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Awareness and knowledge of urban design

The survey results presented in this section of the report examines the extent to which changes in behaviour and thinking regarding urban design have occurred, the key factors influencing this change, and main barriers inhibiting change.

The survey findings indicate changes in behaviour and/or thinking have occurred in many organisations as a result of the Protocol, and that individuals within each organisation are the key drivers of this change.

Changes in behaviour and thinking

Two out of three respondents (67 percent) reported their organisation has experienced a change in behaviour and/or thinking regarding urban design since signing up to the Protocol. A further 12 percent reported this change was already occurring beforehand, while five percent of respondents reported they have not experienced any changes. A further 14 percent were also unsure whether any changes had occurred (refer Chart 1).

While not significant, higher proportions of non champions and central government respondents reported they were unsure whether any changes in behaviour and/or thinking regarding urban design had in fact occurred (27 and 31 percent respectively). Given this relatively high level of uncertainty, this finding suggests more communication is required regarding activities and outcomes of action plans from the Champions themselves to people in their organisation, and from the Ministry about the positive benefits of the plans.

Chart 1: Changes in behaviour and/or thinking

chart 1 changes in behaviour and or thinking

Base: Respondents from each signatory organisation (either as Champions or non-champions) (n=95)

The graph shows the changes in behaviour and/or thinking for signatory organisations. 67 per cent of signatory organisations reported experiencing change as a result of signing up to the Protocol, 12 per cent of signatory organisations reported that change was already occurring, 5 per cent reported no change had occurred and 14 per cent and 2 per cent reported respectively that they were unsure or did not answer the question

In line with this result, those respondents who reported experiencing change as a result of signing up to the Protocol were then asked to indicate the driving force of this change (refer Chart 2).

Overwhelmingly, nearly all respondents attributed this change to people within their organisation, including their Urban Design Champion (94 percent). The community (42 percent), other consultants (35 percent), professional associations (35 percent), and clients (35 percent) were also noted as driving change in behaviour and/or thinking regarding urban design.

Chart 2: Key forces driving changes in behaviour and/thinking

chart 2 key forces driving changes in behaviour and thinking

Base: Respondents experiencing change in behaviour and/or thinking (n=65)

The graph shows the key forces driving changes in behaviour and thinking for those signatory organisations who reported experiencing change as a result of signing up to the Protocol. Nearly all respondents attributed this change to people within their organisation, including their Urban Design Champion (94 per cent). The community (42 per cent), other consultants (35 per cent), professional associations (35 per cent), and clients (35 per cent) were also noted as driving change in behaviour and/or thinking regarding urban design. Other drivers were mentioned such as Council/ members of Council (9 per cent), the organisations Executive Board (3 per cent), Legislation (3 per cent) and 6 per cent for “other” forces.

While two out of five respondents identified the change in behaviour and/or thinking coming from the community, some participants from the qualitative phase also commented on the importance of encouraging this change in behaviour and/or thinking themselves.

... we think it’s important that we pull the community along. We can do things faster but then we’ll lose them...

Not surprisingly, consultants, developers and investors were more likely to report other consultants (50 percent, compared with 35 percent for the total) as a factor for driving change in urban design, and significantly less likely to report the community (22 percent, compared with 42 percent for the total).

Findings from the qualitative research identified that some consultants were also driving the change in behaviour and/or thinking among their own clients.

Well what we did was talk to our clients and suggest that they also become signatories to the urban design protocol ... we thought that if our clients belonged to the protocol then there would be some sort of indication of commitment on their behalf to urban design and several clients relished that opportunity that remain members.

Representatives from each signatory organisation (either as Champion or non champion) were then asked to indicate their agreement on a number of statements regarding behaviour and attitudes within their organisation.

As illustrated by Chart 3, signatories attitudes towards urban design is largely positive with about four out of five respondents agreeing or strongly agreeing to:

  • Taking a multi-disciplinary approach to urban design (79 percent agree/strongly agree)
  • Senior management strongly supporting urban design (79 percent agree/strongly agree)
  • Quality urban design is extremely important in their organisation (76 percent agree/strongly agree)
  • A quality urban environment is identified as a key priority in their organisation's outcomes (75 percent agree/strongly agree).

Consistent with other findings identified in this report, just over half agreed/strongly agreed (58 percent) that their elected representatives strongly support urban design. Of note, 18 percent were unsure or did not respond, indicating a lack of knowledge or information available to responding participants.

The changes that have occurred over recent years in relation to urban design attitudes and behaviours is evident among the results for local government. When compared to the results for the 2006 Skills and Capacity Survey 1, of which a similar set of questions were asked, a significant change in attitudes is clearly evident. For example, the most significant changes for local government have occurred in the following areas:

  • Taking a multi-disciplinary approach to urban design (91 percent, compared with 49 percent in 2006)
  • Senior management strongly supporting urban design (84 percent, compared with 53 percent in 2006)
  • Elected representatives strongly supporting urban design (77 percent, compared with 47 percent in 2006).

Chart 3: Attitudes regarding urban design – percentage of respondents in agreement

chart 3 attitudes regarding urban design - percentage of respondents in agreement

Base: representatives from each signatory organisation (either as champion or non-champion). Excludes elected Champions outside signatory organisation. (n=95, 2009)

The graph shows different attitudes regarding urban design and the percentage of those respondents that agree with particular statements.

Of the total 2009 respondents 58 per cent agreed that “Our elected representatives strongly support urban design”, 75 per cent agreed “A quality urban environment is identified as a key priority in our organisation’s outcomes”, 76 per cent agreed “Quality urban design is extremely important in our organisation”, 79 per cent agreed “Senior management strongly support urban design” And 79 per cent agreed “We take a multidisciplinary approach to urban design”.

Of the Local Government 2006 respondents 47 per cent agreed that “Our elected representatives strongly support urban design”, 67 per cent agreed “A quality urban environment is a key priority in our organisation’s outcomes”, 67 per cent agreed ”Quality urban design is extremely important in our organisation”, 53 per cent agreed ”Senior management strongly support urban design” And 49 per cent agreed ”We take a multidisciplinary approach to urban design”.

Of the Local Government 2009 respondents 77 per cent agreed that “Our elected representatives strongly support urban design”, 81 per cent agreed “A quality urban environment is a key priority in our organisation’s outcomes”, 88 per cent agreed “Quality urban design is extremely important in our organisation”, 84 per cent agreed “Senior management strongly support urban design” and 91 per cent agreed “We take a multidisciplinary approach to urban design”.

Key factors influencing quality urban design

All signatory respondents were asked to comment on the key factors influencing quality urban design in their organisation. A total of 114 respondents provided feedback.

Consistent with earlier results, the main themes in regards to influencing quality urban design related to having a wider degree of commitment and support (both internally and external to the organisation) and the overall capabilities and capacity of the urban design profession.

  • For most respondents, having support and commitment from the whole organisation was considered to be a key factor influencing quality urban design.

    A commitment at staff and management level to change the way people view and use the city.


    We have been applying the urban design principles to our work for many years. It's a core part of what we do. The Company is fully supportive of urban design initiatives. The Managing Directors and Directors are all advocates for urban design.


    A realisation that a laissez fair approach has not delivered good outcomes and strong growth pressure gives us confidence that we can ask for changes without frightening development away.

  • Some respondents expressed that having greater awareness and/or understanding, both in the organisation and the wider community, was a key factor influencing quality urban design in their organisation.

    The recognition of the importance of sustainable design by our team.


    The positive attitude to urban design within Council.


    Inherent understanding of the value to society and our projects.


    Recognition of the importance of quality urban design principles in the market.


    Local Councils seem to now have an increased understanding of [urban design] protocols and are more active in their participation and involvement in urban design matters.

  • Having access to specialist skills and advice, including the involvement of external specialists, was a key influencing factor for some respondents.

    Ability to access additional skills from our wider group...


    The calibre of professional colleagues from other companies or organisations working on a project.


    Strong internal urban design resource...


    Dealing and interaction with other professionals.

  • Some respondents also recognised that a high-calibre of urban design education and training was a key factor influencing quality urban design in their organisation.

    Years of training and experience in UK at start of my planning career, and experience developed in UK, Europe, Hong Kong and Australia, giving me ideas to utilise in NZ urban situations.


    Obtaining qualified staffing levels in our location.


    Ensuring that we have a thorough understanding and access to key urban design theory, both established theory and new theory.


    Continuing to be up to date with urban design thinking and research...

  • Some respondents commented that incorporating quality urban design into strategic documents was a key factor influencing quality urban design.

    Having a clear mandate and direction and including urban design principles as part of our strategic plan objectives.


    The [regional land transport strategy] requires that we have more involvement in urban development directions in order to achieve the [regional land transport strategy] objectives.


    Our district plan provides for a certain element of design control, specifically related to urban design.

  • Having a greater level of client involvement and understanding was also a key factor for some respondents.

    Clients wanting to improve the quality of their infrastructure projects and see the benefit of good urban design to assist with consulting with the public.


    Client commitment to better built environment outcomes, and understanding of the role of good urban design in achieving these.


    [Greater recognition of quality urban design] filtering into the minds of our clients, a few really good clients setting the benchmark.

  • Some respondents expressed having greater government and industry support was a key factor contributing to quality urban design.

    A general industry drive for greater recognition of quality urban design


    Acceptance by governmental bodies, e.g. | Ministry for the Environment.


    Urban design is fashionable & some politicians therefore want to be seen to support it.


    Government direction.

  • Some respondents also identified that having greater access to funding was a factor contributing to quality urban design.

    Budget availability.


    Having a good evidence base and research funding available.


    Budget and feasibility.

  • Having greater community involvement contributes to the success of quality urban design for some organisations.

    Community interest and advocacy, especially residential associations, historical associations, etc.


    Consultation with [stakeholders].


    A willingness of the community to be involved.


    Community expectations. A desire to do the right thing.

Main barriers stopping quality urban design

In line with identifying the key factors influencing quality urban design, signatory respondents were then asked to comment on the main barriers stopping quality urban design being achieved in their organisation. A total of 112 respondents provided this feedback.

As expected, the main barriers inhibiting quality urban design are almost the exact opposite of the factors that influence quality urban design. In general, the main barriers inhibiting quality urban design relate to the lack of overall commitment (both internally and external to the organisation) and the limited urban design capacity.

  • Most respondents concur that a lack of awareness and understanding in regards to urban design is one of the main barriers inhibiting quality urban design within their organisation.

    The barriers are decision makers who think the world revolves around cars and drivers rather than people walking and enjoying good public spaces.


    Clients and public lower expectations and lack of appreciation of urban design quality.


    Lack of understanding and education.


    Still seen as 'fluffy' by some - adding cost not value.


    Our effectiveness on some projects and services is sometimes reduced through a lack of team awareness and client expectations.


    Old attitudes and practices that take time to change.

  • For some respondents, the ability to access funding and limited resources are a key barrier stopping quality urban design being achieved in their organisation.

    Costs, as well as compromises in operational efficiency.


    Lack of resources (staff and money) involved in this area is a major problem. This is particularly so right now as a result of the economic climate and the need to cut budgets.


    Lack of client funding for projects.


    Lack of officer time and work load.

  • Some respondents also expressed concerns regarding regulation and/or policy restrictions, and the impact they have on the ability to achieve quality urban design outcomes.

    We are keenly aware of the restrictive policies affecting quality outcomes such as local government asset management policies and engineering codes which influence outcomes often without opportunities to consider alternatives.


    The New Zealand planning system which seems utterly ridiculous at times - penalising good quality creative and imaginative solutions whilst allowing "complying" but otherwise poor quality schemes an easy ride.


    Insufficient local authority legislation that is not supportive/demanding enough to achieve quality outcomes.

  • The overall lack of organisational commitment is also considered to be a barrier preventing quality urban design in some organisations.

    Lack of buy in for urban design across the organisation.


    ‘Silo' thinking: perception based solely on singular disciplines.


    Council conservatism and internal inconsistency.


    Lack of commitment by senior executives (except for one).


    Ongoing restructuring with reduction in people.

  • Some respondents also commented on the general lack of urban design expertise and experience as a barrier preventing quality urban design being achieved.

    Lack of knowledge of the options available among developers and their consultants.


    No qualified staff available ...


    Lack of easy access to specialist urban design advice, both internally and externally [to the organisation].

  • Some respondents commented that client expectations and their lack of acceptance of quality urban design outcomes was also a barrier preventing quality urban design.

    Having clients that are willing to embrace the conceptual principles.


    The lack of appreciation [for quality urban design outcomes] by the client.


    Historic relationships with clients who refuse to pay for anything apart from the basic (poor quality) urban designs....


    Clients opinion that they should be able to do what they like on their property - which is often the minimum.


    Clients and public lower expectations and lack of appreciation of urban design quality.

  • Some respondents also commented on a lack of strategic approach or vision regarding projects/programmes was also a barrier preventing quality urban design being achieved.

    A likelihood from some quarters to fall back into rear view visioning. In a nutshell, the fear of the unknown.


    Narrow focus.


    Other organisations take a non-strategic, silo focus and affect our involvement in key outcomes.

  • Others mentioned that a lack of collaboration or consultation was a barrier preventing quality urban design.

    [Not considering] the accessibility of communities for diverse groups such as the disabled and do not consult widely with disabled people.


    We still have odd instances where (usually an older employee, or client) is insistent on a course of action, or fails to consult on [urban design] matters early in the process.


    Some "silo-led" approaches and outcomes.


    Lack of integrated thinking often leads to single objective solutions - poor urban design.

Key recommendations

In light of the above findings regarding the awareness and knowledge of quality urban design, we recommend the Ministry:

  • Continues to promote the Protocol and benefits of quality urban design in order to further enhance the changes in behaviour and thinking
  • Promotes examples of how some signatory organisations are breaking down barriers and creating quality urban design
  • Develops a strategy for working closer with central government agencies, building networks, promoting the urban design protocol and raising awareness of quality urban design.

1 Simpson-Edwards, M. Kalefatelis, E. Johnson, F. A survey of local government urban design capabilities. Research New Zealand Ltd, 2006.