Shopping Hungry

If you haven’t already noticed, times are a changing – including how we are shopping. Nowadays there is an online focus (did someone say ASOS?) and with the ease and convenience making it more accessible to all, this is a growing industry.

This has contributed in part to the demise of the traditional shopping high street… think Oxford Street, Sydney or Chapel Street and Bridge Road in Melbourne. These strips were once bustling fashion hubs and now it’s hard not to notice the vacant shop fronts and for lease signs in the windows.

It’s not just the online shopping, there are parking and traffic issues, high rents and competition from the larger shopping centres and the central city shopping precincts.

A recent article by Milanda Rout in The Australian also highlighted a “reluctance to face economic reality by many involved on the strips and a lack of any coherent plan to adapt to the changing market” as a contributing factor to this so-called demise.

In this regard, Chapel Street is well ahead with the long standing Chapel Street Precinct Association which unites traders and maps their vision going forward. This is supported by Stonnington City Council in planning for the future of these areas and recognising the issues faced through structure planning – Chapel Vision and the recently released Chapel reVision.

However, the Woollahra City Council has recently employed a placemaking consultancy, the Village Well, to save Oxford Street. The Village Well (read more here: http://www.villagewell.org/page/placemaking) is led by Gilbert Rochecouste – an international advisor on building communities and making places. The key points to come out of the assessment for Oxford Street recommend public realm improvements and making the street welcoming, which will require traffic improvements.

Oxford Street itself faces additional constraints; it is split between two local Councils – Woollahra and the City of Sydney (not to mention the State government-owned road) who both have different tactics for jump starting the street. The City of Sydney has gone down the creative avenue – such as offering start-up businesses discounted rent for short-term leases – while Woollahra has focused on more specific planning controls to promote growth.

It seems the solution lies in a combination of factors, but interestingly enough (and it seems obvious now) food will be central to the reactivation of these streets. Rochecouste’s theory is:

“Shoppers, especially Gen Y or millennials, will travel across town for artisan sourdough or a cold-drip coffee or a farmers’ market. Once people eat, they will linger, wander past a fashion boutique, browse in a local bookshop. This has happened on Crown Street, Surry Hills, and on Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, with both considered thriving high streets”.

Image source: Mary Portas via telegraph.co.uk


vs.



So watch this space, will there be a revitalisation of the local shopping strip or will the mighty mall continue to dominate?

Which shopping experience do you prefer? Do you like the experience of the high street or do you prefer the convenience of the mall?

Read more here: http://precinctnews.wordpress.com/2013/07/18/oxford-street-seeks-to-reclaim-its-reputation-as-a-lively-hub-of-fashion-food-and-the-arts/



Get this city moving

The rates of obesity in this country and around the world are amongst the most pressing health issues faced in the first world.

Some cities are taking the bull by the horns and making meaningful change to really tackle the issue.

Oklahoma is having a makeover.

Having worked on a very public weight loss plan for the city (see ‘This city is going on a diethttp://www.thiscityisgoingonadiet.com/) with great success – 47,000 people lost over 1 million pounds having been educated on better eating and exercise habits – the mayor wants to go further to keep the weight off.

The car-centric city will have a new master zoning plan, which will ensure public health is considered when making zoning decisions. The policy is being backed with some investment in change also, with a new 70 acre park to link the CBD to the Oklahoma River. There will also be new jogging, walking and bike trails, gyms in schools, and sidewalks which are more conducive to pedestrians.

It won’t happen tomorrow, but it’s a strong integrated plan of action to help Oklahoma’s people get fit and healthy if they want to engage.

Much closer to home, we’ve had a recent example in regional Victoria. With the help of a commercial TV program the local community – one of the most obese in Australia – collectively worked to lose a lot of weight and adopt healthy lifestyles.

But it’s so easy to go back to the bad old ways if there are barriers to exercise and incorporating movement in your day to day life.

Ararat Rural City Council has also jumped on board. Earlier this year they launched their Ararat Active City campaign to encourage a complete change of lifestyle for their 8000 residents, following on from their involvement in the Biggest Loser. While their focus is on continuing the exercise that helped their people drop dramatic amounts of weight, they are also looking at what encourages people to exercise in the surrounding environment.

We’ve seen some great ideas for increasing physical activity in cities in recent editions of Plantastic:


What are some of the great urban design ideas you’ve seen to get people active and moving on the city streets?




Banner image source: freestockphotos.name

Red light public dancer

Image source: thisiscolossal.com 
This interactive red light pedestrian stop signal engages and entertains the public to ensure that pedestrian stop and wait until it’s safe to cross.

The concept is part of the ‘Smart Ideas’ promotions from the Smart car company and advertising agency BBDO Germany. However, it’s concerning that in order to encourage pedestrians to stop, wait and obey signs for their own safety it is needed in the first instance.

Seriously, it’s not about pedestrians waiting but rather vehicles having the priority too often. So maybe drivers should be entertained while pedestrians cross?


The fascination with all things tall!

It seems like the issue of tall buildings in Melbourne’s city centre is never out of the papers.

I’ve heard the rumblings of dissent. Melbourne and its liveable image is under pressure, with ever increasing land value and smaller available city sites developers argue that to have viable projects they must build higher. It’s too bad if it means we have to live in their shadows.

Image source: architizer.com  
So who is to blame for this? Let’s take a look across the pond. I recently saw this startling infographic above and it really got me thinking. With non-occupiable space reaching up to 30% of these “tallest” buildings, what’s it all about?

Too often it seems to me these buildings are about spectacle and ego and rarely make a contribution to the city at ground level. I’m going to say something controversial – I went to Dubai and I didn’t like it! My problem is that it doesn’t seem to be about the users of either the buildings or the city.

Melbourne is not Dubai. The tallest buildings here would possibly just make the cut on the lower end of that infographic list, thankfully. I’m not anti-height in the city centre far from it, I’m pro density company living, but since when has it become the norm to push above height restrictions where possible? Melbourne has an excellent record for public realm design with the ‘human scale’ of streets and squares long being ‘high’ on the agenda, let’s be careful now that we keep it so!

Banner image source: David Iliff License- CC-BY-SA 3.0

Roads of tomorrow

Google’s driverless cars have clocked up hundreds of thousands of kilometers without incident in a quest to prove their safety as a viable alternative transport. However, one use of these cars that isn’t talked about, curiously enough for the search engine giant, is the ability to collect mapping information while on the move.

Designer Pernilla Ohrstedt teamed up with 3D-mapping specialists ScanLAB to create a prototype vehicle, one that would blur the lines between reality and the virtual world. The theory is that repeated scans by vehicles passing through will build a high-resolution virtual image of an area. Eventually, Ohrstedt says, “we have a perfect one-to-one replica that is constantly updating with information".

While such a tool can be incredibly useful as an exploratory resource, and an aid to the cars themselves, questions of privacy will no doubt arise when the technology is implemented. To what extent such tech becomes mainstream really depends on how much of it we allow.

Full article at: http://www.dezeen.com/2014/09/21/scanlab-pernilla-ohrstedt-physical-point-cloud-designjunction-london-design-festival-2014/





Melbourne tower overshadowing the Yarra

Melbourne Council has three important planning ordinances – street wall height along Swanston Street should be 40m, maintaining visual prominence of the Shrine of Remembrance and protecting the Yarra River from overshadowing.

Recently the City of Melbourne approved a development of 295 metres to replace the 1960s Suncorp building. The development proposes to incorporate a tower on the western half of the site and the building form is divided into three distinct parts. It proposes a hotel, commercial and residential at upper levels and retail uses at ground level.

Proposed Open Space on Suncorp site along Collins Street
There is a lot of argument going on regarding this proposal and questions have been raised about whether Victorian Planning Minister, Matthew Guy, will approve it. The argument presented against increasing the height was against creation of a new 1,900 sqm public open space which will be integrated with the open space proposed at 433-455 Collins Street.

View of proposed development from Yarra Promenade
The proposal is said to not only overshadow the Yarra River corridor but also Queensberry Square in Southbank. However, as per calculations the tower will overshadow Queensberry Square only for 16 minutes between 11am-2pm at the Equinox (report here).

The images below compare the building envelopes of a proposal complying planning rules versus the one which proposes to go higher in exchange for public open space.


Clause 22.02 of the Melbourne Planning Scheme seeks to protect the Yarra River from overshadowing. Developer CBUS is seeking an amendment (Amendment C247) to this rule to allow the development to go ahead. 

There are few concerns raised through this approval:

· Would it create a precedent for future development to overshadow the Yarra?

· Should the amenity of one open space be ignored for a potential new open space presented by the proposal?

· Will this newly proposed open space be overshadowed by development along Collins Street anyway?

· Should every application be assessed on a case-by-case basis?


Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/melbourne-city-council-bends-sacrosanct-rule-to-allow-tower-over-the-yarra-20140910-10f4e1.html



Source: images from Woods Bagot Architects



Riding the wave of foreign investment

Not since pre GFC (circa 2007) has Melbourne’s CBD seen the exponential property investment it has experienced in the last financial year.

The CBD has seen sales of approximately $3.47 billion so far in 2014 having soared past the previous record of $2.9 billion spent in 2007. The interesting point is that around 50 per cent of the CBD’s major sales have been accounted for by a wave of Asian investment.

The sale of a pair of office sites sold for a whopping $1 billion, caps off a record breaking year of investment in the CBD with estimates of around $3.5 billion having already been spent on office towers in 2014.

Notwithstanding the wave of foreign investment, local buyers have also hit back hard with approximately $1 billion combined sales including properties on the corner of Bourke and William Street going for $608.1 million and 700 Bourke St for $433.5 million.
Top skyscraper sales in Melbourne’s CBD
Address
Buyer
Seller
Price
 Month
321 Exhibition St
Invesco (American)
Cromwell
$208,000,000
July
700 Bourke St
AMP Capital (Australian)
CBUS (Colliers/Savills)
$433,500,000
September
93-119 Kavanagh St, Southbank
PJ Development Holdings (Malaysia)
Banco Group (Knight Frank)
$145,000,000
June
CBW (Corner of Bourke and William St)
GPT Group (Australian)
CBUS (Colliers/
Savills)
$608,100,000
September
QBE House
M&G Real Estate (UK)
Investa Office Fund (Colliers)
$135,000,000
January
Source: Herald Sun and Knight Frank

The strong sales have been attributed to the low interest environment, the weight of money from domestic super funds and offshore investors and an improving market. CBRE director Mark Wizel said “offshore buyers were not land banking in the CBD but moving to develop sites, helping to stimulate the local economy.”

For the full article visit- “Foreign and local buyers flock to city skyscraper sales”

Dementia friendly urban design

When you think about urban design and designing for the people, the question is, which people?

There are so many challenges in balancing the needs of the people in a big city – as the saying goes you can’t please all of the people all of the time.

Certainly here in Australia and in many western countries we need to keep our focus on designing for an ageing population, which also means designing for a population with reduced mobility.

Recently we wrote about some great work in the United States, with a guide on developing inclusive cities that support people with autism.

Right now in Perth there is a former school principal who is working with Alzheimer’s Australia, funded by the Western Australian government, to encourage urban design that is dementia friendly.

With a rare form of the disease called Benson’s Syndrome, Dr Glenda Parkin, is now travelling around Australia with her husband on their ‘memory bus’, to talk about simple things like the contrast on signage and the need to make cities easier to navigate for people with dementia.

With 900,000 Australians predicted to have dementia by the year 2050, this is another important factor to be considered when coming up with your next piece of work in the public realm.




Barcelona takes the Mayors’ prize


Source: http://mayorschallenge.bloomberg.org/ 

Bloomberg Philanthropies, former Mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg’s charitable organization, has announced its winners of the 2014 Mayors’ Challenge Urban Revitalization competition. Each of the 155 entrants had different social, urban and/or transportation issues challenging them, with the winners being selected based on the ease of their solution’s translation to other cities.

The grand-prize winner (Barcelona) will receive 5 million Euros to implement their plan of a trust support network for their ageing population. The remaining four winners (Athens, Kirklees, Stockholm and Warsaw) will each receive 1 million Euros.

With the competition expanding from US cities in 2013 to European cities this year, perhaps the next edition will feature entrants closer to home. What challenges do you think we face, and how would you solve them?

Follow the link more details on the competition: http://mayorschallenge.bloomberg.org/index.cfm?objectid=9B3942E0-38FD-11E4-BC0E0050569A3ED0

Plug in City!! 2014, 2000, 1961…

Modulated housing, building on infrastructure, cities in transition…issues confronting many of the world’s great cities right now.

I recently stumbled across the work of artist Alain Bublex and his project ‘Plug In City’ which began in 2000.

Source: www.centrepompidou.fr
Since 2000, artist Alain Bublex has been exploring the idea of modular additions to existing infrastructure in his work. He even takes it to the nth degree with the image above manipulating the Eiffel Tower with a series of modular additions!

His images are evocative of a moving, changing, dynamic urban world. A construction process that is never-ending, emphasised in his work by the cranes and helicopters flying in modules.

The idea he shares in his computer rendered photomontages is a utopian one he relates back to the ideas of Archigram, a group of British Architects working in the 1960s led by Peter Cook. The Archigram team explored the idea of modular building and super structures based on infrastructure as a response to the post-war housing shortage and the need to rebuild cities. The concept of modular building and its opportunities were highly popular in the post war period but Archigram in particular explored this concept through drawing and model making. In a few of Peter Cook’s sketches below we can see the origins of many of the forms in Alain Bublex’s work.



Source: www.archdaily.com/399329/ ad-classics-the-plug-in-city-peter-cook-archigram
A ‘Plug in City’ as described by Archigram was one that grew through the additional of modules attached to existing and new infrastructure that created a highly visible super structure to support the functioning of the city.

Source: www.centrepompidou.fr
The idea that Archigram and Peter Cook explored has influenced many architects and planners. The Pompidou Centre, Paris, exhibits some of Alain Bublex’s work, designed by Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano (1971-1977). The building itself explored the idea of modulation and controversially the supporting elements of the building formed the highly visible structure (a micro level exploration of the ideas). Fittingly in another if Bublex’s explorations above he shows the Pompidou Centre and its outer structure being extended and forming part of the super structure of the city.

Today, maybe modular building as an underpinning concept for urban planning has got a somewhat jaded name for itself and often in the same sentence as repetitive, cheap and boring, but oh the possibilities!!!....




Banner source: centrepompidou.fr

Walkability and vitality with one small change

The planners in San Francisco have come up with a simple way to promote alternative forms of transport (like old fashioned walking) while meeting the urban design mantra of creating an ‘active frontage’ at street level in commercial areas… and all by changing one small thing in their planning schemes. They’re allowing existing private garages to be converted to shops, housing and service spaces.

The format of dwelling construction in suburbs like Castro probably makes this concept more effective given the proliferation of row housing with garaging at ground level in these old neighbourhoods. We think it’s a great concept though, by simply removing a couple of barriers in the Planning Schemes there is potential to have a significant impact on the walkability and vitality of a place.

If this concept sounds a bit familiar, that’s because it is. This concept isn’t that dissimilar to Melbourne’s now famous laneways where the Melbourne City Council encouraged conversion of former service lanes at the back of shops to lively spaces full of art, café culture, bars, restaurants and music venues. Perhaps there are some other suburban centres around Melbourne where this approach may also work?

Read more: http://sf.streetsblog.org/2014/08/21/personal-garages-become-cafes-in-the-castro-thanks-to-smarter-zoning/

Source: http://www.leftcoastroast.com/category/new_roasters/






Banner source: Tom Radulovich on Streetsblog SF

The missing link

As more and more people live in cities, the need for natural spaces and landscapes has become a self-evident truth. The search for greenery or the longing for ‘greenification’ (like the Dutch put it) is intensifying but not fast enough to catch up with urban expansion and the rise of towers.

There is no denial that the concept of sustainability is acknowledged in most global cities with initiatives, strategies and objectives (although often on paper) integrated into larger plans. We grow accustomed to seeing parks, rooftop gardens, vertical walls and other green technological advances, which are all contributing to the making of a responsible urban environment.

Source: http://www.spowers.com.au/60l-building-carlton-victoria/
Source: http://www.whitehat.com.au/melbourne/Environment/ESDM.asp
However, what we call nature is merely the result of human intervention. Melbourne’s natural landscape itself was man shaped, as is apparent from the creation of two islands in the Yarra River.
“Measures such as sky gardens or vertical greenery leave a veneer of green, but don’t create the spaces needed for interesting encounters with nature.” said landscape architect Andrew Grant.
So how can people feel good in a city? Are human beings able to connect and be inspired by an urban landscape or is it time to truly reconnect people with nature? Some suggest that we are able to go beyond these elegant landscaped facades and let the wilderness take over what was once its own.

Source: www.dezeen.com/2011/05/08/garden-of-10000-bridges-by-west-8/
Source: www.dezeen.com/2011/05/08/garden-of-10000-bridges-by-west-8/

Source: http://www.shutterstock.com/pic-211889308/stock-photo-singapore-skyline-of-business-district-and-marina-bay-in-day-foreground-with-lotus-pond
Can we create an emotional bridge between people and cities?




Banner source: www.doubledialogues.com/

Places for playing games

Getting people moving and playing in public was one of the objectives when game designers set out to reclaim some of the streets of Glasgow as part of the Glasgow 2014 Cultural Program.

Glasgow has been undergoing a significant regeneration in preparation for and as a by-product of hosting the recent Commonwealth Games. As one of the key objectives in any city hosting a Commonwealth or Olympic games is finding ways to get the local community moving and active with physical activity leading to more healthy lifestyles over time… not just sitting and watching the athletes do it.

But the group developing Scotch Hoppers as part of the cultural program discovered there are some barriers you need to overcome to get people comfortable enough to play on the streets. In particular you need the games to be familiar, make it clear it’s not just for the kids, be flexible in how the game can be played and make things safe.

As Game Designer Holly Gramazio explains “Play is a unique and compelling way to relate to your environment, a way of being at home and at peace.”

Around the world there is a growing trend of gaming developed in an urban environment, including international street games festivals. Groups like the Invisible Playground in Germany, partner with cultural organisations and incorporate music, digital gaming, street theatre to “create site specific games using cities as platforms for play”.

In Australia there are plenty of examples of ‘pop-ups’ – perhaps these are our version of getting people active in their places.

The Fresh Air festival at Fed Square in Melbourne involves a pop up playground bringing together international game designers for outdoor games and new sports.



Source: Dandenong Pop Up Park from the Department of Justice

In a Penrith trial, the objective is to create a better urban environment to attract investment, whereas Dandnenong’s pop up park has more socially based aims. Government funded and run by Mission Australia, the park provides a range of flexible access to sporting, gardening and recreational facilities that people in the area may not have built into their environment at the outset.

Good urban design will encourage people to utilise their places for all kinds of purposes – looking at how people use the streets for play perhaps gives us some pretty good ideas of the ideal approach to urban design.




 Banner image from the designcouncil.org.uk



Getting engaged

I went along to one of the City of Sydney’s Design Excellence forums this week, the topic being Cultural Precinct Planning. This session explored the upcoming cultural precinct development and ways in which it should, if done right, re-energise Sydney, improve visitor experiences and better connect its cultural assets.

One of the recurring themes was connectivity – between cultural precincts and most importantly to the rest of the city. No longer are we talking about isolated ‘islands’ of cultural snobbery, but the word of the evening was: porosity!

Bruce Baird AM, Chair of the Tourism and Transport Forum, made some interesting and ‘on the ground’ observations in the panel that followed. One of the biggest issues for tourism in Sydney is way finding; visitors arrive at Circular Quay and get lost in the labyrinth that is the Sydney CBD, likely missing many of the city’s more memorable landmarks and attractions.

This sounds simple, ‘get more signs’ you cry – but in this international city how many languages should they be in? How many signs are too many? How do we balance the visual clutter?

So the conversation turned to technology – free Wi-Fi in the city, having App’s for tourists to download and use to showcase the best Sydney has to offer with easy-to-follow directions to get there – in every language. In theory this is excellent, but does it rule out the non-technologically advanced demographic? And what happens when technology fails us? All interesting points for further discussion.

But an initiative called ‘Hello Lamp Post’ that kicked off in Bristol is an interesting take on literally engaging with the city. It’s an interactive system offering residents and visitors an opportunity to talk to the locals – all facilitated by physical infrastructure in the city. The aim of ‘Hello Lamp Post’ is to ‘give people the chance to rediscover their local environment, to share personal memories of the city and discover the stories that others leave scattered. The project represents a chance to slow down, reflect and indulge with permission to play’.

Source: hellolamppost.co.uk

‘Hello Lamp Post’, developed by PAN Studio, Tom Armitage and Gyorgyi Galik, won the 2013 Playable City Award. The international award encourages entrants to use creative technologies that surprise, challenge and engage people to explore the city from a different point of view.

Although not directly marketed for tourists, this concept has the potential to aid a tourist’s navigation of the city – the ability to ask questions of the city is also something I’m intrigued about. How interesting/revealing would it be to record the curiosities of international tourists for your city? This could also lead to recognising and solving some of the most common problems tourists face in a city…. the possibilities are endless.

Read more here: http://www.hellolamppost.co.uk/about


Banner source: Creative Sydney

Blank walls, not so blank

Side walls are a canvas on which anything can be drawn, you name it.

This is certainly not a new concept unveiled by a trendy street artist, for example, the trompe l’oeil technique was used as early as the medieval time and flourished throughout the Renaissance especially on churches’ walls. On a less spiritual note, walls were also used in our growing capitalist societies using ghost signs (hand-painted advertisements on blank walls of buildings) to promote businesses, from the local butcher to Coca-Cola. These have now been replaced by printed ads on walls or gigantic screens on top of roofs. And sometimes walls are simply left blank…
Coca-Cola ghost sign
Source: pinterest.com/cathousebeds/old-advertising/
Mural by Robert Hass (1975)
Source: sohomemory.com
Fake facades
Source: weburbanist.com
Yes, too often naked walls sit sadly on a boundary waiting patiently for another wall to be built next door, but how long can this take? And who wants to stare at a plain concrete façade for years? (Maybe Le Corbusier would have enjoyed the view of such a façade!)

Source: skycraperpage.com
All walls have a purpose and when they are not used to provide amenity to the residents of a building, they can mesmerise the eyes of local pedestrians or tell us a story.

Breathing life into a wall is not an easy task however there are a multitude of techniques and materials out there which will add a touch of eccentricity to a conventional development, brighten a gloomy rundown building or completely transform a streetscape. Even concrete has managed to win us back by offering some original designs and take the idea a step further.

Photoengraving - Edison residence
 Source: citylab.com 
Montreal designers came up with the innovative technique of photoengraving images on concrete using original blank and white photographs of Montreal’s fire department and juxtaposing them on the walls of a residential building (architizer.com).

No more excuses for boring blank façades!