Australian cities are some of the lowest density and most car-dependent on the planet: intensified urban development and improved public transport to meet the imperatives of population growth and a low-carbon future is a major challenge. Despite decades of compact city policy there has been little change to the practice of ever-expanding suburban fringe development and freeway building that entrenches and exacerbates car-dependency. One of the major blockages to transformational change has been a lack of design vision that can capture the public imagination for more sustainable urban futures. I
n 2010 we commenced an ARC Linkage research project called 'Intensifying Places: Transit- Oriented Urban Design for Resilient Australian Cities'. This project seeks to analyse the potentials for Australian cities through developing visions for transit-oriented futures that can achieve broad community acceptance in a democratic framework. The research emphasis is on both design quality and resilience – on the quality of urbanity created or enhanced by design intervention and on the socio-spatial resilience embodied in high levels of urban amenity, accessibility, economic vitality and equity. A key hypothesis is that given improved transit, transit-oriented development can achieve such outcomes but success hinges on the quality of the urban design and the contribution of such design to improved social, environmental and economic outcomes. Melbourne is a key test-site for these issues, with low densities, entrenched car-dependency, and the potential for innovative and globally- applicable propositions for change. The urban policy framework has long called for intensification within existing activity centres and along transit corridors but change has been difficult in the face of community resistance to what is seen as a threat to the valued character of suburban life (Dovey & Woodcock 2011).
The project title, 'Intensifying Places' connects two key issues for designing future sustainable cities. 'Intensification' incorporates the increased efficiencies of higher residential and employment density with the better use of scarce resources. 'Place' is a term that brings together issues of urban design qualities and intensities with everyday concerns of communities and markets. The two concepts come together in addressing the challenge of creating resilient cities, through the design of intensified urban places. More than just density, this is an intensification of activities and amenities - of social and economic vitality. Intensified places involve qualitative and quantitative improvements; they are more efficient but also more dynamic and more resilient in the face of economic, social and ecological change.
This work is funded by the Australian Research Council project LP100200590 'Intensifying Places: Transit Oriented Urban Design for Resilient Australian Cities'.