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Urban greening in high density environments

Creating 'Vertical Forests' in high density residential developments

Possible solution to join the CBD and Docklands?

By Danielle Cull.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BADS in practice. What do the new Victorian BADS planning controls mean for the design of apartment buildings?

By Mark Sheppard.




The Victorian Better Apartment Design Standards (BADS) have now been officially introduced to planning schemes. New apartment developments (except those lodged before 13 April 2017) are now required to meet the requirements of the new Clause 58, or new apartment provisions in Clause 55.07 if they are in a residential zone and lower than five storeys. Notably, the Guidelines for Higher Density Residential Development remain in place, although new Apartment Design Guidelines are slated for May.

The new standards are largely focused on establishing minimum standards of internal amenity. But what are their other consequences for the design of apartment buildings? First, let’s look at the things that won’t change much.

Energy Efficiency

The new provisions seek to ensure apartment developments are oriented to maximise solar access. In practice, most apartment developments already do this. Importantly, the new provisions are discretionary standards, so they can be balanced against other aspirations (such as an attractive view) in the design of a development.

There is also a provision that seeks to avoid unreasonable overshadowing of neighbours but, again, this is already common practice and, in the absence of a particular overshadowing standard, is unlikely to lead to a significant change.

Integrated Water and Stormwater Management


Similarly, the standard seeking rainwater collection merely reinforces current good practice.

Access and Parking

The new provisions seek to influence the number, width and location of vehicle accessways, and the location of car parking. However, these standards do not depart from current good practice, so will have limited impact on apartment building design.

Building Setbacks

The new provisions include building setback requirements. However, numeric requirements have been eschewed in favour of qualitative standards relating to character, daylight, privacy and outlook. Consequently, the setbacks of apartment developments will continue to be guided by other, unchanged provisions of the planning scheme.

Private Open Space


3-bedroom apartments are now required to have 12 sqm balconies and podium apartments are required to have 15 sqm balconies, up from 8 sqm, while the minimum dimension has increased from 1.6 m to 1.8-3 m depending on the apartment size and location.

The changes for 1- and 2-bedroom apartments are relatively modest and unlikely to have a significant effect. It has also been common for 3-bedroom apartments to have larger balconies, reflecting their higher price-point. And 15 sqm terraces will be relatively easily accommodated on podiums (although they may have to compete for room with communal open space—see below).

Windows

Habitable rooms are now required to have a window in an external wall. The provisions allow for ‘saddle-bag’ bedrooms with ‘snorkels’ provided the latter are at least 1.2 m wide and no longer than 1.5 times their width. Given the increased focus on internal daylight and natural ventilation over the last few years, this essentially represents what has already become standard practice.

Natural Ventilation


The new provisions require at least 40% of apartments to have cross ventilation. This is easily achieved by corner apartments, so will not have a significant effect for small-moderate sized developments with up to ten apartments per floor. Developments with larger footprints may need to introduce substantial slots or cross-over apartments mid-way between vertical circulation cores to achieve this standard. However, such variations are not uncommon in larger developments.

So, the new standards discussed above won’t have much effect on the current practice of apartment building design. What about the others?

Landscaping

The new provisions include a requirement for deep soil and canopy trees, something that has often been missing from apartment developments, particularly in activity centres. However, they contain the following ‘get-out’ clause: “If the development cannot provide the deep soil areas and canopy trees specified in Table D2, an equivalent canopy cover should be achieved by providing either … (trees in planters, climbers on pergolas, green roofs or green facades)”.

It remains to be seen how this standard will be applied. Notably, the decision guidelines include the suitability of the proposed location for canopy trees. It is likely that in areas such as activity centres where ground level vegetation is not characteristic, on-structure vegetation will be considered acceptable. However, in residential areas the deep soil provision is likely to be applied. While most apartment buildings are sufficiently set back from side and rear boundaries to enable perimeter tree planting, it is often in planters sitting above basements. So this provision will reduce basement areas which may make the difference between a project being viable or otherwise on lots 20 m wide or less.

Communal Open Space

New developments of over 40 dwellings are now expected to provide landscaped and sunny communal open space. While it has been common for larger apartment developments to incorporate podium-top or roof-top communal open space, this new requirement would apply to moderately-sized developments (and, therefore, a much larger proportion of projects)—e.g. a 6-8 storey mixed-use development in an activity centre.

The likely location for communal open space in mid-sized developments is on the roof, which will easily accommodate the size (e.g. 100 sqm for a 40-apartment development). But rooftop terraces require high screens for wind protection and, ideally, structures for shade. In places with height restrictions that do not exclude structures associated with rooftop gardens, this will create tension between the desire to maximise the number of floors with that for a rooftop terrace. In addition, rooftop terraces will need to compete for space with services, including solar panels. Will the need to provide communal open space reduce the number of solar panels?

Building Entry and Circulation

The new provisions require visible, easily identifiable and sheltered entries—nothing that isn’t already good practice. However, they also require daylight and natural ventilation in corridors, which has not been typical of most apartment developments.

In a typical ‘double-loaded’ apartment configuration, this means extending at least one end of the corridor to an outer edge of the building. Apart from the intended internal amenity benefits, the implications of this include an additional element in the external presentation of the building—potentially creating a welcome break in its form—and longer corridors resulting in the loss of some accommodation floorspace.

Functional Layout (bedroom and living room sizes) and Accessibility

There are now minimum dimensions for bedrooms and living rooms (but not dining or kitchen areas). While some of these dimensions represent recent standard practice, others—such as the minimum ‘depth’ of 3.4 m for the main bedroom and 3.3 m for the width of a living area—are a little larger than has been common.

The new provisions also require 50% of apartments to be universally accessible. In essence, this will result in wider internal passageways and one larger bathroom.

In order to maintain the overall apartment size and therefore affordability, the functional layout and accessibility provisions are likely to mean reductions in the size of other parts of the apartment. This is likely to come at the cost of dining and kitchen areas.

Room Depth

One of the most significant new standards is that habitable rooms that only have windows in one wall (‘single aspect’ rooms) may not have a depth of more than 2.5 times their ceiling height (measured from the window). With the typical floor-to-floor dimension of 3 m and resulting ceiling height of approximately 2.6 m, this means a maximum depth of 6.5 m.

The provisions allow single-aspect open-plan living areas with the kitchen at the back to be up to 9 m deep provided the ceiling is at least 2.7 m high. This option will be enticing to developers because it allows a more efficient building depth of around 20 m. However, it is likely to increase floor-to-floor dimensions to approximately 3.1 m, increasing the height of buildings or potentially reducing the number of floors in areas with a height restriction.

Storage

Storage requirements have increased, and now include storage within the dwelling in kitchens, bathrooms and bedrooms. The new requirements exceed the amount of storage that has typically been provided (both internally and in storage cages). In order to maintain the overall apartment size and therefore affordability, this is likely to mean reductions in the size of other parts of the apartment, particularly dining and kitchen areas. It may also result in more storage areas at the centre of podium levels, occupying floorspace that is distant from natural light and therefore not useable as part of an apartment.


So, while they will undoubtedly raise internal amenity standards, the introduction of the BADS may also result in the following unintended consequences:
  • Fewer apartment developments on narrow-to-moderate width lots in residential areas
  • Greater height as a result of higher floor-to-floor dimensions, and rooftop terrace screens and pergolas
  • Less efficient buildings due to longer corridors and, potentially, fewer floors
  • Smaller dining and kitchen areas
  • Fewer rooftop solar panels
  • The expression of internal passageways on the outside of buildings
  • Storage areas in the middle of podium levels

What Makes a Great Shopping Street?



By Amy Ikhayanti.


The 'shopping street', or more commonly known as a retail strip in Australia, is undeniably the heart of any urban area. It is indeed the 'smorgasboard' of a shopping experience that can range from clothing, accessories, food and beverage, galleries, gadgets, experiences and other paraphernalia. Undoubtedly, it is one of the most vibrant and attractive places to live, work and play - as well as more commonly the place with the highest real estate value in the wider city. With all that being said, a very curious question arises of how best to create a successful and vibrant shopping street.

As urban designers, we are capable of providing the shell and components of the city. However, there is always the ‘it factor' - that is, something else that injects 'life' to the built form, which makes it an attractive destination for people. In this article, I will take a closer look at three different shopping streets to explore how the built form can influence the identity and vitality of a place.

Orchard Road, Singapore


Orchard Road (Source: Singapore Guide, 2017).

Traffic users: private vehicles, bus, pedestrian
Average building height: 30-40m to the podium and towers up to 200m in height
Landscape characteristic: lush landscapes with green buffer areas and mature trees along the pedestrian path
Pedestrian path: Up to 8m in addition to 4m front building setback.

Arguably the most famous shopping area in Singapore, various mega shopping centres line the strip between the Orchard and Somerset MRT stations. Orchard Road proves that a harmonious co-existence is possible between great pedestrian environments, retail activities and busy vehicular traffic corridors. On each edge of the 16m of two-way road reserve, a generous pedestrian path is provided that spans up to 8m in width that stands in addition to front building setbacks of up to 4m. This ample space allows all different kinds of activities to occur, such as street food stalls, seasonal public art exhibitions, street performances, seating areas, as well as creating a separated green buffer between the traffic and pedestrian zone. The thick green buffer and mature trees (trees which are more than 20m in height) that services as a canopy to the busy street and creates a 'lush' impression. The generous pedestrian path also helps create a spacious feeling that one often doesnt feel in metropolitan areas, despite the busy activities on the sidewalk.

Xintiandi, Shanghai, China




Xintiandi Shopping Street (Source: Skyscraper.org, 2017) 
Traffic users: pedestrian.
Average building height: one to two storey houses with pitch roof (approximately up to 10m high)
Landscape characteristic: sparse presence of greenery with occasional trees and shrubs that serve to define public and private (outdoor dining) areas.
Pedestrian path: averaging 5m in width, with 0m building setback and outdoor dining area

Apart from being one of the most trendy areas for shopping, dining, or simply hanging out, Xintiandi is one of the most famous and successful urban renewal projects in Shanghai. Previously, the area was full of dilapidated shikumen houses, which is a traditional Shanghainese architectural style that combines both Western and Chinese elements. Most of the neighbourhood is redeveloped into mixed-use high-rise buildings, while a couple of blocks that contain the original shikumen buildings are maintained and converted into a pedestrian-only entertainment district. It is worth noting that in a car-oriented Shanghai, the presence of a pedestrian-only block is unusual and accentuates its character and attractiveness as a destination for locals and tourists. In other words, Xintiandi is an example of creating a successful retail destination through creating unique place branding. 

Bourke Street Mall, Melbourne, Australia

Bourke Street Mall (Source: Flickr, 2017).

Traffic users: pedestrians and trams
Average building height: ranging from 15m to 30m in height.
Landscape characteristic: mature trees (up to 10m high) on planters that double as seating areas.

In the middle of the busy Melbourne CBD, Bourke Street Mall is the primary retail strip inaccessible by cars and houses various shopping centres and anchor retail stores. In a way, the concentration of strong international brands creates a centre of gravity amidst the many shops and services around. Additionally, the wide pedestrian path (approximately 8m wide, including the tree planter and seating area) allows for different activities to take place and flourish. There are more areas for street performer and a small audience without obstructing high pedestrian volumes alongside the retail frontage. The wide varieties of architectural style and façade details also add to the 'richness' of the pedestrian experience. For me, I always find the juxtaposition of contemporary architectural interventions fascinating (in the form of canopy, ground retail façade and signage, along with heritage building structures), and definitely contributes to Bourke Street Mall’s distinctiveness as a shopping destination.

What about you? Can you think of any other shopping streets that can be added to this list?

These three examples above illustrate the differing characteristics and components of shopping streets from different parts of the world. That being said, we haven’t even touched on the typical European shopping streets, which are commonly located in the traditional city centre and occupy heritage buildings. Nevertheless, it is important to note that high-level pedestrian access and movement, which can be encouraged with the elimination of car traffic, is crucial in creating a successful shopping street. A distinct character is also an important part in enhancing the attractiveness of a destination. Therefore, at the end of the day, we can always ask a question about any given space, “Is this space interesting enough retain high volumes of pedestrian activities? ”


ESD - Just Another TLA?

By James Mackness.

Green Wall, Docklands - Melbourne. (Source: Mackness, J, 2017).

Ecologically Sustainable Development (or Environmentally Sustainable Design, depending on your preference for a good old three letter acronym [TLA]) is now well-embedded into planning lingo. Despite the Environmentally Sustainable Design Statements we’re typically required to produce as part of the planning process, the question arises to whether what we’re delivering is really environmentally sustainable?

Our predominant building materials such as concrete, steel, brick, and glass are generally at the ‘higher end’ of the scale for embodied energy. Also, unlike timber, these materials don’t grow on trees. They are finite resources, which  drive up construction costs as scarcity increases.

Relative embodies energy of building materials. (Source: Australian Government, 2013)
Not every building can use timber construction, but that possibility is now closer than ever.

An alternative way to provide for more sustainable buildings is the inclusion of green infrastructure. Green roofs, walls, and façades reduce the energy demands of buildings for heating and cooling. Green infrastructure has the added benefit of being truly multifunctional. A green roof not only lowers the energy use of the building, but it also reduces the urban ‘heat island’ effect of the city, provides habitat for nature, and provides a more  aesthetically pleasing view than that of a traditional built rooftop would offer.

Despite views to the contrary, green roofs aren’t incompatible with providing energy generation via solar panels. In fact, photovoltaic panels can benefit from being on a green roof by virtue of a cooler microclimate, thus increasing the efficiency of energy generation. The green roof also benefits by virtue of the shade provided by the panels and condensation runoff, which can improve the biodiversity of the roof.

Green roof and photovoltaic cells on one of Transport for Londons buildings, UK. (Source: Living Roofs, 2017)
Although maintenance is required for the green roof, there can be a reduction in maintenance requirements in the long run as the living material protects the roof structure from UV radiation. This aspect is of course more attractive to institutional investors and their long-term view of property assets rather than developers looking for an immediate return on investment.

So with all these great benefits, why aren’t we building more of them? With the introduction of the Better Apartments Design Standards (BADS) to the Victorian Planning Scheme, maybe we will. Standard D10 states:

Development should provide the deep soil areas and canopy trees. If the development cannot provide the deep soil areas and canopy trees specified…an equivalent canopy cover should be achieved by providing either:
  •          Canopy trees or climbers (over a pergola) with planter pits sized appropriately for the mature tree soil volume requirements.
  •          Vegetated planters, green roofs or green facades


It will be interesting to see how this requirement will playout at VCAT, where many development ‘rules of thumb’ are often determined. Will the expectation of green infrastructure in lieu of deep soil zones be on a one-for-one basis? Deep soil zones provide greater opportunities for stormwater retention, planting, and the ability to recharge groundwater, so should a greater ratio be applied?


Further reading:


Planning for Homelessness


By Julia Moiso.

Currently within Australia, there are over 100,000 people 'sleeping rough'. The rate of homelessness is 49 out of every 10,000 with 44% of this population being female and 25% being indigenous Australians. This is an alarming rate which is growing exponentially each year.

Recently, there have been trends both globally and within Australia to "prevent" homelessness through draconian urban design and operational measures. In 2014, a series of metal 'spikes' were being installed in building alcoves and under overpasses around London in efforts to discourage homeless people from setting up their sleeping arrangements, see Figure 1. In 2015, the Western Australian Department of Culture and Arts found itself under fired after it installed sprinkler system on Perth's King Street Arts Centre building. The high pressure sprinklers, which came on for 30 seconds every hour at night, were designed to keep homeless people from sleeping in an alleyway next to the building. More recently, in the last few months, ticket barriers at 3 of Sydney's largest metropolitan train stations - Wynyard, Town Hall and Central - have been moved outward so that station toilets fall inside the pay-for-access zone, rendering them off limits for anyone who doesn't have an Opal Card.

Figure 1: Spikes appearing at a London Apartment Building (Source: Ethan Pioneer, 2014)
Other examples of pervasive homeless deterrence technology include benches designed to discourage sleeping, designed with vertical slats between each seat, individual bucket seats, large armrests, and wall railings which enable leaning but not sitting or lying (among many other designs). See Figures 2, 3 and 4. There are been benches made to be slightly uncomfortable in order to dissuade people from sitting too long! Sadly, however, such designs are particularly common in public transport terminals such as train stations, bus stops and parks - all of which present homeless persons with the prospect of a safe public place to sleep.

Figures 2 and 3: Public seating designed to deter prolonged use. (Source: The Atlantic, 2014). 
Figure 4: Wall seating at a Montreal Railway Station (Source: The Atlantic, 2014).

Draconian homeless deterrence strategies contradict the famous ideology of 20th century French socialist and planning academic Henri Lefebvre, who discusses the idea of the 'right to the city' and how inhabitants manage urban space for themselves.

Luckily, such preventative measures have sparked outrage amongst the local communities in which these measures have been employed. For example, London's mayor called the spikes "ugly, self defeating and stupid",  and protesters poured concrete over a set of spikes outside a supermarket. A petition was also signed by nearly 130,000 people to removed the spikes from a London apartment building. 

Whilst this response may restore your faith in humanity, little is being done by the Government to actually provide successful active solutions to prevent homelessness within out cities. Robert Pradolin (former General Manager for Frasers Property Australia and active public speaker against prejudices against homeless people) has teamed up with 'Launch Housing' in efforts to create pop-up rooming houses. The agency plans to convert vacant office buildings within Melbourne that are awaiting redevelopment into temporary accommodation for people struggling with homelessness. Their strategy includes equipping empty offices or vacant floors with pods constructed from temporary partitions that can be quickly dismantled when the property owners need the space back. 

This idea of pop-up housing was recently discussed earlier in the year by housing and support services and City of Melbourne representatives, where Heather Holst (CEO of Launch Housing) said that pop-up housing might seem like a desperate response, but necessary given that homelessness was reaching crisis levels. 

Obviously, the temporary housing would need to have existing toilet and showering facilities and would need to be altered so that they complied with the relevant rooming house safety standards, but this seems a worthwhile step in the right direction (particularly as some office buildings remain empty for years waiting on development, purchase, or the approval of planning permits).

Similarly, earlier this year a wealthy Melbourne family offered $4 million to construct 57 portable homes for disadvantaged people on vacant VicRoads properties in efforts to tackle Melbourne's homelessness crisis. The project is mostly being privately funded by philanthropists Brad Harris, who co-owns the Sporting Globe Bar and Grill chain of 9 restaurant-bars (and his father Geoff Harris, who co-founded Flight Centre).

The plan includes 57 pre-built studio units to be transported to 9 disused housing blocks along Ballarat Road within inner city suburbs Footscray and Maidstone, where a public acquisition overlay is in place should the government one day choose to widen the road. VicRoads has bought several properties along Ballarat Road in recent years in anticipation of the road widening project (The Age, 2017). The project is subject to development consent from Maribyrnong City Council, if granted, tenants can be expected to move in during the middle of this year.

Figure 5: Artists impression of the new temporary housing units (The Age, 2017). 

So to conclude, the above examples impose some important questions: why does there seem to be a bigger response to homelessness from members of the public than from the Government? And is temporary housing the only solution to social housing?


The Ply's the Limit

By Brodie Blades.


There is a hint of truth in the saying ‘everything old is new again’. This year alone we’ve all endured the re-emergence of the Pokemon Go craze, glimpsed sightings of macramé as an interior trend, and watched the demand for terrace housing in Sydney and Melbourne reach whole new levels of absurdity. But it is perhaps in the field of building construction where this saying holds the most truth, as the rise of timber construction methods demonstrates how traditional and ‘archaic’ construction materials are once again making a much-needed resurgence.

Timber construction methods are obviously not new per se (think traditional wooden huts, and  colonial forts), but what is new is their application in larger and taller developments than ever before. For example, London's ‘Stadthaus’, (9 storey residential tower in the borough of Hackney) is considered the world’s pioneer timber residential tower, with load-bearing walls, floor slabs and cores all made entirely from timber. Also worth mentioning in London is the elegant ‘Oakwood Timber Tower’; a research proposal for timber construction technology in London’s Barbican consisting of 1000 new dwellings in a mixed use tower (read previous Plantastic post here).

The advantages of timber construction are numerous. For example, timber construction methods such as Compressed Laminate Timber (CLT) have excellent strength-to-weight ratios, and are quickly installed - even reducing construction times and building site employees by as much as 30% in comparison to steel and concrete methods. Timber construction methods are capable of being manufactured with millimetre accuracy, and – surprisingly – have excellent fire performance. Perhaps what's most impressive, however, is that timber is a truly sustainable construction medium that is able to be replenished indefinitely, able to ‘trap’ and store carbon, and has the ability to be recycled at the end of the structure’s life.

Closer to home, CLT methods and timber construction are not a completely new phenomenon in Australia. A stroll around Melbourne’s Docklands precinct will have you stumble across LendLease’s 10 storey (32m) ‘Forte’ development, which held the crown of world’s tallest residential timber tower until only recently. Impressively, the use of CLT in Forte reduced CO2 emissions by as much as 14,000 tonnes compared to concrete and steel (or the equivalent of 345 cars off the road)! 

LendLease's 'Forte' timber building. 

Also within Melbourne is Hayball’s majestic ‘The Dock’ library in Docklands – a sleek and welcoming hub for the broader Docklands community. 

'The Dock' Library in Melbourne's Docklands.

In Sydney, LendLease again has plans for another timber structure; this time the 6 storey ‘International House Sydney’ in the emerging Barangaroo precinct. Designed by Tzannes Associates, International House Sydney is due for completion this year at key gateway into the broader Barangaroo precinct. 

'International House Sydney' in Sydney's Barangaroo Precinct, due for completion this year.

Similarly, our friends at Aveo have recently announced a $65 million 10-storey timber constructed tower named ‘Bella Vista’ to be developed within Sydney’s Norwest Business Park ‘Circa’ precinct.

Aveo's 'Bella Vista' Retirement Development.

 With further evolutions in CLT and timber building technology, perhaps it is only a matter of time before some of our tallest developments are built more sustainably through timber methods. What has your experience with timber towers been? Have you seen any other examples of timber construction methods worth sharing?

Further Reading:







Victorian Residential Zones: Reformed or Re-form

By Jonathan Halaliku.

Source: Herald Sun, 2014.
The older I get the more cynical I become.  So what of this cynicism…? Well, on the on the 27th of March the Victorian Government gazetted Amendment VC110 to much…err…avail. Touted as residential zone reforms that ‘get the balance right’,[1] and in opposition to my middle aged cynicism, I dove into the ‘reformed zones’ with optimism.

Like all good narratives, each provision of the reformed zones has a role to play. With affordability and land supply at the forefront of our minds, the Neighbourhood Residential Zone (NRZ) was centre stage, and partnered by a new minimum garden area requirement.[2] Side stage, new definitions were inserted into Clause 72 to define the ‘garden area’. Transitional Provisions stood ready to cover any inequity, and the General, Mixed Use, and even the Township Zones were casted for an appearance. All of this, by the way, was against the background of the recent ‘Better Apartment Design Standards’ (BADS), the ‘Managing Residential Advisory Committee’ findings, ‘Refresh Plan Melbourne’, and the ‘Infrastructure Victoria 30 Year Strategy’. The scene was set.

All the right things were alluded to in the explanatory report. The relevant sections of the SPPF were wheeled out. Whether it was Clause 11.02-1 or Clause 16.01-4, the strategic justifications where humming to the background of housing affordability and land supply.  Lo and behold, as I made my way through the provisions I was left with that familiar feeling of ‘town planning deflation’.

Sure, the deletion of purposes from the NRZ[3] water down the sacrosanct purposes of the NIMBY shield, and sure the addition of 32.09-1[4] provides another mechanism for Council to specify objectives for particular areas, and sure the introduction and incorporation of garden area requirements (via a lot size sliding scale and mandatory inclusion and trigger within 32.09-3) was a ‘nifty’ piece of policy drafting.

But my middle aged cynicism asks “what did we really get here?” The removal of the two dwelling restriction in the NRZ (and maximum building height of 9 metres) essentially rights a wrong. Existing LPPF and supporting character studies[5] already achieve the garden area requirements when applied correctly by Responsible Authorities. I couldn’t, and still can’t, help to think the reformed zones were a sideshow to what is the main meal.

I ask, has the reformed zones really addressed the key underlying issue identified by the MRDAC[6] when they quite rightly stated:

“…One of the key findings of the Committee is the inappropriate application of the Neighbourhood Residential Zone in some municipalities due to the way in which it was approved. There was a clear lack of rigour and transparency in the early application of the zones and it was not until the RZSAC process that questions were asked about why and how the Neighbourhood Residential Zone had been applied in such a way, and as the default zone in many municipalities. Instances where the application of the Neighbourhood Residential Zone has been applied as the default zone should be further reviewed.”[7] ?

Whilst the removal of density restrictions and the pleasing addition of garden area requirement is now included, the underlying issue of the extent of the NRZ application (and, worryingly, the clear lack of rigour and transparency in the early application of the zones) remain a burden on the composition of Melbourne’s residential zoning.  

Instead of the ‘reform’ touted in Amendment VC110, I believe a ‘reform’ or ‘re-balance’ of our residential zone composition (across all Municipal boundaries) should be our priority. In place of accepting that the ‘horse has bolted’ in the application of the NRZ across our city, we should be asking which neighbourhoods deserve the NRZ classification and why. Given the restrictive nature of the NRZ (even after watering down of the purposes) and the breadth of its application (up to 70% in some inner and middle band Municipalities), we should think carefully and with caution before accepting their application and existence as read.

 To facilitate the growth of our city and the needs of our future citizens, we need to be brave enough to return to first principles and establish what features really deserve protection (as supported by objective empirical analysis) by applying the correct statutory mechanisms best suited to balance the certainty sought by stakeholders. Tinkering around the edges and righting wrongs of an ill-applied NRZ is good, but it is not the reform we need. 


[1] Reformed Zones 2017, Minister Message, The State of Victoria Department of Environment, Land, Water & Planning 2017, p.1
[2] Applause from the leafy areas of the well serviced inner suburban elite. Echoes of applause from the outer and middle ring areas.  
[3] ‘To limit opportunities for increased residential development’ and ‘To implement neighbourhood character policy and adopted neighbourhood character guidelines’
[4] Inserts a new sub clause specifying that a schedule to the zone must contain various objectives to be achieved for an area. 
[5] Where active, and up to date and applied correctly.
[6] Managing Residential Development Advisory Committee
[7] Managing Residential Development, ‘Advisory Committee Report’ Executive Summery14 July 2016 p 2

Melbourne and Climate Change

By Julia Bell.

Source: Anna Floods, 2016
In recent months (and years) Melbourne has experienced some extreme weather. Some of these bizarre and frightening weather events have included experiencing a month’s rain in a day (which has led to widespread flooding, road closures and disruption), wind speeds of more than 100 kms per hour (which had led to severe property damage and threat to life) and increasing summer temperatures (with BOM predicting the average number of days above 35 degrees to increase from 9 days to 26 days by 2070).

'Melburnians should prepare for more extreme heat with double the number of hot days, less rain and harsher fire conditions in coming decades', (BOM, 2017) the Victorian State Government has warned in analysis prepared for the Andrews Government. This paints a frightening picture of Melbourne's future climate by stating that transport infrastructure will be vulnerable to flooding and heat stress, along with longer and more severe bushfires and pressure on hospitals from heatwaves. 

So what does this lead to in a city like Melbourne? Road and public transport closures, damage to infrastructure, property, power outages, poor water quality, lack of water resources, and most scarily, threat to life. In a city where most of the time we go about our day to day lives without fuss, how do we so quickly get over and forget these events? Why is there constant ignorance when it comes to addressing climate change seriously? And how can we have a more active role to change our future as urban dwellers?
Our climate is changing, largely due to the observed increases in human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas), agriculture and land clearing. Changes over the 20th century include increases in global average air and ocean temperature, widespread melting of snow and ice and rising global sea levels (Australian Government, 2017).

And if we continue to ignore climate change:
Melbourne's temperature could rise by as much as 2.6 degrees above the 1986 to 2005 average by 2070, with sea levels up by as much as half a metre (The Age, 2016).

As Melbourne urban dwellers, what can we do in response? To avoid changing our habits, perhaps we could either keep a rubber ducky in our cars for flooding emergencies, or, turn our streets into canals like Venice! Potentially, we could design human bubbles to roll around in with air conditioning, clean air and some snacks in the case of a prolonged weather event.

But seriously Melbournians, we cannot ignore these changes any longer. By changing our daily habits, travelling more sustainably and reducing carbon emissions, surely the world’s most liveable city can stay. It is worth thinking about how small personal everyday changes can benefit the environment and build a more sustainable and healthy habits for beautiful global cities. 

Christchurch Rising

By Brodie Blades. 



On 22 February 2011, the New Zealand city of Christchurch suffered the most damaging of a series of earthquakes that had affected the wider Canterbury region since late 2010 –a magnitude 6.3 earthquake that struck a mere 10km from the city’s centre.  Over ten fleeting seconds, the built form fabric of Christchurch was irrevocably transformed as structures collapsed and soil liquefied. Many buildings that did not instantly topple would soon fall shortly after, as structural safety audits and a rolling program of demolition transformed much of Christchurch’s downtown core into little more than rubble. 185 people from 17 nationalities lost their lives in New Zealand’s fifth-deadliest natural disaster.

Yet with every tragedy comes opportunity, and the tragedy of Christchurch’s 2011 earthquake is no different. Rather than allow itself to be defined and overcome by natural disaster, Christchurch is instead actively employing town planning and urban design to capitalise upon a rare opportunity  to completely reimagine it’s urban fabric. To better understand this, I’ve headed ‘on the ground’ to Christchurch to explore the key planning and urban design initiatives underway right now as part of Christchurch’s rising.

The Numbers

Natural disaster recovery is an inherently complex phenomenon to document. However, from a built form/property perspective, the gravity of the situation that faced the city of Christchurch post-quake is perhaps best understood through the following facts and figures: 
  • The estimated built form recovery price tag is $40 billion (as of April 2013), and approximately $33b of this is covered by insurance;
  • The ETA for complete economic recovery for the New Zealand economy is approximately 50 to 100 years;
  • 130,000 insurance claims arose from the February 22 event alone;
  • The latest available rebuild expenditure estimate is approximately $100m per week, according to the Canterbury Employers Chamber of Commerce  (August 2016);
  • Approximately 100,000 dwellings required demolition (or, about 1 dwelling per 3 residents);
  • Approximately 45% of downtown Christchurch’s building stock of 3,000 had restricted access following the event; and
  • The official rebuild ‘end year’ is estimated as being 2026.
Most tellingly, however, is that the population growth of Christchurch immediately fell by approximately 2.4% (compared to a historic annual population growth of 1% per annum) – a trend that continued to ultimately allow the New Zealand city of Wellington to replace Christchurch as New Zealand’s second most populous urban area.

On the Ground

I touched down in Christchurch in early March 2017, more than six years since the events of 22 February 2011. Despite this time, the ‘on the ground’ condition in Christchurch still bears the scars of the intensity and tragedy of that day. Much of Christchurch’s central business district is still comprised of rubble, interspersed only by the occasional husk of a building yet to be demolished.

Top – Rubble within the core of downtown Christchurch
Centre – ‘185 Chairs’; an ephemeral monument to the 185 fatalities of the February 2011 quake
Right – The façade of a former building is braced precariously against a stack of shipping containers in downtown Christchurch
(Source: Blades, B. 2017)
Moving closer toward the core of Christchurch, the spire-less remains of Christchurch’s cathedral (perhaps the most ‘notable’ architectural victim of the quakes) remains hoarded off from the public, effectively preserving the structure in time as a snapshot of the gravity of the quake event.

Despite the conditions, there is still a strong sense of ‘normal’ within the core of the city as construction workers, office employees, residents and tourists alike continue to attend to their daily needs. The local tourist tram continues to run, and continues to proceed past new buildings cheek-by-jowl with rubble piles within the same streetscape.

The Christchurch tourist tram rumbles past rubble in downtown Christchurch. The remnants of the Christchurch cathedral can be seen in the background of this image
(Source: Blades, B. 2017)
The intangible ‘heart’ of central Christchurch is also evident within the broader central precinct centred on the Avon River, where the ‘Re:Start Mall’ (an interim but buzzing local centre crafted entirely from repurposes shipping containers) and the Canterbury Earthquake Memorial (recently opened in February this year) fulfil much-needed social and spiritual roles within the core of the city.

The Plan

Christchurch is capitalising upon the opportunity afforded to it by the tragedy of the quake event to reimagine its urban fabric and spatial design by way of the 'Christburch Rebuild Masterplan'. The masterplan aspires to achieve a 'low and compact' city and includes the following key elements: 

·       Parkland: The creation of a compact central city ‘framed’ by parkland (in much the same way as the Adelaide CBD). Known primarily as the ‘East Frame’ and ‘South Frame’, the two tracts of open parkland will combine with the river Avon to ring the CBD of Christchurch and ‘fix the glut’ of commercial space that characterised the downtown core prior to the quake event.

·       Building Heights: Building heights will be capped at a maximum of 28m (or approximately 7 commercial storeys), although some exceptions may be made in some areas subject to approval (such as for hotels where close to convention centre facilities);

·       Central Core: The heart of Christchurch will be centred on an existing pedestrian/tram mall, which will be promoted as the retail hub of the centre through flanking mixed-use development consisting of ground floor retail uses and upper storey commercial space;

·       Diverse Services: The masterplan will include a brand new state-of-the-art convention centre (large enough to host three events simultaneously), a replacement stadium, a new music centre and grouping of Christchurch’s emergency management services and health services into a separate, central precincts;

·       Places for People: Cathedral Square (home of the Christchurch Cathedral) will be retained as the civic heart of the city, but reimagined as a pedestrian space to include new grassed areas and landscaping and a new public library. The square will also be completely closed to vehicular traffic. Further afield, new pedestrian and cycling linkages will be created through closing roads to traffic (or slowing traffic in streets) and the banks of the Avon River will be upgraded to facilitate increased pedestrian and cycling linkages to the core of central Christchurch; and

Ingrained Design: Importantly, the implementation of the masterplan will be overseen by a panel of representatives from local authorities (Christchurch City Council, the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Agency, and Ngai Tahu (Maori cultural body) to oversee every individual application for planning consent. 

The Christchurch Rebuild Masterplan (Source: stuff.co.nz,)
The Progress

Despite the sheer gravity of the situation faced by the people of Christchurch and New Zealand following the events of 2011, the ‘on the ground’ progress towards achievement of the plan is obvious and impressive. The ‘East Frame’ parkland has been cleared and reserved for its future parkland role, and distinct progress has been made toward the revitalisation of Christchurch’s central mall through new built form and public realm upgrades.

The River Avon has been woven into the core of central Christchurch through public realm upgrades that ‘invite’ interaction with the river, such as seating, sculpture and informal resting spaces.
The Avon River, with new public realm upgrades. New construction is underway in the background of this image 
(Source: Blades, B. 2017)

Importantly, the Canterbury Earthquake Memorial for the victims of the events of 2011 is now complete, and has been fittingly designed to occupy a secluded and central location within the heart of central Christchurch. 

The Canterbury Earthquake Memorial, on the banks of the Avon River
(Source: Blades, B. 2017)

Finally – and perhaps most significantly – there is little to suggest that the rebuild is ‘flogging a dead horse’. Rather, it is the opposite. The streets of Christchurch’s core are alive with activity despite the intensive construction program surrounding it. Shopfront vacancies did not seem atypically high (as one would perhaps expect, given the circumstances). There is nothing to suggest it would be uncomfortable or unsafe to move freely though the central city (with the obvious exception of demolition zones or construction sites). All of which are remarkable achievements for a city faced with the circumstances that Christchurch has endured.

Construction underway on ‘The Terrace’ in downtown Christchurch. Progress (left) verse the vision (right) 
(Source:  stuff.co.nz)
Conclusion

With every tragedy comes opportunity, and – whilst tragic – Christchurch’s February 2011 earthquake has at the very least provided the people of Christchurch an opportunity to achieve a shared future through reimagination of the urban fabric.

Any design vision requires the buy in of diverse sectors, interests and demographics to effect change, and - whilst there is no doubt still a long way to go before Christchurch makes a complete built form recovery - the overwhelming impression of the rebuild is that Christchurch is a community completely committed to rebuilding a new, shared built form future.

That the people of Christchurch can show such determination in confronting circumstances to reimagine and implement their built form future is testament not only to the resilience and commitment of this community, but in some ways also testament to the potential of urban design and planning to unite and effect positive change.

Have you been to Christchurch since the 2010/2011 earthquakes? What has your experience been?


Further Reading:

-          The Christchurch Rebuild: https://www.ccc.govt.nz/the-rebuild