ULI's David McCracken on the 2018 Urban Innovation Ideas Competition

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As covered on Urban.com.au last week, the Urban Land Institute is now accepting entries in the 2018 ULI Australia Urban Innovation Ideas Competition which is seeking innovative ideas to reinvigorate the north-west corner of the Melbourne CBD.

The ULI's Executive Director David McCracken spoke to Urban.com.au, providing insight into the competition and the benefits of young people getting involved in planning.

Urban.com.au: What do you look for when selecting sites for ULI Urban Innovation Ideas competitions?

David McCracken: The Competition sites we select are less about the specific place but more to act as a catalyst or a canvas for expansive thinking and innovative thought, in the context of a real or perceived urban challenge.

The sites selected previously – George St in Sydney – a linear space in the CBD becoming car free and public, but perhaps without the character elements to stimulate it, and in 2016 – Centennial Place – a poorly used green knuckle between the CBD and vibrant Valley district in Brisbane – offer challenges for intervention that change the way these spaces may connect with their city context.

The site of the 2018 ULI Australia Urban Innovation Ideas Competition. Image: ULI

In Melbourne this year, the site has been recognised as part of the CBD that perhaps does not live up to the image of Melbourne - vibrant, active, attractive and communal. We are seeking ideas that may not directly solve that challenge, but that, if implemented will add identity engagement and momentum to this part of the city fabric, and as an outcome, add value to those who live, work and visit the area.

U: What is different about the younger generation compared to older generations when it comes to urban planning and enhancing cities?

DM: What I have witnessed is perhaps a greater social conscience in the urban outcomes that shape our cities. There is a sense that what has gone before has not always delivered and that wider and more diverse voices need to be listened to as we plan our cities. ‘Green’, ‘active’, and ‘programmed’ are buzzwords perhaps more to the older generations and now taken as ‘business as usual’ for those with a younger perspective.

However, with the advent of social media, Pinterest and the like, we see the colour of our cities in more graphic detail and perhaps we don't experience and understand the grain and pulse of cities as much anymore. Our experiences are often quick and superficial rather than longer, deeper and more considered as they may have been in the past. The urban planning and development of our cities shapes the long-term impact and image of that city and we must understand that decisions made are there forever – timeliness over timeframe, authenticity over fashion.

U: What is the benefit of generating ideas from people outside of the sector?

DM: Our cities are shared by a great diversity of people and by giving a voice to all those who experience, contribute to and shape our cities, you reach a far better understanding of how to synthesise what is relevant and impactful.

For me, the skill in great design is not just the innovation or the idea – it’s how it responds to a need, desire or challenge in its own urban context or community.

Through the competition, the challenge is not only to solve the particular design issue or place issue at hand, but to promote new alternate ways of thinking. Along with traditional civic and municipal planning, these may improve the character and experience of the site area and ultimately its social, economic and environmental value.

U: What are the biggest issues facing Australian cities that you hope young people and their ideas can address in current and future competitions?

DM: The ULI Urban Innovation Competition is a forum for ideas – conceptual thinking around ideas that may stimulate new urban interventions and promote alternate ways of thinking in our cities.

The competition provides a forum for young professionals from multiple disciplines to come together and share ideas and approaches to key urban challenges in our cities.

The issue or challenge we are addressing is to engage young people in the urban debate, to share a variety of ideas with today’s decision makers, opportunities and alternatives to ensure that what has been done before is not what has to be done tomorrow. Through the competition, and the debates we engage around it, we try to teach or mentor competitors and their peer groups while helping them become better decision makers for tomorrow.

Entries in the 2018 ULI Australia Urban Innovation Ideas Competition close Monday 10 September.

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