Obesity may lead to the first modern decline in Australian life expectancy. British Medical Journal- The Lancet (2016)



Our children and grandchildren’s health and wellbeing is being compromised by the ‘places’ that we plan and the culture that we promote right now. A healthy built environment is one that supports physical and social activity, creates a sense of belonging and a place that keeps us engaged.


Place- leaders are motivated by the great responsibility to understand and honour the past, celebrate the present and provide a legacy for the future. As urban designers, planners, architects and placemakers Roberts Day creates Great Places…places of lasting value and places for people. Place- leadership is about planning for today and for future generations.



How do we achieve this with the unknowns of technology, environmental turbulence and the ever changing political landscape? The answer is of course flexibility but it is also drawing on the past and upon the benefit of hindsight. This does not preclude change, evolution, or innovation. In fact, it inspires it. Even the most amazing innovators of our time recognised that the future is an unknown but that there is value in looking to the past.


“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.” Steve Jobs


The basic needs and values of an individual, whilst evolving, span generations and move beyond the latest trends in measuring liveability.


Place led communities instil common values that have stood the test of time including health, stimulation, human interaction and identity. Embedding these values into our approach to planning, designing and activating communities will future- proof places for the next generation. By developing places void of these place values, the following patterns will be perpetuated.


Health- The Heart Foundation states that physical inactivity causes 1 out of 10 Australian deaths.


Stimulation-  Insufficient stimulation in children predispose them to learning, attention, behaviour and language difficulties later in life. Adults also benefit from stimulation, with 46% lower risk of developing dementia in stimulated and intellectually active individuals.


Human Interaction- A US study suggests that low social interaction reduces our lifespan as much as alcoholism and smoking, has more impact than lack of exercise, and is twice as harmful as obesity.


Identity- Place attachment within modern neighbourhoods is significantly less than that of traditional, pre- war neighbourhoods resulting in less pride of place and unsatisfying social relationships.



Great places are not created out of thin air. History and heritage is drawn upon to ensure authenticity and greatness can be achieved. No place is a Tabula Rasa. Every place has a unique DNA. The essence of the place must be discovered and embedded into the future Place Blueprint.


The places that have stood the test the time are built on strong and authentic foundations. Often this is achieved by returning to pre- war development models before private vehicle oriented developments overtook the once mixed use walkable neighbourhood. In other cases, the DNA is uncovered by engaging with the locals, older generations, indigenous communities and historical or environmental organizations.


Using the trademarked Roberts Day Great Places Process, we dedicate a significant amount of time to the Understand and Discover phases before picking up a pen to design. It is critical to understand the essence of the place before programming and shaping its physicality. Recently Roberts Day led an integrated design and place making community engagement series for Red Hill Public Housing Precinct (ACT) where historically strong community protest was replaced with community leaders such as Red Hill Residents Group chairperson Melissa Bennett stating that, ‘If [the Roberts Day plan] prevails I can see this being a possible model for future consultations.’ The approach to the site planning and public domain was improved through the consultation discovery whereby the indigenous and architectural heritage of the area was woven into the design and strengthened community support.



As place focused urban designers, we are primarily interested in designing physical form that influences the way that people behave (the psychology of place). By understanding the heritage and culture of a place, we can tailor a design response to address the specific values of a community. The following design considerations and interventions begin to address the challenges identified earlier in this paper that are threatening the happiness and liveability of future generations.


Health-  Intersection density is a key factor for increasing walking and refers to the number of intersections per hectare as influenced by block size. Intersection density is a key variable for increasing walking. In Campoli’s, Made For Walking, he states that doubling of intersection density results in about a 44% increase in walking.


Human Interaction- The rebuilding of New Road, Brighton, U.K., a shared space, increased pedestrians by 162% and human interaction by 600%.


A key activation project within the Roberts Day Bondi Junction Complete Streets, winner of the PIA NSW Award for Best Planning Ideas, is the Spring Street pop- up ‘urban lounge’ parklet. The lifespan of the urban lounge was extended from three months to three years and counting in response to visitors' and shopkeepers demand. The success evident by the increase in spontaneous interaction and surveyed shopkeepers reporting a 60% increase in retail expenditure.


Stimulation- Jan Gehl’s research on psychological studies of pedestrians documents that optimally a walker is stimulated by his surrounds every 5 metres. This kind of engaging environment attracts seven times more activity; more walking, more shopping, more interaction and more happy, stimulated people.


Identity- Place attachment and place identity, are correlated with environmentally responsible behaviour and advocacy for the environment. Celebrating the heritage of a place is critical to a person or community’s long term attachment to a place and generational sense of belonging.


The Roberts Day master planned community of Ginninderry (ACT) was launched on 7 April 2017 on-site at ‘The Link, a multi-purpose community centre subleased by artsACT to the LDA/ Riverview Joint Venture. The strong place identity influence of the Strathnairn Homestead & existing arts community inspired a design focused around The Link. The Link will be gifted back to the ACT Government to become a centre for the community to use and enjoy as part of the Strathnairn Arts precinct. The building will ultimately become a net positive energy provider consistent with the objectives of Canberra's first 6 star green star community and Australia's largest future microgrid.


Roberts Day has always considered its approach to be place and people- led; but the issues highlighted in this paper have required our industry to more rigorously embed place into our design process. Meaning our design frameworks must not only be activated and informed by people but the cultural identity of a place must be cultivated and driven by people. We must facilitate the rise of soft power which will encourage a community to define the unique spirit of the city depending on its own heritage, culture and values.


The value in place- led design of communities lies in our ability to future- proof places and to provide a framework for social resilience. It is about ‘leaving this planet better off than when we arrived,’ but even more importantly it is about doing everything in our power to make sure that the next generation is happier, healthier and more participatory in their destiny that we have been.




Paddock, C. (2010). Low Social Interaction Harms Lifespan on a Par with Obesity, Smoking, Inactivity, Medical News Today.


Jackson, E. .(2011). Stanford University Commencement Speech, Steve Jobs, 2005 documented in ‘The Top Ten Lessons Steve Jobs Taught Us’, Forbes Online Magazine.


Udell, T. Daley, M. Johnson, B. (2014). Does Density Matter? The role of density in creating walkable neighbourhoods, The National Heart Foundation of Australia.


Packham, R. (2017). Application lodged for Red Hill public housing precinct redevelopmentAllhomes.com.au.


Vaske, J.J. Kobrin, K.C. (2001). Place attachment and environmentally responsible behaviour, Journal of Environmental Psychology, 32


Brown, G. Raymond, C. (2007). The relationship between place attachment and landscape values: Towards mapping place attachment, Applied Geography, 27.


British Medical Journal- The Lancet (2016)


issue 03. autumn 2017