Saturday, August 1, 2009

GTAQ Conference 2009 - Keynote Presentation

The keynote at the GTAQ Conference was presented by John Byrne, Adjunct Professor in Urban Design at QUT. The title of his presentation was Matters of Human Well-Being, Crime, Urban Design, Democracy and Sustainability: Any Common Threads?

The first point that I found really interesting was the idea of using urban design to support crime prevention and safety. The CPED - Crime Prevention through Environmental Design provided a bridge between planning and the needs of the police. It also investigates the changes in communities and their demography, and how this impacts on both crime and urban design. John made a very interesting point on the psychology of people and the difference between a caring community and a gated community. The idea that a resident should care about what is going on in the street outside their house is interesting. Would you go outside and help someone if they were in trouble? I think I would like to say yes - but the nature of a gated community has changed this.

John also showed a page from a 1950's planning textbook that compared the difference between a model of what was considered 'bad' and what was considered 'good' at the time. It was really cool to see that what was considered 'good' practice at the time - cul-de-sacs (sic). green space scattered in areas, and dead ends have actually decreased the level of safety in our urban communities. Considering that many residential developers have used this model up until the late 90's is quite scary. The other interesting point is that our homes are no longer of the same structure - the mum, dad and three kids has totally changed, and with it the styles and types of dwellings.

The idea of a sense of connection to the street really made me think. In the CBD, how many buildings have podium carparking (levels 1-4 of a building are car parks) destroy the connection to the street. One building was structured with 11 levels of car parking and John stated that this would not change. The other really interesting statement was the fact that certain buildings trying to be sustainable have so many apparatus on the outside that it is very difficult to see out. What is happening at the base of large buildings in connection with links to the street? How well does the layout of the neighbourhood encourage the active use of the public realm?

The structure of an actual street I found fascinating and I have to admit that I never really thought about it. If a street has houses that do not face each other they are less likely to interact. I had considered the danger of loopy cul-de-sacs, but I had never thought about the way in which houses should face so that this would promote interaction. The actual structure of commercial areas follow this thinking. The then relating issues with traffic congestion are made by the way in which the planning grid is structure. The structure of planning grids in cities is definitely something that I want to look at.

Brisbane does have a connection with the river. However, has planning allowed a connection to this river, particularly taking into account the meander bends. Simply having a path along the river does not allow this connectivity, as street grids cannot run to the river due to developments actually along the river. This is another aspect of urban planning that I had never considered before.

The idea of a nuclei models that have created the 'Westfields' creating a blockage in the community and issues with safety. The comparison of the actual planning and structure of the Brisbane universities was also great. Comparing how large the CBD grid to the size of the universities and how the structure of each faces the community was also an interesting point. If universities want to relate to the community, does their strucure allow this? The urban village at Kelvin Grove does allow for this to some extent. The roads flow through the area, and the actual university buildings are scattered throughout commercial buildings and housing. It is designed about a main street. Some of the actual images John presented of buildings in Brisbane do not allow for interaction with the community. GOMA, the QLD Museum and the Council building in the CBD all indicate a huge aversion interacting with the street.

Public transport is critical in terms of climate change, and the way that urban planning allows for community interaction is critical in improving the use of public transport. John spoke of the actual needs of the commuter - the route, the place, the trip and then the following trip. Public transport planners need to consider the needs of those commuters in terms of the entire journey, rather than just the actual trip on the train or the bus. Community planning needs to take all of this in.

The implications that this design has on health is also important. Obesity and dimentia were mentioned. Can the cty be strucutred to make use laugh? Are buildings designed with colour? Where are kids able to interact with the CBD? What about spiritual areas?

Overall, John has suggested that the social structure and impact of a city is influenced by design. Planners to need to go back to Maslows heiracy. Doxiadis is a planner who looks at the needs of the communities emotions when putting together planning. How well are we planning to meet people's needs? Are we dealing with the social sustainability. CUrrently we have an inventory or shopping list of what we need in a city. John stated that the essence of a city is the public realm and their needs. The question is 'Who owns this place?' Who owns a Westfield? Are the lower socio-economic groups catered for in planning in the CBD? Is there democracy in the city? Does the city allow space for rallies, promoting opinions? What are the connections with the past, the place and with nature?

I found this keynote to be a great thinking tool for how I am going to teach urban planning this term. We have just looked at the various urban land use models (concentric zone, hoyte's sector model and multiple nuclie model). However, the actual interaction of the community in various examples will definitely be my lesson next week. What are human needs and emotions, and how are they represented in urban planning? Thinking..... thinking.....


  1. Bec, I also really enjoyed Johns key note. It is interesting to see that finally the social aspect of Geography and it's interaction with with design is now being realised and put into action in the urban planning realm. Currently studying at QUT, I have seen much of the development of the Kelvin Grove Village in the past 4 years, and the practicality and use of the CPTED concept is evident in it's design, it is a great example for classrooms.

    Thanks for the inspiration to start blogging!

  2. Very interesting keynote and a great summary here Bec. What bothers me about all of this is that these principles have been known for years - think about how designers reduce crime (lightin etc) or grafittie (planting trees in front of graf prone walls etc)- yet they are still not evident in all developments.

    It just goes to show how important geography and thinking spatially are to all aspects of our society.

    Good to see you're back online!