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Urban design champions

Nominating an Urban Design Champion is a mandatory requirement of all Urban Design Protocol Signatories. Understanding this selection process, the extent to which Champions promote quality urban design, and their overall effectiveness is one of the key objectives of this study. The results presented in this section outline these findings.

Key selection criteria

The initial qualitative study identified that the selection process used to appoint an Urban Design Champion varied between signatory organisations. For some organisations the appointment involved careful consideration against a set of criteria, while for others the selection process was less formal (i.e. volunteering for the role, or being only one person available to undertake the role).

You need somebody high enough up the pecking order if you like however we decided to go for a politician... I guess it depends on what you are trying to achieve.

Well it was easy for us because our firm was really only intentionally small, five or six people max and being the senior urban designer I signed up.

The online survey supports this initial finding. In fact, when respondents were invited to indicate the key selection criteria used in their organisation for appointing their Urban Design Champion (refer Chart 6) the most frequently mentioned criterion for their selection were:

  • The specific role and/or position within the organisation (46 percent)
  • Their level of seniority (45 percent)
  • A passion/interest for urban design (42 percent)
  • Specialist urban design expertise (37 percent)
  • A high public profile/presence (23 percent).

Chart 6: Selection criteria used for appointing Urban Design Champion

chart 6 selection criteria used for appointing Urban Design Champion

Base: All respondents (n=126)

The graph shows the selection criteria used for appointing an Urban Design Champion. 45 per cent reported that a person’s specific role and/ or position within the organisation was a criterion in being selected as an Urban Design Champion, 44 per cent reported that seniority of position was important, 41 per cent reported passion for urban design was important, 37 per cent reported that specialist urban design expertise was important, 22 per cent reported a high public profile/ presence was important. Those signatory organisations who were uncertain or did not answer were 4 per cent of respondents and those who reported other criteria where 6 per cent of respondents. 1 per cent did not have a designated Urban Design Champion.

Differences in the selection criteria were also observed between the various respondent groups. For example, respondents in local government were significantly more likely to report a high public profile was a key selection criteria than all other respondents (42 percent, compared with 22 percent for the total). Urban Design Champion respondents were significantly more likely to report a specific role and/or position within the organisation was a key selection criteria (51 percent, compared with 30 percent for non champions), while non urban design champions were significantly more likely to report that a high public profile/presence was a key selection criteria (39 percent, compared with 16 percent for Urban Design Champions).

In line with identifying the key selection criteria, the nominated urban design champion respondents were then asked to identify their length of time in this role (refer Chart 7). Consistent with Ministry’s signatory database, their length of time in the champion role varied. About one in three respondents (31 percent) reported holding this Champion role for between one and two years, while a further one in three (29 percent) have held this position for more than three years. About one in six champions (16 percent) reported being in the Urban Design Champion roll for less than 12 months.

Chart 7: Length of time in Champion role

chart 7 length of time in champion role

Base: Urban design Champion respondents (n=93)

This graph shows the length of time spent in the Champion role. Of the 93 respondents 16 had spent less than 12 months in the position, 31 between 1 and 2 years, 19 between 2 and 3 years, 29 more than 3 years and 4 did not answer this question.

Promoting quality urban design

Respondents nominated as the Urban Design Champion were asked to provide examples of how they promote urban design within their organisation. A total 86 respondents provided feedback.

  • Most Champions mentioned that providing quality, best practice advice and guidance was an example of how they promoted urban design within their organisation.

    By adopting best practice and design innovation in our work.


    As director and practising urban designer I am constantly discussing or promoting urban design considerations into projects either with clients or other professionals.


    Emphasising that what we will do is quality rather than quantity....also such things as supporting positive activity as 'active edges" and looking to activate key spaces.


    The high quality of and innovation in design documents produced.

    As an urban designer, promoting quality urban design is my job. I do this by influencing the designs of others (architects, engineers, planners etc.) or by leading the development of sustainable and high quality master plans and designs and overseeing their execution.


    It comes with the job, and everything we do is driven by the need to create better space/place

  • Some Champions mentioned that participating in discussion groups/forums was another example of how they promoted urban design.

    Chairing urban design panels.


    Attend urban design related seminars/workshops.


    Providing a presence at functions and events to ensure that urban design is recognised in the bigger scheme of things.


    Support for and delivery of urban design event ... participation in committees as an advocate of change.


    I chair the Queenstown Urban Design Panel and am a member of the Wanaka Urban Design Panel.


    I often contribute to external events / conferences on urban design issues.

  • Providing staff training and development was an example of promoting urban design within their organisation for some respondents.

    Presentations to staff on urban design options and innovations (from personal study tours overseas).


    I also present within our office, raising urban design knowledge.


    Leadership and advocacy of urban design principles through educational programmes both to in-house and external stakeholders.

  • Some respondents commented that publishing articles, case studies, and research was an example of promoting urban design within their organisation.

    Writing articles for magazines.


    Have included our Urban Design Action Plan and report on our web site, and report on initiatives within our company news.


    I keep members informed of events and issues through our internal magazine.


    I have presented a paper on sustainable urban design to an international conference .... I am researching an urban design-related issue for my Masters dissertation.

  • Others mentioned that advocacy in general was an example of how they promoted urban design.

    Ongoing advocacy for the benefits of good urban design and processes.


    I am outspoken in relation to inappropriate sighting and design for buildings proposed in [region].


    Advocacy through various proposals and groups.

  • Some Champions mentioned they promoted urban design within their organisation by involving clients in the process.

    Recommending urban design input to clients on all relevant projects...


    Through dealing with clients at the conceptual stages of developments.


    We run public workshops around the subject of urban design and encourage participation of the urban criteria at every opportunity with clients, staff and politicians.


    Initial discussions and consultation with clients will include urban design considerations - the earlier these ideas are introduced, the better.

  • Sharing information was also mentioned by some Champions as an example of how they promoted urban design within their organisation.

    I'm active in researching and reading current urban design theory and articles, mostly from the internet. The information and knowledge that I gain from this, I then pass onto to my work colleagues as well as integrate as much of it as I can into my work.


    By bringing together both urban design specialists and other professionals with an interest though our company Practice Interest Network (PIN) to facilitate sharing of practice and development of capability.


    Read incoming material related to urban design and forward on to colleagues as relevant.


    Urban Leader email newsletter forwarded to around 30 related professionals in [region].


    Disseminate information around company...

  • Some Champions mentioned that providing education and training was how they promoted urban design within their organisation.

    In teaching, research and consulting.


    Lectures at universities (Auckland, Monash) on architecture workshop work.


    Developing and delivering urban design training.

  • Ensuring project reviews were undertaken was an example of how some Champions promoted urban design.

    Ensuring that all projects undertaken in the office are peer reviewed to ensure that they reverberate with the principal of the NZ Urban Design Protocol.


    Each project in the office is required to have an urban design review.

  • Some Champions mentioned that collaborating with others was how they promoted urban design with their organisation.

    In public consultation especially for Council/NZTA projects.


    Talking with community and industry groups.


    We assist major infrastructure providers in implementing their projects.

  • Projects having an urban design strategy was mentioned by some Champions as an example of how they promoted quality urban design within their organisation.

    All our projects have an urban design strategy in how they react to the landscape or cityscape.


    Ensuring urban design is part of the policy framework for managing [organisation].


    In internal policy development.

In line with this, those respondents who were non champions were asked to identify whether their Urban Design Champion promoted quality urban design within their organisation (refer Chart 8). Two out of three respondents (67 percent) reported this was the case, while the remainder were predominately unsure (24 percent unsure, and 3 percent reported they did not promote quality urban design).

Chart 8: Promoting quality urban design within their organisation

chart 8 promoting quality urban design within their organisation

Base: Non Champion respondents (n=93)

This graph shows those respondents who are not Urban Design Champions and whether or not they promoted urban design in their organisation. 67 per cent reported that they did promote quality urban design, 3 per cent reported they did not promote quality urban design and 24 per cent and 6 percent respectively were not sure or did not answer the question.

Overall effectiveness of Urban Design Champions

When asked to consider how effective the Urban Design Champion(s) were in their role (refer Chart 9), four out of five respondents (78 percent) reported their Urban Design Champion (of those in the role for 12 months or more) to be as somewhat or extremely effective. Only two percent reported their Urban Design Champion as not effective in their role. The remaining respondents were unsure, or could not answer (20 percent).

Differences in opinions were also observed between the various respondent groups. Champions for example, were significantly more likely to report they have been extremely effective in their role compared with non champions (31 percent and 15 percent respectively). In contrast, non champions were significantly more likely than all other respondents to report they were unsure about their Urban Design Champion’s overall effectiveness (30 percent, compared with 14 percent for the total).

This finding suggests Champions need to provide more communication within their organisation regarding to their role, activities, and outcomes.

Chart 9: Overall effectiveness of Urban Design Champions

chart 9 overall effectiveness of urban design champions

Base: All respondents, excludes Champions who have been in the role less than 12 months (n=111)

This graph shows the overall effectiveness of Urban Design Champions. 26 per cent reported the Urban Design Champion (Champion) as extremely effective, 52 per cent reported the Champion as somewhat effective, 2 per cent reported the Champion as not effective and 14 per cent and 6 per cent respectively were unsure or did not answer the question.

Key recommendations

In light of the above findings, we recommend the Ministry:

  • Reviews the Urban Design Champion literature in order provide more tailored support for existing and new Champions, and senior management
  • Promotes ways of fostering Urban Champions within an organisation.