London Underground - reimagined!

Alternates to the London Underground map

The Death and Life of...

Planning for our future (figuratively speaking)...

Urban greening in high density environments

Creating 'Vertical Forests' in high density residential developments

VicUrban Becomes Places Victoria

The Victorian Government has re-branded 'VicUrban' to 'Places Victoria'. 

You can read the press release here.

And check out the Places Victoria website here.

So this is apparently the Urban Renewal Authority that the government was promising.

According to the press release Mr Guy says: "It is essential we strive to improve liveability and continue a focus on building sustainable new communities which is what Places Victoria's mandate is."


"The focus of Victoria's new pre-eminent urban renewal authority on liveability and place making is an important step in ensuring Melbourne and Victoria is liveable and sustainable for the long term."

The press release says 'liveability' four times, 'renewal' six times and 'sustainable' only twice - it's a whole new direction!

Urban Farming in Africa

Unlike those who live in the country and have land for farming, city dwellers generally have to pay for their food, sometimes spending as much as 80 percent of their incomes to do so.
 As people move from rural areas to cities, food production is often left behind. The global movement inward toward cities is counterbalanced in richer countries by the rapid mechanisation and productivity increases in food production - allowing less people to feed far, far more.

Africa, however, has a problem. The inward city movement is the same, but the farming productivity isn't increasing as much as it needs to be. This drives up food prices (for those who can afford to buy food), and forces people to approach the problem differently. Enter, urban farming in Africa.

The United Nations Development Program recently reported that an astonishing 800 million people worldwide are now engaged in urban agriculture, producing from 15 percent to 20 percent of the world’s food.

This in-depth piece from visits some African urban farms and delves into the benefits, dangers and what might be in store for the future.

Necessity being the mother of invention, Africa could be onto something here. Could we learn a few tips?

Read on.

Jan Gehl Giving His Full Spiel On Human Scale Cities

Jan Gehl has spent a great deal of time looking at cities in a way he considers different to most planners, architects and urban designers. He believes we view design and planning 'top down', from a helicopter (or, these days, satellite imagery). He believes cities really 'work', when people design things from the point of view of a person on the ground, not from the sky. He makes this point, and many more, in this 30 minute video. His points are compelling, his passion real. We can likely all agree that more time spent wandering the streets of a place when planning for it always gives one a better feel for it, and ultimately a better design.

Either way, unless you've reached your Jan Gehl saturation point, check out the video here.

Why Build Skyscrapers At All?

The tower equals the floorspace all of the blocks on the left
This is why. More or less. As noted by, while skyscrapers instead of sprawl has some serious merit, you can lose the feeling of a well proportioned city vertically, just as we currently do horizontally. The urban morphology on display here is quite American, but the point is equally valid. The example also works equally well with say, an 8-10 storey building, as it does this tower.

There is quite literally an infinite amount of space vertically, and a very finite amount of space horizontally. Finding that balance is the job of planners.

Shipping Container Shopping Centre in Christchurch

Cashel Mall was destroyed in the devastating earthquake in Christchurch last February. Chirstchurchians have until now been doing without it while they focussed on rebuilding their lives and homes. Re:START is an organisation that decided it was time to get people shopping again, and so designed and built a 'mall' out of shipping containers while the mall proper is rebuilt.

Anyway, it looks fantastic, its a great solution in a hard situation and I love the whole concept.

Check out more at the Re:START website here:

Check out a sweet time-lapse of the construction below:

And read an article on the whole thing here.

The Shaky Return of Swanston Street

Following what seemed like a really long construction process for a roadway, Swanston Street between LaTrobe and Lonsdale has emerged from its cocoon into a big beautiful butterfly...or has it.

First, let me go on record to say that I made this call years ago: Bikes and pedestrians don't generally mix well. Swanston Street is a crucial north south connection for cyclists. The bike paths of the northern cycle-heavy 'burbs of Brunswick, Carlton, Fitzroy, Clifton Hill and Coburg all funnel into Swanston Street. It's one of the view safe (ish) ways to cross the Yarra as a cyclist, and its the most direct route. With that said, the concept of upgrading Swanston Street for cycle and tram priority sounded great when it was announced years ago (following old man Doyle's backflip on the issue).

But the chosen option seems almost to encourage pedestrian cycle clashes. It blurs the line between road/cycle lane and footpath and forces cyclists to slow down completely and pedestrians to not know if they are standing on bike lane, road, footpath or tram stop.

The Age is going to town on the whole issue and for some absurd reason I can't help but feel sorry for Doyle.

People need to understand that Swanston Street to cyclists is a freeway. It's not ever going to be a slow moving thoroughfare, its a commuter backbone as important to cyclists as the Eastern Freeway is to car drivers.

Modern Home Designs in the Spotlight

There's been some interesting chatter about home designs lately, with this article in The Age featuring the Grattan Institutes call for a modern day 'Small Home Service':

A modern-day version of the service, the Institute proposes, would create a think tank of architects, builders and planners to produce innovative designs for Australia's builder-developers. "This will bring together expertise from different groups," the report said, "enabling them to share innovations and to pool resources, further reducing the risk and expenditure of innovating."
And another issue, the affects of overshadowing on the booming solar trade being looked at here in this article in the Age, which notes:

More and more people are installing solar panels and solar hot water systems, growing their own vegies and adapting their houses for passive solar gain. But as they do so, they may find their desire for direct sunlight overshadowed by bigger buildings next door.

Kim Dovey, professor of architecture and urban design at The University of Melbourne, says the right to sunlight is a growing issue. 
But for a little inspiration, how would you feel about some of these ultra-modern homes in your street.

Podium Car Parking That Doesn't Suck

The apartment boom in Melbourne, and undoubtedly many other cities around the world, are frequently tossing up the same design problems. One of these issues is that it's not always possible to underground the whole car park required for the development. As a result, we're seeing above ground podium parking dominate the first few visible floors of new residential towers.

One solution that's a favourite of urban designers is 'sleeving', the act of putting a strip, or sleeve, of apartments in front of the car park at the street frontage, thus creating the illusion that there is no parking at all. However, in practice, this only works on large sites of the correct shape, and can be overly costly for the developer.

The second, and far more common option is simply making the podium look good anyway. This is of course entirely subjective, and arguably isn't always achieved.

ArchDaily reports on a development in China, a 28 storey mixed use building, that does a pretty good job of covering the parking podium with greenery in a sleek setting.

Read the full story and see some pics here.

Have you seen other places where parking has been well hidden?

GAA Releases Growth Corridor Plans

Melbourne has a serious obesity problem
It was back during the last Governments reign that the growth "boundary" was once again pushed outward, but at the time there was no detail about what was going to happen inside this new "boundary". Well the GAA have been busy little bees in the intervening time and have produced four truly epic plans for the West, North, South East and Sunbury areas, as well as the obligatory accompanying document about how amazingly "sustainable" and awesome they'll be. No mention of how the public transport network will cope when petrol hits 5 dollars a litre.

Specifically, links to the four PDF plans are:

The Dutch Know How to Roll

Have a watch of this great video on the history, present and future of cycling in the Netherlands.

Who else wants to see Australian cities head in this direction? Would you really prefer to be stuck in traffic every morning?

Will Solar Hit Grid Price Parity With Coal Sooner Than We Think?

Paul Krugman at the NYT says yes, we will, and very soon. He argues that the only reason we aren't gearing up to shift our power base away from the heavy polluting coal and gas is simply a case of big polluters corporate influence in politics in the USA. He looks at fracking, the highly controversial method of extracting fossil fuels via the injection of high-pressure fluid deep underground, and explains that this method is simply an absurd option when compared with solar.

In fact, progress in solar panels has been so dramatic and sustained that, as a blog post at Scientific American put it, “there’s now frequent talk of a ‘Moore’s law’ in solar energy,” with prices adjusted for inflation falling around 7 percent a year.
This has already led to rapid growth in solar installations, but even more change may be just around the corner. If the downward trend continues — and if anything it seems to be accelerating — we’re just a few years from the point at which electricity from solar panels becomes cheaper than electricity generated by burning coal. 
And if we priced coal-fired power right, taking into account the huge health and other costs it imposes, it’s likely that we would already have passed that tipping point.
But will our political system delay the energy transformation now within reach?

A similar situation to America exists in Australia. The conservative powers are attempting to get fracking happening as other coal sources max out, while the potential of solar gets ignored. Will the recently approved carbon tax give solar a bump into mainstream base-load power, will it even need to?

A Case Study in Fixing a Cul-de-Sac

cul de sac1 What to do with a cul de sac?
This article by Eric Brown at New Urbanism Blog explains how his firm was commissioned to 'fix' a cul-de-sac. To turn it into something a little bit more usable for those that aren't on four wheels. The technique, he explains, is thus:
1.  Make a place beautiful.  Places that are not visually appealing are not valued as highly as other places.  Here we add a squared up center green with a large oak tree planting (and other small details such as lighting etc.)
2. Define the place (space): A place must be defined or enclosed in some manner.  Here we focus moving the building form and mass around to create walls for our new space.  It’s the same number of houses, but they are moved around to create something of value.
3. Approach of the space:  This is the one that most designers overlook.  Every interesting space has some type of approach to it.  Here we use a row of palmetto trees to create a tighter street section and rhythm that then opens up to the main space.
cul de sac2 What to do with a cul de sac?cul de sac4 What to do with a cul de sac?

And an alternative:
cul de sac5 What to do with a cul de sac?

Read on here.

Small Site, Unique Design, Big Usability

Tokyo is famous for its unique architectural styles, and efficient use of minimum space. This house is a perfect example of both. The absolutely tiny site area of 29sqm (that's smaller than a new studio apartment in Melbourne) and the triangular shape gave the architect -  Mizuishi Architect Atelier - some serious challenges. The result is fantastic, and perhaps an example of how we can live tightly into the future without compromising internal amenity. 

Read more and see heaps more pictures at here.

UN Human Development Index 2011 Puts Australia Second, Norway First, Again

With no change from 2010, Australia remains the second most "liveable" country on earth under the UN's widely regarded Human Development Index. Norway slipped in front of us, as it did last year. Holding us back from the top spot is our lower average income, and fairly bad income equality. Maybe if we let the Occupy protesters gain a little traction we can take out 2012?

Australians are not a particularly equal society (Norway's income distribution puts us in the shade) and far from impressive when it comes to equality of the sexes. On gender equality Australia is the 18th-ranked nation in the world; Sweden is No. 1

You can read more at this Age article, or just hit up wikipedia for the the sexy graphs and tabulated goodness.

Plantastic Wins Planning Award!

A belated thank you to all involved: PIA, Judges, Sponsors, Readers, Attendees! 

Expect more stories and more regular updates to the blog in future! See the list of all the worthy winners here.

Population 7 Billion

The Atlantic brings this stunning photo set of our worlds booming population. Photos from around the world that are personal, natural, cities, roads, life, death, everything. Sometime around about now the population ticks over from 6,999,999,999 to 7,000,000,000 as one old dying person is replaced by slightly more than one screaming baby. Chances are, that baby will be born somewhere in China or India, as those two nations lead the procreation charge.

Should we ease up a little? Can Earth sustain more people? Can Earth sustain the current population?

It's worth noting that this growth is largely driven by developing nations. As nations achieve "first world" lifestyles and social orders, growth rates tend to invert (like Australia - we would be declining if not for immigration). Perhaps that means we will top out one day?

Anyway, just look at the pretty pictures already.