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Advocating for Town Planning

An introduction to the study of town planning in Australia

A key figure in the advancement of town planning as a legitimate discipline was John Sulman.

Born in England, John Sulman (1849 – 1934) was an eminent architect who moved to Australia in 1885 and devoted the later years of his working life to architecture and town planning in Australia.  He was instrumental in the development of public buildings, churches and private buildings around Australia including a number of significant structures in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra.  Sulman strongly advocated for new methods in designing the layout of cities, including the “spider web” plan in preference to the traditional “grid” plan. 

John Sulman attempted to garner interest from the engineering and architecture community in 1890 with a paper presented to the Australian Association for the Advancement of Science.  Although well received, as evidenced by subsequent investigations on the topic, no significant progress was made, as “… it was felt that, until the public could be aroused to the need of Town Planning, nothing could be done.”

John Sulman delivered town planning lectures at a number of universities in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, and his widely acclaimed course of lectures delivered at the University of Sydney in 1919 are compiled in this rare 1921 publication An Introduction to the study of Town Planning in Australia.  The digitised version of the lectures can be viewed below.

The lectures explored town planning in Egyptian, Greek and Roman civilisations, modern cities throughout Europe and America, and endeavoured to apply these learnings to the Australian environment.  A comprehensive discussion on the characteristics of towns covered transportation, road systems, civic centres, business and residential areas, infrastructure, aesthetics and green spaces.  The lectures concluded with an overview of town planning costs and implications for government.

The Broader Aspects of Town Planning (cover image)

Other voices were joined in advocating for town planning progress, such as Sir James Barrett in his pamphlet published around 1918 on The Broader Aspects of the Town Planning Movement.  Sir James discussed the implications of planning on recreation spaces, playgrounds, property values, National parks and sanctuaries, and residential planning in rural communities.  His emphatic call to action is superbly summarised in closing with “What an opportunity awaits an Australian Statesman.  As Captain Bean would say, “It is in your hands, Australians.”(Barrett, 1918?, p.14).

Following advocacy for town planning by various individuals and newly created Town Planning Associations, the movement began to gain momentum on a national stage.