An Australian City with Personality

Can we create distinctive personalities for cities by revisiting basic design concepts?

Sorry, not Sorry

Life in the slow lane

Creating child friendly cities

How can cities accommodate the needs of families and children?

Urban Greening

NYC plants and cares for one million new trees

All night long

From January 2016, PTV will embark in a wild experiment by running the public network all night long on weekends. Although the budget has already been blown out, this transport trial is good news for a cultural city such as Melbourne and proves that we can step out of our comfort zone.

The year trial will see not only trains, trams and buses will run all night but also coaches to regional centres (V/Line). This will provide services to shift workers, Melbournians and visitors who do enjoy the city by night. It will hopefully boost the city by creating more jobs in relevant sectors of the economy.

This impressive operation will provide trams every 30 minutes and trains every hour departing from Flinders Street Station. It is also an opportunity to improve the existing NightRider service by improving the connections from train stations and suburban night-time destinations such as Brunswick.
Image source - The Age

Watch this space!
Read more here

Creating child friendly cities

This topic comes up from time to time in our Plantastic blog. How do we create cities that accommodate and meet the needs of families and children? Sustainable Cities Collective compiled a list of ten ways that we can build child-friendly cities.

Source - Alastair Campbell

The benefit of city life comes with the proximity and accessibility to services and amenities. As more people choose to live closer to cities, we need to create a mix of different types of compact housing to allow more density. A mix of housing options needs to be considered to accommodate future growth.
Family-oriented housing
Homes need to be designed to meet the needs of families. This includes apartments and houses that accommodate growing families in family-friendly neighbourhoods, close to open space and amenities.

Access to schools and childcare
Families require access to good quality childcare, primary and secondary schools (ideally in walking distance) so there isn’t a need to move further out to the suburbs to meet schooling requirements.  

Access to public transport
Good public transport systems reduce the need for car use. Families who live near public transport and can connect with other forms of public transport to complete a journey can reduce the need for a car.

While being able to walk to a destination is great, creating an enjoyable journey that allows families to walk in a safe and timely manner can be as important as the destination itself.
Again, being able to enjoy a safe and timely journey is important for families. Creating a series of connected bike lanes and paths (away from traffic) allows children to gain confidence.
Access to open space
With limited backyard space or no backyard space in the inner city, children need the freedom to run around and ‘be kids.’ Ideally, open space should be easily accessible by walking. Urban forests, community gardens and parks all increase wellbeing and help families to connect to the local community.
Access to amenities
Cities provide great access to a range of amenities like community centres, libraries, public pools and playgrounds. Families need easy access to these amenities to assist them in feel connected to the local community.

Public Safety
Measures can be implemented to ensure a safe environment for children to enjoy their immediate surroundings while alleviating worry for parents.
Fun and Whimsy
Child friendly public spaces that allow children to interact with everyday objects. Public piano anyone? 

Jillian has provided some great ideas as to how to attract and retain families in cities. Can you think of any further ways in which planners can create family-friendly cities in Australia? If so we’d love to hear how.

To read the article click on the link below.

Sorry, not sorry

I am guilty, and I refuse to apologise. Of what, you may ask? Well dear reader, on a daily basis I am guilty of that apparently heinous cardinal sin: slow walking. I’ve been barged as people try and squeeze past me. Friends have told me off regularly that my pace is annoyingly slow. Strangers have too.

To all of you, you may be pleased to find out about a trial run in Liverpool, England, of a pedestrian ‘fast track lane’. Yes, it is merely a marketing stunt put on by a shopping complex, but there does appear to be general trend: the more populous the city, the faster people walk. Big cities don’t seem to have a place for people like me on the sidewalk.

Image source -
I do wonder if such a scheme, especially one put up by a shopping complex, would be counterproductive to the city in the long term. After all, many large complexes are arranged in a way to keep you in the loop of shops to maximise the likelihood of impulse buying. They achieve this perhaps by locating the escalators in different places on each floor, or by having a different floor plate on every level. Such places are designed for you to slow down and look at sights and features, not for fast and efficient navigation (unless there’s a fire).

An active frontage depends on interaction between the building front and traffic moving past it. It relies on traffic slowing down and being enticed inwards. Move too fast and the chance for interaction disappears. You might miss that little thing in the shop window, or the scent of coffee and pastries from within.

When we design features that complement a space for movement, we need to design for the speed at which a user should be travelling through it. It’s why artwork on the side of a freeway appears so much larger and elongated on a plan than it feels in reality: something that would take 10 minutes to walk around zips by at 100km/h.

Therefore, when I’m on the sidewalk, I’m going to move at a pace that allows me to have these interactions if I wish. The world is a High Street that I’m browsing through and I’m going to enjoy the sights and sounds around me. I know that I walk slowly, but I plan around that because like you, I also have places to go. And yet, the walks are always interesting… I saw which trees were in bloom today, and that a new café opened up down the street. And before you ask, no: I’m almost never late.

By Sean Hua

An Australian city with personality

Will cities of the future all look the same? Or by revisiting basic design concepts can we create a distinctive personality for a city? 
Image source - Crikey - The Urbanist
 Inspired by its sub-tropical climate, Brisbane City Council is heading back to basic design concepts in order to create a distinctive built form for the city centre. Caroline Stalker from Architectus (who was one of the most interesting presenters at the 2015 Urban Design Forum) has developed new high-rise podia typologies which adapt to the climate and locale conditions. This may lead to the creation of better sub-tropic cities as they are based on old architectural principles of porosity to light, air and integration of landscape rather than taking the standard podium tower approach.
Currently the standard podium tower forms in the city centre are making it an urban heat island in summer with the city becoming the hottest part of the metropolitan region. This type of form is currently applied to many cities, leading to a similar look with no distinctive character or identity.
The use of basic elements like the architectural style; use of material; layout of the building; and type of openings that respond to the climatic conditions of a place can contribute to making the built form of a city distinctive to other cities. 

Read more:

Click here to read Caroline’s research paper Beyond the Podium Urban Spaces for Tall Buildings in a Subtropical City.

By Amruta Purohit

Essentials of Urban Design

Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) have released 'Essentials of Urban Design.' Written by David Lock Associates very own Mark Sheppard, Essentials of Urban Design explains the fundamental concepts of urban design, providing the understanding and tools needed to achieve better design outcomes.

'Essentials of Urban Design' by Mark Sheppard

Each chapter outlines the key steps in designing or assessing a different type of development. All common types of urban development are addressed, from infill buildings to whole urban growth areas, residential to employment uses, and centres to public transport interchanges. For each development type, widely accepted urban design principles are explained, and 'rules of thumb' provided.

It is a practical handbook that is liberally illustrated with diagrams, photos of 'good' and 'bad' examples of urban design and handy checklists for common urban design tasks. It will be a valuable reference tool for architects, developers, urban planners, traffic engineers, landscape architects, councillors, planning lawyers, planning tribunal members and residents concerned about development.

We'd like to congratulate Mark on his achievement.

Essentials of Urban Design can be purchased through CSIRO publishing.

One Million Trees

MillionTreesNYC is a PlaNYC public-private initiative set up to plant and care for one million new trees across the five boroughs. The initiative was set up to plant one million trees in a decade, this has recently been achieved two years ahead of schedule. This has increased the size of the urban forest in New York City by 20 per cent.
While 70 per cent of trees have been planted in parks and other public spaces, 30 per cent has been added by private organisations, homeowners and community organisations.

Image: MillionTreesNYC
This initiative encourages residents to get involved by adopting or volunteering time to plant trees. There are events set up to encourage the community to get involved and to learn more about planting and tree care. Residents who register for these events give away free trees to encourage the community to get on board.

Urban forests increase the wellbeing of those that live there as well as reap economic, health and environmental benefits.

In Melbourne, the council has created the Urban Forest Strategy to ensure the evolution and longevity of Melbourne’s urban forest. The strategy includes plans to increase tree canopy coverage from 22 per cent to 40 per cent by 2040, improve biodiversity and increase forest diversity.

To read more about the MillionTreesNYC initiative and more about Melbourne’s Urban Forest Strategy click on the links below.

Wheelchair accessible cities

Universal access is something becoming increasingly sought after in all new development, and the design of new train stations in Melbourne in recent years has changed dramatically to be far more accessible than their older counterparts. For new stations to be designed for accessibility seems a no brainer, but what are the possibilities for retrofitting older stations? 

Cost is obviously a considerable factor, but so are heritage considerations, and the availability of land to construct new ramps in densely built up areas. Is the answer simply that these locations will never be fully accessible via public transport? Or can we do better?

Image source: City Metric

Since breaking his neck 9 years ago, Peter Apps has explored many of the world’s great cities via wheelchair and writes on the best and worst to get around by public transport, taxi and “foot” path. 

His experiences of public transport worldwide indicates that the world isn't particularly well designed for people in a wheelchair and a trip that able bodied people take for granted can be unusable for a person who is wheelchair bound. Interestingly, he indicated that Dubai has lifts at every station, unlike some of the world's busiest cities - New York, London, Paris - who have older metro systems.

So yes, we could do better and as the Melbourne Metro Rail Project is developed, we could potentially revisit older stations to ensure that the journey is easy and efficient for all users.

Read more about accessibility here.

What have they done

By Sean Hua

What's next for VW? EPA/Sebastian Kahnert
Volkswagens are one of the best-selling vehicles to date with over 30 million sold up to June 2013. They conjure an image of quality, style and had a strong reputation; while they’re not quite as posh as a Mercedes, they are considered better than a Ford or Holden (by default) due to their European heritage. VWs have long been seen as fuel-efficient too, so much so they were listed on the Dow Jones Sustainability index. Diesel goes one better than normal, requiring fewer litres per 100km than petrol.

Yes, it is more efficient, translating to fewer dollars required at the pump. I assume this is one of the key deciding factors for buyers. But despite the “ultra-low-sulphur” tag that many new diesel engines have, other pollutants like Nitric oxide and Nitrogen dioxide are still emitted.

Instead of trying to rein these outputs in, VW instead conducted a campaign of wilful dishonesty. The engineers programmed their cars to detect when they were undergoing emissions testing, and produce false outputs at the exhaust. Real world driving produced 30-40 times the emissions of pollutants than test conditions. Now, I’m not an engineer… but if they could rig the engine to produce fewer pollutants at a given time, why not just do it all the time? Or alternatively, if they could spend the time and effort to write such a program, why not dedicate it to actually producing a clean-running engine? It’s a senseless “solution” to a problem they didn’t need to have.

While people will speak about the breach of trust to customers, the cost of the recall, the collapsing share prices etc. the important numbers are the health costs that have resulted. Noelle Sellin of The Conversation estimates a figure upwards of US$100 million in the US alone. In Aussie digits, that’s $141,158,993.41, or approximately 3,900 brand new VW Golfs. When you consider that figure only comes from about half a million US-based vehicles, and that affected cars in Europe number almost 10 million… The costs are staggering.

Last year, I wrote about how diesel-powered cars were being encouraged in Australia to promote better fuel-efficiency and come in line with basic EU emissions standards. At the same time, European countries were taking steps to begin phasing out diesel altogether. To them, the diesel efficiency argument doesn’t stack up to the negative social and environmental impacts that it could generate.

We are perennial followers on environmental standards, dragging our feet and being reactive rather than proactive. This time though, when a corporate body has so blatantly cheated its consumer base with damning health and environmental costs, can we allow such an event without change to our regulations? When we’ve just begun to adopt diesel as a common fuel-type, would it be prudent to abandon it before real traction is gained?

This time, it would really make sense to follow Europe. This time, we should at minimum consider stricter regulations on emissions. But why aim so low? Why not aim for car-free cities like what Paris did for a day (see car-less utopia post), and achieve drastic reductions in pollution? Why not aim for halving pollution, hybrid public transport and zero-emission taxis like London? Why not shift towards active transport and active cities?

Why not lead?

Car-less Utopia

By Jessica Guirand

The city of Paris recently had its ‘first car-free day’. It was on everyone’s lips!

Credit: Champs-Elysees

Imagine the City of Light liberated from traffic, pollution and noise. The freedom to walk and ride in the empty streets or the unlocked potential for photographers and film makers to capture Paris unchained.

Sounds pretty amazing but somehow this seems too good to be true. The facts speak for themselves as follows:

  •  This innovative experience was scheduled on a Sunday between 11am and 6pm
  • Only 4 arrondissements in the core of Paris were car-free (the 16 others were subjected to a speed limit of 20km/h) as well as two gardens at the periphery
  • Motorised vehicles such as ambulances, taxis, and buses were exempted
  • Some arrondissements are already car-free every Sunday of the year
  • There are several examples of cities worldwide, where partial and permanent days without cars exist including Bogota and Brussels. Paris itself has experienced car-free days in the past!
Credit: / Car-free areas (dark green)
Clearly, the intention was to create a strong impact in the collective mind and demonstrate that there are other ways to go about pollution peaks and climate change. But is this good enough?

The initiative lacked a firm political support and hid the real issue at stake. This metropolis has an array of public transport options. Paris contains five suburban train lines, 16 metro lines, eight tram lines and about 10 bus lines. It is probably the most dense public transport network in Europe (there are 8.5 million public transport commuters in the Paris area per day). However, an existing and persisting problem is the deterioration of the lines, which have reached or are close from reaching their saturation point (roads are experiencing the same dilemma). This ageing network is desperately in need of maintenance, new lines and stations. The impact of a car-free day in contrast appears ludicrous.

This isn’t just an issue that just plagues Paris. This issue is faced by cities worldwide each day. What is needed is an integrated approach which includes strategic planning of housing, employment and services, and use of technology needs be seriously considered to create a retrofitted metropolis that respond to the challenge of climate change and resources constrained.

Click the links below to read more:

Together Forever?

By Brodie Blades

Image Source: Fit for the Future

What comes to mind when you think of the word ‘Council’? Are you transported to a dynamic world of smiling faces capable of efficient decision-making, logicality and world-class customer service? Or the complete opposite? If you are in the latter category, it may surprise you that today’s typical Australian local government is an organisation that is becoming increasingly cognizant of the importance of efficiency and service delivery – even so far as progressing towards a more neo-Liberal ‘business model’ operation in which the achievement of self-sufficient, financially viable organisations is of paramount importance. One method of achieving enhanced viability, cost-effectiveness and efficiency in the local government sector is through Council amalgamations. 

The NSW State Government is currently exploring this issue under the Fit for the Future program of local government amalgamations, in which NSW’s 152 Local Government Areas (LGAs) have recently been required to submit their blueprints for change in a top-down State shake-up that could see many Councils merge or close. 

The NSW State Government argues that change is necessary, as more than one-third of the state’s Councils are either financially unviable or simply unable to provide the planning and regulatory capacity required to deal with unprecedented housing and infrastructure demand. Although a number of NSW’s Councils are receptive to the idea of amalgamation, most have indicated that they are opposed to the idea due to a range of issues such as an actual and perceived loss of local identity, employment opportunities and community services. This begs a key question: do Council amalgamations always result in positive outcomes, particularly for the communities that they serve?

The residents of Queensland’s Douglas, Livingston, Mareeba and Noosa Shires would certainly argue not. Although the Sunshine State is no stranger to the notion of a ‘mega-Council’ (Brisbane City Council is the largest Council area in Australia, providing municipal services to over 1 million residents), these Shires recently ‘de-amalgamated’ from their parent municipalities created by the Queensland State Government’s forced Council amalgamations in 2008. These amalgamations – which resulted in the slashing of LGAs in Queensland from 157 to 73 - led to the emergence of grassroots community movements such as the ‘Free Noosa’ movement and the ‘Capricorn Coast Independence Movement’, which ultimately escalated to form an election platform for the opposition Liberal government who promised to give Councils an opportunity to plead their case for de-amalgamation if elected. Having won government, responses were sought from affected Councils in which nineteen submissions were received and four were deemed to be financially viable. The issue was put to a referendum of local residents in each of the successful municipalities, in which the majority voted for de-amalgamation in all four instances. The Shires of Douglas, Livingston, Mareeba and Noosa were officially de-amalgamated from their parent municipalities and officially recognised as de-amalgamated, independent LGAs on 1 January 2014.

Similarly, in the wake of the Kennett Government’s 1994 Victorian Local Government amalgamations, residents in the Shire of Delatite successfully sought the de-amalgamation of the LGA into the Shires of Mansfield and Benalla after eight years of amalgamated operations. The story of Delatite’s de-amalgamation is often cited as a successful case study of bottom up resistance to forced government amalgamations, and – until the recent Queensland experience – was one of the few examples of successful municipal de-amalgamation within Australia. In more recent times, the ‘Sunbury Out of Hume’ movement is a further example of de-amalgamation that could potentially occur in Victoria in the coming months.

No doubt the experiences of the recent local government amalgamations in both Queensland and Victoria would be weighing on the minds of NSW’s communities, Councils and State Government as the State moves closer to resolution of the ‘Fit for Future’ amalgamation package. Perhaps the key lesson from the Victorian and Queensland experience is that the galvanised willpower of local communities to determine how they will be governed at the local level should be the primary guiding factor when it comes to local government in Australia. After all – regardless of efficiencies or cost-effectiveness – is community not the fundamental purpose of local government?

What have your experiences been? Have you lived or worked in a Council that was forced to amalgamate with a neighbour? What effect did it have on service delivery and efficiency? How was it received by the community?

Further reading:
Fit for the Future Council Amalgamations (NSW State Government) -
Queensland De-Amalgamations (Local Government Association Queensland) -

Smog-fighting urban sculptures

By Kathryn Cuddihy

Air pollution is a problem that effects cities all over the world. With populations expected to keep increasing in urban areas, the problems associated with smog and poor air pollution will have consequences for years to come.
Image source: Studio Roosegaarde

The Dutch city of Rotterdam is the first in the world to produce an urban sculpture that has the ability to suck in polluted air and produce an output of clean air.

Image source: Studio Roosegaarde

The structure acts as a giant ‘vacuum cleaner’ with the ability to clean 30,000 cubic metres of air in one hour. They are environmentally friendly as they run off wind power and also give back to communities as they output clean air into the atmosphere. The first was built using crowd funding at a price of $177,910. 

The structure itself has the ability to suck in polluted air, remove particles and blow out fresh air out of vents on the structure. The remaining particles are then turned into cufflinks or rings; each piece of jewelry is the equivalent of 1000 cubic metres of clean air and are sold.

Image source: Studio Roosegaarde

Urban art creates not only increases the beauty of a place, it can also create discussion and when the bi-products can be used to make products, why wouldn't we adopt these. Cities like Beijing and Mumbai could already use these to assist in reducing smog levels. Perhaps we could adopt these on freeways or in built up urban areas to beautify them as well as reduce pollution to allow those living in surrounding area the cleaner air they deserve.

To read more about these structures, visit: