It’s the Congealing Era People – let’s get coagulated!

According to Pete Saunders (Urban Planner and Writer) our cities are entering a new era in the development of cities which he calls the “Congealing Era”.   It’s probably better described as the ‘cluster era’ but he’s got a good point about the way that cities are shaped by the social, economic and technological changes through the different generations.

 While the story relates to American cities, the concept is relatable to the development of Australian cities. There was the Early Era, Industrial Era and Auto Era which each brought about different patterns of development.  The Early Era saw people living in closely settled cities because travel was limited. People ‘clumped’ together with the majority of (limited) essential services within walking distance. The Industrial Era initially saw ‘workers’ live close to large manufacturing businesses that were usually located very close to the city centre, while the wealthy started becoming more mobile and chose to live in leafier suburbs or escape the pollution with weekend houses. The Auto Era brought about the ability for more people to choose to commute to work. Urban areas were seen as unclean and more people ‘dispersed’ to the clean and green suburbs with a backyard and garage for their shiny new motor cars.  

 Today, many of the inner city areas have been gentrified, manufacturing industries have been pushed out of the cities (and mostly moved off shore) and ‘urban’ is the new ‘suburban’.  Much like fashion, what was old is new again. The Gen Y’s have a taste for the walkable neighbourhood like its 1899. Cars are now considered a waste of money (give me a plane ticket with a carbon offset thanks) and ye-olde style bikes are retro cool (is that a Penny Farthing you’re riding?).   

 The populations of our cities are bigger now though, and the metropolitan areas are better connected with trains, trams etc.  so the daggy old suburban strip shopping centre is making a comeback and planners are encouraging this with higher density living and shopping around these where they’re close to transport nodes – providing a diversity of housing to attract a diversity of people, all clumped together like the old days, but in nodes along major public transport routes… and so the lumpy, clumpy city is born with its clusters of people all bumping together (while staring at iPhones) in concentrated urban centres, linked by railway lines and bike lanes across a sea of leafy suburbia while staying connected wit.  To congeal is unreal!

Floating cities – is this the future?

Given that 71 per cent of the earth’s surface is water (and that it’s likely to increase), plus the need to retain productive land to support our ever increasing population, maybe concepts like floating cities aren’t as far-fetched as they seem. Further, they might be a necessity rather than a tourist attraction. This also reminds me of the concept ‘floated’ ten years ago to build eco islands in Port Phillip Bay, off the coast of St.Kilda. I’d like to see that.

Take a look at this proposal outlined in The Age recently.

Everyone’s talking about cities

Image source: Future of Cities - 

Last week planners and urban designers gathered in NSW for the 7th Making Cities Liveable Conference, while this week the focus is on Build Environment Meets Parliament (BEMP) – a great initiative by the Australian Institute of Architects and other key industry peak bodies.

With the aim of bridging the gap between politicians, the built environment sector and the wider public, the BEMP summit has run for five years now, tackling a range of issues. Let’s hope the built environment gets some airtime in a week when all the focus is likely to be on the carbon tax!

While BEMP runs in Canberra, the Victorian State Planning Conference will take centre stage in Warrnambool looking at how our industry needs to transform to thrive.

It seems all around us there are options and opportunities to talk about planning and shaping our cities.  And that is what we love to do.

There are definitely some clear trends emerging from all this considering, collaborating and conversing:
  • Design for people first in a way that makes it easy for them to get around and access what they need to live well
  • Make sure what we design is sustainable and leads to resilience
  • Liveability, inclusivity and health at any age are key goals for cities.

The Sydney Morning Herald is running a compelling series of articles exploring the development of places and cities that is well worth a read. Check out the latest in the series here:

And for some further inspiration, the ABC has been running The Human Scale: In Five Chapters. You won’t want to miss it, so if you did, you can catch up on iView.

Tell us what you think are the most important aspects of a well-designed city?

The glitz and glam of the property market?

Image source: Homes of the Rich blog
It’s been nearly a decade since the housing market crashed in the United States of America and on the surface it seems like it has bounced back with new more expensive zip codes. Even though the housing crisis crushed a lot of people’s dreams of owning their own piece of land, it doesn’t seem to have affected the uber-wealthy American.

Data provided by Krishna Rao at Zillow’s breaks down the top 10 most expensive ZIP codes in America. The majority of the highest-priced ZIP codes are within the bay areas.

The drive of the median house price puts pressure on the standard household to enter the property market and is widening the gap between the haves and the have nots. Even though the percentage of homes with a value of $1 million -plus is small, it is still creating segregation within the major cities.

At the other end of the property market, the locations with the lowest housing values are in the ‘hard-pressed’ and ‘crisis-ravaged’ areas of Memphis, Kansas City, Flint or even Michigan. And let’s not forget the city of New Orleans, hit by hurricane Katrina in 2005. 

Image source:

Illustrating the big divide between rich and poor, Zillow’s data shows just over a quarter of the ZIP codes (over 5000 of them) have median home values below $100,000.

So for those of you with a cool $4 million in your back pocket we thought you might be interested in what all that loose change will buy you in the US compared with here at home. 

Well, you could pick up this 1,300 square metre home with 6 bedrooms and 7 bathrooms set on 4 acres of landscaped gardens in Wake Forest, North Carolina. 

If you don’t like the sound of that commute back to the office in Melbourne of Sydney, then you could get something a bit closer to home like this relatively modest house in leafy Malvern, Victoria.  It only has 4 bedrooms and 4 bathrooms on about 900 square metres of land, but it has enough space to park the SUV, and is within walking distance of fashionable High Street for spot of shopping and a latte. 

Image source: 

Or if you work in Sydney, you could snap up this cliff-top residence in Vaucluse.  It has 5 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms.  It’s not on its own estate but it has a great ocean view.

Image source: 

Calling all clients

David Lock Associates is running a client survey to make sure we are hitting the mark with our service delivery.
If you are a client or a collaborator please let us know what you think of our performance. You can find the survey here.

You can also go into the draw for a case of wine. The survey takes just five minutes.

Imagining Future Landscapes

If you stumble across Edward Burtynsky photographs you can’t help but be visually stunned by the beauty in his captured landscapes.

However, take another look because these are not natural phenomena rather manmade scars; the aftermath of humankind’s systematic ravishing of the earth in search of valuable but finite resources.

Burtynsky seeks out vast areas of waste materials from manufacturing, chemical run off from nickel works and cavernous mining holes in Western Australia and photographs these landscapes. I find that in his work he imposes a strange transitory beauty on these places. 

Image: Nickel Tralings #34 Sudbury Ontario Canada, 1996

The images of Western Australia – the “super pit” at Kalgoorlie and the Silver Lake Operations at Lake Lefroy are the landscapes of Australia’s future – the legacy our generation will leave. As planners can we imagine a vision for the future for these places? 

Image: Super Pit #4 Kalgoorlie Western Australia 2007

Image: Silver Lake Operations #16 Lake Lefroy, Western Australia, 2007

More information about the Edward Burtynsky can be found here

These boots were made for walking

A recent survey of America’s top 30 metropolitan areas – the findings of which are tabled in the publication ‘Foot Traffic Ahead - Ranking Walkable Urbanism in America’s Largest Metros’ reveals just how important Walkable Urban Places are – otherwise referred to as ‘WalkUPs’.  

To ascertain a city's walkability, the study looked at each city’s WalkUPs or areas where homes, offices, schools, retail, cultural and entertainment facilities/spaces are accessible by public transport, compared with driving. It then considered what percentage of a city's office and retail space was concentrated in those WalkUPs.

The report was prepared by LOCUS, a coalition of developers and investors who partnered with Smart Growth America and researchers at George Washington University. It demonstrates who’s winning, who’s in transition, and who’s lagging behind in the race towards capturing the market demand for WalkUPs.

Chris Leinberger, president of LOCUS, says that “as economic engines, as talent attractors and as highly productive real estate, these WalkUPs are a crucial component in building and sustaining a thriving urban economy. Cities with more WalkUPs are positioned for success, now and in the future.”

Based on the following major findings of the survey, dynamic, productive walkable districts are in high demand.
  • The top ranking metros had more office and retail space in their walkable areas which correlates to an average of 38% higher GDP per capita as compared with the lower ranking metros
  • The top ranking metros were also typified by a higher percentage of residents with university degrees.
  • Office rent in urban WalkUPs is at a 74% higher premium per square foot over drivable suburban areas.
  • WalkUPs are easier to navigate, have a higher concentration of housing and reduced carbon footprint.
Foot Traffic Ahead underlines the economic power of walkable places and identifies which metro areas are adding them fastest. The likes of Washington, DC, New York, Boston, the San Francisco Bay Area and Chicago ranked among the top current areas for walkable urbanism - no surprises there, as they have history on their side. Many of these locations are home to major industry and business and developed their infrastructure long before cars became an American mainstay, making them naturally more walkable.  Some cities with a reputation for urban sprawl, like Miami, Atlanta, Los Angeles and Denver, are however getting on board, making some surprising and unexpected shifts toward walkable urban development.
(See our other blog post: 'Who would have thought?')

Based on these unfolding trends, there is the potential for market demand for tens of millions more square feet of walkable urban developmentwhich equates to hundreds of new WalkUPs. Meeting this demand is an opportunity to create huge value for these communities – where a greater portion of the population have ease of access to jobs, schools, shopping, transportation, cultural and entertainment facilities, all the while attracting increasing development and investment every year. Sounds like a winning formula to me!

Image source: The Wake Up Call

Who would have thought?

Los Angeles, the city of bumper-to-bumper traffic and labyrinth of freeways, could be an up-and-coming city for WalkUPs [pedestrian orientated development], according to a new report Foot Traffic Ahead - Ranking Walkable Urbanism in America’s Largest Metros’, which ranks walkable urban areas in the top 30 metropolitan areas of the United States. You can see a video about the report here. Or for more check out 'These boots were made for walking'.

Car-friendly LA, as it turns out, ranked 18th on measures of walkable urbanism, out of the 30 metro areas surveyed. Only 16% of its office and retail space is in areas that are considered ‘walkable’. Yet 45% of that pedestrian-friendly space exists in the suburbs. So despite its sprawl, LA has potential to become a hub for walkable development.

In the early 20th century, LA boasted the longest rail system in the world. It was dismantled in the highway heyday of the '60s, but plans are again in place to revive it. Los Angeles is currently investing more into rail transit than any other metro in the US.

With committed funding of more than $40 billion over the next decade, five new rail lines are under construction in 2014, adding to the eight new commuter, light, and heavy rail lines already open.  The former rail system that Los Angeles developed around is essentially being re-built from scratch.

Suburban cities, including Pasadena and Santa Monica - both founded before the widespread adoption of cars - are also developing pedestrian-friendly initiatives, making new rail investment a viable long-term plan. It's hard to take a train to the 'burbs if you still need a car to leave the station right?

That being said, retrofitting suburban cities for walkability is easier said than done. How exactly do you make an immensely sprawling city like LA more community-oriented and more desirable? If LA continues to commit significant resources for new trains and pedestrian initiatives, the subway-streamlined city of Spike Jonze’s imagination in the movie ‘Her’ may just be possible - a future version of LA which is more dense, has better public transport and has managed to overcome its dependence on the car. No wonder this film resonates with architects and urban designers alike. 

Image source: Fast Company and Flickr

Designing out crime

The inspirational American-Canadian journalist and author, Jane Jacobs, gave us the concept of the ‘eyes on the street’ and we’ve been reminded of this concept with some recent and contrasting developments in Australia and India.

But could we use similar design and logic to achieve better safety outcomes in both places?

The City of Melbourne has just endorsed its Beyondthe Safe City Strategy 2014-17 which aims to achieve a vision ‘where people feel safe, connected and able to participate in city life at any time of the day or night’.

‘Safer by design’ is one of the seven key principles which underpin the strategy  and some of the actions include carrying out gender analyses and gender equity audits of public spaces to help identify, understand and address the different safety needs and issues for women and men.

The City of Melbourne works to utilise the principles of crime prevention through environmental design. While Melbourne advances its integrated approach, over in India there are major challenges in this area, but the key principles could still be applied.

New Delhi has landed itself with the disgraceful moniker of the rape capital of India.

While there may be many cultural issues at play for New Delhi, NeilPadukone in the Atlantic City Lab says perhaps one issue which has not been well considered is the role urban design can play in safety.

He says like many Indian cities, New Delhi has lots of ‘single use’ design, which may have had its roots in a positive agenda such as ensuring people didn’t live right next to industrial developments, but it is creating an unsafe environment in other ways.

Right now it is very hard to travel around by foot, bike or even public transport given the great distances between different parts of the city. The greenery and parks are so thick and overgrown that they don’t provide respite or safety, instead they can hide what goes on and the lighting is poor at night.

These limitations are not helping people feel safe – nor in reality are they safe.

Rather than following the American path of suburban sprawl, the face of Delhi could be improved with some mixed-use development.

Mixed use planning would enable women and girls to feel safer when they go about the normal business of daily life; going to work, taking the children to school, socialising etc. There would need to be commitment to change which includes more opportunities for ‘eyes on the street’, through the integration of social, industrial, retail and residential spaces with far better access by foot.

Not only are these approaches better for the environment, but they also provide access to a greater number of work opportunities – the more people are around and watching the safer you will feel and be.

As Padukone suggests it will be interesting to see how tightening economic circumstances with large growth in the city, provides the opportunity to rethink suburbia and prioritise safety and liveability.  

It's an app-ening thing

There are now apps for almost everything from banks to newspapers to restaurants; it seems everybody is jumping on board. Cities are joining the trend. The 2014 New Cities Summit in Dallas earlier this month showcased several new and emerging apps designed to address specific urban problems or enhance urban life. Angel Hsu, Project Director at EPI, outlined some of the following apps that were showcased at the summit:

Peerby is an app developed in the Netherlands that allows neighbours to share items with each other. The app makes it easy for neighbours to send out a request to borrow an item – for example a vacuum. If a neighbour has an item available, they can respond to the request.

Square is designed to let anyone accept credit card payments using just an iPhone. It's revolutionised garage sales and the like, and is well on the way to fulfilling the dream of a cashless society. Based exclusively in San Francisco, Square Wallet cuts the credit card out of the equation: just like with Foursquare, you check in at a location and then all you need to do to pay is say your name at the till. If you're a regular somewhere, it'll even check in automatically, letting you dispense with checkouts altogether.

Djump is an app similar to the likes of Uber or Lyft. The app offers an informal taxi service similar to a ride sharing service. The service limits trips to a 30km distance and users can then offer as much as they would like.  

Bridj is an app that leverages big data to create 'pop-up' mass transit routes. Bridj takes users directly between each point on the map. On average, this saves users about an hour each day compared with public transit. Bridj uses large-scale mass transit datasets to determine direct routes that will get people from point A to B much faster, on luxury buses with free wifi!

Social Cyclist allows users record their rides, report road conditions, request bike parking and request bike share stations. The app also allows users to make suggestions to local governments and planners as to where to improve or add bike lanes or other amenities.

NextDrop is a text messaging service for residents in cities with unreliable water provision. The app provides information to its users on:
  • When they’re getting water
  • When there's a delay in their supply
  • When pipe damage might affect them 
  • When someone in your community provides water updates.
There is a 10 rupee a month fee for the service, but sign up is free. It also provides a "Live-Valve Map" that shows the status of water delivery in every part of the city. The services are currently available in Hubli-Dharwad and Bangalore.

Whilst these apps are designed to ease the stresses of city life they are now meeting resistance from the cities themselves. Apps such as Djump, Lyft or Uber that give rides to strangers who would rather not wait for a taxi are butting heads with regulators that aren’t quite sure what to make of them. Taxi drivers in the US recently rallied in protest about unregulated car sharing services being able to operate without permits and licenses that they are required to have.

Like all emerging technology it takes time to iron out the creases. Regardless, the future of city-based app technology still looks very bright.  With the ability to find new things to do, places to eat and people to see; to unlock hidden gems in a city, or act like a local in a city you've never seen before all from the palm of your hand, the possibilities are endless. 

Behind the 'Green' fence

Green Square. Haven’t heard of it? Well, according to Sydney Mayor Clover Moore its Australia’s biggest urban renewal project. You know that vacant site on the way to the airport that seems like it’s been fenced off and covered in signage forever…. well here is what is going on behind that mysterious fencing.

Green Square is the name given to a 280 hectare precinct located 3.5km south of the Sydney CBD, this includes the suburbs of Beaconsfield and Zetland, and parts of Rosebery, Alexandria and Waterloo (see map of the development area below). The $8 billion project involves transforming former industrial land into a vibrant and sustainable urban environment that will be home to 40,000 residents.

Three property developers, Leighton, Mirvac and Landcom are working with the City of Sydney to drive the project over the next 20 years, adding office buildings, retail, residential properties and a range of community facilities to the area. The development promises innovative housing design, bespoke business and retail, and creative and engaged communities.

The Green Square project has been presented as a game-changer by the development consortium which is looking to anchor the area around a ‘cultural hub’ – its new town centre. 

They boast the town centre will be completed in just a few years, when typically such a task would evolve over decades. But is this a good thing? Isn’t it the evolution of a centre that gives it its culture and unique identity? Shouldn’t this growth be organic and led by the people who reside there and users of the space? How successful has the manufacturing of a centre been in the past (Docklands anyone?).

Reservations aside, Green Square is focusing on high-quality design and creating a welcoming, exciting and connected neighbourhood. The renewal is built on the ideals of green living, with recycled water, efficient uses of energy, parks, gardens and entertainment spots with cycle and walking routes.

Most recently Koichi Takada Architects have released the details of a mixed-use, multi-residential development at the gateway to the town centre (see pic). The 20 storey tower will accommodate 416 residential apartments and 5,000 square metres of retail and restaurant space. This is one of approximately 1,500 development applications for Green Square, including a new library, a public plaza and an aquatic centre and sports park. That is a lot of DAs! Hopefully the City of Sydney can cope with this influx of applications and not cause costly hold ups for developers.

So it turns out there is some exciting stuff going on behind the fences – we can’t wait for the grand reveal.

Banner image source: Koichi Takada Architects

Looking to Copenhagen on liveability

Many cities seek to emulate Singapore, a global financial hub known for its visionary approach to urban planning. So which city does high-tech, disciplined Singapore aspire to be like?

The answer: Copenhagen.

Vaidehi Shah writes in that despite Singapore’s many accomplishments, it lags on some liveability indexes because it tends to favour skyscrapers and roads over ‘human-centric’ amenities such as bike lanes and walking trails.

Monocle magazine’s “Most Liveable Cities Index” ranked Copenhagen number one ahead of Melbourne earlier this year. Town planners, urban designers, and even some transport planners look to Copenhagen as an international exemplar for ‘getting it right’. 

But is anyone looking to Melbourne? After all, Melbourne consistently ranks as one of the top three most liveable cities. So why aren’t our Asian neighbours looking to us?

The streets of Melbourne
Image source: Phoenix Group – Melbourne for everyone website

Singapore. Image source:
Speaking on “People Oriented Strategies for City Planning” at the NTUC Auditorium recently, Prof Jan Gehl explained there is a new paradigm on safe and sustainable cities rooted in people’s access to mobility and social interaction. He said the key to achieve this is by reorienting urban spaces away from the modern aesthetic of skyscrapers and wide roads, to a more human-centric approach that promotes cycling and walking.

Is Melbourne’s love of wide roadways and tall buildings holding us back?

Taking it underground

Straight out of Sydney, this creative project has turned a section of an underground car park in King’s Cross into an art gallery. What a creative use of an under utilised area of a car park, which still retains its function for parking but becomes a multi-functional space. 

Over 30,000 visitors have made the descent into the car park to visit the art space – also known as the mechanic’s office. It measures five metres by five metres however there is also the potential to expand the exhibition or event beyond the mechanic’s office to include other areas of the car park including stairwells, elevators and common areas. 

Closer to home, the loading bay of our Surry Hills office is also cunningly turned into an art gallery for regular exhibitions and events. 

The versatile underground carpark at Kings Cross.
What spaces do you know about that could be creatively transformed?

See more here.

The future of transit in new suburbia

The urbanisation of America continues to role on and not just within cities but also out into the suburbs writes Leigh Gallagher of City Lab. Like in many Australian cities a vast majority of urbanisation in the US is now being undertaken within the depths of “car dependant” suburbia at the peripheries of large cities and regional centres. Whilst developers promote a sense of community, walkability and access to “the main street” the majority of residents in these areas still need car access to commute to work or run substantial errands.

Contrary to the belief of many transit purists that “if you are not removing the car, you’re not urbanising the suburbs”, Gallagher argues that these urban developments are transformative for cul-de-sac transplants and still represent an important step even if the transport issues are not fully resolved and I tend to agree. 

The simple fact is the majority of suburban development in both Australia and the US has been undertaken within the last 50-60 years, in areas with little to no access to public transport and reinventing them by building rail transit is quite difficult. It is challenging for a number of reasons – density, geography and cost. Unlike older suburbs, new suburbs are not as capable of being efficiently linked by rail routes, thus the economics of creating these links become incredibly challenging without significant subsidies. 

While this debate continues there have been some emerging approaches to the transit problem. Not surprisingly Silicon Valley is leading the way with Google partnering with GM on a pilot car sharing service that will give its employees’ access to 50 electric cars that are linked to a mobile app that matches drivers and cars for their morning and evening commute. Mercedes Benz is trailing “Boost by Benz” that transports children around to their various extra circular activities in brightly coloured vans and GM and Toyota have recently stated they would start giving discounts on new cars to Uber Drivers.

Dublin, Ohio is actively seeking to create a rich and robust non-motorised environment through its recent rezoning of 1100 acres to create the Bridge Street District, a mixed use urban environment complete with a $14 million pedestrian bridge. Other towns within Ohio are reinventing bus networks on the premise that the bus today is a high tech, clean, energy efficient mode of transport that can carry many passengers, go anywhere and is much cheaper than rail.

However, the simplest solution to this issue, as Gallagher suggests is developing New Suburbia off the back of Old Suburbia by seizing the opportunity to build updated and urbanised housing stock in areas where transit already exists. She goes on to discuss that inner ring, transit-oriented suburbs of many American Cities are going to be the next “big thing” and insists that they have already started to rise as a separate entity from car oriented suburbs.

For the full article and further information regarding this topic please visit

Can't get enough of the trams

What are the things that make your city stand out? Things that should almost always be in the same sentence? Like Sydney and its Harbour Bridge, Opera House or beaches, Rome and the Colosseum or Rio and the Corcovado.

Well apparently for Melbourne it’s the trams – we just can’t get enough of them.

The Age newspaper recently ran a poll to ask its readers what they considered as the most distinctive or iconic features of the city, indicating that the Victorian Government was soon to put together a Distinctive Melbourne policy. 

The newspaper (or its journalist Aisha Dow) put forward their suggestion of the top 8 and asked readers to vote.

The options included the old tram network, graffitied streets, laneways (ever expanding with restaurants, cafes and retail surprises around every corner), the Hoddle grid and Victorian-era terraces. 

No MCG I hear you cry? What about Flinders St Station, the brilliant but sometimes maligned Fed Square or the colourful beach boxes on Brighton Beach?

Well a few of the reader comments did touch on our sporting precinct and the beautiful gothic and art deco architecture, but of the 5000+ who cast their vote online, 45 per cent went with the old tram network, with the next closest 25 per cent for the laneways.

Let’s hope the government has plenty of time for public input to its strategy as these kinds of discussions are always going to provoke people’s passion for their place. 

What is your best bit of Melbourne?