By Rachel Trigg | 5 Jun 2019

At a time when discussions around cities feel more polarised, is it possible to create any kind of consensus on how our growing communities should be housed and who should pay?

These were key questions facing Urbis and eight other city-shaping organisations partnering on a recent demonstration project. The project grew from the Good Growth Alliance between Property Council Australia NSW, Community Housing Industry Australia NSW, Homelessness NSW, Shelter NSW, Sydney Business Chamber and the Committee for Sydney.

For the hypothetical demonstration project, Landcom provided a real site in Western Sydney for the group to work on while UNSW City Futures Research Centre added its academic clout. Urbis played a central facilitation role, as well as bringing urban design and property economics expertise.

Within four weeks, the group agreed on project principles and a masterplan which would deliver 1,600 new homes.

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The result was Converge at Macarthur, a vision for a 13ha site in Western Sydney. Within a four week period, the group agreed on project principles and a masterplan which would deliver 1,600 new homes, with 20% social housing and 10% affordable housing. The masterplan was based on tenure blind design with housing opportunities for people of all ages and life stages. It was designed for flexibility and sustainability, and was critically backed by a feasible development model.

Reflecting on the project, the group came up with eight lessons for good growth. These were documented in our recent Good Growth Housing Conference presentation.

Here, I expand on these lessons and offer a more personal perspective as a new social planning director in a leading city-shaping firm with a focus on the social infrastructure side of the cities.

For those of us who are routinely involved in city-planning processes, it can be all too easy to think of other participants as cardboard cut-outs. To this way of thinking, all community advocates are noisy NIMBYs, all council planners are box tickers, all developers focus solely on maximising margins and all consultants are guns for hire.

This kind of thoughtful, complex interaction was enabled by the collaborative process.

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One of the simple secrets to the success of the demonstration project is that people treated each other as people, rather than as easy stereotypes. During the design process, people said things you may not have expected from their job title, people backed each other in ways you probably would not have picked and people challenged others you may have thought had the same perspective.

This kind of thoughtful, complex interaction was enabled by the collaborative process. There was a strong sense that all participants, regardless of their organisation or role, were there to make great places for people – all types of people – to live.

Good growth needs space to have these kinds of non-adversarial conversations as a regular part of city-shaping processes. It also needs these conversations to include the voices of local councils, communities and many others.

Urbis: Converge at Macarthur, a collaboration project.

Another key lesson from the project is the reminder that no one player can solve all the challenges created by growth.

To make Converge at Macarthur a reality, Urbis modelling showed that a lead developer would need a more complex development model than would usually be considered with margins at the lower end of the scale. The community would need to accept more height than it would probably like to see. The council would need to focus on the community contributors it would most like the development to make; community housing providers would need to contribute more to affordable housing development than they may previously have countenanced; state government would need to make a greater contribution to the provision of infrastructure, including social housing, than it has recently been making.

If we want to move beyond existing stalemates over how good growth can be delivered, we all need to contribute to solving the challenges and sharing the costs.

Urbis: Good growth project principles.

For growth and change to be more readily accepted, existing communities need to see the benefits for them. This could mean the inclusion of more attractive libraries, better schools, more frequent transport services, more exciting play spaces and livelier town centres.

This necessitates the early involvement of communities in planning and design processes.

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It should also mean attaining a better understanding of the needs and desires of people making their homes in new communities – the children, parents, grandparents, friends and colleagues of existing communities.

This necessitates the early involvement of communities in planning and design processes, so they can understand the challenges and articulate the benefits which are most important to them.

The multidisciplinary Urbis team is perfectly positioned to support all stakeholders in city-planning processes to understand the challenges and share the benefits of growth. The national team supports city-shapers with upfront community engagement, social infrastructure planning, quality urban design, detailed land-use planning and carefully calibrated feasibility modelling.

We understand the challenges from multiple perspectives and can therefore help facilitate processes which bring all stakeholders together to deliver real world exemplars of good growth.

Urbis: Good growth lessons learnt.

Want to know more? Contact our expert team.

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