What Is The Key To Successful Sustainable Urban Development?

I was recently involved in consultation Woman showing frustration and holding on to hairabout planning for a new suburban development.  We were responding to a proposal from a developer.

Most of us involved do not have any problem with development per se, especially increasing density in existing urban areas. That’s because it can be an exciting step forward in sustainability of planning and development – if it’s done right.

In this case, though, it wasn’t.

As so often happens, we had come in cold to the proposal.  That’s one problem with which communities all over the world will be familiar. So…not a good start for the developer getting everyone on board. 🙁

But there was another – perhaps even more important – problem with the proposal.

And that was that it arose in isolation from major overarching local policies.  These policies have been developed by government in consultation with the community. And by their very nature – overarching – these policies are supposed to provide guidance to particular projects.

So, it would be reasonable to expect that any development proposal would be consistent with the overarching policies:

  • for integrated planning, particularly the policies for integration of land use and transport planning;
  • for reducing greenhouse gas emissions; and
  • for community consultation.

But this one didn’t.

And it was reflected, at least in part, in the proposal’s lack of:

  • clear context (including its relationship to previous consultations);
  • strategy;
  • evidence base;
  • comprehensive analysis;
  • internal consistency; and
  • a consistent level of detail in the documentation.

In particular, the proposal had failed to look at some of the complicated and complex challenges of the future.

And there are quite a few.  A lot, in fact.  Here are some of them:

Coloured words showing challenges for urban development

Because these challenges are complicated and complex, there’s really only one way to address them – and get good outcomes.

And that’s collaboration – working together to address these challenges in an integrated way.


Because there’s wisdom in crowds…and resources in communities. No-one and no organisation knows everything – or can do everything.

And there’s more to it.

Collaboration also means improving relationships and breaking down barriers between the various parties – such as planners, community and builders/developers.

And it means doing – and being seen to be doing – consultation ‘properly’.

And that leads to changed attitudes – on all sides – about what is needed in the future, what is acceptable, what the trade-offs are and so on…which leads to increased project ownership and satisfaction within communities.

In this time of complicated and complex challenges – many of which threaten our very existence as a species – it’s heartening to know that there can be a way of dealing with them.  So those of us who think we can’t cope don’t have to bury our heads in the sand.

Next time: If you were planning a new urban development – or just a new home –  what would be your goals for addressing these challenges?

How would you like to ‘do’ sustainable urban development successfully? Just leave a comment in the box below…or send me a voice message by clicking on the tab on the right.

Till next time…be gentle to yourself and our world!

This post is an edited extract from a talk I gave on ‘Doing Density Properly’ at a Canberra Urban and Regional Futures forum at the University of Canberra on 22 September 2014. Thanks also to Neil Greet, Collaborative Outcomes for his work on collaboration.