The value of urbanism: UDISA and APES Presentations

In May and June I had the privilege of making presentations at the annual Urban Design Institute of South Africa (UDISA) conference and then at the Society for Architects, Planners, Engineers and Surveyors (APES). This year the UDISA conference was held in conjunction with the Western Cape Property Developers' Forum annual conference. Here I met the conveners of the Society, which dates back to the 1970s, who invited me to do the keynote address for the 2018 programme. 

 Speakers at the 2018 UDISA Conference. Source: UDISA Facebook page

Speakers at the 2018 UDISA Conference. Source: UDISA Facebook page

My presentation was centered around the key findings of a number of independent assessments conducted in countries around the world to quantify the return of investment of 'good' urban design. I believe we need to find a language to convince the development industry to mainstream the benefits of quality urbanism in the way site plans and projects are conceptualised. 

These independent assessments conducted in the UK, USA, Australia, New Zealand and a number of European countries (e.g. Netherlands and Germany) have created a robust methodological framework and evidence base that needs to be applied in South Africa where UDISA is promoting urban design as a respected built environment profession. I collected these studies I share these with you in this Google Drive Folder

It is very obvious that the built environment has value, but this value can not only be expressed in terms of capital yields, market rents, and returns on investment. The value of the urban environment is measured differently by an everyday user than by an investor. The lack of credible data has fueled the assumption that good design (which is more costly than poor or no design) is a wasteful expenditure. However, research in independent assessments prove that cost-benefit considerations are needed in conceptualising development opportunities. 

MoC presentation to APES.PNG

I argued in these two presentations that the evidence suggests that an enabling policy environment is required, and this takes diverse forms including industry protocols (NZ), design reviews (UK) and return on investment studies (USA). These assessments (available in this Google Drive Folder) share in common the following:

  • Enforceable policy frameworks supported good urban design in site plans and development applications;
  • Yields of 10-15% more in well designed neighborhoods vs. conventional single use products;
  • Majority of studies found that better design pays off in terms of land optimisation, connectivity, transport, and proximity to amenities;
  • Lower operational costs associated with security and insurance, urban management, and crime prevention;
  • Quantifiable environmental benefits of green star buildings, lower emissions, air quality, energy use, material waste, and water use; and
  • Social desirability in terms of of quality of life, social inclusiveness and wellbeing, increased vitality and safety, conviviality in public spaces. 

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