Everything’s Connected: Four ways to make your development thrive and future-forward

We live in a rapidly changing urban environment within a global context. As more people live in our cities and towns there is greater complexity and pressure to perform within a global marketplace. At TTM, we take a systems approach to shaping new places, with a deep understanding that everything is connected. Making sense of these connections to deliver great outcomes is about learning how to join the dots.

TTM recently welcomed Mel Fyfe to our Sydney office as Director. Mel comes with significant experience in urban renewal and transport strategy, including recently leading the transport and infrastructure portfolios for the Barangaroo project in Sydney.

Mel’s approach to planning and strategy is to have a human focus and take a system view. This then enables a design-led exploration and multi-disciplinary collaboration to identify the multiple points of connection with a problem or issue, to enable a better approach to solve or respond to the problem.

Mel’s advice to any developer or place-maker is to use the design phase to take a broad view of how a development will impact and connect to everything around it and assist you to respond accordingly.

Here are some of Mel’s top pieces of advice to help you create amazing places for now and the future:

1. Embrace complexity and think in terms of systems

Our industrial history has taught us to simplify and distil complex problems into discrete solutions. What we have found is that today’s solutions often create tomorrow’s problems. The car was considered the clean and sustainable panacea for street pollution and we have instead created a whole other set of problems that we are now trying to fix.

However, as humans we don’t work that way. Humans are exceptional at finding the patterns and connections in complex systems – we are evolved sense-makers, and we need to take hold of this ability and harness it for our future. Planning and developing for cities are no different; they are systems and we need to think of them this way.

We need to think in terms of the whole rather than pieces. Consider an analogy of a doctor (who are fantastic system thinkers) prescribing for the complex system of the human body. A drug that may benefit a symptom may in fact create unintended consequences in another part of the body that may be far worse than the original complaint. A doctor must consider the connections between these interdependent systems to implement an effective intervention that has a net benefit outcome.

If your approach is to not think about how your development connects as a system within itself, how it interacts and contributes to what is beyond it, or how your development improves or deprives the liveability of a place – then you are probably not getting the right advice.

2. Want less traffic? Provide transport services from day 1 (not bigger roads)

Increasing density? Some may tell you that you need many car parking spaces and you need to widen the roads and build new intersections to cater for all that extra traffic, right?

Mel’s experience in urban renewal, including Green Square and Barangaroo, has demonstrated that if the desired transport behaviours are not catered for and incentivised from the day the first resident or worker arrives, then you accept the impact of your decisions. Barangaroo would not function without Wynyard Walk or street design that limits parking. Green Square struggles without an additional high-capacity rail service resulting in buses that are too full and with constant traffic congestion. Yet, Green Square also has extensive active transport infrastructure (coupled with some clever and successful behaviour change campaigns) and this relieves some of the car demand, particularly during the commute peaks.

It is critical that access to public and active transport services are provided early and are shaped and grown based on the growth of the area. The concept of normalising the densification of transport options and capacity to meet increased land used density is essential to making new developments work (especially at a precinct scale).

3. Include elements of playfulness and delight

Playfulness and delight are two key factors that need to be included in place that are often overlooked or forgotten. When we think of our favourite places to be, they are often creators of delight in our lives whether they be our homes, art galleries, beaches or planned events.

We often forget that play is just as important for adults as it is for children. We know that play is critical and formative for the physical and cognitive development for young people, yet play is stimulating for the adult brain which can increase productivity and performance. Play often comprises an element of physical activity which keeps our bodies moving and is good for our health, and it also releases hormones that make us feel good.

Designing in opportunities for play and playfulness in developments provides enormous benefits for both the people in that place, but also creates a unique point of difference from a marketing perspective.

4. Be future-forward: enable continuous adaptation and transition

We are seeing adaptive reuse become a more prolific requirement in urban mixed-use developments, as governments prepare for rapid technological disruption to our physical environment resulting in need to change the use of our physical spaces.

As we know, adapting the use of an existing building can be complex and costly, so it makes sense to prepare for potential expected change during the design process. Rather than future-proof (which implies a set final state), be future-forward so that your development can respond to change continuously into the future.

Many architects and developers are providing for adaptive reuse in new buildings, however, this should apply also to streets and their functions to enable changes in use at lower cost and responding to the actual behaviours of people rather that what was considered appropriate in the early strategic stages.