & development manager Andrew Showler to make a presentation to last Thursday’s city development committee meeting on new masterplan options for the Orakei Peninsula, because Mr Gapes & Mr Showler were both overseas on holiday.


The presentation was to have been presented in June, when both Mr Gapes & Mr Showler were available, but was deferred. Mr Mansfield said Redwood had suggested deferring it again but had been asked to go ahead with the presentation.


Before Mr Mansfield even began the presentation, Citizens & Ratepayers Hobson ward councillor Aaron Bhatnagar demanded to know if he was on the council payroll. Mr Mansfield said he was a consultant who had worked for the council right through development of the Vectra Arena and still had consulting roles there. His latest job was to work for the council on its attempt to buy the Mid-City cinema complex to turn it into a theatre. He said his current consultancy work didn’t conflict with his work for Redwood.


Cllr Bhatnagar’s question raises further questions about the role of the private sector in council work and about how this council would handle public-private partnerships. Cllr Bhatnagar’s attack and the confrontational, overbearing lecturing by the mayor, John Banks, went nowhere near inquiring about the project, but did highlight a change made at the start of this council term.


The council majority elected last year decided to use “independent” commissioners to hear resource consent applications, and has also used “independent” commissioners to hear submissions on the tank farm plan change. I’ve put the word independent in quotes because there comes a time when an external contractor must lose independence if a high proportion of their work is for one employer, not because of the individuals’ views.


The council uses other contractors to prepare reports on planning applications and could only form its urban design panel by employing the skills of professionals drawn from private practice.


One of that panel’s chairmen, Gordon Moller, has provided applicants’ architects with invaluable insights & design tips, but he’s also appeared on the other side of the fence this year, as architect of the 69-storey Elliott Tower proposed for the centre of the city.


These people are individuals whose contracting & consultancy mean they act for different parties.


In the case of the Orakei development proposal, the council solution for a scheme which might, in due course, win consent against the wishes of many local residents was to enter into a masterplan agreement.


The council wasn’t to be an idle partner. It agreed to put the masterplan forward as a public – not private – plan change, although Redwood would pay for it. The difference is considerable. A developer can propose a private plan change and the council might oppose it; a public change comes with council blessing.


The council wanted a more comprehensive proposal than the site-by-site development Redwood had been embarking on, because it had a park-&-ride beside the Orakei railway station, has bought the Pinot functions centre property across Orakei Rd and saw the opportunity, as the mayor said in the agreement signed in March, “to achieve a major objective of a quality mixed-use transit-oriented development”.


Among criticisms of Redwood at last week’s committee meeting was one that Redwood was presenting public land as a gain for the city when the reserves, train track & park-&-ride were public property by right.


With the focus on that, councillors missed the opportunity to discuss how public land might be used better, how public & private purposes could be integrated, whether this was indeed a suitable place for more intensive transit-oriented development.


And, for the locals, 2 questions: What standard of quality should be demanded, and what outlook rights do they have.


The big change affecting planning issues since the last election is that councillors are now to focus on policy, leaving implementation to staff & contracted commissioners. Inside the council chamber & committee rooms, that means councillors no longer need to feel obliged to withhold their views in case they are later to be called to hear an application.


If the committee had stuck last week to policy issues, it could well have sunk the Redwood proposal by emphasising policies which Redwood couldn’t meet. And it could have debated policy in a way that would have helped set the scene for other developments.


For example, Redwood has proposed in one of its masterplan options that 2 13-storey towers be allowed above a podium, taking them to 59m above sea level, well above the existing permitted level.


Height, bulk & piercing the existing height limits to create variety have also been issues at the tank farm plan change hearing and they’ll arise frequently as the council seeks to intensify development around transport hubs. It would be useful, therefore, for councillors to express their views on the merits of allowing towers to pierce the height limit, and for policy to be developed on how bulk development allowance should be allocated between differently owned sites.


If the mayor doesn’t like a particular development proposal – aside from berating the presenter for the non-appearance of the company principal (“They’ve sent you here today as the monkey, the organ grinders are not here”) and telling Mr Mansfield: “If this is the kind of intensification then I’m opposed to it” – his views on what is acceptable would have been instructive.


Building bulk is a subject which easily brings out emotions, and squat bulk can bring out opponents as easily as towers can. There are levels of intensification which make sense – or nonsense – along transport corridors, and different kinds of development will make more sense than others at different points along a corridor.


Telling a developer “I don’t like it” isn’t leadership. Telling a developer to emphasise quality at the expense of quantity, or vice versa, is at least guidance.


Websites: Orakei Point

Redwood Group


Earlier stories:

11 July 2008: Mayor launches blistering attack on Redwood at presentation to councillors as Gapes holidays in Fiji

1 July 2008: Gapes sees support for Orakei plans

25 June 2008: Gapes “pleasantly surprised” by reception for Orakei Pt masterplan

17 June 2008: Gapes unveils Orakei Pt masterplan

13 June 2008: Orakei masterplan presentation deferred

31 March 2008: Orakei masterplan details released

18 March 2008: Redwood’s Orakei consent declined week after master plan agreement reached

10 March 2008: Mayor gets agreement to intervene in Orakei consent process


Want to comment? Email [email protected].


Attribution: Council committee meeting, my comments, story written by Bob Dey for this website.

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Ideas for a great street

Published 19 June 2008

The New York-based Project for Public Spaces has compiled a list of 10 qualities that make for a great street (check the website for more detail, focusing on urban areas):


·         Attractions & destinations, having something to do gives people a reason to come to a place, and to return again & again. The organisation also mentioned the value of variety – for men & women, different ages, different times & seasons

·         Identity & image, creating a positive image requires keeping a place clean & well maintained

·         Active edge uses, buildings’ bases should be human-scaled and allow for interaction between indoors & out. A row of shops along a street is more interesting and generally safer to walk by than a blank wall or empty lot

·         Amenities, successful streets provide amenities to support a variety of activities. These include attractive waste receptacles to maintain cleanliness, street lighting to enhance safety, bicycle racks, and both private & public seating options – the importance of giving people the choice to sit where they want is generally underestimated. Cluster street amenities to support their use

·         Management, an active entity that manages the space is central to a street’s success, managing tenants and programming space

·         Seasonal strategies

·         Diverse user groups

·         Traffic, transit & the pedestrian, a successful street is easy to get to & get through; it’s visible both from a distance & up close. Accessible spaces have high parking turnover and, ideally, are convenient to public transit and support walking & biking. Access & linkages to surrounding destinations must be a part of the planning process. Traffic cannot dominate the space and preclude the comfort of other modes. This is generally accomplished by slowing speeds and sharing street space with a range of transport options

·         Blending of uses & modes, ground-floor uses & retail activities should spill out into the footpaths & streets to blur the distinction between public & private space. Shared street space also communicates that no one mode of transport dominates

·         Protects neighbourhoods, great streets support the context around them. There should be clear transitions from commercial streets to nearby residential neighbourhoods, communicating a change in surroundings with a concomitant change in street character.


Website: Project for Public Spaces, Great streets


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Attribution: Project for Public Spaces, story written by Bob Dey for this website.

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