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City urban design strategy – Hamilton City Council

Fast facts

Subject: CityScope is a design-led urban design strategy on the future planning and development initiatives within Hamilton City

Location: Hamilton City Council

Population: Population 131,400 in 2005; projected 159,600 by 2016

Implemented from: 2006

Website link: http://hamilton.co.nz/CityScope

Case study researcher: Viv Heslop, Vivacity Consulting Ltd

Introduction

The Hamilton City Council Long Term Council Community Plan (LTCCP), prepared in 2006, envisages:

An urban environment with a strong and unique sense of place, where interaction of people is supported by an urban fabric of places, spaces and buildings that capture a sense of vibrancy, community and safety at a truly people scale.

With its population growing, Hamilton City Council (the Council) wanted to capture the community’s urban design aspirations and provide positive strategic planning on how the city would grow and develop. In particular, a clear urban design direction was required for the three main growth areas of Rototuna, Rotokauri and Peacocke. To achieve this, the Council developed the CityScope design strategy, with collaborative input from many groups and organisations.

The purpose of CityScope is to guide Hamilton City towards a sustainable, quality urban environment. CityScope achieves this by providing a strategic and visionary urban design framework that informs and shapes all aspects of the Council and community’s decision-making processes. These span service procurement, joint venture projects, education programmes, regulatory planning, and align with strategic thinking around creativity and identity, social well-being and economic development.

The CityScope process

Between February and June 2005, the Council initiated a series of urban design presentations and workshops involving key stakeholder groups (developers, planners, surveyors, engineers and architects). The purpose was to help the Council understand what it would take to deliver a city that reflected the aspirations of the Hamilton community.

In August 2005, the Council established a CityScope working party. This included representatives from senior management at the Council, the New Zealand Institute of Architects, New Zealand Planning Institute, New Zealand Institute of Landscape Architects, Property Council of New Zealand, New Zealand Institute of Surveyors, New Zealand Historic Places Trust, the Arts Council of New Zealand and an independent facilitator.

The working party’s role was to develop a strategic framework of quality urban design initiatives and an implementation programme that would see CityScope initiatives expressed in all council activities.

The CityScope working party drew on the Ministry for the Environment’s The Value of Urban Design report that showed the benefits of quality urban design and the costs of poor design. The working party recognised that the city’s economic future and long-term prosperity were based on quality development and design.

The draft CityScope strategy was approved by the Council in December 2005 and a summary document circulated to all Hamilton residents as part of consultation on the draft 2006–16 LTCCP. The response was overwhelmingly positive, and the Council adopted CityScope in June 2006, unchanged.

CityScope – a description

CityScope links urban design initiatives and civic leadership with a framework for future development of the built environment. The framework is based on six Ps, and a three-year programme of initiatives fall under these, with the aim of improving the design quality of Hamilton’s built environment.

The six Ps are:

Principles: a visionary and strategic approach to city design. The principles fall into three areas: Distinctively Hamilton vision, design-led planning and international best practice.

People: enabling others to act.

Place: inspiring a shared vision.

Process: challenging the process.

Promotion: encouraging the heart.

Projects: modelling the way.

CityScope projects include enhancing Hamilton City as a safe and attractive destination for night time activities.

Outcomes to date

Increased urban design capacity

The Council recognised that building internal and external capacity was an essential element in the successful implementation of CityScope. Initiatives included urban design training for staff and external consultants, recruitment of urban design specialists, and establishing a staff forum to exchange opinions, ideas and experiences on urban design matters.

Council tools and processes

Since the adoption of CityScope in June 2006, the Council has worked with the design, arts and property industries to develop new tools and processes to help improve the city’s built environment. The Council has now developed and adopted Vista – the Hamilton City Design Guide.

Vista outlines the Council’s expectations for better-designed environments and highlights the key urban design principles that are fundamental to Hamilton’s successful development. It is a non-statutory guideline to help design buildings and spaces that work well, now and in the future. Vista has been used as the basis for the Urban Design Advisory Panel that was established in 2008 to provide advice on significant private and council development proposals, and to secure the highest standard of urban design wherever possible. The Panel will act in an advisory capacity. It is anticipated that it will also assist with improving the quality of resource consent applications.

How a city looks and feels is a crucial part of its identity – Vista Think Again.

Hamilton is a collection of neighbourhoods that reinforce a sense of local community – Vista sense of place design elemen t.

Hamilton is a place that engages the imagination of our people and visitors – everything is an opportunity for delight and innovation – Vista design quality element.

Development should enhance and celebrate Hamilton’s character and reflect the special qualities of the site – Vista sense of place design element.

Development should ensure that Hamilton is easy to get around so everyone can access services and facilities – Vista access design element.

A City Heart Revitalisation project is underway and is based on ‘Inquiry by Design’ workshops. These workshops explore a range of initiatives to ensure that future concepts and master plans for the city centre and important river sites are aligned with the aims and aspirations of CityScope and the Council’s other key strategies.

To further support the CityScope principles, the Council has a programme of district plan variations. These include variations to increase subdivision connectivity and heritage provisions. In addition, structure plans have been notified for the growth areas of Rotokauri and Peacocke.

The Council’s Planning Guidance Unit has introduced pre-application meetings for developers, before they lodge resource consent applications. Uptake of this service suggests that developers see the value of early council advice. The Council has also noticed the flow-on effects of improved design quality in submitted resource consent applications.

The Council’s Building Control Unit has introduced the services of an eco-design advisor to support new and innovative sustainable building design solutions. The eco-design advisor is available to provide free and independent information on a range of environmental design issues to both homeowners and designers/trades people.

SMART Subdivision – an outcome highlight

SMART Subdivision is a demonstration project initiated by the Council as part of its commitment to implementing CityScope. The Council’s aim is to pursue a sustainable approach to development in a high-growth area of Hamilton City, and to show the development industry and community the benefits of good design and environmental sustainability.

The SMART Subdivision is planned within the Rotokauri residential growth area. Rotokauri is to the northwest of the city, occupies 956 hectares and is anticipated to house a population of 20,000. The Council owns a 5 hectare piece of land adjacent to the proposed 50 hectare Waiwhakareke Natural Heritage Area.

Two concept plans for the subdivision were originally commissioned. The first, based on the provisions of the District Plan, was a conventional subdivision with three cul-de-sacs, two of which were joined using a walkway. The plan comprised 48 lots, some of which were back lots. The design was likely to see back fences constructed on the boundary with the Waiwhakareke Natural Heritage Area, and one pedestrian connection with the area. Section sizes ranged from 650m2 to 800m2.

Location map of Smart Subdivision site next to Waiwhakareke Natural Heritage Area.

Conventional subdivision.

CityScope principles used in the Smart Subdivision.

The second concept plan, designed by Chow:Hill Architects, was based on the principles in CityScope and would work within, but challenge, the provisions of the district plan. Called the SMART Subdivision, this plan originally featured 63 lots and innovations that included:

  • a connected, pedestrian-friendly ‘green street’, with several low-impact design features, including permeable surfacing rain gardens

  • a central open space and playground to help create a sense of openness and community

  • a range of housing types, from single level dwellings to two-storey town houses

  • incorporation of Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED) principles, including having all properties built facing onto reserves rather than backing on them, providing for passive surveillance

  • section sizes that ranged from 400m2 to 650m2.

A cost-benefit exercise by the Council compared the SMART Subdivision with the conventional concept. Because there was no similar subdivision in the local area to benchmark against, the results found that the short-term profit margin was less for the SMART Subdivision. However, recent anecdotal evidence suggests the market for resource-efficient homes is increasing and a premium could now be sought.

The Council recognises there will be significantly greater long-term social and environmental benefits with subdivisions such as the SMART project. Since the Rotokauri structure plan notification, the Council is now working with developers to expand on the demonstration project. It is currently exploring a partnership with McConnell Properties Ltd to develop the subdivision, and will be retaining Chow:Hill Architects as part of the project team. The Council and McConnell Properties Ltd are redesigning the SMART Subdivision design to better achieve efficient land use, higher building density and improve stormwater outcomes.

Evaluation of urban design principles

Context

The conventional response to housing growth in Hamilton has tended to be low density with cul-de-sacs. Through CityScope, the Council is signalling that this kind of development will not deliver ‘an urban environment with a strong and unique sense of place’.

Through the CityScope programmes, the Council is seeking to ensure that future developments fit in better with a new Hamilton context. These programmes include provision of design guidance, establishing pre-application resource consent meetings and reviewing the district plan.

The importance of the new CityScope context is being demonstrated through the SMART Subdivision. A key feature of the site is its location beside Waiwhakareke Natural Heritage Area. The concept plan shows a strong connection between the subdivision and the park, with some houses fronting on to it, and others having a view of the park.

Character

Through CityScope, the Council has established characteristics that it believes reflect a distinctively Hamilton vision. These characteristics include recognition of:

  • the Waikato River as a key city icon

  • Hamilton as home to 25 percent of New Zealand’s research scientists

  • the emergence of the central business district as a vibrant city heart.

It is intended that these characteristics will be promoted in detail in the Council’s other key strategies, such as the Creativity and Identity Strategy and the City Heart Revitalisation project.

Also, the establishment of the Urban Design Advisory Panel will provide further expertise to the Council and developers to help interpret and apply Hamilton’s unique character elements, as identified in Vista.

Choice

CityScope contains a number of programmes and projects that will increase choice in the urban environment by providing for a range of section sizes and housing types. Other initiatives include the development of concept plans for a neighbourhood centre and town centre within the structure plan growth areas. These plans consider public transport, and cycle and pedestrian networks, which provide choices in travel options.

Connections

CityScope is supportive of the need for connectivity in the urban environment as demonstrated through:

  • the SMART Subdivision demonstration project, which incorporates connectivity and pedestrian linkages as a key design principle

  • district plan variations that increase subdivision connectivity and heritage provisions

  • proposed structure plans that are based around nodal concept plans and a five-minute walking circle to encourage connectivity

  • work planned for the city centre through the City Heart Revitalisation project, which will focus on improving connections to the Waikato River and other key destinations in Hamilton

  • the Access Hamilton strategy.

Creativity

CityScope is supportive of innovative and imaginative solutions that will build a city known internationally for its unique design, stunning architecture, exciting public spaces and all-round functionality. Projects include work on growth areas, public open space, circulation, art and culture, city revitalisation and city lighting.

Initiatives such as the SMART Subdivision demonstration project have provided creative solutions to subdivision design. The Council, in partnership with McConnell Properties Ltd, is undertaking further modifications on the concept plan prior to subdivision construction.

Council processes, such as pre-application resource consent meetings and the Urban Design Advisory Panel, also provide opportunities to discuss new ideas and work with developers to obtain innovative urban design solutions.

Custodianship

CityScope initiatives are promoting sustainable development principles and challenging processes on Hamilton’s urban development. They include:

  • the integration of Hamilton Sustainable Development polices into CityScope and the Sustainable Environmental Design Programme

  • an eco-design advisor being employed to support new and innovative sustainable building design solutions, and a continuing focus on education around sustainable urban design

  • the SMART Subdivision demonstration project.

Collaboration

CityScope has been developed through collaboration between the Hamilton City Council, the community, key stakeholders and professional institutes. Enabling people to act is a key initiative of CityScope, and its success in shaping the city’s future depends on the actions of Hamilton’s people, along with stakeholders, institutions and investors. The pre-application resource consent meetings and establishment of the Urban Design Advisory Panel are all part of the collaborative process.

Context

The conventional response to housing growth in Hamilton has tended to be low density with cul-de-sacs. Through CityScope, the Council is signalling that this kind of development will not deliver ‘an urban environment with a strong and unique sense of place’.

Through the CityScope programmes, the Council is seeking to ensure that future developments fit in better with a new Hamilton context. These programmes include provision of design guidance, establishing pre-application resource consent meetings and reviewing the district plan.

The importance of the new CityScope context is being demonstrated through the SMART Subdivision. A key feature of the site is its location beside Waiwhakareke Natural Heritage Area. The concept plan shows a strong connection between the subdivision and the park, with some houses fronting on to it, and others having a view of the park.

Character

Through CityScope, the Council has established characteristics that it believes reflect a distinctively Hamilton vision. These characteristics include recognition of:

  • the Waikato River as a key city icon

  • Hamilton as home to 25 percent of New Zealand’s research scientists

  • the emergence of the central business district as a vibrant city heart.

It is intended that these characteristics will be promoted in detail in the Council’s other key strategies, such as the Creativity and Identity Strategy and the City Heart Revitalisation project.

Also, the establishment of the Urban Design Advisory Panel will provide further expertise to the Council and developers to help interpret and apply Hamilton’s unique character elements, as identified in Vista.

Choice

CityScope contains a number of programmes and projects that will increase choice in the urban environment by providing for a range of section sizes and housing types. Other initiatives include the development of concept plans for a neighbourhood centre and town centre within the structure plan growth areas. These plans consider public transport, and cycle and pedestrian networks, which provide choices in travel options.

Connections

CityScope is supportive of the need for connectivity in the urban environment as demonstrated through:

  • the SMART Subdivision demonstration project, which incorporates connectivity and pedestrian linkages as a key design principle

  • district plan variations that increase subdivision connectivity and heritage provisions

  • proposed structure plans that are based around nodal concept plans and a five-minute walking circle to encourage connectivity

  • work planned for the city centre through the City Heart Revitalisation project, which will focus on improving connections to the Waikato River and other key destinations in Hamilton

  • the Access Hamilton strategy.

Creativity

CityScope is supportive of innovative and imaginative solutions that will build a city known internationally for its unique design, stunning architecture, exciting public spaces and all-round functionality. Projects include work on growth areas, public open space, circulation, art and culture, city revitalisation and city lighting.

Initiatives such as the SMART Subdivision demonstration project have provided creative solutions to subdivision design. The Council, in partnership with McConnell Properties Ltd, is undertaking further modifications on the concept plan prior to subdivision construction.

Council processes, such as pre-application resource consent meetings and the Urban Design Advisory Panel, also provide opportunities to discuss new ideas and work with developers to obtain innovative urban design solutions.

Custodianship

CityScope initiatives are promoting sustainable development principles and challenging processes on Hamilton’s urban development. They include:

  • the integration of Hamilton Sustainable Development polices into CityScope and the Sustainable Environmental Design Programme

  • an eco-design advisor being employed to support new and innovative sustainable building design solutions, and a continuing focus on education around sustainable urban design

  • the SMART Subdivision demonstration project.

Collaboration

CityScope has been developed through collaboration between the Hamilton City Council, the community, key stakeholders and professional institutes. Enabling people to act is a key initiative of CityScope, and its success in shaping the city’s future depends on the actions of Hamilton’s people, along with stakeholders, institutions and investors. The pre-application resource consent meetings and establishment of the Urban Design Advisory Panel are all part of the collaborative process.

Lessons learnt

Champions

The development of CityScope was championed by the former mayor, Michael Redman (now Hamilton City’s Chief Executive Officer). His leadership proved invaluable in getting internal and external support for the CityScope principles. He was also a strong internal champion for improved design and development outcomes, and played an important role in building relationships with key stakeholders and the community.

Political support

Political support and stability was extremely important for both CityScope and the SMART Subdivision demonstration project. Councillors have been taken on several field trips to Auckland to visit the Harbourview development in Te Atatu, Earthsong in Waitakere and Addison in Takanini (see case study: Master Planned Community, Addison, Papakura, Auckland). Demonstrating examples of quality urban design proved to be an integral part of gaining the councillors’ support.

External facilitation

The Council used an external facilitator and the services of Chow:Hill Architects, Boffa Miskell, MWH and Connell Wagner to develop the SMART Subdivision demonstration project. With this approach, the Council was able to turn a collection of ideas and the CityScope strategic approach into a concept plan for a real subdivision project.

Alignment of policies and plans

The aim is to align Hamilton’s district plan with the principles, aspirations and aims of CityScope and the Vista design guide. Structure plans have been notified for the growth areas of Rototuna and Peacocke before they are made available for urban development. These structure plans illustrate the likely extent of future infrastructure provision within a growth area.

Organisational processes

Council processes need to support the strategic approach of CityScope. Initiatives used in Hamilton include:

  • pre-application resource consent meetings – these are key way to influence the quality of development being proposed

  • bringing in outside expertise to run workshops and forums to raise internal capability, enabling staff to support the implementation of CityScope

  • building capacity within the Council by recruiting staff from varied backgrounds who have experience in, or knowledge of, sustainable urban design and development.

Champions

The development of CityScope was championed by the former mayor, Michael Redman (now Hamilton City’s Chief Executive Officer). His leadership proved invaluable in getting internal and external support for the CityScope principles. He was also a strong internal champion for improved design and development outcomes, and played an important role in building relationships with key stakeholders and the community.

Political support

Political support and stability was extremely important for both CityScope and the SMART Subdivision demonstration project. Councillors have been taken on several field trips to Auckland to visit the Harbourview development in Te Atatu, Earthsong in Waitakere and Addison in Takanini (see case study: Master Planned Community, Addison, Papakura, Auckland). Demonstrating examples of quality urban design proved to be an integral part of gaining the councillors’ support.

External facilitation

The Council used an external facilitator and the services of Chow:Hill Architects, Boffa Miskell, MWH and Connell Wagner to develop the SMART Subdivision demonstration project. With this approach, the Council was able to turn a collection of ideas and the CityScope strategic approach into a concept plan for a real subdivision project.

Alignment of policies and plans

The aim is to align Hamilton’s district plan with the principles, aspirations and aims of CityScope and the Vistadesign guide. Structure plans have been notified for the growth areas of Rototuna and Peacocke before they are made available for urban development. These structure plans illustrate the likely extent of future infrastructure provision within a growth area.

Organisational processes

Council processes need to support the strategic approach of CityScope. Initiatives used in Hamilton include:

  • pre-application resource consent meetings – these are key way to influence the quality of development being proposed

  • bringing in outside expertise to run workshops and forums to raise internal capability, enabling staff to support the implementation of CityScope

  • building capacity within the Council by recruiting staff from varied backgrounds who have experience in, or knowledge of, sustainable urban design and development.

Conclusion

CityScope sets a strategic framework and visionary approach for urban design in Hamilton. To enable its implementation, the Council recognised the need to change past design and development practices. This required strong leadership and the support and buy-in of stakeholders, including the Council, community and development industry. Through its programme of new tools and resources, the Council has been able to raise both internal and external awareness of the benefits of quality urban design and, as a result, is seeing positive urban development changes.

Resources

Hamilton City Council 2005. CityScope: Shaping Hamilton Intelligently, Sustainably and Creatively. Retrieved from http://hamilton.co.nz/page/pageid/2145836447/CityScope (15 April 2008).

Hamilton City Council 2006. City Design Guide. Retrieved from http://hamilton.co.nz/file/fileid/3919 (15 April 2008).

Hamilton City Council 2007. Vista: Hamilton City Design Guide. Retrieved from http://hamilton.co.nz/file/fileid/3919 (1 May 2008).