The first survey of signatories to the New Zealand Urban Design Protocol has found a strong commitment in many organisations to building awareness and understanding of urban design and to producing good urban design outcomes.
Design champions have been effective in promoting urban design and the champions’ network is important in supporting this role.
The Protocol has helped to raise the profile of urban design in organisations and communities and to provide a common ‘language’ for talking about urban design.
Some signatories are re-evaluating their approach to development projects to integrate urban design principles more fully.
The Protocol has encouraged signatories to engage in more collaborative processes with other organisations and communities to address urban design issues.
There is increasing recognition of the benefits of good design.
Management support, adequate budget and access to urban design skills are seen by signatories as important in making actions successful.
Signatories using a multidisciplinary approach to urban design projects have found this helps to embed urban design across the organisation.
Most signatories used resources provided by the Ministry for the Environment to help develop and implement their action plans and half had discussions with Ministry staff.
Many signatories stressed the importance of continuing government support for the Protocol.
The New Zealand Urban Design Protocol was launched in March 2005 to foster improvement in the quality of New Zealand’s towns and cities through urban design. Signatories to the Protocol include central and local government organisations, property developers and investors, consultants involved in planning, design and related fields, professional institutes, educational institutes and a wide variety of sector organisations.
Signatories make a commitment to develop action plans for their organisations to put the Protocol into effect, and to monitor and report every two years to the Ministry for the Environment on implementation of the actions. The first round of monitoring, carried out in October 2006, provides the signatories’ evaluation of their experience and the level of success they have achieved. Further investigation is needed to determine whether this evaluation is consistent with perceptions of other people who have been involved with, or are affected by, the actions being implemented. However, the results indicate that healthy progress is being made towards giving effect to the Protocol.
The monitoring survey
The 104 signatories who had joined to the Protocol before February 2006 were asked to respond to a survey asking for information about progress they are making in implementing their action plans and what impacts their actions are having. Two more recent signatories also chose to take part. Of the full group, 68 submitted responses. As well as evaluating their overall action plans, signatories provided comment on progress being made on 310 specific actions. Nine of the signatories who responded have not yet submitted their action plans; they were asked about the factors that are hindering them from doing this.
Action being taken
There is a high level of commitment in many organisations to building awareness and understanding of urban design and to producing good design outcomes. Some organisations are putting considerable effort into changing internal processes to facilitate better decision-making on urban design issues.
Action plans include a wide range of actions, with signatories generally taking one of two key approaches. Some see their commitment to the Protocol as providing a framework and stronger focus for work they are already carrying out and have used the action plan to pull together and enhance existing projects and processes. Others view the commitment to the Protocol as a challenge to try new ways of doing work. Responses to the survey indicate that the second approach carries the potential for both greater difficulties and greater benefits.
Actions have been divided into four main categories: developing awareness and understanding; improving urban design processes; developing design guidelines; and design projects.
Developing awareness and understanding: Each signatory is required to appoint a design champion to promote urban design within and beyond the organisation and to challenge existing approaches. As well as this, actions that are being taken to develop awareness and understanding of urban design range from providing training for staff to holding public forums or making submissions on urban design issues. Some local authorities (for example Auckland City Council) have set up awards programmes to recognise and celebrate good design in their communities, and others are investigating this. Some consultants are working with clients to encourage them to try new approaches to development. A few organisations are carrying out urban design research and some are promoting tools – such as health impact assessment and community street audits – that are helpful in thinking about urban design.
Improving urban design processes: Organisational processes are being changed to make sure urban design principles are considered early and often during policy and development projects. Some signatories are reviewing their policies and strategies to incorporate urban design. Others are setting up multi-disciplinary project teams to provide a more holistic approach for development projects. Peer review processes are also being used by several signatories in both the public and private sectors to critique major development projects before they are finalised. Collaborative approaches are being taken to involve other organisations and the community in deciding the shape of development. Some councils are also applying a multi-disciplinary “case management” approach and peer review procedures to the way they deal with resource consent applications.
Developing design guidelines: Several signatories are developing and implementing guidelines for various types of development. These include guidelines for subdivision, commercial landscaping, heritage, high density residential development, cellphone networks, and public areas as well as general urban design guides.
Design projects: Signatories are also carrying out physical design projects, ranging from regeneration of urban areas and development of new residential areas to incorporating aesthetic design aspects into utilitarian buildings such as public toilets.
A quarter of the actions reported on have been completed, and by the end of 2007 this will rise to half. Many of the other actions are ongoing, without a defined end date. Of the nine respondents who had not submitted action plans, two thirds indicated they were close to completion and all anticipated submitting their plans before the end of 2007.
Support for implementation
Most signatories who responded to the survey have drawn on support from the Ministry for the Environment in developing and implementing their action plans – three quarters of those who had submitted action plans have used resources provided by the Ministry and half have had discussions with Ministry staff.
A large majority of survey respondents felt that their design champions have been effective in helping to promote urban design both within and beyond the signatory organisations. The champions’ network is generally seen as an important forum for maintaining the profile of urban design and building understanding of what it means, although some signatories identified opportunities to spread information more widely.
As well as these sources of support, many signatories have made use of other resources and networks. Discussion and collaboration with other organisations and resources obtained from outside the network of signatories were generally seen as more significant than the champions’ network and support from the Ministry for the Environment in developing and implementing the action plans.
Impacts of actions
The signatories who responded to the survey rated two thirds of their actions as having “good” or “excellent” outcomes, with 31 percent assessed as “fair” and only 4 percent as “poor”. Although varying degrees of success are being achieved in implementing actions, and some actions need more time to produce results, many signatories are already seeing clear benefits emerging.
Respondents anticipate that most actions will result in achievement of multiple benefits. Over 40 percent have already achieved benefits in increased awareness and understanding, and a similar number are expected to result in benefits in this area over time. Thirty percent of actions have resulted in benefits in terms of improved decision-making and a similar number are perceived to have enhanced skills and knowledge. In each of these areas a further 40 percent of actions are expected to provide benefits in future.
Action plans have been effective in providing signatory organisations with a clearer focus on urban design and in building a strong commitment to urban design. Project managers and staff in policy, regulatory, asset management and development roles are increasingly considering urban design principles in their work and asking for advice to assist this. Some signatories have allocated extra resources so staff are able to provide urban design input across the organisation.
Developers are recognising the benefits of design-led development in smoothing consent application processes. They are also realising the commercial benefits to be gained from good urban design, as customers are becoming increasingly aware of its importance.
Signatories report that media coverage of urban design issues is increasing and people are demanding better design in their communities. As examples of good design become visible, the organisations responsible are experiencing greater public support and enhanced reputations. Contractors involved in constructing well-designed developments are also reported as gaining a sense of pride in the project, leading to greater efforts to produce work of a high quality. One signatory referred to an experience in which specialist input in project design, as well as resulting in a more attractive building, led to cost savings through use of non-traditional materials.
The Urban Design Protocol is seen by signatories as valuable in articulating what urban design is and providing a common “language” for talking about urban design. It has provided an additional impetus for some organisations and increased the likelihood of action being taken on urban design issues.
Key success factors
Key factors influencing the success of an action are support from management, provision of sufficient resources in the budget, and access to the necessary skills. Signatories also see it as important to have statutory backing to support the approach being taken. Other factors contributing to success include support in the wider organisation, commitments in annual and strategic plans and good working relationships with other key players.
While some actions have encountered specific problems, few signatories identified barriers to overall implementation. The biggest factor hindering progress is a lack of sufficient time to devote to actions. This is especially a problem if commitments to the Urban Design Protocol are responsibilities imposed in addition to a full existing workload.
Signatories have learnt, through implementing their action plans, that it is important to allow sufficient time to embed an understanding of urban design throughout an organisation and to establish new processes. Achieving visible success in early projects can have a positive influence on this. It is critical to get buy-in from key people in the organisation and to make sure sufficient resources are provided to undertake and complete actions.
Momentum on urban design is still building, but it is important that this be maintained into the future. Continuing effort on the part of both the Ministry for the Environment and signatories to the Protocol will be needed to build understanding of urban design further and to obtain more consistent levels of success. In particular, attention needs to be given to ways of building the level of urban design skills across the country and to increasing communication and collaboration between signatories.
Specific ways in which the Ministry could support implementation of the Protocol in future include providing further information resources to assist signatories, and encouraging education providers to develop urban design training opportunities. There would be value in developing a process for providing feedback to signatories on whether their actions are the right track. There are also opportunities to develop a more co-ordinated approach to urban design across government, and to find ways of better integrating urban design into strategic policy frameworks.