Bendigo wins Australia Award for Urban Design

In an unusual move, the 2008 Australia Award for Urban Design was bestowed on the incremental transformation of an entire city centre. Rather than a single project or space, the judges recognised the accumulated impact of successive initiatives, policies and commitments contributing to revitalisation of Bendigo’s city centre under the leadership of a succession of Councils and officers since the early 1990s.

The Award citation praises the enlightened approach being taken by the City. “The Council has shown great public leadership making significant public investment that has stimulated complementary private investment programs, which together have had a focus on people, public amenity, revitalisation and the progressive realisation of its plans over time.”

Rod duncan manager bendigo city centre program receives the award from minister peter garrett with jan boynton bendigo director of city strategy

Rod Duncan [left] Manager Bendigo City Centre Program, receives the Award from Minister Peter Garrett, with Jan Boynton, Bendigo Director of City Strategy

In presenting the Award, Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett said Bendigo’s achievement were “a model for how good sustainable urban design principles can help revitalised regional Australia”. Initially a number of separate public realm initiatives and heritage restoration projects were undertaken, lifting the city’s appearance and confidence. Grand gestures were combined with subtle, persistent initiatives, such as progressive under-grounding of electrical wiring that now extends over 13 kilometres of streets. This enabled extensive planting of deciduous street trees to complement the city’s inland climate, whilst a consistent suite of paving materials was selected to provide quality and continuity.

As these initiatives made the value of urban quality apparent to an expanding group of stakeholders, objectives for enhancement of the city centre were articulated and formalised, culminating in the cross-disciplinary Bendigo CBD Plan in 2005. This provides a widely shared vision for strengthening the city centre, incorporating amenity, prosperity, sustainability and identity. One of the Plan’s key policies is “designing a high quality environment”, placing design at the centre of policy and decision-making.

Prosperity tied to image

It became increasingly apparent that the city’s prosperity was tied to its image, and quality was important for business. One benchmark indicator is the number of dining venues extending into public spaces. By 2008, outdoor venues had risen to 230% of the number licensed in 2000, responding to the climate, enhanced amenity and growing sophistication of the city.

Dining out on quality design in bendigo

Dining out on quality design in Bendigo

The City of Greater Bendigo has also become more sophisticated in planning, delivery and advocacy. The integrated vision plan recognised that the inter-dependent components of an urban centre need an integrated approach to delivery, embracing not only the City’s own inputs, but enhancing relationships and coordination with the private sector and public agencies. The Bendigo City Centre Program, a place-based mechanism pursuing ‘joined-up’ delivery of agreed objectives across traditional division of tasks, has resulted in increased effectiveness and accelerated implementation.

In delivering on a commitment to enhanced pedestrian amenity, safety and convenience, the Bendigo has adapted a radical mindset shift from Europe to Australian conditions. Core retail streets in the city centre are being converted, applying the ‘shared space’ approach that essentially makes streets pedestrian spaces that vehicles can enter as subsidiary users. The logic is that ambiguous uncertainty reduces speed, enhances vigilance by drivers and reduces collisions and their consequences. A by-product is greatly enhanced public areas devoted to pedestrians and passive uses.

Two commendations

Two commendations were also awarded by the Australia Award Jury: GHD Pty Ltd and the South Australian Department of Energy, Transport and Infrastructure for the ‘Glenelg Tramline Extension’; and Landcom for ‘The Landcom Guidelines’.

The Australia Award for Urban Design was established in 1996 as an initiative of the Prime Minister Keating’s Urban Design Task Force. It is now jointly sponsored by the Planning Institute of Australia, Australian Institute of Architects, Australian Institute of Landscape Architects and Urban Design Forum, making it the prime national award for excellence in the built environment.