There are many interesting topics, that are somewhat controversial, that never seem to leave the headlines, one of them being the quality of urban development.

Before starting this topic, I did my own very practical research, not academic by nature, I simply did some old fashioned footwork, literally and walked around a number of Sydney suburbs where there’s lots of development currently underway and still other projects in areas that have been completed over the past 5 or so years.

It’s something I continuously do, and on this recent journey I walked in and around dozens of interesting neighbourhoods where the density ranged between a handful of townhouse to several blocks of high-rise apartments. My eyes and instinct were alert to both the quality of individual buildings but also the general surrounds, the parks and open spaces, the footpaths and local facilities and I’m very pleased to say that I was impressed by some great examples. Communities and neighbourhoods that were inviting and with many examples of vibrant local cafes and shops overflowing with happy residents, families, their pets and all sorts of eager patrons.

Stimulating and refreshing places is how I would describe what I was seeing.  This was not a case of badly designed projects on empty streets, but more a feeling of an engaged active community, with a diverse demographic and these examples made me reflect. No matter your personal likes and dislikes of individual styles, the choice of different architectural themes and varied building materials, broad sweeping judgments are out of place, there will always be a variety of views.

I do however, suggest that it’s important to always keep in mind that many of these areas are in a state of transition, yes even upheaval. Some from older residential areas, others from heavy industry and still other sites from light industrial and warehousing uses and because of the scale of transaction we are seeing, in many area this naturally takes time to complete, settle and mature.

The degree of urban change around many of our cities is progressive and can’t just fall into place over night, even the best planning and best design takes time to mature in place. We are also dealing with the legacy of fractured ownership where a dozen or so individual owners might own a particular development area or single street. This presents unique problems when planning the re-birth of these same areas.

There’s no immediate solution, existing property ownerships need to be respected and so in different suburbs a jig-saw of new developments will result. However, despite some limitations in many areas it is possible to see developments that have been both a commercial success and also places that are fostering very desirable communities, neighbourhoods and developments where people wish to live and enjoy doing so.

There are many good examples of such developments, and a walk around, taking time to check the features that people seek out, soon reveals many attractive areas. In parts of the City of Sydney to Sydney’s inner south-east the evidence is there as parks and public spaces mature into very successful and attractive neighbourhoods. Full of people.

I know from my experience that developers wish to supply the best product they can and given time and constructive engagement with the community that happens. So when we think about the quality of urban development it’s my view is that it pays to engage with and visit as many projects as possible and not just be an arm-chair critic.