Urban Design Alliance chair Terry Farrell took a major step towards convincing the government to adopt 'a new urbanism' by stressing the importance of 'place' rather than buildings to a meeting of the parliamentary group on architecture and planning last week.
Farrell told the 20-strong group in the House of Lords that the government needed to address the loss of population from cities and consequent loss of investment, among other urgent issues. He suggested that instead of using the 'predict and provide' method of solving urban problems, urban design should be used 'to harness the energy, optimism and resources.'
'Urban design is a complex process and it is about making places, ' he said. 'Places where we can be comfortable, not confused; places where we feel safe, not threatened; places which allow us to carry out our purposes in harmony with other users, not in conflict; places which we are proud of and are capable of inspiring us.'
To achieve these goals, UDAL has arranged a series of meeetings with the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, the first of which took place last week, to explain how urban design can be incorporated into government policy. At the meeting, UDAL highlighted four areas where it could have the most impact - transport interchanges, housing, education and town and city audits. Farrell said transport nodes should be designed as 'urban places', with particular attention paid to Victoria, London Bridge, King's Cross, Birmingham, Liverpool and Glasgow, to allow for better interchange between transport modes. Densities should be increased around these areas - UDAL has been instrumental in promoting such transport development zones and is urging the DETR to make urban design studies and masterplans a requisite for their development. It is also chasing funding to identify such nodes around the country.
On housing, UDAL wants the DETR to publish design guidance based on 20 examples of good higher-density schemes it has identified. Farrell told the AJ that he suspected UK attitudes to mass housing were cultural, but that the blame might lie with the lending instututions rather than the housebuilders. He was hopeful, however, of higher expectations: 'The new spirit of Britain is urban.'
On education, UDAL is reviewing design education guidelines, and campaigning for awareness programmes in schools. And on the Urban Design Audit, Farrell said local partnerships and alliances across the UK would be asked to apply for five or six pilot projects to show the scope and agenda for urban design.
Farrell showed slides of good, though 'monocultural' designs such as Stockley Park, Broadgate and Roehampton, but suggested that the real exemplars were places like Notting Hill Gate and the Angel, Islington. 'The problem is that the British have had an insular tradition of anti-urbanism, ' he said.
UDAL comprises the RIBA, RTPI , ICE, Landscape Institute, RICS, Civic Trust and Urban Design Group, and is creating a dialogue between developers, investors, volume housebuilders, civil servants, local government and the public through a series of seminars and workshops. Next month's meeting of the parliamentary group, meanwhile, is likely to feature Richard Feilden talking about architects' experience of the National Lottery.