All about innovation
Renewal SA, formerly known as the Urban Renewal Authority, is a state government property developer with a simple vision – they want to create great places to live and work. In order to do that, they form strong partnerships with all their stakeholders, and accept only the highest standards of design and planning.
Over the last few years, Renewal SA has made it their mission to deliver vibrant, connected and sustainable communities to South Australia. One of the most acclaimed of those communities is Lightsview – an innovative development in Adelaide’s north-eastern suburbs, developed in close partnership with leading Australian community developer CIC Australia.
“It really was a joint venture in the truest sense,” says Fred Hansen, CEO of Renewal SA. “We really were a part of the design and delivery, and we participated in all aspects of it. Together, we created what I think is one of the landmark communities here in Adelaide.”
Prior to his involvement with Lightsview, Fred personally came from a long career of “making places great for people.” He’s an international transport and liveable cities expert, and spent more than a decade as the General Manager of TriMet in in Portland, where he oversaw a period of unprecedented development. Soon after, he came to Adelaide as a guest of the Thinkers in Residence program, which brought leaders in their field to work with the South Australian community and government in developing new ideas and approaches to problem solving.
As a Thinker-in Residence, Fred was involved in expanding Adelaide’s tram network. During that time, he became impressed with the way South Australia was “taking control of its destiny.”
“They had a 30-Year-Plan, a set of strategic objectives, and were really measuring their performances against those objectives,” he explains. “Very few places across the world do those kinds of things, and they really made me believe that South Australia was special.”
In his current role at Renewal SA, Fred has helped oversee the delivery of several ground-breaking developments – but he says none more are ground breaking than Lightsview.
“It just has a great design,” he says. “It’s a walkable community with great open spaces, and strong linkages to surrounding areas. Everything is very integrated and open, which is what people want.”
“We fundamentally believe that people yearn for a more compact living setting,” he explains. “They want a place where they can walk to the grocery store, or walk to the coffee shop, or walk to a wine bar. They want to be able to conveniently meet with friends and family. They want to be part of a community.”
Fred admits that traditional wisdom in the development sector says the opposite of that. He says the common line of thinking is that people want quarter-acre lots with single homes. When Fred was a Thinker-in-Residence, the Property Council commissioned a “study of attitudes” within the greater Adelaide area that sought to measure that demand.
“The results were interesting,” Fred says. “About a third of the respondents said they had no interest in living in a more dense area. Another third said they would be interested in that. And the final third hadn’t made up their minds yet.”
“But when we looked at the second third – the people who said they really liked it – we found they were people who had experienced it interstate in Melbourne, Sydney or Brisbane, or they experienced it overseas.”
According to Fred, that told them they were on the right track. It also told them that the final undecided third could be convinced. They concluded that if they were able to create “great places” – places that pull people to them, due to their great design and their great amenities – there was a large portion of the population that would be interested.
“There was a large portion of people who wouldn’t mind giving up the lawnmower and the big garden,” he says. “They’d like, in fact, the ability to walk out their door and instantly see neighbors and friends. They’d like the ability to walk to the coffee shop or café.”
“When you talk about design, you can’t just talk about the structures that are being built,” he adds, and he’s describing Renewal SA’s philosophy in general. “You have to talk about the spaces in between, because that’s where humans interact. We think that’s incredibly important, and we won’t compromise on those design issues.”
In addition to being compact and integrated with its surroundings, Lightsview also includes a wide diversity of housing types. According to Fred, that was a priority for Renewal SA from the very conception of the project, and they asked their partners at CIC Australia to work with a variety of other builders and developers to make it happen.
As a result of that diversity, Fred says that Lightsviews is the only community in Adelaide that has a $2 million home on the same block as a $250,000 one.
“That diversity within a community adds to its richness,” he says. “And that diversity has proven to work. Every time a new building gets built at Lightsview, there’s a waiting list of people who want to come be a part of it. People are voting with their pocketbooks.”
As a community, Lightsview has been very well received – not just by its residents, but by the industry at large as well. The 2013 UDIA Awards for Excellence, as an example, recognised the community with three successive accolades.
First, Lightsview won the Masterplanned Development category at the South Australia awards. From there, it went on to take the National Award as well. Finally, it was chosen as the “best of the best” from national award category winners, and received the coveted President’s Award.
“We think that’s tremendously important,” says Fred of the recognition. “It shows that experts – people who are knowledgeable in their field – are endorsing it. It confirms what we’ve done, and it helps others understand that it’s something special.”
According to Fred, the Lightsview award victory boils down to the “quality of the design, and the quality of the execution.” He says they proved that compact, integrated urban design works – and it’s something that people actually want.
“Lightsview, which has now won a number of awards and which last year celebrated its 200th affordable home sale, has proven that high quality, desirable and affordable housing will always find market appeal when delivered well,” adds Adam Joyce, Media Manager for Renewal SA.
“I would echo the comments of UDIA SA Executive Director Terry Walsh, who said winning this award is significant achievement for a South Australian development and that Lightsview has successfully positioned itself as a credible alternative to the traditional eastern suburbs through innovative urban design.”
The national judging panel, meanwhile, complimented Lightsview on the use of easily navigable and safe linkages for walking and cycling, and for developing a range of neighbourhood parks for a range of age-appropriate activities. They also commended its innovative affordable housing options.
In general, Fred says Renewal SA will pursue that kind of innovation wherever possible. Their latest development, Bowden, is a prime example. Bowden is located in the inner-city of Adelaide overlooking the Adelaide City Parklands, and features an innovative “shared street concept” – meaning there are no curbs. Instead, it allows bikes, pedestrians and vehicles to operate together, without too much clear delineation in terms of street markings.
According to Fred, that concept makes people consider the street as not just a place for vehicles, but as a part of the community. And while it may sound unsafe, the truth is vehicles actually slow down and become more alert. That makes it the kind of innovative urban design solution Renewal SA will stay on the lookout for.
“Innovation is something that never stops,” Fred says. “It’s a constant process. It’s about constantly thinking differently about places, and about where people want to be. That’s what UDIA recognised at Lightsview, and that’s what Renewal SA is all about.”