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

Crowd-sourcing: Making the Most of Vacant Spaces

Urban thinker Manu Fernandez has documented some really interesting examples of initiatives that aim to find, and utilise vacant spaces in cities.  Examples include 596 Acres in Brooklyn, Map 4 Emilia in Italy and 3 Space in the UK.  These initiatives rely on community input to document vacant spaces and connect them back to interested community groups.

The group 596 Acres gets its name from the number of acres of vacant land in Brooklyn - which is mostly government owned.  The initiative includes an interactive map of vacant land as well as posters advertised around the neighbourhoods.

What I really like about this project, is that is also includes information about who to contact about using the space.  Not only can you find this vacant space, but even acknowledging that there is someone to contact about it kind of invites you to think about how that space could otherwise be used, and how to start the process of making it happen.  This video includes a few examples of some residents who were encouraged by the posters to contact the owners of the vacant land, with the final result of a neighbourhood garden.  Lovely!

See Manu's article at Ciudades a Escala Humana here (don't worry it's in English).

Click here for a short video about 596 Acres, and here for more info on the project.

Flexible Neighbourhoods: Grattan Institute

The Grattan Institute's latest report 'Tomorrow's Suburbs: Building Flexible Neighbourhoods' released earlier this month highlights the need for greater flexibility in Australia's greenfield suburbs.

According to the report , our suburbs should be flexible to account for changing demographics, social trends and markets, as well as to allow for different housing preferences throughout one's lifespan.

The report explains that older parts of Australian cities have been highly flexible and adaptable thanks to a mix of land uses, diversity of buildings and good connectivity and transport options.  Our newest suburbs are not so lucky.  Greenfield areas are dominated by family-sized detached houses when they are first built, catering to current trends:

"Developers are understandably focussed on meeting the immediate needs and preferences of the new suburbs first residents"

However, these newer areas are the ones that struggle the most to adapt.

"Many of the types of land that changed use most often in the past are scarcer in new areas.  Further, residential land was far less likely to change than any other type of land except for cemeteries."

The report goes on to say that this uniformity and lack of flexible spaces makes regeneration and renewal difficult, captures only a small portion of the real estate market and can result in a mismatch between housing type and housing needs.  Furthermore, it can fail to attract new residents, shops and businesses.

The report contains several recommendations for enhancing flexibility, adaptability and resilience in our suburbs.  It focusses on street level activity, diverse businesses and services and buildings that can be adapted to new roles. The report recommends:
  • A joint sale option allowing owners to sell their land together.
  • Town centres that can grow and change surrounded by a variety of buildings that face the street.
  • A 15 year limit on restrictive covenants.
  • Broader, more mixed-use zones with regular reviews of zoning in cities.
  • New standards for connectivity based on how travel time to work, shops and services.  
This report raises several issues. Why is it acceptable that developers are "understandably" focussed on meeting immediate housing supply needs? The development of communities should go beyond just the delivery of housing. There is a social and community context here that seems to be all too often overlooked in our new suburbs. Should Local Councils do more to ensure community infrastructure and a range of more flexible spaces is delivered? Should developers be required to cater for a variety of different markets? Is there enough support from other levels of Government? And more importantly – how much, if any, influence will such research have on Melbourne's anticipated Metro Strategy?

You can download the report here, or check out more from the Grattan Institute here.

If you are keen to hear the Grattan authors discuss their report in Melbourne on October 9, see details here.

Trendy Airbags For Cyclists

 Now here's an image that made me chuckle - a neck scarf that converts into a helmet-like air bag.  Of course!

"Hövding is a bicycle helmet unlike any other currently on the market. It's ergonomic, it's practical, it complies with all the safety requirements, and it's also subtle and blends in with what else you are wearing."

This helmet is activated by sensors and takes 0.1 second to inflate.  According to its makers, " the airbag provides soft and effective shock absorption and maintains constant pressure for several seconds, making it able to withstand several impacts to the head in the same accident".

Well I'm not sure I'm totally sold on an inflatable helmet - no matter or chic or quick - however, I like to see interesting ideas like this for cyclists.  And hey, better an inflatable air-bag helmet than no helmet at all! 

Thanks Ian Cunningham of Engineers Without Borders for sending me this article.  Read on here.

Park(ing) Day 2012

Last Friday saw the 8th annual Park(ing) Day transform car parks into pocket parks in cities all over the world.  The initiative began in San Francisco in 2005, and in 2011, there were over 957 parks in 162 cities in 35 different countries.

Melbourne hosted several of these pint sized parks including a mini-garden outside the princes theatre staged by City of Melbourne and the Nursery and Garden Industry of Victoria, one in Russel Street from co-design handing out fruit from Ceres (both shown above) and one in South Melbourne by SJB (shown below) to name just a few examples.

Park(ing) is a pretty cool example of showing how spaces in our cities can be transformed, and tested for other uses and new ideas.  It also makes you think about how much space is devoted to parking cars, and what our cities would be like if that space was used for something else?  It was great to see people wander past with interest, and take a moment to experience something new in their city.

This image courtesy of SJB.  Copyright SJB.

For more info on Melbourne's involvement, click here and here.

To read more about Park(ing) day, click here.

Victorian Planning Documents - Find 'Em Here

Stephen Rowley (of Sterow fame - a blog on 'Film, Urban Planning, Etc') has put in the hard yards to create (and maintain) a comprehensive database of Victorian urban planning documents - one link to find them all!

The Victorian Planning History Database is updated regularly, and includes a huge range of planning docs old and new - a few things I had a peek at were 'Cutting the Red Tape: Recommended Actions for a Better Victorian Planning Scheme' from 2006 and the latest information on the Minister's new zones.  This is a wealth of planning policy information - and if you're looking for some specific policy - odds are you'll find it.

The database uses free reference software Zotero to store these docs, so you'll need to sign up - but don't be put off - the whole process took less than 5 mins, and that is 5 minutes you'll save trying to navigate through other websites to find what you're looking for.

Click here for more info.