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Urban greening in high density environments

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A Story from The Netherlands: Why People Cycle Everywhere and What We Can Learn from Them?

By Amy Ikhayanti.

The Netherlands, a country of 18 million people, is also a home of 22.5 million bikes [1]. This number doesn’t come as a surprise, considering that the Dutch cycle to everywhere: to school, to grocery store, to another city for a meeting, or even the short distance to the apartment’s communal garbage area. People also use bikes to transport children and goods: from small packages, suitcases, groceries bags, or even a TV. Once you’re used to be a two-wheeler, a bike can become an irreplaceable mode of transport.

Photo 1: Cyclists in The Netherlands
Source: Bike Citizens 

The story of cycling in The Netherlands doesn’t stop there. An integrated public transport and bike system allows commuters and travellers to carry their bikes to the trains, both on normal and peak hours. It doesn’t come free, though. A day ticket for carrying your bike into the train is 6.10[2]. However, you shouldn’t worry if you need a bike as part of your commute. A folding bike is free of additional train charge, but you have to make sure that you fold your bike properly once you’re inside the carriage. Or, if you are reluctant to bring your own bike, you can rent OV-fiets[3] from the train stations for only 3.85 per day[4].

When a cyclist arrives at the city centre, he or she doesn’t have to worry about finding a parking space, somewhere in the centre’s underground parking garage. Many Dutch city centres provide a basement parking for cars to meet the needs of car users, while maintaining car-free area on its shopping streets and squares. A cyclist can always find a parking space right in front of the shop, hop-off the bike and leave as soon as needed without being bothered by parking tickets. 

Going back home on a dark night, you don’t have to worry about the traffic either. There are extensive bike paths all around the city. Where there isn’t any, a cyclist should not worry about the vehicle traffic because bikes get priorities over cars. Nevertheless, you should remember to put on your front and back lights (helmet not mandatory). Otherwise, you may get fined 55[5] by the police!

Changing our setting to Melbourne - what can we learn from The Netherlands to promote cycling as a transport mode?

Photo 2: Cyclists in Melbourne
Source: Sportsbet

Both Melbourne and The Netherlands have a bike-friendly public transport system, along with its own bike share. Melbourne also has an extensive bike path throughout the CBD. However, it is not enough only to have a very good cycling infrastructure at one place. It is also important to have a robust cycling network to the surrounding areas to encourage movements to and from the CBD. It requires not only cooperation with the surrounding Councils, but also a bigger strategy to manage the whole structure, in the metropolitan area and also the whole state.

At the same time, it is also important to promote the advantage of cycling over driving cars. The Netherlands applies a higher tax for gasoline and parking tickets compared to Australia. At the same time, they invest heavily in bicycle infrastructure, from bicycle garages next to the stations to bike paths and bridges [6]. In other words, it’s necessary to create a conducive environment that encourages people to cycle.

Nevertheless, it’s also important to remember that Melbourne (Metropolitan Area) is much larger in size compared to Dutch cities. Considering that many people commute to the CBD for work and study, riding a bike as the only mode of transportation for residents of the outer suburbs can be challenging. As such, a campaign to familiarise public with the use of multi-modal transport system with public transport and bike is crucial.

Looking back, Melbourne has possessed some of the supportive attributes to encourage cycling as a mode of transport. Knowing that, we are perhaps on the right track, anyway.

[3] Fiets is the Dutch word for bikes

Hop Off Pops

By Mark Sheppard.

Zucotti Park at night (Source: Wikipedia, 2017).

No, this isn’t a Dr Seuss rhyming story.  POPS stands for privately-owned public spaces.

POPS are not new.  We’ve had them in our shopping malls and office forecourts for decades.  But with the growing cost of land in our cities we seem to be increasingly relying on POPs rather than publicly-owned spaces to expand our primary public realm.

Does this matter?  Well, that depends on how you want people to act in your city.  If you think it’s really important to make sure everyone behaves within carefully confined parameters and doesn’t do anything that might be provocative (and pays for the right to be in the space by buying a coffee), then POPS are for you.  But if, like me (and John Robert Smith), you think public spaces are where people should be able to express themselves freely, exchange ideas and hang out regardless of their ability to afford frequent caffeine intakes—particularly in an era when digital communication is threatening our culture of face-to-face socialisation—then we should be concerned about the rise of POPS.

Guardian Cities reports that many local governments in the UK are refusing to reveal the extent of POPS and the restrictions on the rights of people who use them.  So not only is our public domain being privatised, but so too is information about that privatisation!

What do you think?  Should we insist that new public spaces are publicly-owned or at least have no additional restrictions on people’s behaviour?

LGBTQI Communities and Effective Planning Practice

By Amelia Zavattaro.

Oxford Street, Sydney (Source: Sydney Your Say)

The current Marriage Equality Postal Plebiscite is a contemporary issue on many of our minds with significant personal meaning for many of us.

Accordingly, it’s prudent to consider the intersection between planning practice and the LGBTQI community beyond the lens of hetero-normative planning discourse. This intersection is often ignored in planning literature and in practice as LGBTQI issues are rarely considered in the public planning process. (Doan 2015, 1)

Professor Petra Doan, a foremost scholar in this area specialises in research pertaining to the global trend towards the demise of identified ‘queer spaces’. Doan ascertains that there is a reluctance in the planning profession to include people within the LGBTQI community as a stakeholder within planning decision making processes. As a result, there is a paucity of data in relation to planning for queer spaces. Doan contends that whether this resistance is the result of explicit heterosexist bias, mere silence or planners’ reluctance to engage with the LGBTQI population, the demise of identifiably queer spaces and neighbourhoods is becoming pervasive. (Doan 2015, 1)

So, what are some contemporary issues facing the LGBTQI community arising from planning practice?

Doan asks us to consider moving beyond the limitations of defining queer spaces as designated neighbourhoods and to view the population as more diverse and mobile than previously perceived. This enables planners to respect existing histories while understanding the nature of the community at large.

The broader issue of social equity in terms of gentrification is another key concern. As traditional queer spaces are gentrified, displacement results for both residents of these areas and existing LGBTQI related services. Once displacement of these services occurs, identifiers of safe and inclusive queer neighbourhoods are removed, rendering it difficult for additional services to enter the area.

The LGBTQI community comprises vulnerable minorities whose needs should be taken into account in planning decisions, especially decisions affecting key areas that feature services and businesses for the community.

Overall as planners, in order to improve communities and our built environments, we need to listen to the social environment around us to understand how the communities that make up our cities live, experience and desire to use spaces.

Finally, this article seeks to raise points asserted by contemporary literature to get us all thinking about how we and others feel safe and use the built space around us. For an in-depth discussion about the role of planning practice and LGBTQI communities, see Planning and LGBTQ Communities: The Need for Inclusive Queer Spaces, ed. Petra Doan (2015: Routledge).


Doan, P (ed), Planning and LGBTQ Communities: The Need for Inclusive Queer Spaces. 2015, Routledge

The Suitability and Affordablity of Seniors Housing

By Kirsty Smith.

Disrupting the seniors living sector
The housing crisis is affecting everyone, not just the Gen Ys as popular media would have you believe. The housing crisis doesn’t just relate to affordability but suitability. The established models of seniors living and the way we think about, and design retirement living needs to be turned on its head to address the social and economic challenges that an ageing population is creating.

The typical models of seniors living developments have been targeted at, and occupied over the last few decades by the “silent generation”, those born pre 1946. Unlike the noisy boomers - Xers and Ys, they don't like to make a fuss, they grew up in an era where they were told to be seen and not heard. So much so, do people even know they exist? They lack online presence that’s for sure! Is this the reason that the senior living sector has become stagnant in recent years, lacking direction and innovation in design? If so what is the future?

The baby boomers are now entering the sector, these are the generation born in the decade following the end of World War II. They are considered a generation who have "had it all", cosseted by parents who experienced the Great Depression and raised in the prosperous post-war era. Many benefited from free tertiary education and relatively low housing costs. This is the generation that invented the computer, the internet, the miniskirt, fought for women’s rights and experienced cheap international travel for the first time. As Rebecca Wilson, founder of online forum for over 60’s put it at the recent PCA Retirement Forum – “The Baby Boomer and war boomer has changed and adapted like a chameleon throughout their life and retirement will be no different”.

So how will these disruptive change makers effect the seniors living sector? Firstly, they will expect the sector to adapt to them not vice versa. So with that in mind the idea of co-design in new developments is an obvious one. It makes sense to ask the people who will be living and using the space to contribute to designing it.

A successful example of this is the new $1b retirement village in southern Queensland by Aveo. They used recent research into the sector and consulted with potential residents which led to the incorporation of a childcare centre into the village. It follows similar examples from Europe, where the many positive benefits of interacting with younger generations, especially children, have been demonstrated in co-located aged care with childcare or kindergartens. While this may not be the obvious choice for an over 55s community, or right for every community, through co-design you can work out what is.

The notion of co-design and getting resident input and buy in upfront closely relates to shared values in aged care and looking past the individual needs. Shared values encourage a sustainable market-based, consumer driven aged care system. In an increasingly competitive marketplace, where information and comparison is available at the click of a button, providers need to change their additional offerings to residents, working to continuously create more social value for residents, their families, the communities they operate in and society as a whole.

We acknowledge that the seniors living sector is complex and challenging. There are many people, processes, and policies in constant evolution. However, co-design methods empower the consumer to define needs and preferences. It also enables the various companies and influencers in and around the care continuum to link services, innovate, evolve the market and improve lives.

The above will help the sector shift from ‘what we can offer you’ to more ‘look what we have created together’. What other initiatives could this sector employ to ensure it is delivering what the market wants?

Additional reading:

Southbank’s new green spine

By Danielle Cull

Traditional boulevards of the past have been adorned to celebrate the car, sometimes with perfunctory landscaping used to break up the vast sea of ash felt. Take Melbourne’s St Kilda Road for example, with origins dating back to the 1840’s – the now world famous 8-lane boulevard is lined with landscaped medians breaking up vehicle traffic.

Whilst the boulevard is a beautiful sight and recognised the world over, it could be said that boulevards like these with generous medians could be better used for pedestrians than the current 3m footpath at the roads edge.


What if these roads were reconfigured and the medians were used for meaningful public open space?

It’s not a foreign concept. Perhaps the most notable boulevard transformation is the world famous Times Square in New York. Completed in April 2017, the busy intersections of Broadway between 42nd and 47th Streets are now primarily pedestrianised spaces that welcome more than 45 million visitors annually.

Or on a much smaller scale, take Seattle’s Bell Street for example. The small inner city street has been transformed from a car dominated street into a pedestrian and vehicle shared space.

It seems the City of Melbourne has embraced the cries of the community and created a concept to rejuvenate a busy Southbank street into a much needed key pedestrian link and public open space spine, connecting the Southbank waterfront and St Kilda Roads Arts Precinct.

The Southbank Boulevard and Dodds Street Concept Plan has done just that. By reconfiguring the current 4-lane road and wide centre median and shifting the vehicle traffic to one side, means pedestrians and residents get to use what was a meaningless median as purposeful public open space.

Southbank Boulevard - before and after (concept) (source:

Is this the new boulevard where pedestrians are embraced and cars are secondary? Read more about the new open space here:

Is there a spot for contemporary street art in planning?

By Sam Palma

It is no secret that innovative urban street art captures the eyes or interest of most people who come across it, sparking a social element to what can commonly be a blank interface. Melbourne has the privilege of having some of the world’s best laneways and urban street artists which see locations such as Hoiser and Union Lane become not only a tourist attractions but add a layer of culture to our City. Contemporary street art and murals have the potential to stimulate conversation and awareness towards social, environmental and political issues, while providing opportunity for local artists to exhibit their work to a wide audience.

With the ongoing acceptance and appreciation of contemporary street art within an urban environment, does the planning system within Victoria have the provisions or tools to regulate commissioned street art on what would otherwise be a blank concrete wall?

Specifically, inner urban suburbs that see the construction of apartment complexes built to the boundary and left with four storeys of concrete walls exposed to the public realm, remaining blank and unappealing until the adjoining block is eventually developed.


Such interfaces bring to light the term ‘concrete jungle’, as overbearing, tall and dull interfaces proclaim and dominate streetscape views. Understandably, any development occurring on a property boundary will require the use of such concrete walls, and although there are mechanisms of texturizing the facades to soften the profile of them, is there scope to implement greater improvements or change? 

These photos from a recent trip I took to Berlin reveal the potential some of these blank facades can have to express art, social or political issues/change to the public realm and streetscape. Although street art is commonly conducted without permission, does that mean there is not opportunity to not only regulate such forms of art, but incorporate the delivery of such projects into the planning system to ensure appropriate messages are delivered?

Within a Melbourne context, this response would be best suited to podium style apartment developments where they comprise a boundary wall of up to 3-5 storeys high (which typically comprises of car parking facilities) and a single or double storey development on the adjoining site (as shown below).


It is noted that in some instances the introduction of street art to some of these blank apartment boundary walls has the potential to influence the architectural context of the building within the streetscape and broader context, and this will need to be determined on a case-by-case basis.

Potential avenues for implementation within the planning process:

At the time the planning drawings are endorsed by the Responsible Authority, a design is agreed upon, shown and form part of the endorsed plans as a one off proposal.


Is there potential for developers to be granted ‘concessions’ for implementing innovative urban art on boundary facades, acting as a catalyst towards the idea of regulatory art on building facades.

What other avenues could be explored as a way of uplifting these blank concrete facades to spark social interaction?

Privatise planning assessment or as of right unit development – do we dare?

By Jonathan Halaliku

The Smart Planning program has acknowledged that over the past 20 years, Victoria’s planning system has grown significantly whereby the planning system now includes a massive 75,000 pages across 8500 documents and 15,000 PDF maps.[1] As acknowledged by the State Government, the consequence of planning regulation has become complex, inaccessible and inefficient.[2] Reform is required and I agree with this principles behind the program.

However with the Smart Planning program reaching the next stage of its roll out (VC137[3]) we as an industry should consider the difficult, and not so difficult, questions of wholesale reform – dare I say not just a cosmetic ‘nip and tuck’ to process. I believe transformative reform is required – and we need to be brave.

Year in review

According to DWELP’s planning permit activity monthly report[4], planning applications for alterations to a building, structure or dwelling, extension to an existing dwelling, single and mutli-dwelling totalled 23,281 applications across the state !! The sheer number of applications in our system is mind boggling and it is further reflected in the average gross days of Responsible Authority determinations of 121 days across the State. Worryingly, but no surprisingly, only 62% of all applications were completed within the 60day statutory timeframe. This is a system under immense pressure and steps need to be taken to remove not only the burden but the onus from the under resourced Local Government sector.

Given the weight of applications which have a residential redevelopment outlook, I believe our first point of call for reform is to the drafting of the residential provisions in the VPP’s.[5]

What should change - Rationale

We as constituents need to come to terms with the concept of change. Change in our cities, change in urban form, change in the way we experience, utilise and engage with our physical environment. Seldom do the masses spend the weekends tending to the quarter acre block. The once cherished quarter acre is now realised as being an asset not only to the land owners but as a resource for our broader needs of the City.

As our urban environment changes, the type of amenity we experience may change – not necessarily reduce. Where once we would marvel at expanses of freshly mowed lawns, now, the sheer pleasure of home ownership or the ability to house several generations prevails. The utilitarian benefit of urban consolidation has (and should) supersede the protection of underutilised land. So where I am going with this…?

Well, change in urban environment (often termed neighbourhood character), does not, if managed properly, equate to a reduction in amenity. It is commonly misconceived that changes in character negatively change amenity experiences. Hence, neighbourhood character is at the heart of most, it not all, planning stoushes. It is as much a ‘shield’ as it is a ‘sword’. It is a coveted mechanism of planning control, and I say, the defining difference between the planning and building worlds.[6]

Neighbourhood character, its identification, assessment and evolution needs to be forward looking rather than an exercise in preservation of the built form and amenity expectations of days gone by – character, like the intangibles of our city, should be allowed to evolve organically.

The assessment and consideration of neighbourhood character is, in my mind, the main difference between assessment of siting requirements under Part 4 of the Building Regulations, and the processes and delays of residential planning permit applications that we see today. What if we could design a test for neighbourhood character that allows assessment to take place within a confined siting criteria – a tick box assessment? Following this, I would then question why would extensions, single, dual occupancy or multi-unit[7] development proposals actually require planning consent?

Provided the test for neighbourhood character can be resolved, ResCode should return to its origin of assessment – as part of the siting requirements under Part 4 of the Building Regulations.

Granted there will be architectural expressions which won’t be as appealing as others they would nevertheless be an expression and provided mandatory siting provisions are met (i.e. confining unreasonable offsite amenity impacts), there is no reason for the enormous amounts of residential applications that we see in single, dual occupancy and multi-unit applications (of less than 4 dwellings) clogging up Council and Tribunal resources.

The takeaway – form an objective approach to neighbourhood character,[8] formulate a test for character performance that can be incorporated into a ‘siting assessment’ or similar criteria, and relinquish the burden of assessing thousands of straight forward applications by Local Government.

What could change - Zone Provisions

As an example, within the General (32.08-6) and Neighbourhood Residential Zones (32.09-6) each respectively trigger the requirement for a planning permit for the construction and extension of two or more dwellings on a lot. To release the pressure, and on the back of a well considered assessment framework, the requirement for planning consent for more than one dwelling on a lot should be removed, or, “as of right” for dual occupancy and multi-unit development of 4 or less dwellings on, for example,… “of dwellings less than two storeys on a lot size of 1200m²”.[9]

I acknowledge that a robust assessment framework must be established to release various densities of residential redevelopment to “as of right” status. The provisions and assessment (by private assessors or otherwise) would need to be grounded in mandatory requirements (with few areas of discretion). A suite of Planning Scheme amendments would need to be initiated from a platform of up to date character studies, needs analysis, landscaping and housing strategies for which ‘lock in’ preferred character expectations. Maybe it is wishful thinking however the concept of releasing the assessment burden by removing permit triggers is a reform strategy that could be employed if, and only if, the assessment framework is itself well resolved.

Essentially, extensive work on the ‘front end’ of Planning Scheme amendments could then facilitate a ‘tick box’ assessment phase for siting (similar to the new garden area requirements). Here, neighbourhood character can evolve organically rather than with the ‘detached, pitched roof and eave reproduction’ often forced as a result of responding to neighbourhood character concerns.

What could change – Assessment of applications

Privatised assessment of various planning applications should be considered.

The assessment of various classes of low impact, straight forward planning applications should be privatised, or at least, Council’s should be equipped with facility to refer to a third party assessor to make determination in place of the Responsible Authority. The legislative framework underpinning the authority to make a decision on planning applications should be extended to include privatised assessment for various classes of permit applications. I understand that determining such classes of applications beyond the obvious single dwelling, dual occupancy and multi-dwelling townhouse developments (without overlay controls) is beyond this piece, however the conversation about privatised assessment should not be intimidated by recent visible (although not relatable) examples such as Lacrosse[10] or Mount Waverley.[11]

Granted there are lessons to be learnt from our building surveying brethren, but where the appropriate assessment frameworks are in place, and the relevant professional standards and liabilities are accepted by privatised assessment parties, then Councils should have the legislative facility and discretion to refer assessment to a private assessor where deemed appropriate.

It is acknowledged that planning has intricacies of discretion that may not be prevalent in the building surveying comparison, nevertheless, the concept and principles behind privatised assessment, are, as per ResCodes genesis in Part 4, equally applicable if the provisions and development controls are correctly drafted.

Blue-skying change

Easing the burden on the planning system could be achieved by:

a) Elevating some forms of residential development to “as of right” status based on density and built form, and;

b) Privatising, or at least providing the facility for privatised assessment, of various classes of low impact planning permit applications should be considered.

Either or a combination of the above would initiate a shift in onus and burden from an under resourced public sector. Unfortunately I am a realist and I understand the breadth of work that is required, top down, and from all sides of the industry to put these concepts in place. Nevertheless, as per the 1989 classic - Field of Dreams - “if you build it, they will come”.


[2] Above 1 consequences of these growing issues include:
  • lengthy approval times 
  • inconsistencies in planning schemes and decision making 
  • a system that is difficult to interpret and understand 
  • barriers to public participation 
  • higher compliance costs than necessary 
  • less effective policy implementation. 
[3] Which seeks to expands the Vic Smart fast-track planning process by changing the Vic Smart Planning Assessment provisions at Clauses 90 to 95 of the VPP’s. Amendment VC137 is required to implement an extension to the VicSmart permit process by transferring particular classes of application from the standard permit process to the VicSmart process.


[5] Obviously governed by changes to the legislative framework.

[6] Understandably neighbourhood character is primarily concerned with fit, contextual design response and ‘looking out’ of a site, rather than confining consideration to the boundaries of a site.

[7] Up to 4-5 dwellings in a townhouse configuration

[8] Tainted by political platforms or grandstanding for a vocal minority.

[9] An arbitrary, but reasonable, threshold for planning permit trigger chosen for illustration purposes only. A detailed empirical assessment would be required to establish density and lot size provisions.

[10] Media release, “Lacrosse Building Surveyor to face disciplinary action”, VBA, 23 March 2016.

[11] Media release, “Mt Waverley Building Practitioner to face disciplinary action”, VBA, 29 April 2016.

Must see films for Urban Planners and Designers

By Julia Moiso

Sometimes it seems like the profession of urban planning and design shifts between being bureaucratically mundane to wildly imaginative, exciting and futuristic.

One of the great aspects of urban planning is that everyone at one point, whether they realise it or not, has formed basic thoughts about what they perceive as “good planning”. Everyday citizens interact with different typologies of the built environment; a women stuck in traffic on her way home most probably wonders why there are not better routes for her to travel home, a pedestrian caught at a red traffic light maybe wonders why such timely provisions are set up to prohibit him from crossing the road, even though there is little vehicular cross traffic. These interactions between citizens and the environment are a such common thread of everyday urban life, it can be said that planning is a fairly popular topic in the media, both directly and indirectly. Whether it’s a blockbuster dystopian future film or an anthropology documentary, planning has found it’s way onto the big screen.

I’ve compiled a list (in no particular order) of some of my favourite planning and design related films and documentaries that planners and non-planners alike may also find both visually intriguing and thought provoking:

Blade Runner (1982)

It’s hard to believe that this film was created in 1982 featuring such futuristic visions for urban design, and it’s even harder to believe that Harrison Ford features in discussions about urban planning! This film, created by Ridley Scott, is one of my favourite dystopian, fantasy films that triggers viewers fascination with space and place. The film is set in what is supposed to be Los Angeles in 2019 (37 years into the future from its conception) and opens with a nightmare scene of future LA where ‘air-cars’ maneuver through the darkness lit by fires and explosions among a sea of monolithic commercial towers. The visuals of these towers dominate the city and embody a “Times Square vibe” of supersized commercial billboards as a constant reminder of the corporate powers that control the city. In the film, the wealthy citizens live in isolated high-rise towers, where powerful corporations control the city of 106 million people and the poor are shunned to polluted, crime filled streets. In my opinion, Blade Runner is one of the most visually stunning movies ever created.

Metropolis (1927)

Yes you read that correctly, yes it was created in 1927 and yes it is a silent movie, but don’t let that deter you from viewing one of Fritz Lang’s more famous creations, and a masterpeice of early 20th century film. Metropolis is an amazing piece of a architectural sci-fi film, set in a dystopian Orwellian urban future where citizens are enslaved to huge industrial organisations. The built form comprises of intensely dense and souring high-rise buildings, mass freeways (which were barely common in 1927) and, of course, flying cars. Metropolis depicts the dark side of urban places which may have either intentionally or unintentionally urged viewers to move towards a suburban lifestyle.
If silent film isn’t really your thing, I recommend you watch this film purely for the visuals, as it’s hard to believe that this film was made before the advent of CGI (computer generated imagery). Lang’s unrestrained imagination created a city of the future in which step-pyramid towers rise from vaguely glimpsed streets, drawing inspiration from iconic New York architecture such as the Rockefeller Centre.

Back to the Future (Part 1 and 2 - I have no time for the 3rd film) 

Ah, the Back to the Future series, a cult CLASSIC, and it even makes the cut to some of my favourite childhood films. Speilberg’s classics can be portrayed as some of the most memorable films about urbanism, since it shows the comparable disparity between built environments of different ages; walkable urban and driveable suburban (in 3 different time periods). The walkable urban environment is dominant during a scene in 1955 in downtown Hill Valley, a fictional small Californian town centre based around a landscaped plaza. As the camera pans, and the movie progresses, you will notice an overwhelming town centre vibrancy as jobs, shopping, schools, and houses are all within walking distance to the local centre, integrating well into the character of the walkable town.

Another form of the built environment the film indirectly explores is the driveable suburban characteristics that dominate the fictional town of Hill Valley in 1985. The nearly abandoned town centre is now home to x-rated theatres and the landscaped plaza has been converted into a parking lot. For those of you with A+ memory and have seen the movie 20 times like me, you will remember that Marty McFly parks his DeLorean behind an old 1955 billboard that advertises a planned mass subdivision and master planned estate (in which Marty will be born into), thus demonstrating the shift from walkable urbanism to driveable urbanism over the next coming decades.

In Back to the Future 2, the film aces typical downtown walkable urban re-development trends that occurred within America during the late 20th century. The film also shows that the outer suburbs have become slums, which can reflect 21st century suburbanisation of American poverty. For predicting such accuracy (minus the whole flying car deal) I strongly recommend you re-visit this urban classic this weekend.

Human Scale (2013)

The Human Scale, looks at ways to turn urban places into better places to live and makes an excellent case on how to design cities around people instead of automobiles. This wildly intriguing film/documentary examines cities, from New York to Chongqing, which demonstrate various problems, solutions and possibilities for urban development. This film, heavily inspired by Jan Gehl, explores how humanity is rapidly urbanizing and how humans are increasingly adapting to the new automated lifestyle and questions the way cities are being built and if they are being built conducive for our human needs of the future.

Another popular category of planning movie includes films that are determined to exploit the underbelly of picture-perfect American suburbs.

Truman Show (1998)

Another classic, this film directed by Peter Weir stars Jim Carrey and was filmed in Seaside, Florida (known as Seahaven in the film) - one of the first and most iconic new urbanism projects at this time, characterised by mixed uses and walkability. Jim Carrey plays Truman Burbank, a man whose entire life is a 24-hour reality TV show. The irony is that not only is The Truman Show a satire of reality TV, but also of urban planning. On one hand, the film explores a place where everything (places of employment, retail, and social settings) is delightfully within walking distance. On the other hand, it may remind planners of the dark site of utopian master planned visions and the dangers of paternalism.

American Beauty (1999)

Similarly to The Truman Show (and even Edward Scissorhands), at a surface glance, the film is set in an ideal suburban american lifestyle with roses, white picket fences, nice large homes with sizeable backyards and extremely happy neighbours who appear to have it all. However the closer you pay attention, you will notice that it is that very notion of the perfect community is what makes the film both divisive and cynical. This isn't a revolutionary concept, but instead it offers a cynical examination of suburban lifestyles.  To me, viewing it as a dark satire of mega-suburban lifestyle is far more enjoyable and satisfying than interpreting it as (the still brilliant) poignant drama as it’s normally perceived to be.

While there may not be an “urban planning and design” section in your local video store, an awareness and understanding of these movies can visually create the potential for some self-reflection as planners and designers. By understanding which movies resonate (both positively and negatively) with our profession and why, deeper enlightenment can be sought of what we may feel to be the most daunting challenges and possibilities that this practice promotes. Film helps us to reconfigure our perspective on what is possible and what is real in planning, the construction of human interactions in any given place. 

Sick of Generic Planning Reponses? Try these instead!

By Brodie Blades.

In-principle, every planning system in this country seeks to achieve the best quality planning and design outcomes for future apartment development. Whether it be NSW’s SEPP-65 or Victoria’s recent Clause 58 implementation, applicants for apartment development approvals are being endowed with increasingly complex and rigid benchmarks for future development.

Rather than pursue the ‘stock standard’ approach, why not consider some of these alternatives instead?

Neighbourhood Character

It is a common requirement for most (if not all) developments to demonstrate a level of response to either ‘existing’ or ‘preferred future’ neighbourhood character. But what could possibly be more responsive than simply reflecting the existing character straight back to the street?

Take the infamous ‘Treehouse Hotel Mirrorcube’ in Hards, Sweden, for example. Designed by Tham and Videgard Arkitekter, the elevated treehouse suite is clad entirely in mirrors, which gives the illusion of an ‘invisible building’ nestled in amongst the pines.

Figure 1: Mirrorcube (Source: AvacadoGarden)

Or – closer to home – the Cairns Botanic Gardens (Charles Wright Architects), a design which the architects claims ‘literally reflects the gardens as camouflage for the building with visual effect similar to the suit worn by the alien hunter in the original 1987 Predator film’. Impressive! (Authors note – I love that film, and I love this building).

Figure 2: Cairns Botanic Gardens (Source: Australian Design Review)

Solar Orientation

The stigma surrounding south-facing apartments and private open spaces (or north-facing, for our northern hemisphere friends) has long polarised planners, homebuyers and developers alike. So skip all that by simply developing a building that rotates 360O every 90 minutes! No more arguments about south-facing apartments, poor outlook or compromised energy efficiency ever again.

This is exactly what the developers of Dubai’s proposed ‘Dynamic Tower’ have in mind. Designed by architect David Fisher at an impressive 420m high (and at an approximate cost of $330 million USD), the Dynamic Tower literally incorporates individually rotating floors that rotate at a steady 6m per minute. Only catch is, Dynamic Tower is yet to get off the drawing board, so instead you may wish to use Brazil’s rotating 15 storey ‘Suite Vollard’ (15 storeys and completed in 2001) as a more ‘practical’ precedent.

Figure 3: Dynamic Tower (Source: SkyscraperCity)


ESD and energy efficiency is certainly one of the most pressing issues to face our industry. Authorities across Australia have long mandated the demonstration of environmentally sustainable design initiatives within the built environment to varying degrees (and success). Within this context, what could possibly be more environmentally friendly than a completely biodegradable building?

This is the sentiment of ‘The Living’ studio’s ‘Hy-Fi’ tower – the winner of the Museum of Modern Art and MoMA PSE1’s 15th Annual Young Architect Program in New York. Constructed entirely of ‘ecovative manufactured organic bricks’ (ie. bricks made of corn stalks and living root structures), the ephemeral 15 storey tower will stand proud as a ‘cool summer retreat’ New Yorkers until such time as it completely disintegrates back into the very planet from which it came. Perfect for the developer who wants zero return on their investment.

Figure 4: Hyfi (Source: ArchDaily)

Have you come across any ‘left field’ responses to generic planning requirements? Share them in the comments below!

Sexism in Urban Design – Designing for Equity

By Julia Bell

How we use a city can depend very much on how safe and comfortable we feel within it. It can also impact equity in public spaces for woman. Led by Dr Nicole Kalms, XYX Lab is investigating space, design and gender in Australia Cities.

Initially, the investigation began by examining public transport spaces as 2015 figures suggest “almost one in 11 sexual assaults that were recorded in public places happened on public transport. Furthermore, the Victoria Police statistics showed sexual assaults on trams, trains, buses and taxis jumped from 167 in 2003-04 to 268 in 2012-13”. (The Age, 2014)

In response to these frightening figures, XYX Lab has begun examining public transport spaces in order to propose policies and toolkits for women generally, and also for project partners and policy makers.

In relation to public transport safety, Kalms suggests that generally the approach to improving conditions is ungendered, and involves the introduction of CCTV cameras, ‘safety zones’, and alarm buttons for all users, which may deter an attacker but generally only become useful once the assault or harassment has occurred.

Kalms goes onto suggest that “at present, public transport service providers have yet to account for women’s gendered experience of public transport spaces, and imply that users regulate their own behaviours and that safety in public transport is their own responsibility.” Meaning, don’t travel on your own, sit close to the drivers cabin, don’t sit in empty carriages, stand in a well-lit area or in designated “safety zones” with proximity to emergency buttons (Metro Trains 2016).

In other countries, such as Japan and Brazil, the problem of harassment on public transport has become so severe woman only carriages have been created that are manned by policemen during peak hour travel.

The XYX lab’s approach is different, through a design approach which combines activist driven design research with solution-focused framework. The XYX lab does not just focus on public transport. It reviews Australian cities, wanting to understand how sex, gender and sexuality impact the culture of cities. The outcome of XYX lab is to design ‘probes’, but also communication strategies and toolkits for women and stakeholders.

“The XYX Lab wants to produce projects which challenge the causes and consequences of gender inequity in Australia. We have been working with LGBTI communities and partnering on projects around women and girls’ safety in cities, and also in public transport spaces.”

Image source:

Site Spotting: Where do we begin?

By Vincent Pham.

Within Metropolitan Melbourne, there is an ever increasing pressure to continue to provide more housing within the established suburbs and to make use of well serviced land. Melbourne’s population is growing and diversifying, and not a week goes by that I don’t see an article within the media that discusses these pressures.

Downsizers wanting to live closer to their family members, young-couples who want to live closer to the services and amenities or those who just simply want to provide a renewed home to meet the current and future size of their family, are amongst many who may choose to develop their land – but can be caught up in a stratosphere of unknowns – to the point of deterrence. So, where do you begin?

Regardless of the scale of project you are (or thinking of) embarking upon, consideration could be given to some general ‘rules of thumb,’ as a starting point, as follows:

1. Site Features

When analysing site features, it is important that one has consideration to what the physical envelope of the land is such as the shape, dimensions and orientation of the land. These factors can generally influence the overall concept at first instance, depending on overall intensity, of the project and needing to meet all other residential design regulations and design codes. For example:
  • The shape is an important consideration as this can significantly influence the type of ‘layout’ for your project. For example, a standard rectangular block of land offers flexibility to consider a range of layouts.
  • The dimensions follow on from the shape of the land and will generally influence the ‘siting’ of the project. Although the land may be regular in shape, its overall width and depth can also influence how your project is located on the land. For example, a wide but shallow lot may require a 2 townhouse development sited in a ‘duplex’ (side-by-side) layout, whilst a narrow but deep block of land may require a ‘tandem’ (one-behind-the-other) layout.
  • The orientation of the block is another natural physical feature of the site that influences the location of the backyard areas and certain rooms in your project. The general rule of thumb is residential dwellings should be designed in a manner which enables living rooms and backyards to face north, where possible. If this is not possible, then the number of ‘obstructions’ to the backyard should be reduced, where practical.

2. Physical surrounding context

An aspect of undertaking development projects (regardless of scale) is to have a reasonable level of consideration of the features that abut your land, that are not within your control/ownership. This may influence the detailed design of your project. Some points that are worth noting are:
  • The proximity of your project from neighbouring backyards and habitable windows/balconies which could influence the location and style of windows to prevent ‘overlooking’;
  • Location of existing public infrastructure assets (i.e. electricity poles or service pits) or street trees in proximity to your boundaries, that can affect the locations of new or widening of crossovers; and
  • The presence of trees on adjoining properties, which may require your development to be physically modified to ensure protection of trees.
Having an awareness of such physical surrounding features may also ensure that your project is designed to minimise the extent of unreasonable impacts to neighbouring amenity, which in turn minimise potential offense to neighbours and concerns from authorities.

3. Zoning regulations and land-specific controls

An important aspect to consider when embarking on any development project, that triggers the need for Planning Permits, is to have a basic knowledge of the local Council zoning regulations and specific-controls (such as ‘overlays’).

The Zoning of the land helps discern whether your project is suitable for what is envisaged in this area. Overlays will draw your attention to whether there are specific features affecting your land (such as heritage, flooding or significant landscapes). There are a range of overlays that could apply to your land. In established residential areas of Metropolitan, there are generally three common residential zones, each with a different ‘level’ of change envisaged:
  • The Neighbourhood Residential Zone generally envisages low-scale 1-2 storey development (such as townhouses or units);
  • The General Residential Zone envisages a medium level of change and development up to and including 3 storeys.
  • The Residential Growth Zone envisages a higher density of development such as multi-level apartments.
These general ‘levels’ of change will also need to be balanced against other Council policies and specific local circumstances, but also influence your project capacity or future expectations of the land.

4. Title restrictions

Another aspect is the presence of restrictions registered on the property Title such as ‘easements’, ‘covenants’, or ‘agreements’. These have the potential to greatly influence the overall concept of your project.
  • Easements can be present on a land and generally cannot be built over without the relevant authority or benefiting parties’ consent. A land can be affected by multiple easements;
  • Covenants are specific restrictions that can limit the use or development of land (such as a ‘material-specific’ covenant, or a ‘single-dwelling only’ covenant); and 
  • Agreements are generally between landowners and an authority. It can be imposed on land requiring that landowners to do certain actions.
Whilst the presence of these restrictions can be readily discerned by simply reviewing a copy of your property Title, the interpretation of the restrictions may require the assistance of a town planner, solicitor or conveyancer (or a combination of all three). An awareness of whether these exist on the land may prevent future roadblocks towards obtaining approval for your project.

Of course, the above rules of thumbs are not an exhaustive list, and will vary depending on specific circumstances, however, if you’ve ever wondered where to start – why not give these points a go?

Real life Frogger

By James Mackness

Those of a certain age may remember Frogger (the video game of guiding frogs home across a busy road). Well, sometimes crossing roads in Melbourne feels a little like that.

I do more than my fair share of walking as I haven’t owned a car for coming up to 10 years now (although most of that time was in London where a car often feels more a hindrance than a convenience). I know I’m in the minority in Melbourne not owning a car, but if I need one there’s always a GoGet round the corner (other car share services are available).

When it comes to creating a more walkable Melbourne I can’t help but feel a huge improvement could be achieved with one small change. If every set of traffic lights at intersections was set to automatically include pedestrian crossing signals without the button being pressed it would make a huge difference. Many crossings are already set up that way, probably mostly contained to the CBD, but there’s a significant enough number that people often assume that it’s the default state. I regularly see people waiting patiently at the lights without having pressed the button, leading them to wait considerably longer than necessary. It’s also frustrating to arrive at the lights in almost perfect timing, but because no one else has pressed the button you have to wait a whole cycle – well you should do, I often walk across, but I think that’s the British nature, we love to queue for everything aside from crossing roads!

I don’t even think this change would lead to a huge inconvenience to car drivers; after all you can still turn if there are no pedestrians crossing the road. If you’re a traffic engineer and can answer this one, please put a comment below.

Streetscape improvements are ongoing all over Melbourne lately, such as Brunswick Street in Fitzroy which is currently being upgraded to provide at grade footpaths across all of the side streets (see image). This project also includes reclaiming some road pavement back for uses such as bicycle parking and outside dining. While it is a fantastic initiative, these types of work require a significant capital outlay. My proposal for a more walkable Melbourne should be virtually free, assuming required changes can be made remotely or during routine maintenance.

It’s a small change, but could make a big difference to us poor peds.

For those of you interested in experiencing my daily commute, please see the below link:

Also Diabetes Australia Walk to Work Day is not too far away on Friday 6 October 2017, maybe some of your daily commute could be swapped for a walk:

Possible solution to join the CBD and Docklands?

By Danielle Cull.

When you look at the recent built form emerging on both the western edge of the Hoddle Grid and in Docklands, it is clear that there is a ‘hole’ (or a missing link) between the two. The opportunity to repair this is often the subject of numerous reports by State Government and anyone who wanders over to Etihad Stadium from Southern Cross Station, and one potential opportunity is to develop the land over the railway tracks.

Already there are examples of ‘rail capping’ development in Melbourne. For example, one walking back to Southern Cross form Etihad Stadium is greeted by the commercial office space by Grimshaw at 699 Bourke Street built directly over the roof structure at Southern Cross Station. And further afield in Stonnington, two apartment buildings have recently been revealed that are proposed to be built over the railway tracks at both Windsor Station and Commercial Road. And who can forget the remarkable difference Federation Square has had on the city since its development in 2002?

So why then aren’t we further developing over the tracks between Spencer Street and Etihad Stadium? Perhaps there’s light at the end of the railway tunnel!

The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) have recently established an initiative for the ‘Fast Track Government Land Service,’ which charges DELWP with the responsibility of rezoning disused government land sites which are suitable for reuse and redevelopment.

Similarly, the Access Docklands Strategy (2013) proposes the expansion of the city grid with continued staged development over Wurundjeri Way and the rail corridor, to stitch Docklands and Etihad stadium back into the traditional CBD and complete the extension of the Hoddle Grid into Docklands[1]

This is also in addition to high profile commentators such as Eddie McGuire, whose commentary about the sale of Etihad Stadium and it’s relocation within the broader MCG sporting precinct (which entertains rail corridor ‘decking’) is the subject of a State Government taskforce Cabinet committee formed last year to explore the potential. 2

If we want to further develop Etihad Stadium and Docklands and integrate it to the CBD, instead of more buildings built right to stadiums edge, why not create a Central Park of sorts with an over-rail air-rights site that incorporates public open space and retail opportunities?

Just imagine: instead of walking over to Etihad Stadium via the cramped and congested pedestrian bridge with 30 thousand other people, you could have a game of kick-to-kick or a pre-game picnic in a 7.5ha park - bigger than the size of the field inside Etihad Stadium!