Philip Davies, outgoing Infrastructure Australia chief executive, stated to the press that “Australia needs to make ‘a complete shift’ in the way it plans cities.”

According to Davies, the age when politicians and urban planners decided what was best for the populace is over and should be replaced with a new personalized approach where the citizens living in the city helped decide the fate of their infrastructure.

To be honest, this is a very good way to look at a city. Urban planning is after all, all about how to attract people to live in the city. This includes a plethora of activities including the reduction of congestion, reducing waste and waste management, integrating cycling lanes, introducing recycling, promoting the use of public transport, increasing car parking options and managing their costs, implementing road safety campaigns while reducing danger zones, incorporating safer routes to school initiatives while improving education, supporting local businesses, consuming less and even banning single-use plastic bags and much more.

It is very easy to plan transport routes of all kinds, as well as spending money on new initiatives for reducing congestion, but if city planners do not consider what the city homeowner and business want, all these improvements will be accepted with mixed emotions.

A number of questions have to be asked to fully comprehend what a cities population truly believes in, and this means meeting expectations with reality. To understand reality, city planners have to understand exceptions.

Questions such as:

  • What are the beliefs of our cities population?
  • Do people believe the car is the most convenient mode of travel?
  • Do people believe that it’s too dangerous to ride a bicycle to work?

These are perceptual questions, and perception is the core of a belief. Examples are rife, and two people sitting on a bus at the same time will have two totally different opinions of their transportation. Belief is irrational since it is based on a personal set of core emotions. As such, we need to consider the following questions when designing a city that will meet population consensus and reduce friction between the population and the city decision makers.

  • What does the individual value?
  • What services do ratepayers value the most?
  • What is of least importance to community groups?
  • What rules are used to evaluate the usefulness of open spaces and parks?
  • What standards do we use to evaluate public transport?

Asking residents to make a Pareto list of the three most important services or aspects of city living will provide keen insight into how the population thinks and regards their individual perception and interaction with the environment from a city perspective.

Davies suggests that city planners and decision makers perform more surveys, tries to get into the heads of the populace and begins to realize that what is best for the city is not what the city planner thinks is best, but is an integrated approach that includes what the city and the populace both desire.