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Ideas for action - local government

Championing urban design and raising awareness

An important step to achieving good design is raising awareness of the benefits and challenging existing approaches where they do not result in good outcomes. Individual champions at a senior level within an organisation can be a very effective mechanism for bringing about change.


  1. Appoint a 'Design Champion' at a senior influential level to promote and champion quality design and to challenge existing approaches throughout the council.
  2. Develop an awards scheme that celebrates quality urban design.
  3. Incorporate an educative component in the council's communication material to raise the community's understanding of urban design issues and solutions.
  4. Develop internal or external training sessions on quality urban design for staff and councillors.
  5. Develop an urban design demonstration project.

Developing strategy and policy

Many local government policy documents and strategies have an influence on urban design, from development policies and rules in a district plan, to engineering standards for roads, to civic accommodation strategies. All of these influence the form of the built environment. The urban design implications of these policies need to be considered at the policy formulation stage. More specific guidelines to support good urban design outcomes can also be useful to support decision-makers.


  1. Scope the urban design issues as part of the preparation of the long term council community plan.
  2. Review the district plan to include explicit urban design outcomes. Ensure that collectively the rules support these outcomes. Develop a plan change if necessary.
  3. Develop and adopt urban design guidelines that promote the qualities of the seven Cs (as outlined in the Urban Design Protocol) as part of the district plan.
  4. Before publication of any relevant draft council policy, consider the urban design implications of that policy. This should include all policy, not just resource management policies. Policies relating to economic development, transport and traffic management, car parking management, engineering standards, procurement, reserve management, accommodation, infrastructure provision and many others, all have significant implications on the urban design of towns and cities.
  5. Develop a public art strategy to encourage art and artists ideas to be incorporated into new development.

Planning futures

Adequate forward planning is essential to guide the future development of areas where major urban change is anticipated. This includes town centres, major infrastructure projects, areas of major change on the edge of towns and cities, or areas where the urban population is declining. Planning for change might include:

  • development of detailed policies and objectives for specific local areas
  • integrated urban planning with key external stakeholders (including landowners)
  • forward planning of major urban infrastructure to support future land uses
  • proactive guidance to encourage appropriate future urban development
  • guidance on appropriate management of town and city centres.


  1. Develop plans to guide future urban development in areas of change, either of major growth or decline.
  2. Develop detailed urban design site briefs and master plans to guide the development of key sites.
  3. Identify significant issues in the urban environment including threats to cultural heritage, landscapes and ecological systems, and options for protecting their values.

Being a good client

Councils undertake the design, construction and maintenance of parks and public spaces, buildings (eg, offices, libraries, toilets) and infrastructure (eg, roads, pavements, bus stops, signs). As clients, councils have a significant influence on the built outcomes, including urban design issues, such as quality, functionality, adaptability and sustainability. Client influence on outsourced projects is especially effective at the tender stage, particularly the brief for the consultant or contractor and the tender evaluation criteria. It is important that the public sector lead by example and insist on quality design in all physical construction projects.


  1. Deliver high quality urban design in all relevant council projects.
  2. Ensure tender procedures for construction and maintenance are judged against value for money and quality rather than just least cost.
  3. Make a commitment that all briefs for construction should consider: build quality, functionality, impact and contribution to the community, and cultural identity of the place.
  4. Develop a 'partnering' approach between client, designer and contractor as an alternative to a standard contractor relationship to ensure quality urban design at all stages of the project.
  5. Set a clear and realistic budget that reflects capital costs and whole life costs (including putting an economic value on the added benefits of design quality).
  6. Incorporate urban design into technical guides of significant infrastructure projects.

Making decisions

Councils make decisions on a range of issues that impact on the physical environment. Their statutory functions include issuing consents, and it is important that urban design implications are considered before making a decision.


  1. Consider ways of incorporating urban design guidance in decision-making. (This should include all relevant decisions, including those relating to infrastructure, car parking, reserves, transport, accommodation, community and cultural facilities.)
  2. Set up an in-house advisory group or design review panel to advise on the urban design quality of resource consent applications.

Exchanging information and research

To ensure better design outcomes, we need better information about how our towns and cities are faring and how effective our interventions have been. To make the best use of scarce resources councils and other organisations need to share their research.

Learning from past experience, including other organisation's experience, increases effectiveness and results in better outcomes. To facilitate this, a commitment needs to be made to document and share information and experience. Larger councils have a critical role in being role models for smaller, less-resourced councils.


  1. Document and publish any urban-related research undertaken and make this information available to councils and other organisations through publication on your council website.
  2. Develop joint programmes of urban design research with other councils in your region, central government, universities, and research agencies.
  3. Document examples of development that illustrate best practice in urban design and make this information available on your website and other suitable websites.
  4. Research existing examples of urban design best practice before beginning a major development project or policy development process.
  5. Make a commitment to effective consultation with neighbouring cities/districts as part of the development of major urban design policy decisions.
  6. Document best practice procedures and processes relating to urban design (including city planning, infrastructure planning, structure planning, long term council community plans) and make this information available on your council website and other relevant websites.
  7. Document case studies of good urban design practice, including demonstration projects.

Integrating management

Urban areas are complex systems that require integrated management. Councils influence many aspects of urban areas, through issuing consents, managing parks, constructing roads and other infrastructure, providing services and community facilities, encouraging investment, and marketing and branding. It is important that councils integrate their management of these functions and co-ordinate delivery on the ground to achieve better urban design outcomes.


  1. Develop a multi-disciplinary team approach to managing the built environment to break down sectoral or professional boundaries.
  2. Use the long term council community plan to improve the quality of urban design initiatives.
  3. Provide a means for groups to work across council departments (eg, matrix groups) on specific geographical areas or urban issues.
  4. Involve the community, sector groups, neighbouring councils and the regional council in council-led strategic planning exercises.
  5. Work with the community, local authorities, and other sector groups to develop a joint or regional approach to urban design management issues.

Building capacity

Councils need to build sufficient internal capacity to manage complex urban issues and achieve good urban design outcomes. This includes people, funding and structures. It is important that all staff who contribute to the management of the built environment have some understanding of their role in shaping and influencing the urban design of a city, building or space, including councillors, managers, resource managers, planners, architects, engineers, landscape architects and surveyors.


  1. Make a commitment that all councillors making decisions on resource consents (and any other statutory decision-making processes relating to the built environment) will attend training on their role and the implications of decisions on quality urban design.
  2. Provide opportunities for all staff contributing to the management of the built environment to undertake training and education programmes to increase their understanding of urban design issues.
  3. Provide decision-makers and strategic planners with access to specialist urban design advice, perhaps through the employment of a specialist officer, through consultants or through the use of available regional or national resources.
  4. Work with universities, professional institutes and other training providers to provide effective training and education programmes on urban design at a range of levels for all disciplines involved in managing the urban environment.