Building Cites and Neighbourhoods That People Love conference – by Cory Babb

September 5, 2019

On August 29th and 30th, the Utah chapters of the Institute for Classical Architecture and Art and the Congress for New Urbanism teamed up with Utah Valley University’s (UVU) new school of architecture to host a conference.  The conference was titled “Building Cities and Neighborhoods That People Love.

One would be forgiven for thinking such a conference would be held in the middle of buzzing Salt Lake City.  In fact, it was held seven miles to the south in Murray.  A small city in its own right, Murray was settled independently of Salt Lake City, and still operates its own services and schools.  It has good bones—beautiful and historic architecture abound—but it is plagued by an unfriendly and unwalkable north-south gash dividing the city in two.  The proximity to Salt Lake City has turned the main street into a six-lane wide highway corridor.  Lined with ubiquitous big box retail buildings and their associated seas of parking, it shares the archetypal problem faced by so much of middle America—how to reclaim local identity, neighbourhoods, and economic vitality from decades of planning history favouring efficient vehicle movement at the expense of the pedestrian’s experience.

The choice of conference location was deliberate, because far from being a series of academic dissertations, the conference combined practitioners with a hands-on community workshop looking at how they can re-build their own city into a place that people love.  The UVU students also used the conference as a spring board to lead a public input process, getting locals to speak out on what they love about Murray and look at what needs improvement.  It marked the beginning of a year-long process for the students to document and record the architecture and urbanism of Murray, producing a pattern book of its details.  This pattern book will celebrate the best architecture of Murray, and help to showcase details of its unique and local identity.

Among the practitioners in urban design, architecture, and transportation at the conference, I was on hand to discuss our experience at ADAM Urbanism delivering and implementing a strategic masterplan for the urban extension to Newquay.  The project is called Nansledan, and looks at a 50-year/4000 home growth plan for the city.  Like Murray, the land sits on the fringe of another parent city. It also looks to redress some existing and unsafe highways problems like Murray has, and involves the production of a Pattern Book (among other regulatory documents).

But of course, it would be naïve to suggest that the two sites are that similar.  Going back to the title of the conference “Building Cities and Neighbourhoods That People Love,” this was an opportunity to share how we have been working to create a place people love, and cast a vision for what a positive pedestrian-oriented development can look like.

In considering Nansledan, we have developed ten principles to achieve this, which were shared at the conference.  In closing, I share them below:

  • Any development should evolve through proactive public consultation.
  • A masterplan should be comprehensive and integrate a mix of public spaces, street types and building types.
  • Sustainability should be addressed in its broadest sense, addressing lifestyle issues, not just building regulations.
  • Any development should reflect local identity.
  • Use local resources to assist the local economy, reflect local identity and meet sustainability objectives.
  • New development should be designed to meet identified local needs.
  • New development should forge strong physical connections with existing development, but look to meet its own needs internally.
  • Acknowledging that all development impacts the environment, these impacts should be measured, minimised and mitigated wherever possible.
  • As a diminishing resource land must not be wasted. New development should be confident about density and height.
  • The development will have commercial integrity and seek to provide an economic microclimate for the community within it.