Urbis Think Tank
Planning for quality public open space
Content provided by Peter Haack
Last year, the Heart Foundation report on “Creating Healthy Neighbourhoods” showed the importance of access to open space on health and wellbeing. Thankfully, this is one area where everyone agrees. However, the devil is in the detail and the planning and the design of open space areas needs to be appropriate for each local context.
A balance needs to be struck between developer and council needs
When working on the planning and design of new open spaces, Urbis has identified a number of key considerations.
The actual amount of open space is important. As dwelling densities increase, the total amount of open space needs to be set appropriately from the start. Developers want to provide the right amount of space, but not too much as yield is affected. However, if too little is provided, this detracts from the physical amenity and may have an impact on a development’s attractiveness to the market.
Individual open space areas also need to be sized appropriately to ensure that a range of activities can occur within them with adequate buffering from adjacent streets.
Good open spaces should be accessible from all sides and easily accessed by foot, without the need to cross major barriers. Safe, usable public spaces should be fronted by local streets, not backing onto residential land in order to maximise passive surveillance.
After a development has been completed, the Council will generally take over the management of these spaces, so, it is important to avoid unnecessary ornamental features such as fountains, pergolas and flower beds etc. While these might be attractive to the developer during the selling phase, Councils’ ongoing maintenance budgets will find these assets prohibitive.
Delivering a framework
Within this context – where everyone is largely on the same page – Urbis has achieved a balance by developing guidelines relevant to the individual Council or development. By providing guides for the design and construction of areas such as informal parks and sporting reserves, it is possible to deliver on the wellbeing benefits that the community wants, without impacting on the commercial realities of a development.
It is best for these guidelines to have a degree of flexibility, like this one now being used by the City of Greater Geelong. This results in a useful decision making framework that meets the needs of all stakeholders.