How to make better cities through precincts and connectivity
Cities are fundamental to Australia’s prosperity. Not only do most of us call cities home, but cities also contribute over 80% of national income.
Yet our major cities are at a crossroads. Most are struggling with congestion, housing affordability, and inequitable access to infrastructure, amenity and services. And the situation appears destined to get worse, with Australia reporting one of the highest rates of population growth of medium to large OECD countries.
Australia has the opportunity to make our cities great urban environments that thrive on the growing influx of people and ideas. If we get it wrong, however, we could end up with massive, sprawling cities that are congested, fragmented and unable to meet the needs of all parts of the community.
Unfortunately, urban planning has tended to deal with population growth simplistically, by developing the urban fringes. But the cost of sprawling growth is disconnection – a disconnection of people to jobs, city centres, nodes of activity, services and amenity. Sprawl also leads to a lack of infrastructure because investment cannot keep up with the rapidly expanding urban footprint, as well potentially devastating impacts on the natural environment.
We can create places of vibrancy, diversity and productivity. We can create places that attract talent and investment, where people want to live, work and play. Rather than continuing to push outwards, we should fix our sights on creating great cities that benefit from density. We believe that the secret to creating such cities is to strengthen connectivity.
People innately crave connection – to each other, to culture, and to a sense of home. Human interaction has and will always be an essential piece of our DNA. While we are developing and utilising ways to be productive remotely, we still naturally gravitate towards and thrive on interaction. This is why communities exist. This is why we live and work in dense environments and why often the most highly desired locations are in our cities.
A city is defined primarily by this concentration of opportunities to connect and share experiences with other people. Connected cities are ones that turn opportunities to connect into real connections. They leverage connections between people, connections to place, mobility connections, communication connections, technological connections and connections between government and people. They are about human-centred urban design, about place-led solutions that help build stronger networks within our cities.
Putting people first is an essential aspect of connective city shaping. Finding out and celebrating what distinguishes a community creates identities and connections to place. Understanding how the community uses existing spaces to inform new infrastructure, facilities and services can lead to stronger social and economic outcomes.
Building cities is like building relationships – it’s all about connections. Connection to places, to environments, to buildings, to activities, to each other. Cities with high levels of connectivity tend to be more vibrant, more productive, and more interesting than those that don’t.
We believe that one of the most effective ways to increase connectivity in our cities is to focus on ‘precincts’.
Precincts are areas or hubs that drive connections through a concentration of activity and people. They are vibrant and productive places where people want to live, work and play. Many of the world’s best cities are renowned for their precincts: SoHo or Wall Street in New York, Silicon Valley in San Francisco’s Bay Area and more recently, Barcelona’s 22@ innovation district.
While policymakers in Australia are aware of the precincts approach, there is little in the way of specific guidance to help them create more connected cities through the planning and development of world-leading precincts.
This paper seeks to address this gap by providing a framework for decision-makers to think about how precincts are planned, facilitated and delivered.
Who are these decision-makers? Simply, everyone. We believe that our cities will be better places if we solve problems collectively, encouraging greater collaboration between business and community and allowing government to act as a facilitator.
The framework contains seven principles that address the three cornerstones of connectivity: connected decisions, connected community and connected activity. It can be applied to either existing or emerging precincts.
Connected decisions explains how we need to rethink governance in relation to precincts - that it isn’t just about our government making decisions, but a collaboration between community, business and government.
Connected communities explores what it takes to increase connectivity among people within precincts and address issues of social capital and inclusion, proximity, and urban fabric.
Connected activities considers what it takes to make precincts come alive and be places that the community wants to live and work; it addresses the importance of catalyzers, such as anchor industries or institutions, as well as the need for focal points, mixed uses, digital connections and 24-hour economies.
Australia’s cities are rich in potential. They contain talented people, creative and innovative thinkers, communities who want to be involved, and governments willing to listen and try new ways of working.
The way to unlock that potential is to promote connectivity. All the elements are there – we just need to join the dots. Read our report to find out how.