ClarkeHopkinsClarke's Jordan Curran discusses how to create more liveable communities

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ClarkeHopkinsClarke's Jordan Curran discusses how to create more liveable communities
ClarkeHopkinsClarke's Jordan Curran discusses how to create more liveable communities

We spoke to Jordan Curran, ClarkeHopkinsClarke’s leader of the mixed-use and retail team about creating healthier, better connected and more liveable communities. We also discussed the future of city precincts, The Greater Sydney Regional Plan, ethical trading and more.

Urban.com.au: In pursuit of ClarkeHopkinsClarke’s national goal to create healthier, better connected, more liveable communities – how much support have you experienced when sharing your mission with developers, councils and buyers and has this given you more freedom to better achieve this goal?

Jordan Curran: The support is definitely growing. We always begin our discussions with stakeholders by outlining the research and precedents that show where and how this approach working – not just on our projects but in communities overseas. We’ve developed our own detailed methodology, which our Urban Design Partner Dean Landy laid out in a book called Creating Vibrant Communities, and community consultation is key. We get everyone on board early with the big vision and the way, and we then work through the detail together. You obviously can’t please everyone on every single issue, but you can address everyone’s key concerns. And that builds support because everyone’s on board and invested in success from the start.

U: Which key design features do you believe connect communities best?

JC: Public space like playgrounds and parks, especially for young families. Places where people just naturally want to come together, and they don’t cost any money. If you can create close proximity between these spaces and cafes, retail precincts and services like childcare or aged care, that’s where people start to form close relationships and bonds. They make their own connections – with each other and with the place.

U: How do you think future precincts are likely to look and what changes would you like to see made to the current town planning structure?

JC: More and more I think we’ll see purely mixed-use precincts with lots of elements embedded from the start. That’s the essence of our Creating Vibrant Communities strategy – we include as many different elements as we can so all sorts of people can use and enjoy them. Lots of developers are looking at this, and I think that’s a positive thing. Building in flexibility is becoming more important too, so precincts can change and adapt.
Town planning at the moment almost encourages us to work in silos and tick boxes. But a very positive thing councils are doing is bringing urban designers into their teams. For better or worse they will make a decision on the merit of the project. So they’re holding a lot of sway now. They don’t just work to a tick box. They work to key urban design principles. I actually think that’s a huge positive.  It’s happening a lot in Victoria and probably needs to happen a bit more in NSW.

U: Focusing on Sydney in particular, which areas do you believe have great potential to be developed to inspire interconnectivity and community?

JC: One of the things I think will really help Sydney develop more connected communities is high-speed rail. Melbourne is built on a radius from the city, so wherever you live you’re no more than about 45 minutes from the city. Sydney doesn’t work like that. It’s more rectangular because it’s landlocked by the mountains and national park, and the new growth corridors are about an hour and a half away from the CBD. Moving forward I think high speed rail has huge potential to unlock communities along the coast north and south of Sydney.

U: What are your thoughts on The Greater Sydney Region Plan and segmenting Sydney into three cities?

JC: I think it’s a good idea. It relates back to that last question – Sydney kind of has to grow this way. To have affordable housing as Sydney grows we almost have to provide a second CBD people can connect to. The focus on Parramatta is important. I feel like they’re doing the right thing relocating the Powerhouse and other cultural and civic elements out to there so culture is accessible to everyone, not just those with access to Sydney’s CBD.

U: What does the timeline of a mixed-use precinct planning development look like? Which aspect of the design do you start with?

JC: Timing varies. The first project I did, Leopold Shopping Centre, I started as a student. By the time it was finally built I was a partner. That was a seven- or eight-year process, including planning, rezoning and market shifts. And that’s the challenge of retail precincts. During those seven years the iPhone came into existence and completely changed the whole retail space. We were quite lucky that we were already focussing on placemaking and urban design, so it works well. But if you were designing something seven years ago purely as retail and delivering it now how do you build that flexibility in? With technology every year things change so much.

We begin designs by researching benchmark projects around the world, running workshops and documenting the brief, goals and vision for the future. That initial visioning statement might be something like ‘this is a technology and innovation precinct with a focus on social connectedness’. Big picture stuff with big goals and targets that help us stay on track along the away. Project length can vary but it’s always a minimum of two years, so that’s why flexibility in design is so important. The market shifts so much in that time.

U: As technology impacts physical retail stores, how can intuitive design compete with the rise of online shopping etc.?

JC: We’re working on a model that combines bricks and mortar and online shopping because they both have their challenges. We’re looking at retail shopping centres incorporating customer fulfilment centres for online shopping. Small-scale, warehouse-style hubs that online retailers can use as a local distribution centre and for pop-ups and product testing. Online shoppers can go straight there to pick up their purchases.

Everyone talks about the challenge for retail as creating a physical experience for shoppers but that’s almost a given now. This looks at the challenges of growth for both online and bricks and mortar and how they can work together.

U: ClarkeHopkinsClarke is listed as one of three Australian architecture firms to be certified by B Corps due to the firm's social and environmental performance, public transparency and legal accountability. Do you believe your clients and property buyers are becoming more aware of the importance of ethical trading?

JC: It’s taking a while to be honest. People like to work with designers with a social responsibility background. But at the same time developers are putting everything on the line with every project so they also need designers with the technical expertise to deliver commercial viability. Some practices focus on one and lots focus on the other, but we genuinely focus on both.

U: I’m aware you have been involved in initiating a personal development and mentoring course for the school curriculum in Sydney. What does this course cover and do you believe there is a strong push for both primary and high school students to take an interest in city planning and architecture these days?

JC: We are working with the leadership team of a high school in southern Sydney to develop a mentoring, networking and thought leadership program for senior students in suburban public high schools. We’re keen to broaden access to the kind of thought leadership and alumni that’s common for kids in private schools. The idea is to get the students challenging suburban norms, coming up with big ideas for improving their communities, and teaming up with alumni who have the networks and experience to help achieve them.

U: Which future ClarkeHopkinsClarke project are you most excited about commencing work on and why? 

JC: I’m excited about a mixed-use urban village we’ve proposed for Wollongong because it’s genuinely different to anything that exists currently. The concept is a diverse mix of uses – residential, aged care, a hotel, childcare – and a new architectural style that reflects Woolongong’s amazing landscape. What’s there is very generic. Our focus is trying to typify features like the colours of the mountains and rooftops that reference the cliffs and trees above. There’s nothing like that there at the moment.

Lead image credit: ClarkeHopkinsClarke

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