In the depths from the confinement of Melbourne in 2020, a group of urban designers had the idea of creating a “force for good” for the future development of our cities. As we emerge from a second year of pandemic isolation, the group resurrected a more than 30-year-old organization to galvanize like-minded peers and colleagues to tackle the major challenges facing our cities.
Established in 1986, the Urban Design Forum is a non-profit organization bringing together a network of aligned professionals with an interest in improving the quality of Australian cities. The original organization produced quarterly newsletters, as well as conferences, but has been inactive since 2006.
The revamped Urban Design Forum’s leadership team includes Leanne Hodyl and Margie McKay (Co-Chairs), Katherine Sundermann (Vice-Chair) and Andy Fergus (Advocacy Officer).
When this new generation came together to connect, share knowledge, and advocate for better urban design outcomes, they discovered the dormant organization that had taken a similar path three decades earlier.
“We approached the original founders who were still President and Treasurer and had held these positions for 35 years,” said Co-Chair Leanne Hodyl. “It was an exciting opportunity to take all of their fantastic advocacy and knowledge sharing work and take it up and reinvigorate the Urban Design Forum. ”
“They were just thrilled and very supportive of the coming of the next generation and the continuation of the good design debate in our cities. “
The new Urban Design Forum, which was launched in early November 2021, now has over 100 members as well as supporting organizations including universities and design practices.
“[Our members are] mainly people who work in and with cities, ”said Vice-President Katherine Sundermann. “They may be town planners, but we have also had people who are ethical developers, lawyer and landscape architects. These are people who work daily with these major urban challenges.
The group has three main objectives: first, to support its members through social events and professional mentoring; second, to share knowledge about town planning through its website and social networks; and third, to advocate for better urban design outcomes in the public interest.
“Most people live in cities,” Sundermann said. “We know that cities are where we face many major challenges in terms of climate change, biodiversity loss and income inequality. Our main goal is to ensure that the way cities are developed and governed can help address some of these challenges. I think it’s something that touches everyone.
“So how can we be a force for good that really involves everyone in how we can design the future of the city? Because we don’t want to leave this to the private sector alone or to the public sector. Everyday people have to be a part of this.
An important area of advocacy for the group will be the planning system, which they see as a key tool for achieving good urban design results. “It’s about creating the right preconditions for amazing architecture. It’s a very important part of what urban design does, ”said Sundermann.
“If we’re able to configure the right form controls built for an area, that means it won’t be over-developed. This means that the sunlight in the parks is protected, so you can sit there during your lunch break. It seems like this might be something that people don’t think they need to care about, but it affects everyone and the way we use our neighborhoods.
Over the next three years, the group hopes to have a comprehensive urban design strategy connected to the planning system to add regulatory weight to the importance of urban design. “Urban design is too often treated as a plug-in condition right now – there isn’t a comprehensive strategy, which we think is a key gap,” Hodyl said. “If we can put something like this in place, more positive results will flow from it, as urban design will be seen as an intrinsic and central driver of good cities. “
The group also made a submission to the Victoria parliamentary inquiry into apartment design standards and aims to use their collective voice to advocate for key drivers of good development.
“We are also very excited to be a resource and an ally,” Sundermann continued. “Our website and Instagram have a lot of information about cities, so even if you don’t want to become a member and urban design isn’t the main thing you do, it’s sure to spread the word within industry on the importance of thinking things over and how it can support great design results is a very big part of what we want to do.
Urban Design Forum hopes to expand its membership to all Australian states and territories and is planning a number of public events throughout the year, including its launch event, What Cities Need Now, to be held at MPavilion on the 8th. December.
“We’re definitely looking to be a small organization that strikes above our weight,” Sundermann said. “At this point, we are completely volunteers. We are independent, so we can really stand up for the things we want to see and we are not beholden to other interests.
For more information and to become a member, visit the Urban Design Forum website.