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

Prototype Urban Innovations

This website includes a whole heap of innovative ideas for cities created by folk for U.P, a festival centred around 'place making through prototyping', including a competition for innovative urban ideas in San Francisco.

According to the U.P San Francisco website, "every project produced will be open source, publicly documented, and replicable in any city in the world".  Sounds good, so what did these crafty particpants come up with?  20 projects were short-listed.  Here's a few:

  • Clip and Slide - turn stairs into slides (that are somehow musical too?). Why walk when you can slide?
  • Street-Sensing - uses sensors to turn ordinary street lights into pollution measuring devices. Data can be shared online.
  • Shared Cinema - interactive public 'cinemas' where you can watch youtube videos, and sing along.
  • DIY Traffic Counter - Cheap and easy to set up, enables the average punter to collect data on bikes and cars going by.
  • Lemonopoly - a planting structure made for fences with web enabled sensors that help facilitate community care of public fruit trees.
  • PPPlanter - takes on the sensitive issue of public urination, offering mobile outlets, for ummm, outletting.  Incorporates a reconfigurable design with bio-filters for treatment.
  • Death of the Bench - Can a seating system be flexible and fixed at the same time? Kind of - this system provides a fixed platform for personally taking charge of your desired street furniture.
  • Instant (play)Ground - Temporary, portable pedestrian scale games for streets.  Seems a bit like hopscotch - but for everybody (not just kids). 

Whether or not any of these ideas will actually make it onto the street, who knows? Even if they don't, competitions like this are really good way to see what ideas people in the community can come up with - I'd certainly be keen to see something like this for Melbourne.  I also really like the interactive, digital components of these - keep the ideas flowing!

Read more about U.P here.

See all the shortlisted projects here.

What's Your Street's Personality?

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, USA have devised an algorithm to pick up on various elements that contribute to the character of streets using Google Streetview for data.

According to this 'american city' article, "using... Google Street View, the researchers developed an algorithm that detects elements, such as a window, column or balcony, that are both distinct and occur with regularity inside a city"

The software relies on elements that are frequent and distinct to decide what is representative of an area.

" Noting more than 250 million features in a dozen well-photographed cities, the researchers compiled a database that allows them to pick up on patterns that form a city’s architectural fabric"

The website also contains a neat video explaining the software, using it to define what characteristics make Paris, Paris.

I like how this software can pick up on these particular elements and use them for cross referencing. This allows for comparisons at various scales; street, city, country even at a continental scale (as shown in the  video ).  I wonder what the thresholds are - how often does an element need to be repeated to be representative?  I'd love to test out this software, if accurate (and sensitive) enough, it could potentially assist planners with neighbourhood character studies, otherwise at least it could provide an interesting tool to look at common architectural elements in your neighbourhood.

Read on here.  Click here to see the video.

Swanston Street: History Repeating

Movement, access and activation along Swanston Street have been recurring themes for Melbournians, but I didn't realise the 'to-ing and frowing' of pedestrianising the street went back this far.  This article from 1971 details plans for banning cars on Swanston Street from Flinders to La Trobe, even putting the trams underground.

The  article states that "under the scheme, Swanston Street would be a giant promenade with fountains, restaurants, trees and plazas".  

This reminds me of a scenario I heard of that occurred in 1985, where Swanston Street was closed and temporarily grassed for a weekend as part of the State of Victoria's 150th birthday celebrations.

This article in the Age from a while back had this to say about it:

"For a weekend in 1985, 11,000 square metres of grass was laid along Swanston Street from Flinders Street to La Trobe Street for Victoria's 150th birthday celebrations. The car-free experiment helped citizens see the city in a new way."

Although the street was closed to traffic in 1992, Robert Doyle sought to re-open it in 2008, later changing his mind.

I thought it was interesting to take a look back in time and see how long the debate over access, movement and activation in one of Melbourne's most prominent streets has been going for.  It's also interesting that some ideas tend be recurring; the idea of 'grassing' the street relates to current themes of 'pop up' planning, which seem to be all the rage (temporary parks, shops and food outlets), and lets hope we never stop experimenting with our urban environments.

Thanks to James Bryan (Mornington Peninsula Shire Council) for sending the 1971 article through, you can read it here

For more information on grassing Swanston Street, click here

Australia's Hippest Suburbs

The Urbanist examines a study by Urbis, nicknamed 'The Hip List' which picks out the 'hippest' suburbs in Australia.

According to the study, Melbourne's hippest suburbs include Brunswick, Brunswick East, Collingwood, West Melbourne, St Kilda, Travancore and Fitzroy.

The study used the suburbs of Redfern in Sydney and Collingwood in Melbourne as benchmarks and came up with a list of resident characteristics in these areas, which were used as measures of hipness elsewhere. Hip resident characteristics include high proportions of people who are:
  • Aged 20-39
  • Unmarried
  • Tertiary qualified 
  • No religion
  • Medium-high density housing
  • Don't live in families
  • Don't drive
These characteristics were measured for suburbs throughout Australia, and those scoring 10% or over for each of these criteria made the cut.

Does this mean you are inherently trendy if you tick all those boxes?  And if you are in one of these hip suburbs, would you be happy about that and rejoice in the presence of like minded people?  Or would this be a sure sign that your neighbourhood was in the process of losing the diversity and unique characteristics that attracted you there in the first place?

However you see it, this study can start some interesting conversations and get you thinking about where your favourite neighbourhoods are, and what it is you like about them.

See the urbanist for more details, or link to the urbis study here

Funky Phone Art

Even though the use of public phones has diminished since the rise of the mobile, they still have their place in the public realm - albeit a place marred with tagging, smashed glass and the stench of urine.  But not so in Sao Paulo;  here, the artists have taken over and decorated the phone booths of the city 'however they see fit'.

There's a range of 100 funky designs (which can all be seen here) and you can vote on your favourites.

This demonstrates a clever example of encouraging interactive art in the public realm that also makes phone booths just a bit more pleasant.  

Thanks Ben Daly for sending this article through.  Read on here, see more photos here.

Melbourne's Infrastructure Priorities

On Monday, the Premier released information detailing the Coalition Government's priorities for infrastructure in Victoria.  The Government promotes its $5.8 billion in spending for infrastructure, but what are we going to get for our dollars?

State Government is pushing for Commonwealth support for several projects:

  • East West Link - freeway connecting the Eastern Freeway to CityLink, Port of Melbourne and the Ring Road.
  • Melbourne Metro - 9km underground rail tunnel between South Kensington and South Yarra
  • Port of Hastings - new facilities for an international container port
  • Dandenong Rail Capacity Program - upgrades to the existing rail line
  • Western Interstate Freight Terminal - based at Truganina, linked to the interstate rail network
  • M80 Upgrade - Upgrades to the Ring Road between Laverton North and Greensborough
Further projects are promoted with Commonwealth support including the removal of level crossings, a rail link to Avalon (if only it were Tullamarine) and transport to growth areas (roads and public transport) to name a few.

Some other big projects that will continue in 'study' phases include the Doncaster, Rowville and Melbourne Airport Rail Link Studies.

It's great to see some highly anticipated public transport networks here; I'm particularly excited about the Melbourne Metro, but I'm not holding my breath.  Infrastructure is exorbitantly pricey and takes so long to begin (let alone complete!).  It is unclear which projects have priority and keep in mind that even though the State can commit some funds, this infrastructure wish-list is dependent on Commonwealth cash.

The list is also somewhat underwhelming in its emphasis on the same old 'more roads to ease congestion' approach.  Where is the commitment to bikes? What about bus rapid transit?

Overall, whilst the State Government's infrastructure priorities do include a range of rail initiatives, could more be done to genuinely promote sustainable transport?

Read the Premier's media release here.

Christchurch Has a Shiny New Plan

Christchurch City Council has recently released their 'Christchurch Central Recovery Plan', which details the city's plans to rebuild following the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes, with the hope that the city will be more vibrant, connected and sustainable than ever.

The  Recovery Plan  envisions that "Central Christchurch will become the thriving heart of an international city.  It will draw on its rich natural and cultural heritage, and the skills and passion of its people, to embrace opportunities for innovation and growth.  Redevelopment will acknowledge the past and the events that have shaped the city, while reflecting the best of the new."

The Plan also includes a number of objectives (that seem all to familiar to us Victorians) such as 'A green city', 'A prosperous city', 'A vibrant city' and 'An accessible city'.

Yep, that's nice.  But how - you may ask?  In short, the plan includes built form principles for the central city, identifies 17 strategic sites ('key anchor projects'), and several block plans for precincts within the central city.  They also get a new stadium, an earthquake memorial and cultural centre.

According to an article by Kurt Bayer in the NZ Herald, there were plenty of not-so-happy campers.  Most of the criticisms relate to the focus of the CBD for recovery over other areas, as well as implementation, with some questioning if the recovery would "actually happen".

"There were.. about 250 people attempting to disrupt the launch with a vocal protest outside the council building, with chants including, 'Fix our homes before the CBD".

Since the earthquakes, Christchurch has seen a surge of community interest in renewing local areas.  Some really innovative projects have popped up, such as those facilitated by Gapfiller (I love their Gap-golf and dance-o-mat), as well as the Shipping Container Mall.  Let's hope that this same sense of participation and innovation is harnessed for the Recovery Plan, and that it makes the most of the opportunity to (re)create a better Christchurch.

See the video here.  You can also read the beautifully presented report here.

Come Hang Out in my Sky Pool

So I don't actually have a sky pool, but if I did, it might look something like this.

According to The Age, the Parinee ISM development to be built in Mumbai (shown above) includes 64 infinity-edge pools.  With dimensions of 1.5m x 8m (and only 1m deep), they are really more like paddling pools, but still nice for lazing around in on a hot Summer's day.

I would however, have concerns about their safety (at a potential 140m high, you'd really want to have faith in the structural engineering - which someone described as 'possible in theory').  And then there's the cost - not only are these pools sky high, but so is the price thanks to the extra engineering required.  Lastly, Alan Davies recently wrote about the correlation between pools and extra energy use.

It's an interesting concept leading on from more traditional rooftop infinity pools (like the famous Marina Bay pool in Singapore), but at the end of the day, would you really want to play 'greatest catches' in this?

Read The Age article here, and see the development here.

Underneath the City

Infrastructure is increasingly going underground - water, power, sewerage and transport can all be found in the 'bowels of the city'.  New York is currently building the 2nd Avenue Subway, and this video provides a sneak peak about how this construction works, and what it looks like from below.

What lies beneath the city has always been a mystery to me, and so much of how our cities function is kind of taken for granted - it's a case of out of sight, out of mind - but all this stuff that happens underground is incredibly important. Take a minute and ponder, what happens when you turn on the tap, flush the toilet, or sit down on the city loop train once the doors have shut?  How do these services get here and what's involved in their construction?  That's what I like about this video - a window into the mystery that is 'the bowels of the city'.

See the video here.