Scaffolding Wins

Redesigning scaffolding

The secret life of Paris

A remarkable insight into Paris life

Planning for Social Interaction

Lessons learnt when planning for communal spaces

Designing for Bushfire Protection

Planning and building to meet bushfire regulations

The world we share

By Sean Hua

Federal Minister for the Environment and acting Minister for Cities and the Built Environment Greg Hunt has begun outlining a plan to increase tree coverage for cities. The effort is aimed at lowering the temperatures of our urban areas, and increasing the quality of life, especially for those most vulnerable to extreme heat like the very young and elderly.

Image source: The Fountain -

There have been successful attempts to do this at the local level. The City of Melbourne initiated their Urban Forest Strategies in 2013, made famous by giving the public the ability to “email a tree” of their choice.

Council has various rationales behind their strategy: to begin replacing the older trees that are reaching the end of their lifespan; to increase biodiversity and resilience of the urban landscaping; and as a benefit for its citizens health and wellbeing. The extra canopy shade and mitigation from the urban heat island effect – where urban areas are warmer due to human activity and buildings trapping heat – are bonus side effects. This is especially evident when people try to avoid the heat and end up costing the economy millions of dollars a day from the drop in retail activity.

It is easy (relatively speaking) to enact such strategies at the local level, especially in a council that is as progressive (relatively speaking) as Melbourne’s. What remains to be seen is whether the Federal government can enact this strategy and how. They will have to negotiate the various planning systems of each State, not to mention the variances between local governments. This would be especially challenging seeing as the Cities portfolio is newly created without much precedence. Where does their jurisdiction start and end? And if we are looking at delivery of an environmental project of such scale, what example is the acting minister setting with this track record?

Questions abound…. That said, the Feds should not be solely responsible for looking after the country we share, nor should other levels of government be solely responsible for the functions of state and city. While my belief is sorely tested on a daily basis, I would like to think we are mindful of the world we live in, and of the futures of our descendants. I often ask myself 'To whom does the world and future belong?' and I usually answer, 'To everyone, and to no-one.'

It might be too large a question to ponder, so if you need a small target, how about this: go plant a tree. I just did!

Designing for Bushfire Protection

By Julia Bell and Kathryn Cuddihy

The ‘Victoria State Bushfire Plan’ states that Victoria is one of the most fire-prone areas in the world with a history of catastrophic bushfires.

The recent spate of fires over the summer months has brought planning and building in bushfire prone areas into the spotlight in recent weeks. I don’t want to get into a debate as to whether people should rebuild in areas of high bushfire risk, people don’t generally move to these areas with blinkers on. However, many of these houses are holiday homes which means that they aren't necessarily maintained on a regular basis. If people are choosing to live or buy in these areas, they need to be aware of their obligations to meet regulations set out in the planning provisions to ensure that their property and surrounding land are protected as best as they can in the event of a bushfire.

Another aspect of bushfire is the urban fringes. As sprawl has occurred in recent years, some of those that wouldn’t expect bushfires to affect their property are now on the front line. It is important that they understand their obligations and ensure that their property meets planning regulations.

Image Source: thinboyfatter on Flickr
The Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) have a section on their website that provides valuable resources and information to assist planning and building for bushfire protection.

Bushfire Management Overlay (BMO) applies to land that may be significantly affected by a bushfire. If a BMO applies to your property, you will need planning permission for certain developments and new developments require bushfire protection measures. To find out the steps involved in applying for a planning permit click here.

On 31 July 2014 Amendment VC109 introduced changes to the Victoria Planning Provisions and all planning schemes. To read more about the changes to bushfire planning provisions click here.

The DELWP also provides a series of handy practice notes that guides you through the planning process as easily as possible to ensure that items such as clauses related to landscape, siting and design, defendable space and construction and water supply and access are considered.

While it is vital to be vigilant in the lead up to and over the summer months and to have a fire plan in place and ready to enact if required, planning for future use can play a role in ensuring that your home and its surrounds are in the best position to survive a bushfire.

For further information as to how we can assist with you with permits, please contact Julia Bell  or call +3 9682 8568.

Planning for Social Interaction

By Claire Whelan

A comparison of two social housing projects in Winnipeg, Canada has analysed the possible reasons for the level of success of one project over the other. It is evident that despite the best of intentions, innovative ideas and quality architecture, one of the projects fails to create the desired outcome.

Image source: Archdaily
The lessons learnt can also be applied to planning for communal spaces more generally in residential development. Providing communal space is not as simple as showing it on a plan and assuming people will use it. There are some excellent examples of communal areas including practical uses that draw people to them, for example by incorporating clotheslines, barbeques, large dining areas and theatre rooms. In situations where the majority of apartments have limited outdoor living spaces these areas can be particularly useful to residents. That being said, there are also many poor examples of wind-swept roof terraces and uninviting concrete courtyards.

In all development, the emphasis should be on considering future residents, what will they want? What will they use? What will they need? 

Read more here.

The secret life of Paris

By Kathryn Cuddihy

The French capital’s Canal Saint-Martin is being dredged for the first time in 15 years, what is being unearthed from beneath the sludge is giving a remarkable insight into Paris life.

Image source: Charles Platiau/Reuters

Image source: Yoan Valat/EPA
90,000 cubic metres of water are being emptied into the Seine, a task that will take cleaners three months to complete. The last time the canal was dredged in 2001 cleaners found two 75mm shells from the First World War, safes, gold coins, washing machines, at least one car and 40 tonnes of rubbish.

On the first day, onlookers spotted a number of Paris’s Vélib hire bikes, motorbikes, supermarket trolleys, a children’s doll’s pushchair, street signs and wheelie suitcases to name a few items.

Paris City Hall has warned against people climbing in to look for lost possessions.

So does rubbish say a lot about the people that live in the city and the city itself? Do you think that what has and will be found in Paris would differ greatly to the type of items that would be found in other cities of the world, New York, Tokyo, Shanghai or Sydney?

Read more about the clean up here.

Scaffolding Wins

By Mark Sheppard

Sick of walking beneath gloomy, unattractive scaffolding looming over footpaths alongside building sites? In the most intensely redeveloping parts of our cities, where scaffolding is most frequent, it significantly detracts from the quality of the public realm. Why does it have to be so utilitarian?

Perhaps it doesn't. The New York Building Congress has conducted a competition to redesign scaffoldingThe winning designs maximise natural light and air, maintain shopfront visibility and bring an artistic quality to the temporary structures.

Which is your favourite?

Image source: New York Building Congress 
Image source: New York Building Congress  
Image source: New York Building Congress  

Built Form Back on the Agenda

By Brodie Blades

The recent appointment of Jamie Briggs MP as the Minister for Cities and the Built Environment by the Turnbull government formalises a resurgence of the importance of our cities within the Federal agenda – the likes of which we haven’t seen since the Whitlam/Fraser era of politics.

Image source: Parliament of Australia
At face value this represents a sorely needed prioritisation of planning and the built environment within Federal circles, and you would certainly be forgiven for being swept up with the potential positives this could bring. The Planning Institute of Australia have ‘warmly welcomed’ the intention of the appointment in heralding a new era of coordinated and well planned development.

It has been almost five decades since the Federal government’s previous significant intervention into the Australian city, this is not the first time that urbanism has been formally recognised through Federal portfolios and the question arises as to what can we learn from previous frontbench appointments.

A logical starting point would be Prime Minister McMahon’s early 1970’s appointment of Kevin Cairns as a traditional Minister for Housing who – in 1972 – recommended an Inquiry into the Australian City that would be a fact-finding exercise on all levels of government (and the industry) to determine future action. Whilst promising, the Inquiry was never initiated and the Whitlam Government’s coming-to-power shortly thereafter shifted priorities to the newly created ‘Department of Urban and Regional Development’ as a platform for ongoing advocacy and coordinated change. Unfortunately, with the demise of the Whitlam Government in 1975, the Fraser government installed John Carrick as the Minister for Cities, he lasted for a total of 41 days before the portfolio was terminated.

The dismantling of this position heralded a general shift away from urban prioritisation and intervention within subsequent governments, the Howard/Abbott government’s sought little policy intervention in Australian cities while the Rudd/Gillard government’s ‘Major Cities Unit’ was a largely academic role in producing reports (including the ‘State of Australian Cities Report’) and advocating for policy.

Based on this, the precedent set regarding urbanism and the Federal government appears to be one of constant evolution with limited outcomes, which is perhaps symptomatic of political intervention in urbanism in general. Above and beyond this, Professor Alan Davies writes an excellent article here on the specific barriers facing meaningful action with the recent appointment of Jamie Briggs, which includes limited regulatory capacity, the actual influence of the portfolio in comparison to others that exist, the discrepancy between Malcom Turnbull’s sophisticated understanding of the complexity of urban issues compared to that of the government as a whole, and expenditure powers.

However, the potential of the portfolio to act as a vehicle for meaningful action cannot be ignored. Greater advocacy, streamlined collaboration, formal prioritisation of urban issues, greater industry engagement and the potential for coordination of long term change programs are all direct possibilities of the creation of the new cities portfolio.

Planners and urban design professionals have long since understood the importance of cities and the built environment to the future of Australia, and at face value the recent creation of the Cities and Built Environment portfolio align elements of Federal decision-making with this understanding.

While the above would indicate that it is perhaps too early to celebrate, surely the appointment of Jamie Briggs can only elevate the importance of built form and Australian cities within both the minds of decision makers as well as the conversations of every day Australians – which in itself is perhaps all that is needed as a catalyst for meaningful action for the future of Australian cities.

What do you think? What do you see as being the biggest challenges and potential outcomes of this appointment?

Further Reading:

Places for People

By Sean Hua

Hot on the heels of my previous article about experiencing the city on foot, eminent staff from the City of Melbourne have been engaged with the media over their Places For People report. Robert Doyle (Lord Mayor) and Rob Adams (Director of City Design) both speak about designing cities such that they are accessible and attractive environments for people to get around on foot. Built into this equation is the necessity for cities to provide the requisite services and amenities within a walking distance.
Balancing these factors effectively prioritises pedestrians over cars. As I mentioned before, we must design for the speed at which we want to move through a space. Fast, car-paced movement is a poor environment for pedestrians. Likewise, slow, walking-paced movement is not conducive to driving. Try speeding on Bourke Street Mall, or having a leisurely stroll down the middle of the Hume Highway. It just doesn’t mix.

There will be opposition. While those backing the independence an automobile provides might be worried at such a change, the last 3 decades of interventions – blocking off streets to cars, increasing the active frontages at street level, improving paving conditions etc. – within the City of Melbourne have clearly increased the vibrancy of the CBD.

Melbourne isn’t the only city to have experienced this change. Fly to the opposite end of the world to New York, and you will find a city who themselves have experienced a dramatic positive change to crime levels and street activity in the last 30-40 years. The Highline, one of the city’s more well-known rejuvenation projects, is off limits to cars. Now, there is even talk of turning the iconic and fabled Broadway into a linear park. Who gets to use it? You guessed it: cars don’t.

I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s always worth repeating… we’ve got the knowledge and the capability here to do some great things with our cities, for our people. So why follow when we can lead?

Eco-friendly building projects

By Kathryn Cuddihy

Two urban building projects, in New York City and Portland, Oregon, have been designed using environmentally-friendly wood instead of concrete and steel. Could this innovative use of material show a glimpse of what cities of the future could look like and how environmentally-friendly materials may change our skylines?

The Guardian
As winners of the US Tall Wood Building Prize Competition, each building is designed to be safe, practical, sustainable and a minimum of 80 feet high.

The use of sustainable materials is important with timber coming from forests that are renewable, this ensures there is enough stock for future use, and forests aren’t just cut down. Much of the timber used is low-grade, it has no other uses and has previously been affected by disease or insects. Once it has been treated it becomes strong, durable and is a useful building material.

The Guardian

The Guardian
Other positive qualities of timber buildings are that they are dense enough that it is resistant to fire, earthquakes, wind and other elements. For example, during a fire timber chars on the outside and retain strength and slow combustion.

Timber-built buildings also reduce greenhouse gas emissions by storing carbon in their walls and frame. The New York City building looks to reduce energy consumption by 50 per cent compared to a normal building.

If we could harness the use of more sustainable materials during building construction I think this is a great way to ensure cities of tomorrow are sustainable as well as beautiful (if the images here are anything to go by). What are your thoughts on sustainable materials?

Read more (and see more) images by clicking on the links below.

Tap and pay: changing the way we move

Would easier fare payment increase your likelihood of taking public transport?

Image: Planetizen

Tap and pay eftpos was introduced at a similar time to myki, and has been embraced by consumers and industry. The increased convenience of easy payment options is obviously hugely popular, and arguably increases people likelihood to pay on card over cash, with some busy venues displaying signs advising they prefer you tap than pay cash. By comparison, the myki system has had a number of issues, and some improvements, but many friends of mine still opt to take a taxi or Uber if the price is comparable and they don’t have a myki card on them (particularly to avoid paying the additional $6 for a new card).

In the interest of increasing public transport usage, it helps to make the option as convenient as possible for people, particularly irregular users with the potential to be ‘won over’. As Melbourne moves ever so slightly towards increasing the provision of public transport (, is this the kind of technology we should also be investing in? Could a myki app be a cost effective way to improve the user friendliness of the system without a complete overall?
Read more in Planetizen.

By Claire Whelan

Variety is the spice of urban life

What is your favourite urban place? I suspect for most of us it is a place of variety: varied people, varied buildings and varied activities. This creates a stimulating experience.

Image: Mark Sheppard

But mostly we now seem to build unvaried places. Suburbs, whether high- or low-density, full of similar buildings and similar streets that attract similar people. Rarely a non-residential use in a residential place - unless forced by the planning system - because it doesn’t provide the best return.

In Guardian Cities, Richard Sennett writes about the joys of ‘porous cities’ - those that are inviting to all people, truly mixed use and flexible - and questions why we’re not building them. In Melbourne, a local council is trying to force more mixed use in one of its activity centres, against the tide of market forces.

If the purpose of planning is to direct market forces (and public interventions) to create better places, should we be working harder to create diversity, rather than allowing the market to create a monoculture?

By Mark Sheppard

All night long

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

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

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

Watch this space!
Read more here

Creating child friendly cities

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

The benefit of city life comes with the proximity and accessibility to services and amenities. As more people choose to live closer to cities, we need to create a mix of different types of compact housing to allow more density. A mix of housing options needs to be considered to accommodate future growth.

Family-oriented housing
Homes need to be designed to meet the needs of families. This includes apartments and houses that accommodate growing families in family-friendly neighbourhoods, close to open space and amenities.

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

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

While being able to walk to a destination is great, creating an enjoyable journey that allows families to walk in a safe and timely manner can be as important as the destination itself.

Again, being able to enjoy a safe and timely journey is important for families. Creating a series of connected bike lanes and paths (away from traffic) allows children to gain confidence.

Access to open space
With limited backyard space or no backyard space in the inner city, children need the freedom to run around and ‘be kids.’ Ideally, open space should be easily accessible by walking. Urban forests, community gardens and parks all increase wellbeing and help families to connect to the local community.

Access to amenities
Cities provide great access to a range of amenities like community centres, libraries, public pools and playgrounds. Families need easy access to these amenities to assist them in feel connected to the local community.

Public safety
Measures can be implemented to ensure a safe environment for children to enjoy their immediate surroundings while alleviating worry for parents.

Fun and whimsy 
Child friendly public spaces that allow children to interact with everyday objects. Public piano anyone?

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

To read the article click here.

By Kathryn Cuddihy

Sorry, not sorry

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Sean Hua