Variety is the spice of urban life

What is your favourite urban place? I suspect for most of us it is a place of variety: varied people, varied buildings and varied activities. This creates a stimulating experience.

Image: Mark Sheppard

But mostly we now seem to build unvaried places. Suburbs, whether high- or low-density, full of similar buildings and similar streets that attract similar people. Rarely a non-residential use in a residential place - unless forced by the planning system - because it doesn’t provide the best return.

In Guardian Cities, Richard Sennett writes about the joys of ‘porous cities’ - those that are inviting to all people, truly mixed use and flexible - and questions why we’re not building them. In Melbourne, a local council is trying to force more mixed use in one of its activity centres, against the tide of market forces.

If the purpose of planning is to direct market forces (and public interventions) to create better places, should we be working harder to create diversity, rather than allowing the market to create a monoculture?

By Mark Sheppard


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