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Reconsidering the project vision to create better quality outcomes for all

Established suburbs such as St Kilda, Fitzroy and Williamstown, that we love to live in and visit, have evolved over a very long period of time. They have grown organically to develop the character, identity and sense of community that we see today.

While I fully appreciate this, and I’m aware that a sense of community cannot be manufactured, I believe that we can be more proactive about ‘seeding’ the community connections that contribute to creating growth area communities that are desirable places to live, work and play. Building upon the assertion I made in last month’s column regarding the need for a shared value approach to urban development, I am advocating for an urban development process that encourages and enables a more unique site-and-market-specific response.

New towns and village centres need a solid foundation and a framework upon which a more organic, community-driven evolution of place can occur when developers and consultants are no longer involved.  It is my belief that the process of urban development must start with a clear and collaborative project vision that aspires to achieve more people-focused outcomes.

There are some great examples around Australia of developments that are underpinned by a strong vision. Some of the most well considered developments and the key people involved connect back to the former Delfin development days (now Lend Lease Communities) such as Mawson Lakes in South Australia, Varsity Lakes in Queensland and Caroline Springs in Victoria.

They all had a common theme of a really strong 'community building' vision. This takes some real time and effort to do well. However, some developers still spend very little time visualising new development projects beyond the minimum time required to create marketing and ROI focused outcomes.

While I fully understand the commercial realities of major development, I find that the focus during the initial phases of many projects is too often purely based on mathematical strategies for achieving maximum return on investment, with little thought given to the quality of the place that is going to be created.

While marketing and yield maximisation must be considered, this should be done in the context of a much broader long-term vision of the community that will remain, long after the developer has moved on to the next project. These two points don't need to be mutually exclusive. In fact, a much stronger focus on building communities can be a key driver of a greater return on investment than simply creating just another land subdivision.

A strong project vision sets its sights beyond the more obvious tangible bricks and mortar outcomes such as yield, built form and a relevant mix of uses. It also targets the less tangible, people-focused objectives such as attracting a diverse demographic, creating a unique sense of place, generating a diverse range of employment opportunities and delivering essential community services and infrastructure in a timely manner.

A clear understanding of market opportunities is also an essential part of developing a strong project vision. This is a key area in which the development industry could improve the urban development process in order to create shared value.

A situation analysis—a well-known business tool usually applied to understand the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats facing a company or product—can be easily adapted to the analysis of a site by highlighting opportunities and constraints relating to political/legal, economic, societal, technological and natural environment factors, as well as understanding the local land use ecosystem and identifying target demographics.

The situation analysis will reveal key project opportunities and risks. Opportunities may include a lack of appropriate housing for retirees or a gap in the provision of local medical services. Risks such as the presence of other developments that may increase competition either for retail spend or for attracting purchasers of housing lots may also be revealed.

These sorts of insights support commercially prudent decision making while helping to build a clearer picture of how a single development parcel can differentiate in order to meet its commercial targets, and contribute more meaningfully to the whole neighbourhood.

The final ingredient for a strong project vision is developing a relevant network of relationships. This may involve including a broad group of stakeholders in the visioning process, being open to entrepreneurial partnerships and engaging in greater levels of collaboration with council stakeholders.

In direct contrast to the often siloed and combative ‘us against them’ approach to urban development that leads to lost opportunities for developers, councils and communities alike, I am advocating for a far more collaborative relationship, one which not only leads to better project outcomes but also to smoother approvals processes.

I look forward to expanding the discussion on collaboration and partnerships in next month’s column.

 

Dean Landy is a registered architect, urban designer, speaker and author with 14 years experience in community development projects within Australia and overseas. As a partner at Melbourne based architecture firm ClarkeHopkinsClarke, he is actively involved in the design of many town centres across Australia.

Landy is also the founder and director of One Heart Foundation, a unique 'for purpose' organisation breaking the poverty cycle in Africa by establishing schools and homes to care for orphaned and abandoned children. The foundation is currently hosting an international design competition to fundraise and masterplan its second children’s village in Kenya.

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