National Conference on Urban Design 2013: The Pursuit of Growth - Event Reports

The National Urban Design Conference on Urban Design in Newcastle (17-19 October 2013) featured a great many interesting and thought-provoking presentations of a wide range of themes.

A number of these presentations can be downloaded below, or alternatively we have included a short summary.

Opening Address - Clare Devine, Director, Cabe @ Design Council

Session 1: Prospects for the twenty-first century and the impact upon how we design our towns and cities

Growing the Liveable City - Professor Rachel Cooper OBE, University of Lancaster

New Forms of Urban Design Practice: the 6 (Cs) Principles - Dr Husam Al Waer, University of Dundee

Regeneration for the twenty-first century - Dr Lee Pugalis, University of Northumbria

Session 2: Design for Business

Report Launch: Designed for Business - Creating the Industrious City - Jeremy Hernalesteen, Urban Designer, Terry Farrell & Partners

Industrial Ecology: Understanding the synergies of business and the implications for design - Dr Oliver Heidrich, Newcastle University

Science & the City - Kath Lawless, Head of Development, Newcastle City Council

Infrastructure, Movement and Maintenance - John Thomson, Chair of Institution of Civil Engineers Municipal Expert Panel

Session 3: Social Development: Neighbourhoods, communities and housing

Housing Models: From co-housing to custom build - Georgia Giannopoulou, Newcastle University

Design for wellbeing and communities: How can urban design improve mental and physical health? - Tim Townshend, Newcastle University

Neighbourhood Planning: How to involve the community in designing for the future and making the most of the past - Jules Brown, North of England Civic Trust

Bridging the Gap: Divided City - Leo Hammond, Senior Design Advisor, Cabe @ Design Council

Session Chair Sue Illman (President of Landscpae Institute) reflects on the challenge of creating liveabkle cities:

“How we plan and design our neighbourhoods and urban spaces is critical if we are to create liveable cities - that is cities which are economically, environmentally and socially sustainable, places for people to live, work and play and to make that a pleasurable experience.  So there is an urgency to relearn urbanism from this standpoint.

We’ve heard how our cities are going to have to meet the demands of an increasing population and the problems of providing for those needs will be exacerbated by the issues of climate change - which will bring hotter periods, droughts and floods as we have recently seen - and the consequences not only for business and industry but for the quality of people’s lives, their health, wellbeing and lifestyle. 

Places must be responsive to the needs of people, not just in a functional way, but in a way that provides a healthy environment, a safe environment and one that can deal with the pressures of transportation, drought, flooding, air and water pollution, demands on energy.  Places that foster social cohesion, and provides a level of beauty and delight; places for people that respect history, our cultural values and local distinctiveness, as well as our contemporary needs. 

And social sustainability frequently runs hand in hand with environmental sustainability; the design of city spaces and the way we use ‘green infrastructure’  - our city trees, green SuDS, parkland planting, and green spaces - is fundamental to balance and redress the hardness of urbanism and to help to provide a focus and identity for communities.

But do our cities currently do that?  Much time, effort and money has been spent in recent years improving the quality of our cities, and there are some excellent contemporary examples that are starting to address the issues of urban living – but we have a legacy of development and city space that demonstrably hasn’t provided an appropriate environment for people, although many still live there.  And it’s not just the town and city centres, the suburbs are going to be our new battlegrounds too.  Whilst they are often not fulfilling modern needs they also offer great opportunities for regeneration.

We know it can be done, as it has been done, but who should lead it?  We need leadership to foster liveability in our cities.  Whilst the Government has a role to play at a strategic level, it is one they are often reluctant to perform.  Local authorities? Yes they have an important role to play, but this can only work where they become leaders and facilitators who will bring developers and communities together to enable better quality and more holistic regeneration, and the provision of new public places.  We in the professions must play a key role, and be prepared to discuss and collaborate, to think in new ways, understand new technology, and educate our clients.

Session 4: Civic Leadership

Civic Leadership - Colin Haylock, past-President of Royal Town Planning Institute

Colin Haylock reviewed recent leadership in towns and cities, showing time and time again that continuity was key to success.  He called upon government both nationally and locally to recognise the importance of the vision, partnership and continuity which has been at the heart of past successes in the regeneration of our towns and cities. He made a plea for new frameworks to embed these features into the heart of regeneration through the complex new world of Combined Authorities, Local Enterprise Partnerships and Neighbourhood Plans.

Alas Smith and Burns? 1960s Planning in Newcastle upon Tyne - Prof John Pendlebury, Head of Newcastle School of Architecture Planning and Landscape, Newcastle University

Professor John Pendlebury nalysed the impact of the much vilified T Dan Smith who held an ambition to turn Newcastle into the Brasilia of the North.  John concluded that his impact on Newcastle had been positive, in particular in establishing a major city centre retail centre which had allowed the city to compete effectively with out of town retail development; but other parts of the Smith legacy had been damaged by the prevailing philosophy of elevated concrete walkways, pedestrian underpasses, and building over highways.

Summing up - Paul Reynolds - Chair UDG


“We have heard lots today about the challenges to delivery which still exist - be them economic or political - and also how what is being delivered may not be what was envisioned in the masterplans produced in the past.  However, we need to ensure this is not an excuse for ignoring good urban design principles.  

Those schemes that are most successful are those which are flexible and can adapt to evolving and emerging industries and more than ever the Urban Designer, working with local communities and businesses to develop plans, can make the difference. 

In the past the great cities grew up on the back of natural resources - minerals, coal, fish, ships (rivers) but going forward it's all about people.  This is reflected by the growing emphasis on quality of life and liveability in our towns and cities, themes which have never been more important to their success.  Just now we had debate on growth – is it really what we should be targeting?  Well there is a growing movement to using Quality of Life, rather than growth, as the indicators we should be looking at for a healthy economy and a prosperous country. 

This is where the Urban Designer comes in.  Those at the welcome event last night will have heard Chris Sharpe from Holistic City describe how we are the “GPs of the built environment world” – the generalists that work with, and refer to, the individual specialists.  But this also means that we need to be the public face of our profession – the accessible front door into what may be seen as an impenetrable world of technical jargon and design standards. So let’s all get out and tell the story of what we do, and how we are able to help people to improve their own towns and cities, without needing to know technical details or standards, focussing on the everyday things that are important to them.

Last week at Cowcross Street we had an event on the need for an Urban Design Manifesto (if you missed it, look it up on Urban Nous) which sought to challenge the status quo of the current policy led planning system into a more pro-active design led one that puts enterprise and industriousness at the heart of the city - this coincides with our two initiatives for the next year - and if you want to be involved in these initiatives please drop us an email, because what is clear is that we need to influence the civic leaders,  the politicians, if we want to make a difference.

We have heard the importance of continuity in civic leadership to get results but we have also seen the role of housing minister downgraded in the recent reshuffle, even when we have heard today that never before has the need for better designed housing been more acute, so we cannot sit back - never has getting the message across been more important.   

All of us no matter what our professional background are part of an urban design movement that must push the case for these things, because if we don't stand up for what we believe in nobody will - take the UDG oath of allegiance and go spread the word!

... and you can start by telling everybody to come to our awards event in London in February - more details on the website! “