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Council supports moves to improve NZ urban design

Chch City Council supports moves to improve NZ urban design

Improved urban design is needed in New Zealand, the Christchurch City Council says.

The Council has replied to a call from the Ministry for the Environment (MfE) for ideas about how good urban design can be encouraged. The suggestions will be used in developing a set of national guidelines – a protocol – about urban design. The process is part of the Ministry’s push for sustainable development.
Councillor Sally Buck, who chairs the CCC’s Urban Planning and Growth Special Committee, says the issue is important in Christchurch as growth changes older suburbs and creates new developments and subdivisions on the city’s fringes.

“There hasn’t been a lot of integrated planning since the 1970s and it’s good the Government’s wanting to put more emphasis on this area,” Cr Buck says. “Urban design’s really important. It’s the sum of all the other design elements when you’re making places for people – architecture, garden and parks design, street and subdivision design, transportation planning, urban renewal and town planning. It’s the thing that can still feel wrong even when everyone’s done their best, but the different parts just don’t work well together.

“We’re making several points about the protocol, but our main points are that change is needed from people, from the professionals and from the agencies like councils and the national roading agencies which do the planning and give consents for work,” Cr Buck says. “And we think they all need better integration if we want things to improve.

“One obvious example here is the decision not to give priority to the southern arterial road in Christchurch. As a Council, we’ve long been planning and encouraging growth in the south-west and that roading upgrade is an essential part of the package. The fact it’s not going to happen for so many years could mean those new areas become much less useful as places to live and work and create businesses.”

Good urban design is also important at the personal level and planning processes need to encourage people to look past their front gate at how their decisions relate to the surrounding area, she says.

The Council report to MfE says New Zealanders tend to copy overseas designs when building and, nationally, there is little development of NZ design. As well, Kiwis tend to put cost first, do not like to be controlled and do not appreciate the need for good design. An older area’s character can be hard to keep because development is not complementary, while controls and regulations look only at a development site, not at the wider area.

The report suggests the place where private property meets public space is another area in need of attention. “Get rid of fences, improve interaction between the houses and the street, make streets more useable for residents,” it suggests.

Educating the public and developers about good design is needed as a first step, the Council says.

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