The levers we use to help influence good design

Publish Date : 14 Feb 2022
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“We get one shot at growing well,” says Lisa Dunshea, Manager Urban Design at Auckland Council.

In this Q&A, we ask Lisa to help us understand the uniqueness of that opportunity and the levers Auckland Council uses to influence good design outcomes for the city. 

Why do we need to plan?

Plans help us protect and enhance the things we love: our maunga, our coastline and waterways, our urban ngāhere (forest), heritage buildings and our many parks and recreation areas.

They also help us set out new areas to be developed and plan for infrastructure, the pipes in the ground, our roads, paths, and cycleways and where our public transport facilities need to be located. City building is complex.

How important is it for Auckland to grow well?

We get one shot at growing well. I have been in Auckland Tāmaki Makaurau for over ten years. It’s a short time in city building terms; however the amount of development and supporting infrastructure across the city, and the region, is truly transformative! What we build now is going to be there for a while, so we need to keep true to the vision of the Auckland Plan 2050.

What is your team’s role in shaping a liveable Auckland?

Leading a team of multi-disciplinary design experts, helps ensure we get the best design outcomes for Auckland - a city we all agree is awesome! It makes sure we will leave behind a city for future generations that is better than how we found it.

Our team works extensively with others. We shape design strategy and policy and provide design review specialist advice on major resource consents. The Auckland Urban Design Panel and Auckland Design Manual are our primary levers. They help us leverage the best outcomes.

The team is also involved with masterplans like City Centre Masterplan (CCMP) and exciting projects like the Queen Street upgrade and City Rail Link, another game changer for the city. Our team and the Auckland Urban Design Panel have helped review proposals to ensure great design outcomes are achieved.

Māori design is central to the new wave of design and transformation. Mana whenua stories in new buildings and places are there to be discovered. Read more here.

Universal design expertise ensures the city caters for all users and mobility needs. The Auckland Urban Design Panel is lucky to have fantastic Panel Advisors who bring this expertise to life. Click here for more.

How does good urban design create a better way of living? 

Urban design looks at practicalities. It’s about the ‘urban fit’ of buildings and the different typologies and their relationships with open spaces, parks, roads, streets, and cycleways. It’s also importantly about people, the liveability of a place, how easy is it for people to interact and move around, get to work, access their local shops.

When I think of ‘liveable neighbourhoods’ (with my people hat on, not my design hat), I ask myself: do I regularly see my neighbours on the street and stop and have a chat, do I feel safe day and night, can I walk to the park, can I hop on a bus or train to get to somewhere I want to go, can I walk to a local shop or dairy, is there a community facility, be it health or education near-by, then I am thinking this may be a liveable neighbourhood.

Lisa Dunshea

Lisa Dunshea

What levers does Auckland Council have in place to help guide good urban design?

The levers we have are ‘best practice’, They are also non-statutory, meaning people choose to use them.

Auckland Urban Design Manual (ADM) includes guidance across council for Māori Design, Universal Design, Parks, Transport, Healthy Waters & Regulatory. It is a ‘one-stop shop’ for best practice guidance and advice. The design manual is over eight years old and is constantly keeping up with new trends and themes. It’s worth a look to see the wealth of design information all in one place!

Auckland Urban Design Panel (AUDP) is tried and tested. It has been around for over ten years. What’s great is that it is independent and impartial, and the design advice is provided ‘peer to peer’ so there is mana and respect in the kōrero (conversations).

Panel members are nominated by the respective professional institutes. The urban design team here at Auckland Council lead and co-ordinate the Panel reviews. We also lead the governance, reporting and information sharing. That way the Panel members and partnering institutes are kept informed and can make good decisions and help set future directions.

We typically review 150 transformative projects each year including major projects in the city centre, town centres, larger apartment developments, masterplan developments, retail developments, transport, and infrastructure projects like the City Rail Link.

The Panel reviews mostly occur at the pre-application stage when a development is starting to shape up and designs are still flexible. This is an ideal time to help ensure the design is as good as it can be. These projects are going to be around for generations to come, so they need to not just be ok, they need to be great, so they stand the test of time!

The good news is that most Panel reviews are free, while some dedicated panels which typically review a project over a series of programme sessions, meeting the applicants/developers’ timeframes come with a small charge.

What are the benefits of the Panel?

It’s about giving developers certainty. A developer can use the Panel as a sounding board, helping their design team unlock issues or seek assurance.  

Every Panel session typically has four Panel members including a chair, they are drawn from a mix of 55 Panel members, ensuring diversity of views. Each review is also unique to the project, so Panel members are chosen for their knowledge and expertise in a particular area.

What is helpful is that every Panel review comes with a full set of written recommendations (prepared by the Panel members in the session) and these are sent out the following day. This gives the applicant/developer team a quick response so they can take on board the feedback and keep to their all-important timeframes.

Nearly all projects are supported with a varying degree of suggested design improvements throughout this two-way process.

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