Must watch movies for Planners

Blade Runner art concept
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Looking to movies demonstrates how the urban landscape, form and a cities atmosphere has and can change over time.

Evandro C. Associate Professor of Urban Design, Urban Planning, Transportation Planning - JSUMS \ International Consultant has compiled a list of ‘epic’ movies that showcase cities and urban scenery including districts, neighbourhoods and public places.

His list includes:

· Blade Runner – Ridley Scott (1982) – The apocalyptic and dramatic future of our megacities

· The Million Dollar Hotel – Win Wenders (2000) – Impressive views of L.A.

· The Truman show – Peter Weir (1998) – The daily life in the suburban area

· Mon Oncle – Jacques Tati (1958) – The contrast between a traditional European neighborhood and the technology-driven emerging trend

· Amelie - Jean-Pierre Jeunet (2001) - Incredible images of Paris.

What do you think of his list? Can you add to it?

Follow the conversation here.

Can future cities learn from failed ancient cities?

The temple of the Great Jaguar
Image credit: Creative Commons
What lessons can be taken from the abandonment of the ancient city of Tikal? David Lentz, a professor at the University of Cincinnati states “Here was a big city. They had the best architecture, it was the centre of the universe. And it was pretty rapidly abandoned.” 

The once thriving town of Tikal in Guatemala has been an isolated ruin since the Maya left at the end of the 9th century. Researchers are now discovering clues about how the Mayan culture lived and what the city’s demise could signal for future urban resilience.

Tikal grew to be one of the most important cities in the region and lasted more than a thousand years. Whilst the Mayans did manage their resources well and made efficient use of limited resources (i.e. water) they had reached a point of living near or beyond their means by the 9th century.

By the end of the 9th century a series of droughts had strained their water resources and clearing of land for agricultural needs exasperated the problem. Eventually life as they knew couldn’t be sustained and the city was abandoned.

It’s hard to believe that a large city today could be abandoned. One lesson that can be learnt from Tikal is that if technologies aren’t adapted or don’t have the ability to adapt to changing conditions (like climate change), that a large city could disappear in a few decades. One positive is that we have more warning and awareness.

To read the full article:

Classically Melbourne

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 Could a giant, illuminated fountain be the ticket to ‘saving’ Docklands?

Docklands News recently reportedon a proposal to build a 'giant fountain and flame show'. According to the report the fountain and flame show would attract more than five million people to Docklands annually and generate at least $230 million for Victoria's economy every year. The plan, being touted by the FCT Flames and Avant-Garde de Studio, has the support of the Docklands Chamber of Commerce, which says it would put Docklands on the map for visitors.

Choreographed to music, the fountain would be programmed to music during the day and flames, pyrotechnics, video projection and lasers may also be added at night for an even more dramatic show, and may be programmed to match particular themes or special events.

But with all this talk of wiz-bang circus tricks to save Docklands, it’s difficult to forget the giant illuminated wheel circling in the background. Before its highly public mechanical setbacks, the Melbourne Star was believed to be the silver bullet needed to entice hordes of tourists into Harbour Town. However the reality has been somewhat different.

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For years the criticisms facing Docklands have been far greater than its emptiness. Before the City of Melbourne became the custodians, Lord Mayor Robert Doyle noted that Docklands needed better connections to the city, a place to kick a football, and somewhere for a casual beer (read more here). In 2012 the City of Melbourne released a Community and Place Plan which looks at how to capture the essence of Melbourne in Docklands. The plan emphasises everyday activities for residents and the creation of comfortable and active public spaces.

While a giant water fountain may look great on a postcard, it’s difficult to see how it will contribute towards the more nuanced neighbourhood-creation goals for Docklands.

What do you think? Can a fountain really save Docklands?

You can read more about the proposal here and see the City of Melbourne’s plan for Docklands here

Where the sun don’t shine

Elon Musk. Inventor. Pioneer. Oddball entrepreneur. International man of mystery. He made online transactions mainstream with Paypal. He’s brought electric cars into mass production and into the public consciousness through Tesla. He’s aiming to make space travel cheaper and more accessible to the common man with SpaceX. He’s envisioned high-speed mass transit with the Hyperloop. Basically, he’s the real-world version of Tony Stark, or Ironman for non-Marvel fans.

So what’s the next side project for someone who has his fingers in everything? The answer is harnessing solar power better than anyone does today. Obviously.

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Photovoltaic technology is not new. The pros and cons of operating households off this renewable source are well documented: when it’s sunny, awesome; you can even sell your surplus power back into the grid. When its not, your house is no better than any other fossil-fuelled abode. Sometimes the sun shines when you don’t need any power at all. The key with solar is balancing the fairly constant demand, with an inconsistent and uncontrollable supply.

Enter Elon Musk and his other other side project, Solar City. Using the battery technology from Tesla Motors as a base, he is planning on creating a power storage unit for the solar-powered home. The most immediate problem this solves is the ability to keep using solar power even on clouded days, and long into the night too. Once storage technology becomes advanced enough, we may even see a surge in grid-independent homes.

This could herald the death of utility companies. While there are buy-back schemes for excess solar-generated power, customers could soon be viewed as competition by utilities if they are able to generate enough of their own power. This is especially true if the utility operates a buy-back scheme for excess solar.

Utilities could potentially take the tricky route of using their customers as both suppliers and consumers, though the economic balancing would be immensely tricky. The transition from centralised production of power to communal, decentralised production would be tough for old-school utilities to manage as well. However, my (rather basic) understanding would be this: if the utility no longer needs to supply the power, then their costs of production would be virtually nil. Instead, they can and should focus their efforts on the proper distribution of all the solar power being fed into the grid.

Changing winds are upon us though, and the message is clear: face the new dawn, or be left where the sun don’t shine.

Full article:


Melbourne’s St Kilda has a fascinating and varied history and whenever you visit you always find something new (or old) and interesting to lead you off on a tangent.

Never boring, the eclectic mix of residents representing most socioeconomic groups has one thing in common: they are passionate about their ‘place’.

While the community focus is often on the St Kilda triangle or seaside – which was once Victoria’s first official tourist precinct – back just a bit from the attractive waterfront is a mess of roads coming together to form St Kilda Junction.

Back in 1975 the Melbourne Metropolitan Board of Works oversaw some work which ripped the heart from the Junction – widening high street, destroying the historic shopping precinct of 150 buildings (including the Junction Hotel), and changed its name to St Kilda Road. The resulting traffic mess and lack of soul is what we see today.Melbourne’s St Kilda has a fascinating and varied history and whenever you visit you always find something new (or old) and interesting to lead you off on a tangent.

David Lock Associates and Arup have launched a student competition, asking planning, urban design and architecture post graduate students to put their talents to re-monumentalising St Kilda Junction and restoring St Kilda Road South (the former High St) as the living backbone of the suburb. We want them to develop an urban design framework to create a new future for the Junction, whilst acknowledging and respecting the past.

Did you know there is a 300 year old, ancient Corroboree Tree at the Junction?

Or how about the fact that Windsor Railway Station was originally called Chapel Street Station and is currently on the Victorian Heritage Register?

And it’s interesting to note that the first passenger train from Flinders St to St Kilda took just 12 minutes 158 years ago – do we do any better now?

What would you like to see to bring St Kilda Junction and St Kilda Road South into the 21st Century?

If you know any post graduate students who could show us the way forward, let them know about ‘Re:imagine the Junction’:

If you require any further information about the competition, please email

Initial registrations close on Friday 13th March 2015 at 5pm (AEST)

Opportunity knocks

By Sean Hua

One of the prime benefits of living in a city is the dense concentration of human capital. Among others are the economies of scale associated with larger populations, and the increased density facilitating easier service provision.

All that comes from a governance perspective. Not as widely considered however, is the intense amount of competition for ideas and attention for “the next big thing”. Untapped potential may always remain so if an opportunity to display talent isn’t there.

For this reason, architecture firm De Leon and Primmer Architecture Workshop relocated to a second-tier city to practice. The decision was business-based, but their presence is taking advantage of, and contributing to, the transition of a city from industry to a service economy.
The firm benefits from greater freedom to express themselves, easier access to influential people, and very likely a lower cost of living. To the city, the resultant new architecture will be an attractive selling point especially if it’s from locally-based. It speaks of aspiration: we have talent, and we can be great with it.

With fresh, skilled graduates making their way into smaller cities for the very same reasons this architecture firm did, aspiration could be the key for a new wave of city and economic development from the second-tier.
We may be on the cusp of urbanisation unlike what we've seen before: the brain drain and the best urban laboratories may no longer be the biggest and brightest cities, but rather the smaller, quieter ones with room to grow in a manner of its own choosing.

Read more here:

Are they listening?

By Nicholas Roebuck

98% of everything that is built and designed today is pure sh*t. There’s no sense of design, no respect for humanity or for anything else” says the world’s most famous architect Frank Gehry.

An article recently publish in the New York times by Steven Bingler and Martin C. Pedersen declared “for too long, our profession [Architecture] has flatly dismissed the general public’s take on our work, even as we talk about making that work more relevant with worth y ideas like sustainability, smart growth and resilience planning.” So are our architects missing the point?

Bingle reminisces on a recent car trip with his 88 year old mother. Driving down Elliot Avenue in Charlottleville, his hometown, they passed a house designed and built by architecture students at the Univeristy of Virginia. To Steven, an architect, this model for affordable housing — a tough pair of stacked boxes, sheathed in corrugated metal — was a bold design statement, but to his mother’s eye, the house was a blight on the landscape, an insult to its historic neighbours.

It looks like somebody piled a couple of boxcars on top of each other, then covered them up with cheap metal and whatever else they could find at the junkyard!” she said.

The authors observe that self-congratulatory, insulated architects are “increasingly incapable…of creating artful, harmonious work that resonates with a broad swath of the general population, the very people we are, at least theoretically, meant to serve.

The question remains - As Bingler and Pedersen put it “…at what point does architecture’s potential to improve human life become lost because of its inability to connect with actual humans?

A case in point as they mention was the 2007 “Make it Right” charity program. The program sought to create prototypes for sustainable, affordable homes in a neighbourhood devastated by Hurricane Katerina. The eventual designs, most of which tried to take a basic form, the single family home, and squeeze it into the latest style with little consideration of local needs and local housing style were critiqued by the residents of the neighbourhood who weren’t impressed. The residents posed the logical questions: “What’s with the flat roofs – you know it rains a lot here right?” The high tech homes were expensive to build ($400,000) on average and the high tech fabrication has made them expensive to fix with mould growing on untested experimental materials and eco wood decks and stair rotting. The neighbourhoods are wastelands- failures in urban planning that isolate residents from social networks and public services.

As Bingler and Pederson point out, “…for years Architects have been educated to speak out as artists but we haven’t taught them how to listen. Architecture’s disconnect is both physical and spiritual. We’re attempting to sell the public buildings and neighborhoods they don’t particularly want, in a language they don’t understand. In the meantime, we’ve ceded the rest of the built environment to hacks, with sprawl and dreck rolling out all around us.

Aaron Betsky, is the former head of the Cincinnati Art Museum, and was director of the 2008 Venice International Architecture Biennale summarised the architect’s position: “We have three of the standard criticisms of buildings designed by architects: first, they are ugly according to what the piece’s authors perceive as some sort of widely-held community standard (or at least according to some 88-year old ladies); second, they are built without consultation; third they don’t work.”

Yet Betsky then admitted, “All those critiques might be true.” However, he claims that they are irrelevant, since as he states “architecture must be about experimentation and the shock of the new”. Why this should be the case he does not say. He goes on to affirm that sometimes designers must stretch technology to the breaking (or leaking) point: “The fact that buildings look strange to some people, and that roofs sometimes leak, is part and parcel of the research and development aspect of the design discipline” says Betsky. Ever brave, Betsky is willing to let others suffer for his art.

At no point did Betsky consider the actual human beings, the unwilling guinea pigs who live in the houses. He implicitly says of the poor residents: “Do their roofs leak? Let them buy buckets”.

With this being said, it is unfair to lump the entire industry into the category that Betsky implies. The reality is that there are many architects that are quite commercial and responsive to needs of the consumer, contrary to views of the authors. We would argue that in many cases architects are hamstrung by the constant desire to maximise yield as well as restrictive planning controls often at the peril of the resident. We implore our architects of today to open their ears, stand up for the consumer.

Read more here:

Life behind the walls

By Amruta Purohit

War has transformed the once beautiful city of Baghdad. Sebastian Schutz and Niran Banna spent six year understanding how two decades of conflict have permanently altered the social and physical fabric of the city.

One of the major impacts has been construction of high concrete walls built to temporarily hold off violence and attacks. The walls that were built for community safety have now created neighbourhoods that are imperishably separated from the city centre and from each other. The entire city is hidden behind concrete!

This disconnection has made the city network too complicated and encouraged residents to move outside. It has also made access to basic services like schools and hospital challenging.

Now Baghdad wants its’ streets back.

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Looks like the citizens have accepted the conditions and some Iraqi artist are using these walls to tell a story of Baghdad. The walls are painted to reflect their history and give the citizen a canvas to share their proud and painful history.

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The walls are recently being demolished and being replaced with trees, bushes and fences. However, use of various landscape elements to maintain the separation reflects the reluctance in integrating the city as a whole. While some walls are replaced others have opened up great opportunities for the citizens to create public places like markets and park.

To read complete story of impact of war and terrorism on Baghdad check:

A caring car

By Sean Hua

Cycling and motorcycle riding is growing in popularity, however it’s not a preferred method of getting to work by most. One of the oft-cited reasons for this choice is the perceived danger of sharing the road with cars. The fears come with good reason, as drivers are often only conscious of other cars, and even then, frequently not!

Bike riders blame car drivers for not paying attention, while car drivers blame bike riders for taking up valuable road space (or something like that). Either way, there is a level of tension that exists between the two groups, but by and large, the occupants of the 1.5-ton metal box win out over those on two wheels.

Jaguar, historically famous for once producing the fastest sedans in the world, are now testing a sensor system that alerts drivers to the presence of a rider in their blind spot. The method of alert is currently being tested, with a range to be implemented from a mechanical “tap on the shoulder”, to the sound of a bike bell, to flashes on the car pillar or instrument panel. More warnings are due to be enabled the closer the car gets to the rider. Crucially though, the response to avoid the rider is in the hands of the driver.

Collision prevention technology is nothing new. Google have famously been road-testing their driverless cars (covered in this blog post here), while Honda and BMW have also recently tested their own systems that take over control in risky situations. These alternatives cover the spectrum of safety from a fully autonomous vehicle (Google), assisted driving (Honda and BMW), to autonomous driving (Jaguar).

What does this mean for drivers and riders you might ask? For the latter, it will mean safer roads immediately. Collisions due to lack of awareness or slow reaction times will likely be reduced thanks to greater awareness for the drivers. An incentive to cycle more perhaps, but only if adoption rates by drivers are high; thus pulling demand both ways. For those who enjoy the experience of driving though, the chances are they would prefer a system like Jaguar’s that allows them more control rather than less, and that might damper the appreciation of assisted driving.

If legislation enforced such systems in the name of road safety however, we may see them become quite common and accidents due to human error would be a thing of the past. We might see the use of cars decline and cycling numbers skyrocket… or as this article suggests, we may see ridiculous levels of congestion.

Where does that leave those who enjoy getting behind the wheel though? Perhaps we may be reduced to being weekend warriors and recreational drivers; enthusiasts enjoying the modern forms of transport from a bygone era. In fact, not unlike the cyclists of today… Wouldn’t that be something?

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Read more here:

Too close for comfort?
 The question of how far people will walk to reach a transit stop has a pretty significant impact on the shape of cities. Australian urban planners conventionally draw the line of ‘walkability’ at 800m, in line with our American colleagues’ line at about a half-mile. Sometimes these distances are reduced for bus stops or less frequent rail services, however the consensus has held that no one makes it farther than 800m on foot. 

The impact of this thinking can be seen clearly in the planning rules a city creates for its transit-oriented development. Many states across Australia have released Transit Oriented Development (TOD) guides to encourage increased development intensities near transport infrastructure. Victoria’s ResCode requires that 95 per cent of new dwellings within a subdivision be located within street walking distances of 400m, 600m, and 800m from existing or proposed bus, tram and rail stations respectively.

However new research from the University of New Orleans suggests that some cities indeed might be selling their “TOD” footprint short. In examining property values around mass transit stations, the researchers found a transit-oriented price premium which extended up to one mile (1.6km) from rapid transit systems.

Read more about the findings here.

Do you agree with these findings?

Staying Alive

More than 30 years ago, Detroit made a selfless contribution to the world with its unique industrially-inspired electronic music. Now people around the world (and locally) are brainstorming ideas to help rebuild and redesign the decaying and nearly dead city.

Since filing for bankruptcy in July 2013 a number of initiatives from around the globe have been developed to revitalise the legendary Motor City. A design competition was launched to create a new vision for the city and revitalise key sites. Empowered citizens and community groups refused to give Detroit away and worked together to create places for people and investments in public transport infrastructure to pave the way to a brighter future.

Have a look at these promising urban initiatives.

The M-1 Rail
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The M-1 Rail line, which is currently under construction, is a new line that will run in downtown Detroit. The construction and operation of the new line is led by a non-profit organisation that raised $200,000 for the improvement of crosswalks for the new rail. The rail line will support the creation of jobs and housing.

Urban agriculture by Detroit Farm and Garden
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Detroit Farm and Garden is a local store that provides Detroit’s communities with farming produce, gardening and landscape resources.

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Compost is great way to turn waste into something good and useful. The organisation Detroit Dirt focuses on implementing compost on abandoned parcels of land in Detroit and turns them into urban farms for the community’s benefit.

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Bringing a city back to life is not an easy job, it requires participation at all levels of many stakeholders. Music is also playing an important role in the transformation of Detroit and the St Jerome’s Laneway Festival is the proof. You may or may not be familiar with this international festival that tours in many worldwide cities (it started in Melbourne), but also make its only North American appearance in Detroit! The alleys are used for artistic expression and also as an avenue to help the community. Dally in the Alley is another festival sponsored by a non-profit organisation that uses the proceeds from the street fair for projects that seek to improve the quality of life for people who live and work in the neighbourhood.

Although a lot of work is yet to be done, hope is not all lost.

Read more here:

First Amphibious House in the UK

Image credit: Baca Architects & Waterstudio
Here’s a thought for anyone looking at building a house in Melbourne’s leafy Elwood or any number of Sydney’s bayside suburbs – which can get a bit waterlogged when it rains – an amphibious house. No, it’s not a house with a built-in snorkel, but it can happily live on either land or water. The idea is not new of course; the general concept of a house that can float up and down with the tides has been used in Amsterdam for quite some time now (although those houses are usually on the water to start with). 

Anyway, the UK has started to catch on with their first amphibious house nearing completion on the banks of the River Thames. It’s a great design response for properties subject to flooding, it’s smarter than elevating the floor level above an arbitrary flood level (which can change over time anyway), it’s practical and it actually looks great.

Our only question is, how do you leave your house on the odd occasion when it’s surrounded by water? Do you just wait until the water subsides or should it come with a dinghy?

Check out all the images of Baca Architects’ design.

Read more here.

Advertisement for clean air

Re-conceiving under-utilised or obsolete spaces or objects into unique and playful urban places, is one of the latest fads in the world of urban design. A city must now be peppered with astro-turf laneways, shipping container bars and ‘pedestrianised’ railway lines to prove its credentials as truly liveable. 

But an artist from Los Angeles has taken the repurposing of urban objects to a new level in his reconception of the billboard.

Dubbed ‘Urban Air’, Stephen Glassman’s vision is to transform existing urban billboards into living, suspended bamboo gardens above LA’s infamous highway network. These billboards, when transformed from their generic commercial state into architectural planters filled with living bamboo trees, are intended to become a work of art. Each Wi-Fi-enabled Urban Air billboard contains misters to support the growth of the bamboo gardens. As the bamboo grows, it not only expands the ‘green realm’, but also absorbs air pollutants and urban heat, increasing biodiversity, and reducing night time light pollution.

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His initial Kickstarter campaign in 2012, raised over $100k to prototype the ‘Urban Air’ vision. Although a prototype is yet to be realised, the idea of repurposing one of the city’s greatest eyesores into a productive asset has gained a lot of attention around the world.

Read more about the project on Arup’s website here.

And not to be outdone by nature or art, scientists in Peru have developed a billboard panel which is able to purify 500,000m3 of urban air per day, or the equivalent of 1,200 trees. Watch their video here.

The Peruvians have also developed water producing billboards in Lima. There’s no end to their ingenuity.

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