Peter Park’s work with the Future Cities Collaborative saw him sharing his experiences from America at events around New South Wales in June. Following his participation in the intensive three-day Mayors' Forum, Park travelled to Liverpool, Woollahra, and Waverley councils, among others, to discuss developments in their local areas, and also gave a key-note address as part of the Sydney Ideas lecture series.

International urban planning expert, Peter Park, continued his relationship with the Future Cities Collaborative and United States Studies Centre, established during the 2013 Future Cities Program Study Tour, by joining the Future Cites Team for two-weeks. He provided his skills and knowledge to the 2014 Future Cities Program participants, as well as making himself available to the Future Cities Collaborative members.

During his time in Sydney, Peter offered insights he learnt whilst Director of Planning in Milwaukee and Denver, including an examination of the reforms to planning and zoning controls he oversaw in both cities. Planning reforms and questions surround the execution of planning controls remain a hot-button issue in New South Wales at present – and Peter was able to give first-hand examples of how effective and efficient planning can be carried out on a city-wide scale. His advice and guidance was extremely valuable as Future Cities Program participants, and New South Wales as a whole, contemplate how to best move forward in city-planning whilst retaining the integrity of the urban fabric, and securing public support and civic engagement at the same time.

In Milwaukee, Peter’s planning reforms led to the creation of a new mixed-use, mixed-income neighborhood along the Milwaukee River, from which Australian councils can learn the benefits of having a form-based code in place, rather than a legislative-based, restrictive code we currently adhere too. In Denver, Peter’s work included redevelopment of Denver Union Station, several transit-oriented development stations, and the adoption of a new context and form-based zoning code applied citywide. The transformative effects of these measure meant that strategic and holistic planning for future growth was achieved whilst giving citizens added choice in their commutes and housing options.

Peter’s overall message was that planning should begin at the street-level with citizen’s experiences and perceptions of a place put first, with the legislation to follow. Planning carried out in this manner creates more choice in the mode of transport on offer and so lowers congestion, and also creates neighbourhoods and cities that are great places to live and work.

Peter was the keynote speaker at the launch of the Future Cities Program Mayors' Forum. In his lecture, Park noted the benefits of a more holistic approach to design and planning, citing greater usage of public transport, lower congestion, and a stronger community feel as positive consequences of this "people first" approach. His lessons from Milwaukee and Denver inspired the participants with the possibilities of what is achievable when risks are taken and innovative and revolutionary planning is carried out.

Peter also delivered an address as part of the Sydney Ideas lecture series examining the possibility of creating liveable cities without planning controls. In this address, Peter used Denver as the exemplar city of planning reform, and highlighted the improved conditions and cityscape that has been achieved. The shift that Denver saw from rigid planning controls to visionary, inclusive and fluid planning guidelines successfully incorporated all stakeholder concerns to put the need for high-quality outputs first. Peter explained that Denver’s planning mentality is now focused on making Denver a city that is liveable for its people; and this framework guides planning citywide. Whether creating plans on a small or citywide scale, Denver’s goal is to achieve a balanced, multi-modal transportation system, land use that accommodates future growth, and open space throughout the city, without the need to conform to strict planning controls. Without planning documents that apply blanket rules and restrictions, Denver was free to create a cityscape that looks and feels great for its people to live, work and play, and can offer many lessons for cities in New South Wales.

Transit-oriented development is now prioritised in Denver's planning regime, as this model provides the most choice in transport options for citizens, whilst conforming to and maintaining the historical pattern of development taking place along transit corridors. The modern incarnation of transit-oriented development in Denver works to seamlessly integrate mid to high-density development around multi-modal transportation hubs with the existing urban fabric of the city. This emphasis on integrating land-use and transportation is emphasised in the new planning document for the city, titled Blueprint Denver. The above image illustrates to development is set to occur in Denver, utilising existing transportation and maximising the potential for new options to be provided whilst conforming to the urban context into which it is placed.

In addition to transit-oriented development being promoted and prioritised in Denver, are form-based building codes. These codes, similarly to transit-oriented development, rely heavily on the context in which the development is being built. This context-based approach to planning rejects the previous notion that building codes should be legislation-based, and instead emphases the form and look of the building in addition to the function.

Denver created six typologies of context around which the form-based building codes were written. These typologies are: suburban neighbourhood, urban edge neighbourhood, urban neighbourhood, general urban neighbourhood, urban centre neighbourhood, and downtown neighbourhood. The context in which the development falls dictates the form of building that can be produced. The context and form-based approach seeks to narrow the standards down to the key building elements that define the built character of a place. However, it is not architecture or style; it is scale, placement of the building and its parts on a site, height, amount of yard space, and it is whether there is room for trees, lawn and pedestrians on the sidewalks.

Moving away from the text-heavy legislative approach to building codes means that the simplified, pictorial representation of building form are easy to understand, and adaptable to suit all architectural and style designs. The range and style of buildings possible under form-based codes makes neighbourhoods that are interesting and diverse, and also able to accommodate new buildings seamlessly into existing code-complying neighbourhood structures. The possibility for form-based codes to be applied to a variety of building styles puts emphasis on design excellence in new buildings. Below are examples of how the form-based code appears, and the diversity of design that is possible under these regulations.

In addition to the Future Cities Program Mayor’s Forum and Sydney Ideas public lecture, Peter spent his time in Sydney visiting members of the Future Cities Collaborative, and offering his guidance, advice and expertise to these communities. He visited with Liverpool, Woollahra and Waverley to firstly observe the current planning model each council has in place, and then provide evidence-based examples of how and why the planning systems should be reformed and modified and what the results could mean for the cities and their citizens. Peter’s experience in implementing Transit-Oriented Development was of utmost value to the cities, as they are all contemplating how to provide growth and housing, whilst also providing better public transport options for citizens and retaining and improving on the urban fabric of their civic-centres.

Peter also had the chance to meet with senior figures at the NSW Department of Planning and Environment during his stay in Sydney. This was an extremely valuable connection between the work of the Future Cities Collaborative and the NSW State Government. NSW Planning and Environment is seeking to improve the integrity and performance of the planning system in New South Wales, and the Future Cities Collaborative shares this goal by building capacity in local government leaders to achieving this aim.

Going forward, the Future Cities Collaborative hopes that experts like Peter can inspire our cities to devise innovative solutions that balance development needs with unique context, site, and design quality concerns. In striving towards creating great future cities, the hope is that communities in NSW will begin to implement integrated approaches to comprehensive planning, urban design, and development that create clear visions for sustainable urban development, places of high quality design, and streamlined permitting systems for the benefit of both city leadership and the citizens that live and work in their communities.