Some UDF readers may recall completing surveys and/or talking with me over the years about urban design scope and methods. In 1992, I conducted a questionnaire survey and interviews with 30 professionals who ‘portrayed’ themselves as urban designers. I gathered information about educational background, what activities respondents were engaged in and what concepts and methods they applied to their work. I repeated the survey in 2001/2, attracting 32 respondents, nine of whom were common across both surveys. The surveys were sent to as many urban designers as could be identified through telephone yellow pages, listings in professions journals and through network contacts. In all, 93 forms were sent in 1992, and 120 in 2001/2. Here is a snap-shot of some findings that may be of interest and use.
The fact that in both surveys over 80% of urban designers are more than 40 years old suggests, perhaps not surprisingly, that they are predominantly mid-career professionals with considerable experience in the built environment. Both surveys are substantially in common in confirming that urban designers are very well formally educated, with over 80% having at least a higher degree and about 30% having three degrees. In a significant change from 1992, when planning at about 60%, was the most common higher degree, focused urban design higher degrees at about 50%, are now the most common add-on to foundation professional qualifications. This is up from about 20% in 1992. In the past ten years we have seen diversification in the foundation discipline of urban designers. The most common foundation degree in 1992 was architecture at about 80%, with planning at about 15% and landscape at 5% - compared with about 60%, 25% and 15% respectively now. Clearly, landscape architects are emerging as a significant group. In 1992, all the formal urban design qualifications were gained overseas (about half each in the in the USA and UK), but now graduates from Australian urban design programmes are the predominant group, at 50% of urban design degrees, with those from the USA representing about 30% and from the UK 20%.
What are you reading?
If all of the above seems a bit dry, perhaps the following will be of some practical use in contemplating what you have (and maybe should) read about urban design. Urban designers were asked to nominate what they consider to be the ten most important published sources for urban design that informed their activities. Authors and texts are listed in the table below for both 1992 and 2001/2, down to 10% frequency of nominations (ie at least three people in both surveys nominated the text).
While it appears that urban designers are referring to a wide range of texts, analysis of the full lists is cause for reflection. Most of the references are American (58% in 1992 and 54% in 2001/2) with the UK generating 20% in 1992 and 16% in 2001/2. Australian authors/texts represent only 18% in 1992 and 16% in 2001/2. It would not be unreasonable to conclude that there is considerable overseas influence, especially American, on Australian urban design thinking. Is this of concern? Should we not by now have produced more home-grown theories, methods and ideas? Leaving aside the Journals which may be a healthy indication, the up-to-dateness of publications is cause for additional concern. The average publication date for the 1992 list was 1977 while that of the recent survey is only two years later at 1979. Perhaps a positive interpretation may be that Lynch, Bentley, Alexander and Cullen, who collectively head both lists, developed relevant and robust theories and methods which are withstanding tests of time. Anyway, food for thought! I hope to publish a comprehensive analysis of the data before the end of this year and will be sending copies to participants in the 2001/2 survey.
Gordon Holden is Professor and Head of School of Architecture, Victoria University of Wellington and can be contacted at Gordon.Holden@vuw.ac.nz
Also in UDFQ 63: September 2003:
- Rob Cowan visiting Australia
- Next Edition: Culture and the built environment
- UD strengthened at RMIT University
- Urban Design a must for Kiwi Architecture students
- Who wants an Urban Design education?
- A student perspective on outcomes
- MUDD at University of New South Wales
- Urbanism in SEQ
- MUD at Melbourne University
- Urban design at Sydney University
- The art of asking questions
- Urban design laboratory
- Urban Design Forum meets RMIT