Design lab helps build consensus about development in Unley

Debates about planning policy to facilitate higher density development can be polarising.  Divergent views about changes to zoning and height limits doing “too much” or “not enough” are sometimes exacerbated by frustration about the way stakeholders are involved in developing planning policy.  At times, community engagement during the development of policy is described as tokenistic, unrepresentative or geared to privilege some over others.

Facilitating an engagement process where stakeholders are given clever tools to examine development challenges offers a workable alternative.

Together with Wax Design and Council personnel, we recently facilitated a ‘design lab’ with land owners and community stakeholders who have an interest in the Unley Central Precinct.  Participants worked together to explore how to accommodate an additional 500 dwellings and address key planning and design issues such as additional open space, making the public realm and traffic management work, and enhancing the valued elements of the precinct’s “village” character.

The use of scaled building blocks that represented different building typologies helped break down an otherwise polarising discussion about higher density development.  Participants were able to move and stack the scaled blocks on large scale aerial photos to explore the different ways of accommodating growth.  Simple tools such as a 30 degree plane on a transparent sheet helped understand setbacks from adjacent zones, while a torch was used to consider potential shadowing impact.

We see this approach of providing stakeholders with real problems to solve, and the tools they need to have a considered discussion about contentious policy issues as a great way to build shared commitment during the policy formulation stage.   Approaches of this kind will only become more important as the new Planning Bill shifts the emphasis of engagement increasingly towards the strategy and policy development stages in the planning system.