Mary Haverland: Changing the urban design paradigm is now crucial


The principle of development focused on public transport (TOD) has been in vogue in urban planning for 20 years.

But as we move towards human-centered design and place-based strategies, it’s time to ask: is design and construction just for transit helping communities thrive, or should it be? shift to a more people-centered form of development?

Certainly, the routes from A to B can be more efficient with TOD. But for most people, travel is a mixture of travel and activities. When I leave home in the morning, drop the kids off at daycare, buy coffee, pay a bill, and scroll through my news feed and social media feed before I walk into my office in town .

My neighbor loads her ute right after dawn, buys a roll of bacon and extra plumbing supplies on her way to her next job. My other neighbor works from home – his youngest children go to the local elementary school on scooters (often looking for classmates on the way), while his oldest takes a bus to high school in the nearby suburb.

The local train station compound – designed according to TOD principles – might get me into town faster, but given the reality of suburban life described, I’m not sure it really serves our neighborhood.

Break the hegemony of the car

Since the arrival of the automobile 100 years ago, the development of our cities and suburbs has followed a common path.

Professor Peter Jones of University College London sums it up in three stages: planning for cars, then for better public transport, then for people and city life, with a focus on meeting the growing needs of cars and decrease over time.

In the first stage, as rapid urban economic growth is largely financed by developers and resident car owners, new growth areas are generally supported by “pro-car” policies, with priority given to roads and areas. parking.

Unfortunately, in Australia, many suburban areas never receive the growth catalyst or economic stimulus to get past this stage. Instead, they stagnate and people still depend on cars to get around.

On the other hand, when urban areas thrive, they quickly run into the problems caused by increased car use, namely traffic jams and pollution. The policy response is usually to fund public transport links and limit access by car.

This investment in public transport is harder than the initial phase of urban growth, but healthier and more sustainable in the long term. This has been the end goal of many TODs to date.

But while TODs facilitate the movement of people, the adjoining public space can be lifeless. Without creating space in the TOD enclosure, mobility hubs are transactional and boring. To me, there is nothing more shocking than a transit station in the middle of the suburbs – a lone flag of urbanized human connection, drowned in a sea of ​​parking spots. Any economic improvement and social value associated with our public spaces (including roads and streets) is lost.

As individuals and city dwellers, we aspire to social interaction, activity and community life. It requires a place-based rather than transport-based mentality, a mentality that seeks to contain cars and allocates road space for pedestrians and cyclists, encourages activity and space for public activities – indeed. in other words, people-oriented development (POD).

People-Centered Design in Practice

If my local station complied with POD rather than TOD, it would be the core of my neighborhood and not just a transit hub. The surrounding enclosure would be a hierarchy of places (just as we classify roads as a hierarchy of movement): the city at 30 minutes, the neighborhood at 15/20 minutes and the street at 1 minute, each supporting regional activities respectively, neighborhood and local. .

In the street 1 minute away, local children play and go to school safely. My neighbor stores her ute in her 20 minute neighborhood (where she could meet her elderly neighbor visiting the doctor), and I’m downtown in 30 minutes.

Our transportation authority would plan and measure our neighborhood based on broader social impacts (including accessibility) rather than the reliability of rush hour car travel time.

Australian cities are currently on the path to “city-shaping” infrastructure – subways, commuter rail, light rail, faster rail, urban offerings. There are few responsibilities more important than planning intergenerational infrastructure, because the models they establish shape the communities we form.

Infrastructure Australia has recognized the need for localized infrastructure in its Australian infrastructure plan 2021, released last month. But for such infrastructure to be truly transformative for our communities, we need to push the boundaries of urban design – and put people-centered development at the heart.

Mary Haverland IS Arcadis Senior Technical Director – Transportation Planning and Consulting.


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