Harbinger Consultants

Culture + Complexity + Change

DESIGN | Australian Urban Design Initiative

This morning, I received an update about the Australian Urban Design Initiative’s (AUDI) Roundtable, held in Adelaide on 28-29 November, with some 60+ people participating – from a range of disciplines, and from across the country. The discussion focused on objectives, roles, and governance models raised – and some challenges and actions. A key outcome of the Roundtable was confirmation of the need for an entity or initiative in some form to be developed which operates at a national, state and local level.  It was also agreed that this should build on, and support, current initiatives round the country and not duplicate them. This initiative grew out of some initial proposals to establish an entity similar to the UK’s Commission for Architecture and Built Environment (CABE) in Australia and speaks to an issue of urban design capacity in government. In our work at Harbinger CABE’s work is a touchstone given Linda’s participation in CABE’s 2008  Urban Design Summer School, and we’re very supportive of a more deliberate governmental and community engagement with design thinking and approaches. This, of course, was a key theme in this year’s inaugural Design Triennial, Unlimited Asia Pacific event, and we had the pleasure of participating in that program as well.

The AUDI email also included a recent advertisement, declaring that ‘cities are everyone’s business’, which was published in The Australian, which was supported by a range of government and industry bodies across the country.

We first encountered this initiative via the Urban Design Forum website. One of the aspects of this proposition that we appreciate is its call for an interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary conversation. In an article on Planning Pool, espousing the limitations of urban design and the value of zoning, this call is also echoed. Planning alone and design alone won’t deliver sustainable and vibrant communities: ideas and practices of interdisciplinarity and multidisciplinarity need to chart new and different collaborations and conversations.  This doesn’t just mean the design, environmental and planning practitioners: social and cultural practitioners also need to be involved in these processes and conversations. This has prompted me to revisit a text published in Design Philosophy Politics in which I drew on the work of Stephen Pool and Edward de Bono to shape some thinking about thinking (cognetics) and argument. The fundamentals of this is that many of the aphorisms we use – whether names of organisations, such as ‘Friends of the Earth’, or slogans like ‘urban renewal’ – carry an inherent or intrinsic, and often moral, argument. Pool called this ‘unspeak’  and argued that such things present themselves as ‘the’ solution or ‘the’ correct response. This, in turn, can develop as a meme. Because such ‘arguments’ are quite nuggety and compelling, there is a tendency to stop thinking. According to Edward De Bono, “when you have reached the answer, you stop thinking … when thinking has done its work you lay aside the process”. De Bono advocates the value of ‘additional thinking’ and writes, “You cannot really choose the best if you have no choice. If you only have one answer, how can you choose the best answer?” If unspeak presents the right answer then there is no point in continuing to think and this will mean the question has not been been fully dealt with. Integral to new thinking is new language – thought and language experiments – preferably not of the unspeaking variety. So a challenge in our urban environments, then, is to ‘think additionally’ and embed more adaptive, customised, catalyst and connective processes that are responsive to place, vision and people. Stock, readymade and quick fix reactions or prescriptions to sometimes crippling circumstances – the epitome of ‘stopped thinking’ – which are not considerate of local social, economic, cultural and environmental ecologies tend to offer only short term solutions. So, for us, when we think about these issues, we always want to and need to ‘think again’.


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