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4. Impact of the Actions

4.1 Overview

A key objective of the survey was to find out what benefits signatories are experiencing as a result of developing and implementing their action plans. Respondents were asked whether each action had resulted, or was expected to result, in increased awareness of urban design, enhanced skills and knowledge, or improved decision-making on urban design issues. The overall results of this assessment are shown in Figure 5.

Over 80 percent of signatories felt that their action had increased awareness of urban design and over 70% felt that their action had improved decision-making within their organisation and enhanced skills and knowledge of urban design.

Figure 5: Benefits resulting from actions

Respondents anticipate that most actions will result in achievement of multiple benefits. While slightly more actions are expected to result in increased awareness than in improved decision-making or enhanced skills and knowledge, benefits are anticipated in each of these areas from 70 to 80 percent of actions reported on. In each case, benefits are reported as having already occurred as a result of 30 to 40 percent of actions.

There are some differences in the patterns of benefits expected to be achieved by different types of actions. Unsurprisingly, more actions targeted at increasing awareness have resulted in benefits in this area than in other areas. Design projects are more commonly seen as contributing to increased awareness than to improved decision-making or enhanced skills. Conversely, more actions concerned with developing guidance are perceived by respondents to improve decision-making and enhance skills and knowledge than to increase awareness of urban design. Most actions focused on urban design processes are expected to contribute to improved decision-making and increased awareness, but many of these benefits are still in the future (as is the case with actions to develop guidelines).

Signatories were also asked to describe how awareness, urban design processes and design outcomes had changed or were expected to change as a result of development and implementation of action plans. The responses were wide-ranging and are discussed below. In regard to these responses, it should be noted that some signatories commented that it is not always possible to attribute the changes solely to implementation of action plans. This is particularly the case where action plans reflect a direction that was already being taken by the organisation, rather than a new approach.

4.2 Developing awareness and understanding

Survey respondents were asked to describe ways in which development and implementation of their action plans had increased awareness of the principles and benefits of urban design within their organisations, amongst specific stakeholders and amongst the wider public.

(a) Internal awareness

Action plans have been effective in some signatory organisations in raising awareness of urban design amongst senior management and local government politicians, in providing a clearer focus on urban design and in building a strong commitment to urban design at staff level. The increased focus has provided staff with better access to key decision-makers in the organisation. In a few cases it has led to structural changes such as establishing an urban design team or integrating urban designers throughout the organisation. Two professional institutes reported that more space is now being devoted to urban design in seminars, conferences and publications.

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. One consultant noted that employing a specialist urban designer has led to much more discussion about urban design generally in the organisation because of ready access to advice. In some organisations the action plan has fostered new opportunities for training on urban design related issues, by means of internal seminars or attendance at seminars and workshops run by others. One respondent commented that internal seminars had stimulated one staff member to think about enrolling in a Masters course in urban design.

Signatories using a multidisciplinary approach to projects have found that this has led to development of new skills and wider advocacy for urban design across the organisation (one respondent highlighted development of skills in teams working in the areas of transport and infrastructure, economic development and tourism strategy). Other actions that have increased awareness and understanding include:

  • development of guidelines for staff to use

  • completion of design projects that provide visible examples of good design

  • collaboration with professionals from other organisations (for example, through participation in a design review panel).

Some respondents reported a greater perception of the benefits of urban design within their organisation – both in terms of the competitive advantage gained, and in the discovery that specialist input in project design can lead to cost savings.

A few signatories commented that, because of the nature of their work, there was already a high level of awareness within their organisations. They felt that the contribution of the action plan was to formalise and highlight what they are doing, rather than to add to it. Some noted that it had also contributed towards enhancing their reputation.

(b) Stakeholder awareness

Signatories in the local government and consultant sectors in several different centres reported a greater awareness of urban design issues amongst developers, in part because of requirements they are facing from councils (such as scrutiny of projects by an urban design panel and stronger provisions in district plans). They reported that some developers have seen this as an opportunity, and are actively seeking advice or looking for ways to work together with councils to improve the private-public interface. Such approaches are being recognised as having benefits in smoothing the consent application process, and one respondent noted that developers are competing with each other to produce the best development.

Developers are also realising the commercial benefits to be gained from good urban design. One developer also commented that customers are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of urban design, with sales and marketing strategies contributing to this. Signatories involved in promoting sustainable building reported a raised awareness of this issue in the property and construction sectors.

Local authority respondents identified increased awareness amongst landowners and other stakeholders in areas where urban design principles had been used in the development of new district plan zones, and one noted that community based organisations are increasingly seeking design input into initiatives such as arts strategies.

Increased awareness of urban design principles in councils was reported by some signatories, with one commenting that they are more likely to approve sustainable subdivision designs.

Other stakeholders identified as having greater awareness of urban design due to the existence of action plans include:

  • contractors working on development projects which incorporate urban design elements (awareness is evident in increased interest in the project and effort in producing high quality work)

  • a local Chamber of Commerce

  • Surveying and highway technology students (as a result of input to degree courses by signatories)

  • government departments (through involvement in collaborative projects)

  • Cabinet Ministers (through actions undertaken by central government agencies).

Respondents reported increased discussion and networking generally as a result of the Protocol. Greater awareness of urban design is also apparent in interest by new parties in signing up to the Protocol.

(c) Public awareness

While many signatories have actions directed at increasing public awareness of urban design, the effect of these actions is not as easy to gauge as impacts on colleagues and stakeholders. One respondent noted that more use of post-project evaluation would assist in this.

Local authorities often have a greater interface with the public than other sectors. Some respondents in this sector commented that communities are requesting more information and support from councils in achieving good urban design in their areas, and are becoming more demanding in asking for better design in commercial areas. Some are also suggesting ideas for urban design initiatives. Contributors to increased awareness have been consultation associated with plan changes providing for residential development and publicity about the activities and role of urban design panels.

Both local authorities and respondents from other sectors involved in development projects identified positive feedback from the public on the results of design-led projects, ranging from town centre visioning exercises to visible examples of good design in built outcomes.

Several respondents noted that media coverage of urban design issues has been increasing. This is seen as both an indicator of public awareness and a contributor to developing awareness further. One respondent also pointed to community outcomes in many long-term council community plans seeking healthy environments and communities as an indicator of interest in urban design.

4.3 Improving urban design processes

Respondents were asked to identify how development and implementation of their action plans had changed the way their organisations undertake projects related to urban design. Responses highlighting increased awareness and design outcomes are discussed in other sections of this report; this section discusses impacts on the processes signatory organisations use to make decisions affecting urban design. It is important to note, however, that awareness, process and outcomes are closely linked. For example, many signatories have commented that increased awareness and understanding of urban design in their organisation has stimulated changes to the processes used, and some improved design outcomes are attributed to changes that have been made to processes.

As identified in section 3 of the report, signatories in the local government and central government sectors are acting to incorporate urban design into development of strategies and policies (including district plan reviews). Some have found that this has been helpful in adding to the case for a particular policy or strategic approach.

A significant number of respondents have seen changes in the way their organisation undertakes development projects. In particular:

  • urban design input is being seen as a necessary part of all projects

  • consideration of urban design is being applied at the outset of projects – rather than as a “bolt-on” later on – and continued throughout the life of the project

  • projects are incorporating greater collaboration, including the use of cross-disciplinary teams to provide a more holistic approach

  • peer review processes have been incorporated into project development to allow for assessment of project design at an early stage.

Some signatories have reported that they now have clearer design objectives in project planning and focused targets for implementation. Others are using a master planning approach for all projects. One signatory noted that more research is now being carried out to ensure decisions are based on appropriate information. Another has instituted a project evaluation process to provide learning from completed projects to guide future improvement.

Changes being made to the way local authorities carry out resource consent processes are similar to those highlighted for development projects. These include working more closely with applicants, use of urban design criteria in assessing applications and provision for expert peer review by means of urban design panels. One local authority respondent commented that resource consent planners are gaining greater confidence in providing advice to applicants about aspects of urban design as a result of their involvement with the urban design panel. As well as learning from the experts on the panel, they are also getting confirmation from the panel about the extent of their existing understanding of the issues.

Integration of urban design across organisational functions is increasing – for example, one signatory noted that urban design principles were now being considered in asset maintenance policies. Some local authorities have reported that the action plan has provided a “big picture” of urban design projects across the organisation for councillors and provided a framework for them to review projects and discuss urban design issues and directions regularly. Additional resources have been applied in some organisations to increase staff capacity to provide input across the organisation. In a few cases urban design considerations are being incorporated into corporate funding and performance monitoring processes.

As well as increased collaboration between parts of organisations, some signatories have commented that they are engaging in more collaborative processes with other organisations and communities to address urban design issues. One respondent noted that this has led to benefits in terms of the way the organisation is perceived by the community.

A greater proportion of actions directed at adapting decision-making processes and developing guidelines are incomplete than actions focused on design projects or developing awareness and understanding. Such actions can take a long time to establish and complete because of their complexity, the need for consultation, and the need to provide for multiple objectives. As a result, the impacts of some actions have not yet been felt.

Nine respondents had not seen any changes in the way they carried out urban design processes. Most of these respondents commented that their action plans did not anticipate changes, but reflected what their organisations were already seeking to achieve.

4.4 Achieving higher quality design outcomes

Many signatories felt that it is too early yet to see visible design outcomes, although they expect that these will result from actions they are currently undertaking (such as development of design frameworks, guidelines and structure plans and providing advice on resource consents).

In spite of comments made about timeframes for seeing results, respondents identified a wide range of projects they felt had improved the quality of the built environment. These included:

  • construction or upgrading of public assets (for example, public toilets, sewage pump stations and CBD upgrades) in a way which incorporates aesthetic goals rather than purely functional ones

  • changes to design of the Auckland Art Gallery redevelopment to provide better connections with surrounding areas

  • a project integrating urban form with rail and roading proposals

  • implementation of neighbourhood accessibility plans

  • new mobile phone cell sites in urban areas which are shrouded and mounted on existing infrastructure rather than the initial proposed monopoles

  • new housing developments

  • landscaping and building design including higher quality materials

  • projects involving heritage buildings that incorporate urban design principles

  • implementation of the Healthy Housing Programme in Auckland and Northland, resulting in reduced overcrowding and increased access to primary health care for tenants.

Some respondents commented on the benefits they have seen as a result of visible examples of good design including:

  • increased public approval and support for projects contributes to a better reputation for the organisation responsible

  • a sense of pride among contractors involved in a well-designed development leads to increased efforts to produce work of a high quality

  • “Clients recognise the economic benefits of creating better places – not just the bare minimum allowed or required”.

Realising the benefits of good design

The Hastings District Council urban design team challenged engineers to consult an architect when designing a sewage pump station. The architect’s input made the engineers re-evaluate their design needs and the types of materials that could be used. This resulted in a building which was sufficiently attractive that the council received an enquiry about purchase for use as a house. The engineers also discovered that it was cheaper to build. This has led to an appreciation by the engineers of the real benefits that can be obtained from specialist design advice, and an increasing trend for them to seek such advice.