Appy neighbours

A 28-year-old Dutch man who lost his job, was dumped by his girlfriend, and returned home to find his apartment (and all his possessions) ablaze, has developed an App which turns the neighbourly act of lending your power drill, into a community building phenomenon.

For Dan Weddepohl, showing vulnerability wasn’t easy in the era of Facebook, where everybody seems to lead cheerful and happy lives. But it led him to an interesting discovery.

“Neighbours I didn’t really know up until then came by to bring all kinds of essential things, like food, blankets or cooking utensils,” Weddepohl recalls. “It turned out that people really like helping others. I also found out that asking for help creates real human contact. I realized that this is what really matters in life and not the designer clothes or the flashy car. It’s people that make you happy.”

The experience led Weddepohl to develop a website and mobile app called Peerby . The idea is to make it as easy as possible for people to borrow stuff they need from their neighbours. Users type into the app what they need — power drills, ladders and other tools for household projects are common requests. Peerby then queries nearby members. If someone has an item they’re willing to lend, they respond and use the app’s messaging tool to sort out the logistics. All this typically happens in less than 30 minutes.

More than just a temporary exchange of goods, these interactions have become a form of community building.

Of course, Peerby isn’t the only app focused on facilitating sharing among strangers. “Collaborative consumption” are increasingly meaningful buzzwords in a growing number of cities around the world. Everything from car rides (Uber, Lyft, Bla Bla Car, Snappcar) to meals (PlateCulture, MealSharing) to lodging (Airbnb, Couchsurfing) to clothes (DigNSwap, Rewear) can be exchanged through apps.

Read more about it here.

Watch: Daan Weddepohl’s winning presentation at the New Cities Foundation’s 2014 AppMyCity! competition.

Banner image credit:imore.come

Full Steam ahead for the Bays Precinct

A summit of international industry leaders was held over 3 days in Sydney late last month to join great minds in planning for the urban transformation project known as the Bays Precinct.

This summit drew on the expertise of global, national and local urban transformation specialists to explore best-practice urban renewal from across the globe, as well as investment and finance options for infrastructure to better inform the development of this precinct. The world leading urban renewal experts provided ideas and lessons learnt on the best ways to revitalise Sydney’s inner harbour area.

The Summit highlighted some challenges to be addressed and UrbanGrowth NSW will now begin preparing a statement of principles to guide its evolution, before more detailed strategic plans are advanced next year.

So where is The Bays Precinct? It is within 2km to the west of Sydney’s CBD, it consists of 80 hectares of government owned land and harbour waterways. And what is it? The Bays Precinct Urban Transformation Program will transform currently underutilised areas into a destination that will contribute significantly to the economic, cultural and social wellbeing of the city and the state.

The Bays Precinct will be revitalised as a world-class, iconic waterfront destination, and will deliver vibrant and dynamic places for the city and the State. Read more here

Danger diesel

Diesel: outdated and dirty, or a model for excellent fuel-efficiency in a more environmentally conscious world? When I was a child, my father the engineer and car enthusiast, would stress to me how diesel pumped out harmful sulphur-based fumes. When I became older and the costs of owning a car were factored into my lifestyle, the modern “ultra-low-sulphur” diesel engines were attractive thanks to better bang-for-your-buck, and, for the benefit of my conscience, lower CO2 emissions than petrol.

Car makers have seen some sense in this too. In recent years, Australia has been increasingly following European Union emission regulations, and we have witnessed some car models like the Ford Territory replace their larger petrol engines with smaller diesel ones.

Image credit:

What do we do then, when Europe decides to ban diesel? Authorities in the UK and France are beginning a push to curb and eventually get diesel cars off the road in the name of other pollutants like Nitrogen oxides and various carcinogens. Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris wants diesel cars out of the city, with a plan to become more friendly to pedestrians and cycling-dominated instead. Boris Johnson, the famed mayor of London, similarly has plans to halve pollution and introduce hybrid buses, and zero-emission taxis.

What this means for their cities is a shift away from personal motor vehicles to public and active transport. The byproducts of more active citizens and less-congested roads could even be beneficial for the economy thanks to fewer lost hours from poor health or being late to work.

What would our cities look and feel like with such changes? We (perhaps) no longer have an East-West tunnel to think about here in Melbourne, so would that investment be better placed where Paris and London have put theirs? We have followed Europe on vehicular emissions so far… will we keep doing so?

Read more:

Banner image credit:

Tree time back in favour

Who doesn’t like a nice avenue of street trees? Most of us would agree that an avenue of trees makes for a more pleasant urban environment.

But there are some people who have good reason not to like trees of course: plumbers (tree roots get in your pipes), power companies (those branches get stuck in the power lines – give them the chop), builders (roots can damage footings) and the people who lay the footpaths around them.

We found this recent article by Alan Davies in ‘The Urbanist’ as a reminder of the benefits of planting street trees with his suggested “green the streets of Australia” program.

Tree planting was something that seemed to be commonplace a few generations ago, but then fell out of favour. As these trees are now getting to the end of their life expectancy it seems that street tree planting is now back on the agenda.

Our observations in Melbourne are that street tree planting is making a comeback. The wide tree-lined boulevards that were established in Melbourne many years ago such as St Kilda Road, Dandenong Road and Mt Alexander Road rated a mention in Plan Melbourne as something to draw inspiration from in our new transport corridors. The City of ME Melbourne City Council is also focussing on greening the city through a comprehensive tree planting program. 

Ackland Street, St Kilda
Image credit: DLA

Church Street, Middle Brighton
Image credit: DLA
As cities densify, the role of streets to provide amenity, recreation and ecological benefit becomes more important. Streets become de-facto ‘open space’ in urbanised areas where people walk, jog, ride, drive, sit, eat, drink and meet up with friends. Other than our home and workplace, the street is the place where the majority of us spend most of our time, and it is the place where we all come together and experience the city – so it’s an investment that benefits everyone in some way (even the plumbers and electricity providers amongst us), which can’t be a bad thing can it?

Arc-ing up for architecture

Interesting machinations in Victoria with the Australian Institute of Architects seeking to have the use of registered architects mandated for Victorian buildings over three stories, after some architects have been dropped from building projects once permits were granted.

While the Housing Industry Association opposes the move, there appears to be support from the City of Melbourne and some other inner city councils, particularly in relation to high rise building permits. Strangely enough they want to see a property built the way the architect intended and the way it was approved!

It seems that a recent trend of dumping architects to save money once a planning permit is granted, is resulting in poor outcomes with attractive features dropped from new high rise developments.

The Age has reported that the City of Melbourne has taken this issue to Victoria’s newly sworn in Planning Minister, Richard Wynne, asking him to ensure architects Elenberg Fraser are kept on for an 89-storey project on Spencer Street.

These rules are already in place in NSW thanks to the State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP) 65 good design principles.

Wave Building in Broadbeach, showing the style and quality of an architecturally designed apartment building 
Image credit: DLA
Who wants new buildings that don’t contribute to the public realm or are built with poor materials? We sit pretty firmly behind the AIA on this one!

In the round

Image credit: Atelier Thomas Pucher
Who doesn’t like a curve? Austrian architects from Atelier Thomas Pucher surely do. Their elegant curvilinear building proposal has allowed the team to win first prize in an international competition for the expansion of a mixed-use district in Vienna.

This residential component, which comprises seven buildings spaced within landscaped areas, will adjoin an unused race track. The proposal was designed to complement the existing commercial and office uses in the district but also to contribute to the making of a vibrant neighbourhood.

Atelier Thomas Pucher

Perhaps inspiration from overseas can influence Melbourne, Sydney and other Australian cities to take a hard look at their beloved racetracks and see what might be done to help achieve their full redevelopment potential.

Read more:

Banner image credit: Atelier Thomas Pucher

Nothing is a waste

Vehicles running on gas are a common thing. However, this bus in Britain has made headlines as it is the first bus in the UK to run on biomethane gas produced from human sewage and food waste. Not only will the bus reduce the UK’s reliance on fossil fuel but it will also produce less of a carbon footprint than the traditional buses. With a full tank it can run almost 300km and can carry 40 passengers at once. This full tank is produced by the annual waste of about only five people. The first official bus will run between the city of Bath and the Bristol airport, along with other routes.

The company that generates the biomethane fuel is GENeco and it states that it generates 17 million cubic metres of biomethane, which can power almost 8,300 homes.

Use of biomethane as a fuel has previously been used in Norway and Sweden. The initial cost to set up the infrastructure is high. However, the gas produced is cheap and from a long-term perspective it is a sustainable approach that can reduce our dependency on fuel and also contribute to improving the air quality. Considering Melbourne has an extensive bus network with 346 routes operating, we could consider adopting this innovative approach. 

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Could we see the route 380 and Melbourne’s other buses powered by biomethane?

Check out more on

Banner image source:

Tiny Talk

All the talk is about tiny apartments and how they could lead to poor amenity as a large portion of the population moves to the inner city and the apartments continue to shrink.

But what about those who choose to go tiny as an environmental and financial statement?

The tiny house movement is coming to Australia, starting in the nation’s capital it would seem.

The ABC has reported that Canberra man, Andrew Clapham, is planning to build his new tiny home largely with reclaimed materials in the back yard of his parents’ home.

Mr Clapham sees it as a great option for young people, who have very few options to get into the housing market and he’d like to see the tiny house movement grow in Australia.

This is a trend which started in the US and in many ways is a social movement about reducing the size of the space you take up and escaping mortgage debt. 68 per cent of tiny house owners have no mortgage. For more stats, visit:

And if you Google ‘tiny house movement’ you’ll find plenty of blogs with people wanting to tell the story of how they downsized, with instructions on how to go about it.

Take this one for example:

This is a nice idea while you’re asleep – just don’t plan on holding any parties!

Walking behaviour threatens Melbourne's liveability

According to a recent Age article, Melbourne’s vibrant and bustling streets are now suffering from their own success as well as a decline the traditional etiquette of ‘keeping left’, amplified by new distractions such as smart phones.

Image credit: City of Melbourne

The City of Melbourne’s Share Our Streets program will kick it up a gear this week, with the introduction of actors ‘walking badly’ to educate walkers. “Actors with giant phones will wander the streets pretending not to pay attention to where they are going. Meanwhile cards will be handed out with tips, including advising cyclists to give way to pedestrians and for those on foot to walk to the left.”

For more information please refer to either The Age article or The City of Melbourne’s Share Our Streets.

Banner image credit: Alastair Campbell

Carte Blanche

Who would have thought that a city as old as Paris would finally embrace modernity? The French capital is revamping itself, shaking off the dust and looking to build a new reputation. Earlier this month, the Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, officially launched “Reinvent Paris”. An unexpected call for innovative urban projects from local and international firms (let it be architects, investors, property developers, architects, designers or start-ups) that will respond creatively to contemporary challenges faced by the capital. In the Mayor’s words, this will be “an urban experiment on an unparalleled scale” (Hidalgo, 2014).

‘Paname’ (another word for Paris) is putting 23 sites on the table along with the opportunity to buy or lease the sites in order to bring the projects to completion. The sites are scattered within Paris’ arrondissements and along the periphery. They are quite eclectic and include an old mansion, abandoned sites, large industrial land and an electrical sub-station.

Source images:
It looks like the difficult economic context has forced the public sector to rethink its relationship with the private sector. The different actors are given carte blanche - within a defined strategic framework – and the support to bring the projects to fruition.

This urban experiment is also challenging the concept of public-private partnership. It will be interesting to see what comes out of it.

The closing date for Expressions of Interest is January 31, 2015. The international panel will be held at the end of next year.

Read more:

‘Surf’s up’

Some people would say the only thing missing from Melbourne is a good surf beach. Our Sydney colleagues certainly have one up on us there!

But our friend Phil Carter at Arup, along with architect Damian Rogers, is seeking to rectify that! The brain child of Rogers, the world-first plan is to create a floating beach at the Docklands and create artificial waves to meet the needs of urban surfies.

The close proximity to public transport and residential areas provides a ready-made audience and the Docklands is always in search of new ways to attract visitors to the area.

Of course Brisbane has a very popular inner city beach, created along its South Bank, which opened in 1992 at the site of the World Expo ’88. It attracts 11 million visitors a year but it certainly doesn’t have 1.5 metre waves!

Image source:
It does have one advantage though – you don’t need to wear a wetsuit. It would be great to see a plan to lift the temperature a few degrees down at the Docklands!

What’s more Australian than catching a train to Southern Cross Station to go surfing?

Image credit: Squint/Opera, Damian Rogers Architect and Arup.

Water World

While certain political leaders aren’t all that fussed about planning for a future with a different climate, it is the only credible consensus among academics and those involved with it’s investigation. A warmer climate, rising sea levels, the disappearance of low-lying communities and even nations… All are prospects on the cards in a warmer future.

Inland cities might be spared the biblical flood, but life would probably be vastly different for a coastal metropolis. Brian Stokle, cartographer running the Urban Life Signs website, teamed up with San Francisco area blog Burrito Justice to create a hypothetical map of the City swamped by a 200 foot sea level rise 60+ years into the future. Quite how Australia would fare under such circumstances would be contentious, seeing as the majority of the population resides in sprawling seaside urban areas.

Image source: @BurritoJustice and @UrbanLieSigns
The output contains a pretty detailed alternate history about how society has evolved (and in some cases, not at all) to meet the sea level change and warmer climate. New place names, food boats instead of food trucks, how a sports franchise wants to relocate, public debate about locating a shipping port, NIMBYs determined to protect flooded and isolated communities… the list goes on.

Ultimately, the exercise puts a much more whimsical, optimistic spin on what is ordinarily portrayed and accepted as a gloomy future. It poses the question: the climate may make us change our habits, but will the way we interact with one another really be that different?

To have a look at the project in more detail, see here:

Image banner source: @BurritoJustice and @UrbanLifeSigns

The power of light

The power of light to change the urban environment was used to great effect over the weekend as Berliners marked 25 years since the fall of the infamous wall.

The wall which had become a marker of the divide between capitalism and communism was a dark physical divide cutting right through the middle of a major city.

Image source: The Telegraph UK 

To mark the anniversary, artists Christopher and Marc Bauder and studio Whitevoid created the Lichtgrenze (border of light), an urban installation of light and balloons to recreate and light the wall’s path.

It was a beautiful reminder of how far things have come and a stunning display of the power light can have in changing an urban environment at night.

For more images see:

More images at Designcollector:

Image banner source:

Markets: A New Era?

Image source: Daria Scagliola & Stijn Brakkee,
The Dutch did it again! The architecture firm MVRDV designed the recently completed ‘Markthal’ or Market Hall development located right in the heart of Rotterdam.

This gigantic and monumental structure is none other than a mixed-use development that ingeniously – some might say – combines residential and commercial uses.
View from an apartment
Image source: Daria Scagliola & Stijn Brakkee,
Markthal is undoubtedly innovative with its inverted horseshoe shape that creates a giant arch of 40m in height and 120m in length. Below the structure is a large four-level basement car parking (yes, everything about this development is big!) and a supermarket.

Food stand inside the Market Hall
Image source: 
Daria Scagliola & Stijn Brakkee/PR, The
At Ground Floor, between two immense glazed walls, is an enclosed food hall that can accommodate 96 food stands. The lower two floors shelter retail units, restaurants and cafes. So far, the development just looks like an expensive covered market but there is in fact more to it. 228 apartments over nine floors are embedded in the vault itself, whilst overlooking the market below or enjoying a view of Rotterdam and its nearby rivers. The apartments are both for sale and rent and offered a mix of 3-5 bedrooms (which is common in Europe).
The Market Hall (Markthal) during construction
Image source: Jesica Guirand (DLA)

The ‘superdutch’ architects at MVRDV took the project a step further by incorporating a 3D fresco realised by Arco Coenen depicting produces of the market over a 11 000m2 surface (just in case you cannot get enough of that market feel).

So, is this mixed-use market hall too much? Could you imagine something like this - let’s say - as part of the Queen Victoria Market precinct renewal project?

In this instance, the Markthal project was envisaged as a way of providing housing in an area that suffers great deficit but also to revitalize the centre of Rotterdam, its market (although only a small amount of the existing outdoor market stands could afford to move inside the vault), and contribute to the vibrancy and livability of this district.
Former market, a few meters from the Market Hall
Image source: Jessica Guirand (DLA)
Many have acclaimed MVRDV’s boldness but others remain skeptical as to the place of such a structure in the existing urban fabric. Despite its architectural quality, the building seems to only add on to the juxtaposition of iconic buildings without creating a link between the structures.

Read more:

Banner image source: Michel Porro, Getty Images (

Gaudy or great?

Owners of a terrace house in Port Melbourne have been fined $4000 for painting the front fence of their property, which is subject to a Heritage Overlay. After fighting the decision at VCAT, they now have to repaint the fence into one of the approved heritage colours, or pay the fine.

The controversial rainbow fence in Port Melbourne
Image source: The Age
Owner Alex Skopellos slams the VCATdecision  saying that the colour will stay, and that the move is “just the council wanting to make it more conservative for the yuppies”. After speaking to his neighbours, Mr Skopellos claims that he’ll be doing “more bad than good painting over it, because everyone loves it”.

 The idea for the scandalous fence came from overseas trips, where historical precincts are often full of colour and character. Coloured paint is a cheap, fast, and relatively temporary way for residents to personalise their properties, a move which many cities embrace. 

Distinctive rainbow row housing in Bristol, UK
Image source:

Individually personalised historic properties in Trinidad, Cuba
Image source:
The Council’s hyper-conservative approach is especially disappointing given Melbourne’s global reputation as a dynamic and vibrant city. Melbourne had street art and astro-turfed laneways before the guerrilla urbanists could unstack their milk crates. And many would argue that it is this self-expression which gives Melbourne its strong local identity and much heralded ‘liveability’.

Far from being contextually inappropriate, we consider that the rainbow fence was a well-considered, and even well-consulted, expression of fun and humour in what is otherwise a fairly repetitive streetscape. The colours are taken from a muted rainbow spectrum which works with, rather than against, the neighbours’ approved beiges, pinks and greys.  

So what’s the harm? Tell us what you think. 

Banner image source: Alastair Campbell (DLA)