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

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

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

Read more about the findings here.

Do you agree with these findings?

Staying Alive

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

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

Have a look at these promising urban initiatives.

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

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

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

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

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

Read more here:

First Amphibious House in the UK

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

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

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

Check out all the images of Baca Architects’ design.

Read more here.

Advertisement for clean air

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Appy neighbours

A 28-year-old Dutch man who lost his job, was dumped by his girlfriend, and returned home to find his apartment (and all his possessions) ablaze, has developed an App which turns the neighbourly act of lending your power drill, into a community building phenomenon.

For Dan Weddepohl, showing vulnerability wasn’t easy in the era of Facebook, where everybody seems to lead cheerful and happy lives. But it led him to an interesting discovery.

“Neighbours I didn’t really know up until then came by to bring all kinds of essential things, like food, blankets or cooking utensils,” Weddepohl recalls. “It turned out that people really like helping others. I also found out that asking for help creates real human contact. I realized that this is what really matters in life and not the designer clothes or the flashy car. It’s people that make you happy.”

The experience led Weddepohl to develop a website and mobile app called Peerby . The idea is to make it as easy as possible for people to borrow stuff they need from their neighbours. Users type into the app what they need — power drills, ladders and other tools for household projects are common requests. Peerby then queries nearby members. If someone has an item they’re willing to lend, they respond and use the app’s messaging tool to sort out the logistics. All this typically happens in less than 30 minutes.

More than just a temporary exchange of goods, these interactions have become a form of community building.

Of course, Peerby isn’t the only app focused on facilitating sharing among strangers. “Collaborative consumption” are increasingly meaningful buzzwords in a growing number of cities around the world. Everything from car rides (Uber, Lyft, Bla Bla Car, Snappcar) to meals (PlateCulture, MealSharing) to lodging (Airbnb, Couchsurfing) to clothes (DigNSwap, Rewear) can be exchanged through apps.

Read more about it here.

Watch: Daan Weddepohl’s winning presentation at the New Cities Foundation’s 2014 AppMyCity! competition.

Banner image credit:imore.come

Full Steam ahead for the Bays Precinct

A summit of international industry leaders was held over 3 days in Sydney late last month to join great minds in planning for the urban transformation project known as the Bays Precinct.

This summit drew on the expertise of global, national and local urban transformation specialists to explore best-practice urban renewal from across the globe, as well as investment and finance options for infrastructure to better inform the development of this precinct. The world leading urban renewal experts provided ideas and lessons learnt on the best ways to revitalise Sydney’s inner harbour area.

The Summit highlighted some challenges to be addressed and UrbanGrowth NSW will now begin preparing a statement of principles to guide its evolution, before more detailed strategic plans are advanced next year.

So where is The Bays Precinct? It is within 2km to the west of Sydney’s CBD, it consists of 80 hectares of government owned land and harbour waterways. And what is it? The Bays Precinct Urban Transformation Program will transform currently underutilised areas into a destination that will contribute significantly to the economic, cultural and social wellbeing of the city and the state.

The Bays Precinct will be revitalised as a world-class, iconic waterfront destination, and will deliver vibrant and dynamic places for the city and the State. Read more here

Danger diesel

Diesel: outdated and dirty, or a model for excellent fuel-efficiency in a more environmentally conscious world? When I was a child, my father the engineer and car enthusiast, would stress to me how diesel pumped out harmful sulphur-based fumes. When I became older and the costs of owning a car were factored into my lifestyle, the modern “ultra-low-sulphur” diesel engines were attractive thanks to better bang-for-your-buck, and, for the benefit of my conscience, lower CO2 emissions than petrol.

Car makers have seen some sense in this too. In recent years, Australia has been increasingly following European Union emission regulations, and we have witnessed some car models like the Ford Territory replace their larger petrol engines with smaller diesel ones.

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What do we do then, when Europe decides to ban diesel? Authorities in the UK and France are beginning a push to curb and eventually get diesel cars off the road in the name of other pollutants like Nitrogen oxides and various carcinogens. Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris wants diesel cars out of the city, with a plan to become more friendly to pedestrians and cycling-dominated instead. Boris Johnson, the famed mayor of London, similarly has plans to halve pollution and introduce hybrid buses, and zero-emission taxis.

What this means for their cities is a shift away from personal motor vehicles to public and active transport. The byproducts of more active citizens and less-congested roads could even be beneficial for the economy thanks to fewer lost hours from poor health or being late to work.

What would our cities look and feel like with such changes? We (perhaps) no longer have an East-West tunnel to think about here in Melbourne, so would that investment be better placed where Paris and London have put theirs? We have followed Europe on vehicular emissions so far… will we keep doing so?

Read more:

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Tree time back in favour

Who doesn’t like a nice avenue of street trees? Most of us would agree that an avenue of trees makes for a more pleasant urban environment.

But there are some people who have good reason not to like trees of course: plumbers (tree roots get in your pipes), power companies (those branches get stuck in the power lines – give them the chop), builders (roots can damage footings) and the people who lay the footpaths around them.

We found this recent article by Alan Davies in ‘The Urbanist’ as a reminder of the benefits of planting street trees with his suggested “green the streets of Australia” program.

Tree planting was something that seemed to be commonplace a few generations ago, but then fell out of favour. As these trees are now getting to the end of their life expectancy it seems that street tree planting is now back on the agenda.

Our observations in Melbourne are that street tree planting is making a comeback. The wide tree-lined boulevards that were established in Melbourne many years ago such as St Kilda Road, Dandenong Road and Mt Alexander Road rated a mention in Plan Melbourne as something to draw inspiration from in our new transport corridors. The City of ME Melbourne City Council is also focussing on greening the city through a comprehensive tree planting program. 

Ackland Street, St Kilda
Image credit: DLA

Church Street, Middle Brighton
Image credit: DLA
As cities densify, the role of streets to provide amenity, recreation and ecological benefit becomes more important. Streets become de-facto ‘open space’ in urbanised areas where people walk, jog, ride, drive, sit, eat, drink and meet up with friends. Other than our home and workplace, the street is the place where the majority of us spend most of our time, and it is the place where we all come together and experience the city – so it’s an investment that benefits everyone in some way (even the plumbers and electricity providers amongst us), which can’t be a bad thing can it?

Arc-ing up for architecture

Interesting machinations in Victoria with the Australian Institute of Architects seeking to have the use of registered architects mandated for Victorian buildings over three stories, after some architects have been dropped from building projects once permits were granted.

While the Housing Industry Association opposes the move, there appears to be support from the City of Melbourne and some other inner city councils, particularly in relation to high rise building permits. Strangely enough they want to see a property built the way the architect intended and the way it was approved!

It seems that a recent trend of dumping architects to save money once a planning permit is granted, is resulting in poor outcomes with attractive features dropped from new high rise developments.

The Age has reported that the City of Melbourne has taken this issue to Victoria’s newly sworn in Planning Minister, Richard Wynne, asking him to ensure architects Elenberg Fraser are kept on for an 89-storey project on Spencer Street.

These rules are already in place in NSW thanks to the State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP) 65 good design principles.

Wave Building in Broadbeach, showing the style and quality of an architecturally designed apartment building 
Image credit: DLA
Who wants new buildings that don’t contribute to the public realm or are built with poor materials? We sit pretty firmly behind the AIA on this one!

In the round

Image credit: Atelier Thomas Pucher
Who doesn’t like a curve? Austrian architects from Atelier Thomas Pucher surely do. Their elegant curvilinear building proposal has allowed the team to win first prize in an international competition for the expansion of a mixed-use district in Vienna.

This residential component, which comprises seven buildings spaced within landscaped areas, will adjoin an unused race track. The proposal was designed to complement the existing commercial and office uses in the district but also to contribute to the making of a vibrant neighbourhood.

Atelier Thomas Pucher

Perhaps inspiration from overseas can influence Melbourne, Sydney and other Australian cities to take a hard look at their beloved racetracks and see what might be done to help achieve their full redevelopment potential.

Read more:

Banner image credit: Atelier Thomas Pucher

Nothing is a waste

Vehicles running on gas are a common thing. However, this bus in Britain has made headlines as it is the first bus in the UK to run on biomethane gas produced from human sewage and food waste. Not only will the bus reduce the UK’s reliance on fossil fuel but it will also produce less of a carbon footprint than the traditional buses. With a full tank it can run almost 300km and can carry 40 passengers at once. This full tank is produced by the annual waste of about only five people. The first official bus will run between the city of Bath and the Bristol airport, along with other routes.

The company that generates the biomethane fuel is GENeco and it states that it generates 17 million cubic metres of biomethane, which can power almost 8,300 homes.

Use of biomethane as a fuel has previously been used in Norway and Sweden. The initial cost to set up the infrastructure is high. However, the gas produced is cheap and from a long-term perspective it is a sustainable approach that can reduce our dependency on fuel and also contribute to improving the air quality. Considering Melbourne has an extensive bus network with 346 routes operating, we could consider adopting this innovative approach. 

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Could we see the route 380 and Melbourne’s other buses powered by biomethane?

Check out more on

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Tiny Talk

All the talk is about tiny apartments and how they could lead to poor amenity as a large portion of the population moves to the inner city and the apartments continue to shrink.

But what about those who choose to go tiny as an environmental and financial statement?

The tiny house movement is coming to Australia, starting in the nation’s capital it would seem.

The ABC has reported that Canberra man, Andrew Clapham, is planning to build his new tiny home largely with reclaimed materials in the back yard of his parents’ home.

Mr Clapham sees it as a great option for young people, who have very few options to get into the housing market and he’d like to see the tiny house movement grow in Australia.

This is a trend which started in the US and in many ways is a social movement about reducing the size of the space you take up and escaping mortgage debt. 68 per cent of tiny house owners have no mortgage. For more stats, visit:

And if you Google ‘tiny house movement’ you’ll find plenty of blogs with people wanting to tell the story of how they downsized, with instructions on how to go about it.

Take this one for example:

This is a nice idea while you’re asleep – just don’t plan on holding any parties!

Walking behaviour threatens Melbourne's liveability

According to a recent Age article, Melbourne’s vibrant and bustling streets are now suffering from their own success as well as a decline the traditional etiquette of ‘keeping left’, amplified by new distractions such as smart phones.

Image credit: City of Melbourne

The City of Melbourne’s Share Our Streets program will kick it up a gear this week, with the introduction of actors ‘walking badly’ to educate walkers. “Actors with giant phones will wander the streets pretending not to pay attention to where they are going. Meanwhile cards will be handed out with tips, including advising cyclists to give way to pedestrians and for those on foot to walk to the left.”

For more information please refer to either The Age article or The City of Melbourne’s Share Our Streets.

Banner image credit: Alastair Campbell

Carte Blanche

Who would have thought that a city as old as Paris would finally embrace modernity? The French capital is revamping itself, shaking off the dust and looking to build a new reputation. Earlier this month, the Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, officially launched “Reinvent Paris”. An unexpected call for innovative urban projects from local and international firms (let it be architects, investors, property developers, architects, designers or start-ups) that will respond creatively to contemporary challenges faced by the capital. In the Mayor’s words, this will be “an urban experiment on an unparalleled scale” (Hidalgo, 2014).

‘Paname’ (another word for Paris) is putting 23 sites on the table along with the opportunity to buy or lease the sites in order to bring the projects to completion. The sites are scattered within Paris’ arrondissements and along the periphery. They are quite eclectic and include an old mansion, abandoned sites, large industrial land and an electrical sub-station.

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It looks like the difficult economic context has forced the public sector to rethink its relationship with the private sector. The different actors are given carte blanche - within a defined strategic framework – and the support to bring the projects to fruition.

This urban experiment is also challenging the concept of public-private partnership. It will be interesting to see what comes out of it.

The closing date for Expressions of Interest is January 31, 2015. The international panel will be held at the end of next year.

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‘Surf’s up’

Some people would say the only thing missing from Melbourne is a good surf beach. Our Sydney colleagues certainly have one up on us there!

But our friend Phil Carter at Arup, along with architect Damian Rogers, is seeking to rectify that! The brain child of Rogers, the world-first plan is to create a floating beach at the Docklands and create artificial waves to meet the needs of urban surfies.

The close proximity to public transport and residential areas provides a ready-made audience and the Docklands is always in search of new ways to attract visitors to the area.

Of course Brisbane has a very popular inner city beach, created along its South Bank, which opened in 1992 at the site of the World Expo ’88. It attracts 11 million visitors a year but it certainly doesn’t have 1.5 metre waves!

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It does have one advantage though – you don’t need to wear a wetsuit. It would be great to see a plan to lift the temperature a few degrees down at the Docklands!

What’s more Australian than catching a train to Southern Cross Station to go surfing?

Image credit: Squint/Opera, Damian Rogers Architect and Arup.