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Urban greening in high density environments

Creating 'Vertical Forests' in high density residential developments

Reflecting on Urban Form from an Aerial Perspective

By Sam Palma.

With the majority of social activity within a city occurring at the ground level, it is no surprise that urban design and statutory planning focus on the visual interests, protection of amenity and aesthetic presentation of built form and landscaping from the ground level. However, the form, siting and layout of cities, towns and/or precincts can become eye catching spectacles when viewed from a birds eye perspective, although these views are often rarely seen unless you are flying over a city. Technological advancements in the industry has seen drones become increasingly popular and accessible, as the ability to view and explore cities takes a new form and provides us with the opportunity to views cities from a new perspective.

This article seeks to explore cities from a birds eye to view to appreciate and reflect trends in urban planning and development of societies. Viewing cities from an aerial perspective provides the opportunity to identify trends, learn from mistakes, appreciate the aesthetic form, improve functionality of cities. It is also interesting to see how some of the more aesthetic cities perform on a practical level.

Citadel of Palmanova:

Initially built as a fortress during the late 16th century, the star shaped town provides a geometric urban form. Palmanova strived to implement the ideal city based on utopian ideas of the time which stemmed from the concept that beauty strengthens the shape of society.

The town of Palmanova although being quite eye catching to look at, did not perform so good on a practical level, with the fortress like walls located on the perimeter of the star being a barrier to its success and integration with surrounding cities/towns.

Palmanova - Italy. (Source:

Delray Beach Florida:

The art of urban sprawl (if there even is such a thing) is demonstrated within Delray Beach, Florida. The layout and form of roads, lakes and cul-de-sacs presents a level of interest at first glance, however this residential development would fail the practically and connectivity test, reflecting a high level of car dependence and limited walkability.

Delray Beach - Florida (Source:

La Plata – Buenos Aires

Founded In 1882, the City of La Plata was built with the intention of being the provincial capital of Buenos Aires, possessing a strong grid pattern with diagonal roads connecting parks, public spaces and districts of the city. The city adopts a linear and fairly symmetrical layout which can contribute to a visually aesthetic form while providing practical and predictable trends and movements. The City and urban form is said to have traits of freemason symbolism. Around the time it was built, the city won awards for “the City of the Future” through the rationalist concept of urban form.

La Plata - Buenos Aires (Source:

L’Eixample – Valencia, Spain

Constructed in the early 19th to 20th Century the term L’Eixample is Catalan and translates to “Expansion”.

At the time of construction the city focused its layout and design on transport, light and ventilation, however has now become well known for its long straight streets, wide boulevards and chamfered corners.

The communal courtyards located within the grid form have become an iconic urban fabric seen throughout Spain.
L'Eixample - Valencia, Spain (Source:

It is evident from some of the photos I’ve shown above that a cities layout and form can contribute to a visually aesthetic urban fabric (from an aerial perspective), as different periods of time, objectives and ideologies shape how these cities functionally perform and are enjoyed by society. Although cities are often developed through a master plan which anticipates future growth from an aerial view, what translates from paper into the urban fabric can change and trends develop over time , providing an opportunity to evaluate the functionality, successes and failures of cities.

Some questions worth considering:
  • Do you think a thorough investigation into cities from a birds eye perspective can reveal unexplored concepts in the evaluation and assessment of a cities performance? 
  • Are we currently providing a harmonious balance between the visual interest of a city and practicality? 
  • Although a symmetrical city can provide visual interest from an aerial perspective, does this also provide for functional and connected urban centres? 
  • What are some of your favourite cities from an aerial perspective?

Visual Branding of your Urban Design Projects. Why Not?

By Amy Ikhayanti.

It is undeniable that urban design projects rely heavily on graphic presentation. In order to communicate the analyses, reasoning and design proposal, the phrase ‘an image can speak a thousand words’ could not be more true. In other words, graphics are crucial in communicating certain aspects of your project that cannot be portrayed otherwise. Finding the hybrid between both a visually insightful and verbally informative document is irreplaceable within this industry. Knowing that, we, urban designers, put much effort into the visual presentation of our projects. 

Every designer has their own signature move to illustrate their projects. It is a well-known fact that consultancies exercise distinctive graphic palettes to differentiate their work from others. From time to time, we can tell who the lead consultant is just from viewing their strategic document or reports by how they are designed and the style of graphics and diagrams used. That being said, the idea of branding or marketing of an urban design consultancy through their graphics has a long-standing history. However, what does visual branding entail and how can you achieve the best results possible through this?

In its entirety, branding covers not only the visual look of a product, but also the experience it provides the user. One famous example is the experience of buying and unpackaged Apple Macbook laptop. When you arrive at the Apple Store, you find yourself in a sleek, modern building with an open plan, soft lighting and full of gadgets that you can compare to suit your different needs. Moreover, you can also customise your choice of laptop with the help of a ‘Apple Genius’ (“Apple Genius?” You may ask. this is all a part of their carefully thought-out branding). When you get home with your choice of laptop, you find yourself opening the packaging the same way you’ll open a suitcase. It definitely is a different experience compared to how you usually unpack your electronic purchases. A suitcase can be synonymous with the feeling of affluence. When Apple prompts its buyers to unpack their newly bought laptops the same way they open a suitcase, it triggers the feeling of opulence, and most importantly, 'specialness'. It is this same principle that applies to every other product and its associated branding, so why shouldn’t this work for urban design?

As a simple rule of thumb, your branding checklist should include the following.
  • Look and feel 
  • Tone of voice 
  • Market position 
Look and feel refers to visual components, such as colours, shapes, layout and typeface; as well as the feeling those components evoke in its audience. Bright colours can communicate the feeling of cheerfulness and playfulness, while dark earthy colours can convey a more serious personality. Tone of voice strongly influences the product impression in the customer’s mind. When the tone is strong, concise and detailed, it exudes confidence, professionalism and mastery. On the other hand, a soft, elegant tone can be found in many premium urban design products that companies produce. Lastly, the market position specifies the target market and how the product responds to it through its look and feel, as well as tone of voice. 

Heidelberg West Urban Design Framework. (Source: David Lock Associates). 
It is important to remember that there is no sure-fire way of branding for success. Successful branding is a delicate hybrid of each of the three components described above. One of my favoured ways to start my approach is to ensure that I have a comprehensive understanding of the target audience in order to craft a personalised tone of voice, which is then translated into a specific look and feel of the product. Learn the company branding. This for me creates a tailored product that communicates concisely and directly to the target market and successfully translates our vision through graphics, style of writing and report layout. However it is important to note that this method may not be the best approach to every designer, branding and design are indeed personal and subjective. 

Heidelberg West Urban Design Framework. (Source: David Lock Associates)
From time to time, consultancies may provide a comprehensive graphics template and palette that is usually strictly followed by its designers. In other cases, a freer look and feel can be pursued, or should be pursued out of necessity (one example may be a project that is of different nature and type compared to other standard long-standing ones previously done by the company). Such cases call for a good understanding of the company branding as a whole and how it can be interpreted in the simplest elements of lines and shapes. It can be considered crucial that that the consultancy should take into account these three branding elements and provide their unique direction and approaches in applying them effectively. If such guidance is not available, a branding exercise should be pursued to avoid conflicts and confusion among the designers.

From experience, a good understanding of visual branding and its application in urban design has proven to be a prosperous gateway into creating successful urban design outputs. It allows me to contribute to the graphic repertoire and visual character of DLA whilst also maintaining its established brand and unique identity. In that respect, what are your visual branding experiences in urban design?

Urban Agriculture: Tackling Sustainability and Social Cohesion

By Kirsty Smith.
Marrickville Markets. Source: Green Villages Sydney
The highlight of my Sunday is a trip to do my grocery shopping. I know not everyone would share my enthusiasm for the weekly shop, particularly if that means queuing at a local Coles or Woolies. However, my grocery shop involves a local farmer named Hapi. Hapi lives up to his name and always has a smile on his face as he tells me about what seasonal produce he has on offer at the Farmers Market that week. Hapi tells me all about his dryland farming and how most of his produce is produced organically and if it isn’t deemed to be organic then why not. I feel fortunate to have access to Hapi and the other farmers at Marrickville Markets in Sydney’s inner west as it has taught me a lot about the importance of understanding where our food comes from. Before the markets I can’t say that I have had much interaction with farmers; much appreciation for seasonality, and that I may not be able to get my fresh blueberries all year round or that there was a reason the beloved hass avocado is replaced with a shepard at certain times during the year. I know I am not the only one that would feel this way, but why is that?

As city dwellers, convenience is usually always at our door step. We don’t even need to leave the house to order our groceries or have a delicious meal cooked for us. Technology and mobility has made it so easy for us to be disconnected from where our food comes from. So how can we as planners and urban designers change this? And why is it important that we do?

Urban agriculture is on the rise globally, with more and more farms appearing in our cities. Social, economic and environmental benefits allow urban agriculture to contribute to the multifunctionality and sustainability of cities. In terms of land use planning, multifunctionality is a great asset, and urban agriculture can deliver a variety of potential benefits simultaneously (van den Berg 2000), making it a ‘cheap’ producer of public goods (Moustier and Danso 2006).

Urban farms, which are different to allotments and community gardens, occupy much bigger spaces; they can employ people, regenerate huge neighbourhoods and give residents access to fresh produce on their doorsteps.

Urban Agriculture. Source:
Numerous land uses are associated with urban agriculture, including city farms, verge farming, community composting, farmers’ markets, rooftop garden, keeping of animals (e.g. poultry and bees), etc. As a result, there are numerous ways in which land use planning can encourage, support, regulate and hinder urban agricultural practices. In Australia, intentional urban agriculture planning is at a very early developmental stage, with no comprehensive policy or strategy and only a small proportion of local governments in capital cities having community garden and farmers markets provisions. The main hurdle is to recognise urban agriculture and all of its practices as a desirable land use, rather than an incidental one.

In our master planning and rezoning proposals here at DLA these types of uses could be included within our proposals to/ or on behalf of Councils, but encouraging these types of uses through our statutory work may be more challenging due to existing land use restrictions etc. Through recognition and understanding of urban agriculture practices, existing regulatory provisions could be altered to facilitate urban agriculture development. This could be achieved through recognition by local governments of the importance of urban agriculture in its areas. It would require investment in education particularly of decision-makers, planners and the community on its practices, benefits and risks.

So why is urban agriculture important and why should policy makers consider it? Urban agriculture encourages sustainable and healthy compact cities, helping to reduce food miles. Urban farms act as a social incubator, bringing together communities and connecting cultures. Many also impact significantly on health and well-being, allowing city-dwellers to access fresh food and understand where the food comes from and how it is grown.

The practice has been popular in North America for many years, with many huge rooftop farms surrounding New York City. Brooklyn Grange for instance, produces close to 23,000kg of organic vegetables each year, and the world’s largest urban farm recently opened in Chicago.

These types of uses also foster innovation; a good example of this is Farm Urban in Liverpool, which is using leftover land (including the University of Liverpool Student Union’s rooftop) for aquaponics: a man-made, symbiotic system where plants and aquatic animals such as fish can nourish each other.

Many urban agriculture initiatives are increasingly using hydroponics and other forms of technology to grow food more efficiently. Those adopting a highly technical approach appear to be more sustainable than other types of urban farms.

Closer to home Pocket City Farm is an urban farm in Camperdown, Sydney’s inner-west. The farm is part of Camperdown Commons, a community rejuvenation project that is an initiative of the Canterbury-Hurlstone Park RSL. It shares the space with the RSL-managed Common Spaces, which offers local community groups, businesses and not-for-profits on-site spaces to meet and hold events, and with acre, the adjacent eatery that overlooks the farm. acre uses the farm’s organic produce in their seasonal menus and contributes to the farm’s composting and recycling programs. Collectively, they also run seasonal events together. Pocket City Farms connects with the local community in as many ways as they can. They run yoga classes and community education workshops for kids and adults (current events include: How to Grow Greens; Native, Stingless Beekeeping, and; Biointensive Growing). They have monthly crop swaps on-site, sell their produce to local cafes and restaurants across the inner west and have school groups, corporate and community groups use the space for outings. The Farm was created by a desire to grow food locally and to help create more points of connection with the production of our food.

The capacity of urban farms to tackle major social and sustainability issues should not be underestimated. Global, national and local initiatives mean we’re likely to see more of these urban farms appearing across the world – improving city dwellers lifestyles, impacting positively on the local economy and regenerating neglected spaces. We look forward to encouraging these spaces in our development proposals. Would you like to see these spaces in your local area? Do you have other examples you could share with us?

Additional reading:

Pressing Problems with Pocket Sized-fix

By Siobhan Hudson.

London boroughs are struggling to provide well located, affordable housing and are now suggesting selling public land to private developers – does this sound familiar?

Pocket Edition’s affordable 2-3 bedroom apartments in Wandsworth. This slender 27-storey development breaks away from negative stigma of modular construction and affordable provision with the help of terracotta cladding and fine detailing. (Source: Pocket)
What is the situation?

Marc Vlessing is an avid cyclist who was perplexed by the patterns of infill developments on his morning route - they were only ever in multiples of fourteen. Floor plates would creep to fill each site and provide luxurious 2-3 bedrooms in prime locations. Meanwhile London mayor, Sadiq Khan , accuses property developers of constructing “too many luxury penthouses that only the very wealthiest investors can afford” and morning newspapers revealed the number of young professionals in public service professions who can no longer afford to live, and therefore work, in the bustling capital.

Vlessing, asked the question of a town planner, “Why just fourteen?” The answer, that apartment designs now had an unspoken rule. Greater than fourteen apartments mandates inclusion of social housing or paying a penalty (closer to home, inclusionary zoning (meaning planning ordinances that require a given share of new constructions to be affordable housing) is proposed for inner city Sydney developments). Appalled and frustrated, Vlessing set a new personal agenda of solving the affordable housing ‘crisis’. He threw in his role as a financier at Canary Wharf and started a housing development company – enter Pocket Living.

What is the solution?

In response to the shrinking provision of affordable housing, Vlessing devised a business case for providing well designed, well located, high density affordable apartments. These receive no public subsidy, sell for 20% less than market value and target first time buyers, as ‘starter homes’, for those earning less than £45 000 per annum and working in the borough.

In order to do so, Vlessing approached councils to acquire prime inner city brownfield sites for development, close to public transport, local shops and employment opportunities though without the additional social housing provision. The arrangement did not come easily though.

Pocket properties can only be sold for the price they were bought and to those meeting re-sale criteria. Current apartments sell for £270 000. Since establishing seven years ago resale numbers have been slim, whilst a minimum annual residency and the provision of common spaces encourages interaction between neighbours and fosters a neighbourhood – or perhaps you’ll run into them brunching on the local high street?

As the name suggests, Pocket supports small footprint living – 38m2 to be exact. These one bedroom apartments are smaller than your average tube carriage and local authority policies had to be changed to make way for the first prototype scheme. The apartment plans were far smaller than the minimum standards however, they promised high quality detailing and materials to ensure longevity. The current waiting list of 35 000 people proves good things can come via small floor plans! Mandating no on-site parking and instead providing bicycle parking allowed large ground works savings that could increase the construction quality. Affordable, well deigned, well located apartments are incredibly rare in London so it is easy to view a Pocket offer letter as Willy Wonka’s golden ticket, particularly when offers are prioritised to those who need the housing most - earning well below the income cap and via ‘help to buy’ schemes.

These one bedroom apartments are smaller than your average tube carriage (Source: Pocket)
Construction costs have further been kept to a minimum by re-introducing modular design. After a reputation for poor quality and unattractive homes throughout the 1960s, Pocket has sourced high quality providers of prefabricated building elements to ensure speedy assembly on-site. This process effectively halved the construction time and takes approximately twenty weeks to assemble. The Government has been particularly excited with this production flow as it shares construction work with the Midlands and the North and also provides local jobs. Traditionally work has been dictated by site location and kept work predominantly in the South-East.

Pocket has successfully provided seven developments since commencing in 2010 and houses 200 professionals locally. With this development track record, the government provided a huge boost of encouragement and financial security. London’s then mayor, Boris Johnson, and all 33 London councils invested in a profit making private housing developer for the first time in 2016. This took the form of a social investment loan, not a grant, while the Greater London Authority, Lloyds Bank and the London Enterprise Group provided £150 million, interest free for ten years. Pocket is now worth 25 million and has big aspirations.

How can Pocket up-scale?

This social investment loan is an opportunity to provide 1000 homes by 2021, a significant amount of the social housing provision that local authorities need to provide. Provision of 43 000 affordable homes per year is needed to meet with demand and Pocket serves as a precedent for similar developments.

Excitingly, future evolutions now provide larger units for family homes and are investigating private rentals or acquiring public land to incorporate a mix of social housing…sounding familiar? This arrangement would allow councils to hand over the site on first day of construction, now down to a timeframe of 20 weeks, and provides a huge saving on construction costs. This would support inclusion of not-for-profit social housing. As Australian cities discuss how best to upgrade their own social housing stock and put public land on the private market, Pocket should serve as a precedent with a successful development record and exciting future development models in store. Watch this space!

Who wore affordability better?

A creeping trend in inner-city developers has been berated after providing lavish street entrances for private owners and providing ‘poor doors’, Spartan rear entries for lower income earners. Even bicycle storage spaces, rubbish disposal facilities and postal deliveries are being separated. In planning applications developers have even argued;

"that on-site provision of affordable housing would result in significant design inefficiencies due to the need for separate entrances and building cores".

These design choices reinforce social strata each time you enter the building and assure you never accidently say ‘hello’ to your well-earning ‘neighbours’ on the stairwell. It is a modern day approach to Victorian servant circulation – except these individuals are your nurses, police and key public service providers. Pocket developments are deliberately designed to respond to neighbourhood character whilst providing beautiful interiors and shared spaces. Affordable apartments can be achieved without sacrificing aesthetics and without stigma.

Left, the luxury lobby of One Commercial Street, marketed to wealthy City workers. Right, the side-alley entrance reserved for affordable housing tenants. Photographs: Sarah Lee for the Guardian

Pocket Living were among keynote speakers attending the recent Agency Congress in Sydney, November 2017. The Congress focused on practitioners who have noticed opportunity for growth and innovation in policymaking and the built environment, and more excitingly, are being proactive about it.

Further reading: 

Osborne, Hilary.
Poor doors: the segregation of London's inner-city flat dwellers, 26 July 2014, .

Colson, Thomas.
These factory-made homes the size of a London Underground carriage could help fix London's housing crisis, 20 September 2017,

Knowles, Tom. Pocket-size solution to help solve housing crisis, 4 September 2017,

Evans, Judith. Marc Vlessing of Pocket micro-homes is big in small housing, 18 May 2016,

Allen, Kate, Housebuilder Pocket Living attracts cash from Boris Johnson, 25 October 2013,

Booth, Robert.
Sadiq Khan: London needs to build 66,000 new homes a year, up from 29,000,
27 October 2017,

Gift Ideas for the Planner or Urban Designer in Your Life

by Danielle Cull

What’s better than a card game where you can win with a smashed avo? And for free! Or a piece of jewellery showing your fave city or brushing up on your Urban Design Essentials? Check out these gift ideas for Christmas for the Planner or Urban Designer on your list:

1. Cards against Urbanity ($ Free)

2. UnGRIDDED Notebooks ($8.00)

3. UnGRIDDED CITIES Coloring Book ($25.00)

4. The Art of Urban Sketching: Drawing on Location Around the World ($25.44)

5. Melbourne Necklace ($40.00)

6. Utopia on DVD – Season 1 & 2 boxset ($34.99)

7. Essentials of Urban Design ($95.40 e-download)

8. Lego Architecture Series ($ Various)

The 300mm width eave…2017’s new weather protection.

By Jonathan Halaliku.
(Source: Good Housekeeping).
The anticipated ambiguity around the calculation of the garden area stemming from VC110 is now coming into fruition. Whilst the Tribunal is still another 3-4 months away from considering the garden area requirements in earnest, we are now starting to see the breadth of variations in interpretations between by Responsible Authorities. What we are seeing is worrying.

We have been engaging in numerous running discussions with RA’s in relation to what constitutes a roofed area for the purposes of calculating the garden area provision. We are being informed that any area under an eave cannot be calculated as part of the garden area – why? because it is regarded as a ‘roofed area’.

Whilst this may seem harmless in the overall scheme of things, it can be, and is becoming, a moot point which detrimentally impacts development footprints. The current definition within the VPP’s for garden area is:

An uncovered outdoor area of a dwelling or residential building normally associated with a garden. It includes open entertaining areas, decks, lawns, garden beds, swimming pools, tennis courts and the like. It does not include a driveway, any area set aside for car parking, any building or roofed area and any area that has a dimension of less than 1 metre.

To me, whether a literal or purposive approach to interpretation is taken in the calculation of a garden area, the area under the eave must be included within the calculation. I am confused by the exclusion of the area under eaves from the calculation.

For example, an uncovered outdoor area normally associated with a garden, includes open… (insert examples) and it does include ‘a driveway’ (because you cannot plant on a driveway), it does not include an area set aside for car parking (because a car cannot[1] park on a garden), or ‘any building’ (because you cannot plant in a building[2]). Also, it does not include ‘an area less than 1 metre’ (because this sized area traditionally cannot by planted with significant landscaping that can contribute to “The green open character of our neighbourhoods”).[3]

It does not include a ‘roofed area’ [4] because[5];

a) Planting under a roof is generally not visible to the wider area
b) Planting under a roof is limited by i) species, ii) size iii) visibility (and therefore contribution to the character of the area), and;
c) According to the Collins Dictionary[6]:

The roof of a building is the covering on top of it that protects the people and things inside from the weather.

In our mind, whilst you can source variations of roof definitions the key to defining if a horizontal overhang or eave constitutes a roof, is the extent of enclosure and protection. A standard sized eave does not provide enclosure and only negligible protection from the weather. We further note;

d) Planting under an eave remains commonplace and can continue[7]
e) The eave is an aesthetic extension to the main roof structure
f) An eave does not, on its own, constitute a roof for the purposes of reasonable protection from the elements to the area directly below it.

The discrepancies within the garden area requirements, and particularly what constitutes a roof area in the absence of a definition within the VPP’s have been identified early by many planners and lawyers alike. Identification of this issue is old ground, but the impact and results of incorrect interpretation is a new phenomenon which we are observing and the implications on approvals and permit conditions is frustrating to say the least.

Why is it that we as an industry need a Tribunal ruling or Practice Note to iterate the obvious? I am not surprised by the disparity in interpretations, more so disappointed. It is nonsensical to regard an area under an eave to be a) roofed and b) not normally associated with a garden area.

The keep it simple question is; if you stand under an eave, can you get wet?

I have come up with a very simple, but telling test. At the equinox I will stand under an eave of my house (trampling the unkept agapanthus) with my son. If it rains, I will ask him if he is wet. If he says, ‘yes dad I am wet’ I will simply reply– no you are not son…we are standing under a roofed area.

Sarcasm aside, our take is that weather (sic) a certain method of statutory interpretation or simple common sense prevails, the golden rule of application is one which avoids absurdity.

[1] Should not.
[2] Well, you can, but that planting cannot contribute to the neighbourhood characteristic as is perceived to be the purposes of the garden area provisions.
[3] Reformed Residential Zones,
[4] Which is notably grouped with a building in the definition i.e. ‘…building OR roofed area”
[5] This list is by no mean exhaustive but the obvious which we are increasingly in need to point out.
[7] Common sense informs us that a garden bed can continue to be planted under an eave. Common sense also tells us that an eave forms part of a roof but does not protect the area from elements directly under the eave as per the area under the ceiling joist and rafters on the inside of a wall.

WAR ON....bicycles??

By Julia Moiso.

Cycling; it’s a common thing! And it’s been around for centuries. Almost everyone at some point in time in their life has ridden a bicycle. For some people, it may bring back sweet childhood memories, and for others it’s an element of everyday life. Bicycles are an alternative, sustainable and cheap mode of transport, a fitness and healthy lifestyle tool, a competitive sport and a popular recreational pastime. So why is there so much stigma against cyclists?

Recently, bicycle sharing systems have become more and more apparent in Australia, following successful European trends, as global companies like O-bike and ReddyGo have begun rolling out their dockless bicycle sharing system on our streets. And whilst you can practically hear the erupting applause from avid cyclists, environmentalists and planners - it appears that some others have very different outlooks on the matter, and not the good kind.

O-bikes have been a hot topic in the media recently and not for the positive reason you’d wish we would assume. O-bikes have caused controversy within metropolitan waterways, on public transport and have been subject to vandalism and other vilified activity.

A wild brawl has shocked commuters on a Melbourne train last weekend after an argument turned sour over a group of young men transporting their O-bikes on the train, when an older man aggressively confronted them in a violent and physical manner, as he was concerned that the bike would go “flying” if the train “suddenly slammed on the brakes”. Of course, it is known within the state that bikes are allowed on the train permitted they avoid the first carriage and also avoid travelling during busy peak hour times.

Similarly, closer to home here in sunny Sydney, groups of pranksters have managed to stack a large pile of the shared bikes in different locations around Sydney, particularly within the eastern suburbs and surrounding local parks and waterways over the past three months. And whilst a number of Councils in Sydney remain supportive of the bike scheme, it is causing headaches for managing Council authorities as Councils are now starting to enforce suggestive circumstances such as fines and stricter regulations like secure parking stations.

Figure 1: Stacked bicycles near Bondi Junction in Sydney. 
See, this is why we can’t have nice things!!

It’s clear that people have turned O-bike disposal into a sport of all sorts, with many currently resting at the bottom of the Yarra River, and others placed in decidedly inconvenient spots like perched up in a Sydney park tree.

Figure 2: O-bike perched up in a Sydney tree near Coogee Beach. 
But, with all things, crisis and opportunity are two sides of the same coin. And if I may restore both humour and faith in urban humanity, some absolute genius has managed to suspend an O-bike on a power line hovering mid-air in a laneway off Brunswick Street, sporting a rogue boy and his ethereal mate as passenger.

Figure 3: O-bike suspended mid-air replicating a scene from E.T the Extra Terrestrial.
Yes, this is exactly what it looks like, this is an ode to the iconic bike riding scene in E.T the Extra Terrestrial, an 80’s Speilberg CLASSIC.

This changes the bicycle sharing game, as baffling as it may be. I believe such schemes have contributed in myriad positive ways in creating a mode of accessible, cheap, reliable and sustainable transport to the public. But with that being said, there is still a concerning amount of non-acceptance of the shared bicycle system as demonstrated above.

Could it be that planners and government authorities alike need to push for more cycling public infrastructure like segregated bike lanes, more frequent parking stations, or grants or a rewards system for people who choose to travel sustainably via cycling?

Should Planning Mandate Public Art?

By Brodie Blades.

Public Street Art (Source: WeekendNotes).
There is an interesting juxtaposition between public art and traditional perceptions of town planning. On one hand, public art (at its most basic level) is typically perceived as a fluid and creative expression of humanity whose contribution to the built environment and quality of life of residents is intangible. On the other, town planning is typically perceived as analytical, process driven and rigid, and capable of making highly measured and anticipated contributions only to human environments. Yet at the intersection of these two extremes is the reality that each is necessary for the creation of the very best public urban environments, and it is at this intersection where the question arises as to whether town planning should seek to systemise urban art by mandating its creation.

The forms and benefits of public art within the built environment are obvious and numerous. One only has to walk through the streets of Melbourne's Fitzroy or London's Shoreditch to gain and immediate sense of the placemaking and character contributions made possible by local artistic communities through graffiti, murals and wall art. Or stroll through Barcelona in present times (with its political graffiti and draped Estelladas) to gain a small insight into the social tensions of a community divided. Likewise, sculpture and statues play an important part in recounting the historic narrative of a city and the forebears of its population, and performance spaces allow for the organic exchange of social capital and the reinterpretation of space and place. The contributions and possibilities of public art really are as profound as they are endless!

Whilst almost all (if not all) local and state governments in Australia recognise this and have active arts programs and policies to guide and foster public art contributions, I'm personally intrigued by the notion that public art is something that can be 'required' within development through planning policy. Take the below example from a current planning control in Melbourne for example (one example of many):

Far from this article being a subjective exercise in what has worked well and what has not in this particular Council area, instead I am equal parts fascinated and challenged by the prospect of whether mandating public art contributions through development assessment can ever be done truly successfully. Can something as complex and organic as art really be confined, measured, articulated, captured in policy and then assessed as another 'box to tick' within a statutory town planning development assessment process, and still achieve meaningful and high quality public realm outcomes? Or does this type of approach simply steer our public realm on a collision course toward a future congested with tokenistic box-tick contributions conceived as meaningless responses to process only?

Perhaps the approach should be to not translate a uniquely social expression of humanity into legislation and planning requirements, but to instead consider the unique and organic nature in which public art contributes to our built environment and respond accordingly. Incentivising funding contributions to local artistic communities in exchange for minor planning concessions could be one approach, as could deliberately fostering incidental and organic public art within new development through built form design that strategically encourages this whilst still responding to CPTED principles.

The irony in all this, of course, is that a significant proportion of Australian capital city development typically contributes to the gentrification of areas and the displacement of the artistic communities most capable of making the types of contribution sought by policies such as the one above, which suggests that the fundamental planning issue is one that transcends traditional development assessment processes and rests at a far more ‘strategic’ level.

What do you think? Do you think planning processes should require public art contributions? Have you stumbled across any particularly successful outcomes in response to such policy? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

'Rising' Seafronts

By Jaime Parsons.

I must confess that I have a morbid fascination for dystopian urban environments and fantasy architecture, even when I would rather not have to live in these imagined spaces. But there is a strong possibility that many of us will actually experience a powerful shift in the form and experience our built environment because of climate change and its scion sea level rise.

Following on from Must See Films for Urban Planners and Designers in last month’s newsletter and in a severe case of Blade Runner 2049 visual hangover and heartbreak it dawned on me that in the next few decades a significant percentage of the global population may find itself displaced or behind massive sea walls.

Figure 1. Blade Runner 2049 (source: Blade Runner trailer by Warner Bros Pictures)
 It is estimated by the United Nations that approximately 40% of the global population is within 100 Km of the coast and, with most of the largest metropolises and urban mega-regions located along the coasts of China, Japan, USA, this percentage is likely an underestimation. This means that the impact of sea level rise will likely alter our urban civilisation indelibly.

Closer to home many Melbourne suburbs will be either under water or constantly affected by tidal flooding, as the worse case scenario put forth in a 2017 report, is a rise of 2m by 2100 the result of the melting ice caps of Greenland and Antarctica.

Our great global cities are likely already suffering the consequences as increasing storm surges are severely affecting our infrastructure and communities. We probably all remember how the great city of New York was brought to its knees in 2012 during Hurricane Sandy, with powerful images of Manhattan ‘drowning’. But that will pale in comparison with the effects of a 2m sea level rise which will completely submerge lower Manhattan including the economic powerhouse of Wall Street.

Figure 2. Google and NOOA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) sea level rise modelling
Not only cities but whole islands and nations are being swallowed by the sea. In the case of the Solomon Islands, one of our northern neighbours, at least five reef islands have already been lost to sea level rise and coastal erosion. But for some people it may even mean the loss of their whole country, as is the case with the Marshall Islands, where sea level rise is likely to engulf the whole nation in the years to come and create a new caste of climate change refugees.

Figure 3. Coral island submerged by sea level rise (source: The ABC)
Maybe there is a better option than mass resettlement and living behind the new ‘prison’ walls of massive sea walls, disconnecting us from the sea that has brought us so much bounty and exchange throughout history. 

Many built environment designers around the world are attempting to creatively address this looming human catastrophe. One of the most powerful responses has been to create liminal buffer spaces between the sea and the places of habitation and business that are more than just sea walls. Such spaces are not conceived as barriers but as true public spaces that bring multifaceted community benefits.

Architect Bjarke Ingels has proposed one of the most ambitious of all climate change resilient projects with the 10 mile long Dryline. A long string of parks, paths and public open space interventions along the jagged edge of Manhattan partially reclaiming private docks, sea and a wild assortment of existing vulnerable infrastructure.

Figure 4. Dryline plan by Bjarke Ingels Group (source: The Guardian)

This all presented with a seductive narrative and visuals by London visual maverick’s Squint Opera. But behind it there is one of the seeds of the necessary re-conceptualisation of the built environment that we will need to have to address climate change.

The Dryline is but one project of an emerging trend of how to do more with less in a time of ever greater changes. Have parks that are also provide flood mitigation, link hereto separate areas of the city in a cycle and pedestrian friendly manner and connect back to the sea.

The range of design responses is as varied as the cultures and character of the cities they are responding to. The recently completed, in 2013, sea promenade along the Avenue of Ribeira das Naus in Lisbon is an unlikely gathering place but that is what is has become. The project provides a series of inclined steps along a sea wall that dissipate the energy of the ever increasing sea waves and, equally important, also provide a gathering space for locals and visitors to view the estuary of the of Tajo/Tagus River as it flows into the Atlantic Ocean, an ocean intimately tied with Portugal’s rise a maritime power in the 16th century.

Figure 5. Ribeira Das Naus, Lisbon by João Nunes (source: Skyscraper City)
Flooding does only affect urban seafronts; other waterfronts are also increasingly affected by the massive urban infrastructure pressures that completely reshape their floodplains. One of the more striking projects is that by Chinese landscape architecture firm Turenscape in the Chinese city of Jinhua. a remanent riparian wetland is preserved from greater disruption and brought into the awareness of the community by creating public park close by and access through pedestrian bridges. The whole park is submerged during the annual flooding brought on by the Monsoon rains but the colourful wavy pedestrian bridges remain above the water level provide good connectivity throughout the year. It is precisely this environmentally aware and responsive design thinking that will need to be used in the coming years and decades.

Figure 6. Yanweizhou Park, Jinhua city, China by Turenscape non- flooded state (source: Landezine)
In a recent project that I led as the Planning and Urban Design Advisor at the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Survey of the Solomon Islands we applied similar thinking but on at a much humbler scale. 

In doing the strategic planning and statutory controls for the town of Auki as part of the Physical Planning team of the Ministry it become apparent that the seafront provided a strong community focus that now mostly taken over by ad-hoc private interests. The traditional landowners felt a strong affinity with the seafront but had mostly lack a cohesive vision to articulate their desire for regaining its traditional role as a place of community exchange. Furthermore, the increase flooding brought on by cyclones and tropical storms are a serious and growing risk. It was also a place where the emerging tourism industry could provide some early impetus.

In light of the socio-cultural significance of the sea front and the need to address climate change weather pattern shifts we produced a concept design for the Auki seafront. It is also a mandated buffer to mitigate the worst effect of sea level rise to protect to habitable buildings that becomes an linear park in its own right. It provides a continuous pedestrian and cycle link from the new port facilities to the Kwaibala River shore increasing the permeability of the town centre and linking existing and proposed nodes of activity. It turns out that we tapped into a strong sentiment as there was a nearly universal political and community backing for the proposal, probably because it reconnects the people of Auki with their nurturing sea.

Figure 8. Auki Waterfront Master Plan (source: Auki Local Planning Scheme and Structure Plan)
Ideally, we should contain greenhouse gas emissions to a level that keeps global temperature rise below 2 0C but this may not occur. As designers and planners we may not be able to stop climate change and sea level rise but we can influence how we shape our towns and cities to respond to our ‘rising’ seafronts otherwise I feel we may yet all have to live in the stark, bleak future of Blade Runner 2049.

Gift ideas for the special Planner or Urban Designer in your life

By Danielle Cull.

What’s better than a card game where you can win with a smashed avo? And for free! Or a piece of jewellery showing your fave city or brushing up on your Urban Design Essentials? Check out these gift ideas for Christmas for the Planner or Urban Designer on your list:

Planning for Adaptivity - A Council Planner’s Nightmare

By Sam Palma.

It is no secret that Melbourne is under constant pressure to accommodate the increase in population growth and balance urban consolidation with the efficient use of our land and the supply of affordable housing stock. ‘Plan Melbourne’ and State Planning Policy identify the need and desire to introduce innovative and diverse housing options for future generations, while also outlining the importance of sustainability and orderly development.

We are already seeing a shift away from large blocks with big backyards which we previously identified as the ‘Australian Dream’ to more compact living through a dominant trend and supply of apartments and townhouse living by the private sector. Shifts in our lifestyle, employment and family trends have introduced new terms such as ‘time poor’ and ‘contemporary living’, real estate agents constantly promote the notion of ‘low-maintenance’ and furniture retailers such as IKEA are experiencing phenomenal sales due to their compact and diverse range in products. First home buyers who have become a generation affiliated with smashed avocado brunches and university debt are now faced with the pressures of housing affordability in a property marked heavily influenced by overseas purchasers, developers and investors. The reality of housing options afforded to first home buyers within the current market climate reveals few options, with location and pricing being obvious factors restricting opportunities which are coupled with the standardised supply of housing tenure. 

Currently, large blocks that have been identified and earmarked to accommodate substantial change accommodate apartment developments, with townhouse developments the leading option for suburban residential re-development. This trend is fine and will continue to provide growth in housing supply and diversity. However, is there scope for Melbourne to implement innovative housing tenure to further balance the pressures of affordable housing and population growth? What do some of these options mean for Urban Planners?

Option 1: Flexible Apartment Floorplans

The concept of flexible apartment floorplans introduces the notion of moveable walls, allowing apartment floorplans to change depending on the occasion or requirements of a resident. This innovative and adaptive concept makes efficient use of spaces and caters for the individual needs of the occupier, promoting sustainable, affordable and diverse housing stock. \

This particular design response would result in a statutory nightmare for Council planner’s who would be required to assess an adaptable/changing floorplan against the ‘Victorian Planning Provisions’ (VPP) and the newly implemented ‘Better Apartment Design Standards’ introduced via Planning Scheme Amendment VC136. The necessities for carparking, minimum bedroom sizes, living room dimensions and solar access would become blurred through requiring variations to most Standard’s under Clause 58 (which already proves to be difficult under current systems with Responsible Authorities often enforcing discretionary Standards as mandatory controls).

Option 2: Moveable/prefabricated housing stock.

Prefabricated and moveable dwellings are not new concepts to the housing/construction industry, with many companies and universities pioneering a shift in thinking to more sustainable and affordable dwellings that accommodate the shifts in socio trends and economic and environmental pressures. The Kokoon as pictured below is a three-storey wooden dwelling created in Finland that has the potential to be constructed within 24 hours with the preference to have the materials prefabricated. 

The Kokoon. (Source: Business Insider).
Many examples of portable and prefabricated homes are emerging with growing popularity given the pressures faced worldwide to adopt and encourage sustainable housing models. 

The Koda; solar powered movable home. (Source:
Similarly to the flexible apartment floorplans, the practical implementation of movable homes poses to complicate the Responsible Authority’s job in assessing the appropriateness of prefabricated dwellings within the context of the VPP’s and neighbourhood character. Although there is the potential for these innovative concepts to be sited in rear yards of existing dwellings and classified as dependant persons unit (ie except from requiring a planning permit), as soon as we consider having two on the same site, it is subject to requiring a planning permit.

Considering the growing investment into these types of sustainable, ecofriendly and cost-efficient homes, relevant questions I believe worth contemplating include:
  • Should these forms of innovative dwellings be held to the same standards as regular dwellings when assessing its context against neighbourhood character and the VPP’s?
  • Does the Responsible Authority have the statutory mechanisms to consider and approve such innovative and adaptive forms of housing? 
  • What areas/municipalities are most suited to accommodate and consider these types of housing options?
  • What mechanisms can be adopted by the Responsible Authority to reduce potential ‘red-tape’?