Great Cities come from Great Ideas

The 2014 YP Connect Conference was full of great ideas!

The weekend of the 15th – 16th  March I had the pleasure of attending the 2014 Young Planners Connect Congress on Ideas, Tools and Technology, providing a focus on initiatives that urban planners should increasingly harness to advocate urban design outcomes that will make our cities great.

The 2014 Congress was hosted in Sydney and attracted a record number of young urban planning professionals from rural, suburban and inner city areas around Australia. The event began at the grungy-chic Alaska Projects exhibition space located in the basement of Kings Cross Car Park, and was opened by John O’Callaghan, an entrepreneur of pop-up engagement  and advocator for urban planning social media initiatives. The presentation challenged its audience to seek varied and interesting stimulus in a routine week and to branch into broader non-planning communities to engage, discuss and to inform our planning practice on what communities desire and need in the design of their cities.

From this platform of fresh ideas, delegates were then grouped into teams for the anticipated Twitter Trail adventure, routed through the urban jungle of Sydney and spanning Potts Point in the east to Pyrmont in the west. Teams were sent clues to their Twitter accounts that were followed to complete the trail, and at each destination team photos were captured and posted with witty taglines to the Twitter Trail newsfeed. My team’s approach to the creative photo component of the exercise is illustrated below. The Trail was a success and all teams reconvened in Pyrmont for drinks and networking.


The Sunday program of the Congress comprised two morning sessions of industry presentations held at Doltone House in Pyrmont, followed by a tour of urban planning projects along the Pyrmont Peninsula in the afternoon, and then a delegate welcome cruise on Sydney Harbour. The guest speakers for the morning session shared their industry experience from both a national and international context. Many of the presentations critiqued the greenfield planning development trend, and the impetus for change to achieve better urban planning outcomes in our cities, by adding density to our established urban centres benefiting and capitalising on the existing urban infrastructure. To offset this density, the presentations highlighted public space initiatives that can be utilised to generate pockets of urban spaces that are interesting, creative and attractive for communities to enjoy. These initiatives included:

  • Well-designed permanent and pop-up skate park areas in public space, and the opportunities surrounding playable/ skate-able sculpture (Skate Sculpture);
  • Staffed play yards for young children to adolescents to assist childhood development through physical play, based on European case studies (Tanya Vincent, JBA Urban Design Consultants); and
  • Urban farming initiatives such as 3000 Acres community gardens to promote local neighbourhood interaction as well as the localisation of food supply (Kate Dundas, Planisphere).

The underlying theme of these presentations was the need to initiate discussion and form partnerships with communities to determine how new urban developments can create places that meet the needs of the people who use them. As communication consultants we fully support the big take away message from this years YP Conference – to harness varied engagement techniques and formats to engage the community widely, including:

  • experiential workshops, by creating temporary spaces that can be adopted long term, such as holding a public picnic in a temporary space to encourage the public to comment on the design of the space;
  • using topical lectures, crowd funding or idea bombing to encourage idea sharing;
  • social media for advocating desired urban design outcomes; and
  • Interactive community engagement meetings at a set time and venue.

Urban Concepts continues to adapt and promote new community engagement techniques to inspire communities to contribute their ideas and reframe conversations that celebrate development.

It is encouraging to see the popular adoption of new consultation initiatives and the rewards that flow on from these initiatives, being attractive and great places that all add up to create truly great cities.

- Emily