The New Zealand Urban Design Protocol (the Protocol) has provided a platform for central and local government, property developers and investors, design professionals, educational institutes and other groups to commit to quality urban design. The Protocol is supported by a network of signatory organisations who have committed to implement quality urban design through their work. As at January 2006, 107 stakeholders across both the public and private sectors had become signatories. This is a significant outcome considering that their commitment to the Protocol is voluntary.
The Protocol is unique in that, through the requirement of signatories to develop ‘action plans’, it encourages action-specific commitments to achieving a better quality urban environment. The ability of the Protocol to make a difference to our urban environment essentially depends on the implementation and success of these action plans. All signatories are required to submit an action plan six months after signing up to the Protocol.
As more organisations continue to become signatories, the Ministry for the Environment continues to receive action plans. The following review reports on the action plans received by the end of 2005. In the context of this report, ‘signatories’ is used to refer to those whose action plans are involved in this review.
The one mandatory action in the Protocol is for each signatory to appoint an urban design champion. All signatory organisations are required to make this appointment on sign up. It is intended that the urban design champion be a senior, influential person within an organisation who can promote quality urban design in all areas. As can be seen in Figure 1, over 80 percent of the champions are in executive or managerial positions.
Upon signing up to the Protocol, all signatories are issued with an ‘Action Pack’. This provides ideas for actions that could form part of their commitments to the Protocol. Actions can range across all aspects of an organisation’s activities, from strategy development and decision making to research and staff training. To reflect this, the proposed actions have been grouped into the eight categories outlined in the Action Pack:
Figure 2 shows that over 60 percent of the signatories submitted actions that aim to develop strategies to increase the quality of the built environment. Over half of the signatories submitted actions that focus on exchanging information, building capacity, increasing their ability to be a good client and champion or advocate urban design (the urban design champion action has been omitted from this figure so as not to skew the results). These are positive trends at this early stage of the Protocol’s existence and show that there is a strong desire to increase urban design awareness and quality throughout the country, as well as a desire to put the required systems in place to achieve this.
It is also evident in Figure 2 that less than half of the signatories are committed to actions that would include integrating management, making better urban design decisions and considering urban design in future planning. It is possible that these areas will be better covered in future action plans as signatories increase their knowledge of urban design and capacity to apply it.
Most of the signatories have not emphasised how they collaborate within their sector. This may be because it is often facilitated through professional institutes or carried out on a daily basis. Those signatories who have focused on collaboration are generally looking at ways of exchanging information that will increase the understanding of urban design within their sector.
However, one thing that has become evident throughout the review of the action plans, is the willingness of many signatories to work with other sectors in order to share knowledge and increase their understanding of urban design. At this early stage, a quarter of the signatories (mainly central and local government and professional institutes) have already committed to cross-sector collaboration with up to three other sectors. For example:
The potential for other signatories to work together to achieve better urban design and share information on various projects has also been identified. The Ministry for the Environment will contact these signatories regarding such cross-sector collaboration. The list below highlights several of these cross-sector possibilities:
The majority of central government signatories to the Protocol have provided action plans to the Ministry for the Environment. These include both policy agencies and those responsible for planning and delivering infrastructure and buildings.
Three governmental agencies have appointed urban design champions at a deputy-secretary or director level or above.
Many of the central government actions are predictably aligned with governmental roles that focus on developing strategy and exchanging information. In particular, signatories in this sector have focused on developing policy position statements on urban design, amending internal policies to include urban design criteria, as well as collating and disseminating data relevant to their area of expertise and its relationship to urban design.
Only some of the central government departments have looked at building internal capacity in order to provide accurate policy advice on complex urban issues. Similarly, only a small number of departments are considering, at this stage, the urban design implications of any decisions made in relation to providing and funding quality urban infrastructure.
Some of the more innovative and ambitious central government actions have been to:
Local government signatories have produced some of the most wide-ranging action plans, with particular emphasis being placed on championing urban design within their communities and strategy development. Almost half of the local government signatories have committed to reviewing their district plans for opportunities to incorporate urban design outcomes.
As with central government, only a small number of the local government signatories have looked at making changes to their decision-making procedures in order to place more emphasis on the consideration of urban design issues. It is hoped that this area will strengthen as each signatory gains further internal knowledge and expertise.
An important distinction can be made between the larger (+75,000 people) and smaller council’s action plans.
The larger councils, such as Auckland City and Environment Waikato, have tended to take a strategic approach in their plans. They focus on actions such as championing urban design, developing strategy and exchanging information in order to learn from past experiences and increase effectiveness.
The action plans of the smaller councils, such as Kapiti Coast and Papakura District Council, have tended to take a community approach. They concentrate not only on championing urban design and developing strategy, but also on building internal urban design capacity and delivering high-quality urban design in all relevant council projects. This approach is very positive for these councils, because it will strengthen their resources and help them to make a real commitment to implementing better urban design.
Some of the innovative and ambitious local government actions have been to:
The developers and investors are the only sector group that have placed the most emphasis on guiding the future quality of major development areas or schemes. This is a particularly positive step because it shows that this sector is committed to putting in place tools to help guide future urban development. However, few in this group have indicated a desire to increase their own urban design expertise, to document their urban design related research, or make decisions that influence the quality of design outcomes through their actions.
Some of the more innovative and ambitious developer and investor actions have been to:
The action plans for this sector group have placed particular importance on the role of consultants in influencing a client’s understanding of the need for quality urban design. The consultants also showed a commitment to sharing information and research as well as developing internal and external expertise in the urban design field. However, only some of the consultants were committed to incorporating urban design into their own decision making or to adequate forward-planning mechanisms that could improve development outcomes.
Some of the more innovative and ambitious consultant actions have been to:
The emphasis in the action plans from the professional institutes is mainly on championing urban design and building internal capacity. While this trend is to be expected, the focus of the professional institutes generally is on exchanging information with and building capacity throughout its members, and it is encouraging that urban design is being included in their existing structures.
Some of the more innovative and ambitious professional institute actions have been to:
Signatories from the sector organisations form a diverse, issues-based group, ranging from the Building Research Association, the Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand to the Cycling Advocates Network. Sector organisations have tended to focus on using their roles to advocate urban design within their specific fields.
Some of the more innovative and ambitious sector actions have been to:
The action plans from the educational institutes focus on championing urban design and exchanging information. While none have actions that cover being a good client, integrating management, making decisions and planning futures, this trend is probably because the signatories are not universities as a whole, but are departments within the universities, and thereby have restricted ability to perform these other actions.
One of the more innovative and ambitious educational institute actions have been to:
Because all signatories are required to report their chosen actions within six months of signing up to the Protocol, the Ministry for the Environment expects to continue to receive action plans, both from those who have recently signed and from new signatories. These new action plans will be added to the Ministry’s database and the Ministry will continue to make cross-sector links (with the consent of those involved) where actions between signatories are similar or compatible.
The champions will also continue to receive an e-newsletter informing them of upcoming urban design events and news. The role of the e-newsletter is to act as a point of contact between the signatories and their organisations and to give the Ministry the opportunity to address any issues that signatories require help with, for example, reporting and monitoring of action plans.
The Ministry will continue to run workshops and facilitate other useful ways of exchanging ideas and learning for the design champions. This will include encouraging signatories to contribute ‘show and tell’ examples of urban design successes, and the hosting of related site visits and tours as an additional part of the workshops. It is anticipated that the workshops will continue to provide an avenue through which the champions can increase their urban design knowledge and experience, and meet high-level representatives from both their own and other sectors.
As detailed in the Action Pack, monitoring of submitted action plans will begin in August 2006, 18 months after the first signatories signed up to the Protocol. The Ministry will contact all signatories prior to this time with a detailed template that will outline what information will be needed, when it will be required, how the Ministry will collect the information, and what the final product will be used for. It is anticipated that the monitoring of action plans will play an important part by:
Following the initial review in August, signatories:
For more information on the Urban Design Protocol action plans, go to www.mfe.govt.nz or contact:
Ministry for the Environment
Phone: (04) 439 7432
Ministry for the Environment
Phone: (04) 439 7564