creating vibrant successful neighbourhoods is an artform
IMAGE: Canva
  • The once esteemed position of town founder has since lost its lustre, and indeed in some cases, maligned.
  • The art of successfully creating vibrant and sustainable communities has far reaching benefits, from health to education, and beyond.
  • Vibrant, sustainable communities are somewhere that people feel connected and part of a whole.

Up until the middle of last century, a town founder was a revered person who laid the foundation for a community where generations of people would eventually call home.

In their book ‘Suburban Nation: the rise and sprawl of the American dream’, Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk and Jeff Speck cite the likes of J.C. Nichols in Kansas City, Hames Oglethorpe in Savannah and Mary Emery in Mariemont Ohio as developers of those towns who are still referenced to this day as the ‘town founders’.

Fast forward to the current day and, while developers are still delivering the places and spaces that make up our communities, the notion of the town founder has largely been lost.

According to Co-founder and Partner at Hatch RobertsDay, Mike Day, the development industry has lost that status over time, given they have not necessarily endeared themselves to the community or government agencies.

“Unfortunately, I think the urban development industry has lost a lot of that standard and developers are not necessarily well regarded.”

“But I do think there are some contemporary town founders and planners that really acknowledge the privileged role that we play in laying the foundation for communities.”

Mike Day, Hatch RobertsDay

Improving the reputation of the development industry in the wider community is an area that UDIA is focused on, including educating people about the important role of the development industry in creating and enhancing local communities.

Designing a neighbourhood

Creating vibrant, sustainable communities that will stand the test of time is an art form and something that many developers today are committed to delivering through both development in new areas and infill development in existing neighbourhoods.

Considering what constitutes a vibrant, sustainable community, Mr Day believes we can learn a lot from those early town founders by getting back to the basics of the neighbourhood unit and the ‘human habitat’.

“In all of our travels around the globe, we have never found a vessel that delivers community more effectively than the neighbourhood,” Mr Day said.

“The neighbourhood is the unit of human habitation, and it stems from ancient times in Pergamon in Turkey, where the neighbourhood was measured by the distance a mother could ‘holler’ to get the kids inside at nighttime.”

“Now we refer to the neighbourhood as the five-to-ten-minute walkable catchment where daily needs are in walking distance.

“Creating a vibrant, sustainable community comes down to designing a place that is mixed use, compact, well connected, walkable, and transit based or enabled.”

Mr Day emphasises the importance of configuring neighbourhoods around transit to alleviate the need for a second car, particularly in greenfield developments.

“Almost 40% of the population do not have access to a car, that’s young children, teenagers and the elderly who can get marooned in new estates.

“It’s healthy for kids to walk or cycle to school. It’s been well established that they can concentrate better when they get to school, their life experiences are increased and enhanced if they can walk or cycle to school as well.”

NEW - Oceania close up
Jindee by Estates Development Company (EDC). IMAGE: Supplied

Mr Day cites iconic developments like LWP’s Ellenbrook as examples of modern town founding, that provide a good template for others in the development industry to follow.

Over 30 years, Ellenbrook has grown into a community of over 30,000 people based around the concept of eight walkable ‘villages’ supported by a town centre. It is one of Australia’s most awarded urban developments and that success is attributed to three main factors: walkability, community and collaboration.

Another example that Mr Day cites is Jindee by Estates Development Company, a northern coastal suburb of Perth.

“At Jindee, Fiona Roche has reinvented those timeless principles and tried to deliver a coastal village that is eminently walkable, with a diverse housing mix,” Mr Day said.

“That mix of housing and uses will result in a coastal village akin to a contemporary Cottesloe or Fremantle.”

Introducing gentle density

With the State Government’s vision for a more compact and connected city driving the need for more infill development, it is also important to consider how the planning, design and delivery of greater density can improve existing areas and benefit local residents in the longer term.

Mr Day refers to ‘gentle density’ as an important aspect of achieving positive results and boosting housing diversity in existing areas.

Similar to the popular term ‘missing middle’, gentle density refers to increasing the mix of housing in existing neighbourhoods without fundamentally changing the existing character.

This can be achieved through the delivery of quality housing options such as triplexes, fourplexes and row houses.

“Gentle Density conveys that mid-tier developments of say three to five stories can complement the local streetscape by executing the ground plane really well,” Mr Day said.

“You need good interaction with the street, an active street frontage and consideration of how the buildings relate to the street.

“That mid-tier development is what we should be striving for, and we have good examples of this in East Perth and Subiaco where you have three, five, or seven stories in close proximity to two story terraces or single residential and there is a good transition between them.”

The importance of transport connectivity is another significant priority when achieving quality outcomes in infill locations as well as greenfield, with Mr Day supportive of a mid-tier transport option for Perth along with greater consideration of newer technology such as transport on demand, EV bikes and scooters in order to arrest the perpetuation of two or three car families.

Community activation

While the design and planning stages of a new development are critical in laying the foundations for a sustainable community, it is ultimately the people that live there that help them thrive.

Town Team Movement is an organisation that drives community connection through placemaking activities and empowering residents to get involved.

Placemaker and Executive Director of Town Team Movement, Emma Snow, says that vibrant, sustainable communities are somewhere that people feel connected and part of a whole, and where people can get involved as much or as little as they want.

“The place should have its own unique character, because it is an expression of the unique mix of people who live and spend time there.”

Emma Snow headshot
Placemaker and Executive Director of Town Team Movement, Emma Snow.

“Placemaking plays a huge role in building and supporting people to create places and communities that they want for themselves in an ongoing and authentic way.

“Through placemaking, Town Team Movement and the individual town teams it supports are moving from a passive consumer model of things being done to and for communities, to doing with and building capacity for things to be done by the communities themselves.”

The Town Teams Movement supports around 150 local town teams around Australia and beyond. Town teams are independent groups of residents and business owners who are positive, proactive, apolitical and inclusive.

“Town Team Movement is an underarching organisation, in that we support teams to do what they want, rather than doing things to or for them,” Ms Snow said.

“We try to build their capacity and agency as active citizens as much as possible.”

Emma Snow, Town Team Movement

Town Teams also runs a consultancy, which Ms Snow leads, that works on projects with developers, local governments, and different partners.

One current project that Town Teams is partnering on is an ongoing greenfield development in Perth’s east.

“The developer wants to try something different and when they hand over, they want a community that is going to be strong and able to sustain itself,” Ms Snow said.

“We’ve had an introductory event and a community workshop to date, so we can get under that top layer and start identifying who the active people are, and we can create a community network with them if that’s what they want. We’re now preparing to trial the community’s first ‘community-led’ project.”

Ms Snow says they are also working on a future development site in Perth’s north.

“Ideally, it is a best practice approach that starts with the surrounding community members first, before any development starts, in terms of who is interested and what would be beneficial to them. For example, a community garden.

“If we can set that sort of thing up first, people can start to have a connection with the place, and it is embedded in its surrounds and set up with a mindset of ‘doing’ and being a part of it from the outset.”

Ms Snow shares an analogy to explain the kind of approach that Town Team Movement has to placemaking and community development.

“Unlike the train type model, where it is on a track and it is going in one direction, we use a sailboat model,” Ms Snow said. “You roughly know where you want to go, but it’s an agile approach and you might have to keep changing direction as conditions change.

“You will get there but it is less linear, and it requires building trust along the way.”

Differences between the conventional model and the iterative, agile approach to place improvement championed by Town Team Movement. IMAGE: Supplied


This story was originally published in The Urbanist magazine, an official publication of the Urban Development Institute of Australia (WA). It has been edited for republication by The Property Tribune. 

The Property Tribune thanks the UDIA WA for the opportunity to republish the work, and share thought leadership in relation to urban development and community creation with our readers.

Read the original copy of The Urbanist by heading to UDIA WA’s website under the News tab.

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