When one sees pictures of recently completed infrastructure or incomplete projects, still in their very raw state, exposed and scarred, it is understandable that some might question the quality of the design, the value of project spend, and the merits of the project as a whole.
It is understandable that some might wonder if the work is good enough.
When a project is viewed as only an intersection fly-over, felled trees, a single pedestrian walkway or the choice of materials in the context of just one issue or one component, it is understandable that the question is asked: what makes ‘good’ infrastructure?
It is paramount that landscape architects and urban designers ensure these projects are not only assessed over the fullness of time, but that those professionals are involved robustly from the outset so as to richly and genuinely engage community, and to ensure that the depth of research and holistic design debate is shared with all. This is critical if we want those who might ask this question around ‘good’ infrastructure to fully understand the true level of design rigour and input within each project, to see the projects virtues collectively and in many ways to allow them to better comprehend the method to the madness.
The role of many landscape architects and urban designers engaged within complex infrastructure projects involves pushing well beyond the brief in the pursuit of the ideal outcomes, cognisant of both the macro and micro issues. Unfortunately, though, it is these micro issues that tend to become the focus of attention during a projects start-up and which can set the agenda for ongoing conversations on the merits and or quality of a project.
It is unfortunate that when criticism rises, we forget that the majority of those working on today’s wide range of city changing and reshaping infrastructure projects are fundamentally designers at heart and residents of the cities that they are working in. They are charged with a remit to improve our cities, communities and the planet through every step of their engaged role, and therefore are pushing and striving for the same goals of those who are critical or questioning.
Projects that have long since been completed and won numerous national and international awards, such as the Gosford Freeway and Adelaides O-bahn are strong examples of exemplary work within the landscape architecture related infrastructure space. As true benchmarks of design excellence by respected landscape architecture visionaries who have been given awards of recognition at both the time of design undertaking and years afterwards, they are testament to this.
But at what point did these highly regarded projects transition from being environmental scars on our landscapes - raw open wounds within our bushland corridors and/or concrete walls and endless bitumen - into these projects of design merit and industry importance? When did they become worthy of the designation as 'good' infrastructure?
Will there come a time, for example, when communities and designers alike look back to the debates around felled trees, the closure of vehicle dominated streets, and the impacts on commuter traffic and retail customers and scoff at the light rail naysayers? Will light rail projects be hailed as exemplary and visionary for what they have done to improve the way our cities work and how citizens move around and through their city? The answer is an emphatic yes!
Will there come a time when pedestrian infrastructure, criticised for their scant use in the mornings on any given weekday, be seen for their real design merit, urban design outcome and the wider connectivity they provide? Will they be recognised for the total footfall across any given week (rather than just one narrow timeslot), by the safety they provide, and the connection they play to a larger city pedestrian network. Eventually.
Will there come a time when projects are critiqued in the context of the greater whole and not their parts? Will our inner-city transport improvements, many of which attract harsh criticism for the resultant temporary congestion, realigned parking and bus routes, hoarding and construction impacts, be appreciated for removing vehicles from our city high streets and enabling positive urban renewal, expanded cycle links and increased pedestrian connectivity?
Will one portion of a project, namely the undergrounding of services and mass ‘engineering’ and construction chaos be recognised in unison with the portion of works that result in replanned housing outcomes, positive increased city densification and humane liveable cities? Will the combined strategy and chain of events, eventually be appreciated holistically? We hope so.
Will there come a time when today’s landscape architects and urban designers are congratulated for their role in helping set the infrastructure strategy across our cities, through to the delivery of the finer detail? As has happened before, will the vision and efforts of some, as unseen today by others who are focused on the micro, be acclaimed for showing true leadership in reshaping the macro of our cities and changing the face of what is a predominantly engineering-led infrastructure space? I'm sure of it.
So quite possibly, what makes ‘good’ infrastructure is in fact – time - when the parts come together and people can see and experience the greater whole as it was envisioned.