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

Funding Infrastructure in Growth Areas

A few days ago, renowned urban planner Professor Roz Hansen wrote an article published in the age about the growing divide between established and growth suburbs in Melbourne.  

Professor Hansen discusses the gulf between established and growth suburbs in terms of amenities and services available, lifestyle options, jobs and housing, with fewer options available in outer suburbs.  Transport (in particular car dependence) and lack of affordable housing are mentioned as two key factors that are compounding issues of social inequalities in Melbourne between inner, middle and outer areas.  Inadequate social infrastructure is also a problem.

According to Professor Hansen, Melbourne is at a critical point in terms of setting the direction for the future of Melbourne, and our city's ability to remain the 'Liveable' city it is claimed to be, and this article comes at a time where State government is preparing the latest Metro Strategy (for which Professor Hansen is head of the Ministerial Advisory Committee).

How can Melbourne address this growing divide?  Infrastructure (particularly public transport) is massively expensive, and our habit of encouraging sprawling suburbs is still going strong - so how can we fund infrastructure that is needed in these growth areas to limit inequality in our city?

Professor Hansen suggests a levy for all Melburnians:
"Perhaps it is also time that all Melburnians assisted in the funding of essential urban infrastructure in the urban growth areas through a Melbourne metropolitan levy tied to specific projects."
"A new payment would need to be charged annually to all property owners and the basis of the amount to be paid would need to be carefully determined to ensure fairness and equity. Such a levy would be tied to agreed projects and timelines for delivery of those projects in collaboration with local government and other relevant agencies...It might be a hard sell politically, but it is about sharing the benefits and the responsibilities of implementing the strategy."
 This is an interesting idea that seeks to share the cost of infrastructure.

Seems to me that the levy to provide infrastructure in growth areas may be worth it if it can prevent some of the social problems arising from an increasingly divided city.  But are we the ones who should be paying for this?  Are those in inner/middle Melbourne paying enough already through higher rents and housing prices?  Is it simply a matter of you get what you pay for and is that fair?

What do you think?

Read the article here.

Tiny Apartments to Meet Affordable Housing Challenge?

Blogger Nathan Hurst explores San Francisco's approval for a batch of 20m2 'micro apartments', which primarily target single occupiers working in the Silicon Valley.

According to the article:

"Depending on your perspective, the tiny living spaces are either a much-needed option for single people crushed by climbing rents, or community-destroying crash pads for young techie weekenders. Either way, the competition is fierce for creative floor-plan designs that do more with much, much less."

It is hoped that these tiny apartments will address the housing shortage in San Francisco and provide some more affordable housing options.

“We need to create more affordable housing in the city, we need to create more housing generally... we’ve never created enough in the city, and we’re paying the price for that now with incredibly high prices.”
Yep, these apartments are tiny, and allow for the necessary stuff (bed, couch, kitchen, bathroom), but putting amenity aside,will these microapartments actually do much to address affordable housing?  Supporters will be saying that more housing and more diversity of housing may allow singles an opportunity to enter a market which they would otherwise find prohibitably expensive, but what about low income families? What about housing for people on incomes too low to afford any housing at all (including these microapartments)? 

At the end of the day, while some singles might find themselves happy with their microapartments, I think it seems unlikely that apartments like this will correlate with better housing affordability overall.  What do you think?  Do you think this would be an option in Melbourne? How do you think this relates to Melbourne's development focus in renewal areas on smaller apartments?

Read on.

Citizens to the Rescue: Safer Streets for Pedestrians and Bikes in Mexico

A group of citizens in Mexico City were fed up with the lack of safe pedestrian walkways and bike pathts, and decided to take matters into their own hands, with positive results.

The folk in El Puente district of Mexico City began painting footpaths and bike lanes in areas designated for cars.  Whilst the traffic respected these newly created lanes, others did not.  As their efforts were erased, they got more vocal, more bold and began expanding their activities.  So far, they've had a few wins, including a 5km bike lane leading to the Congress building, that is well used, and also symbolic in its location, drawing political attention towards the issue of safety and accessibility for pedestrians and bikes in the city.

The inititative is called 'Camina Haz Ciudad' - Walk (re)make your city.  As discussed on 'This Big City':

"The idea is to make people aware pedestrians exist...A lot of people got involved in the process, people of different ages and professional backgrounds. These type of interventions are ephemeral but the sense of empowerment, the process of remaking our city with creativity and passion is also important. It’s worth doing, even if it may not have the permanence of other infrastructure developments. "

The group used crowdsourcing (such as sites like kickstarter) to fund their work, and use social media to rally the troops.

Like so many examples of community based 'pop up' planning, ventures such as this are one way for communities to draw attention to a particular urban issue, and to trial an idea to see how it might work.  I wonder what would happen if someone tried this out in Melbourne - would chaos ensue?  Would cars just ignore it?  Would people actually use the makeshaft lanes?

Read on here or watch a video and read more here (although this one is in Spanish).

A Frequency Map of Melbourne's PT

 Human Transit blog has posted  a map by Campbell Wright showing frequencies of public transport in Melbourne between business hours.

A number of observations are made on the blog, but there's no surprises here:
  • Cross town travel is difficult, with few connections between different parts of the city.
  • Parts of Melbourne that could support high frequency crosstown service, like the inner north, or the Port Melbourne-St Kilda corridor don't have as much as they should.
  • Outer areas have much less than inner (and lower frequencies).

This map is also useful just as a transport map in Melbourne - it's hard to find a map that shows all train, tram and bus networks at once.  It would be nice to see this map overlaid with population densities to see how it correlates with where people live.

Read on, and view the map.

Thanks William Lai (Geografia) for sharing this.

'Futuristic' Architecture: Top Ten Examples

If funky architecture is your thing, then check out these designs.  Blogger Jamie Frater has put together a list of his Top 10 futuristic examples of architecture.

Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

Dragonfly, concept for NY

Nuragic and Contemporary Art Museum, Sardinia

The Top 10 buildings are:

1. Dragonfly (concept designed for New York) wing shaped vertical urban farm.

2. Lilypad (concept) A floating mini city capable of accommodating 50,000 at sea.

3. Gardens by the Bay (complete, Singapore) parks and gardens including some large bloom like structures towering above actual trees.

4. Beijing International Airport (complete, Beijing) terminal 3 is the highlight, looks pretty smooth.

5. Nexus Media Centre (concept, UAE) primarily for data storage, kind of resembles an insect in appearance (clearly not my favourite)

6. Songjiang Hotel (concept, Songjiang) hotel with giant lagoon.

7. Crescent Moon Tower (concept, Dubai) self explanatory really.

8. Hangzhou Waves (in progress, Hangzhou)

9. Nuragic and Contemporary Art Museum (in progress, Sardinia)

10. Khat Shatyr (complete, Astana) Entertainment centre in Kazakhstan.

Many of these are still in the making (or still at the design stage), but some are complete.  What do you think?  Would you marvel at one of these in your city or would you gasp in horror?

Read on

Thanks Rupe for sending this through!

Melbourne, Let's Talk About the Future: Metro Strategy Discussion Paper

Recently, the Minister for Planning released a discussion paper for the Melbourne Metro Strategy, titled 'Melbourne, let's talk about the future'.  Yes- let's.

The report identifies key issues based on nine principles.  The first five relate to 'what we want to achieve':
  • A distinctive Melbourne
  • A globally connected Melbourne
  • Social and economic participation
  • Strong communities
  • Environmental resilience
The next two principles highlight what needs to change:
  • A polycentric city linked to regional cities
  • Living locally - A 20 minute city
The last two principles are about making it happen:
  • Infrastructure investment that supports city growth
  • Leadership and partnership

Some interesting things I noticed in the Paper are the transfer of focus for activity centres from retail activity to jobs, a greater focus on opportunities in inner and middle Melbourne, emphasising a green belt as opposed to green wedges and moving away from regulation to achieve planning outcomes- instead focusing on infrastructure and investment.  I also quite like the 20 minute city thing - supporting a range of amenities, services and opportunities within 20 minutes range throughout Melbourne.

Urbanist blogger Alan Davies has posted his take on the strategy, which he regards as pretty good, but not good enough:
"To my mind the document is a bit like coffee. The aroma is rich, warm and inviting, but the taste doesn’t quite live up to the promise.... It could’ve and should’ve been better."
"To add real value, a discussion paper should help with understanding the underlying causes of problems.  It should canvass the complex trade-offs and costs involved in addressing each one, as well as the consequential ‘downstream’ impacts on other objectives. It should provide meaningful data and evidence to explain problems and analyse the range of possible solutions."

This new strategy provides a rare opportunity to really improve our city and re-evaluate city planning.  Let's hope it's made the most of.

Does this discussion paper say anything we didn't expect it to say? The report includes plenty of points that you can't help but agree with - who doesn't want environmental resilience, economic opportunities and strong communities?  Isn't this what we've been saying in previous strategies? Why (and how) is it going to work better this time? This report is presently just a tool for discussion - I'm looking forward to the draft strategy to find out.

See a previous plantastic post about metro strategies here.

What do you think?  You have a chance to have your say.  Put in a submission, comment on an online forum, or sign up to Metro Strategy events here.  Have a read of the paper here.  See Alan Davies' post here.

Also, comment below, or drop me a line at if you have any thoughts about this discussion paper (or about what you want from a metro strategy) that can be discussed at one of the round table forums that a few of us lucky Melbourne uni students are attending on Tuesday.

Creative Pragmatism: A Challenge to Planning in Melbourne

DLA Planner Max Walton asks do planners have to be more pragmatic about development? Do we have the necessary skills to negotiate desired outcomes? Is there a need for a paradigm mindset shift away from ‘development control’ to ‘development facilitation’?

Creative Pragmatism: A challenge to planning in Melbourne

Max Walton

So for the second year running Melbourne has taken the title as the world's most liveable city. The Economist Intelligence Unit, which measures cities against a number of criteria including healthcare, education, infrastructure, culture and crime, places Melbourne ahead of cities such as Vienna, Vancouver and Sydney. However, staying at the top of the 'liveability' tree will require a shift in the state of mind of planners and designers alike. It will need a more creative approach to development from all sectors of the industry.

Concentrating development around centres and public transport nodes is a sound basis for strategic planning in Melbourne. The tough question is how this can be done while keeping the valued character and amenity that has made Melbourne such a desirable place to live. Housing people within the existing urban fabric and dealing with ever-changing pressures in population, the environment and infrastructure will require a certain degree of 'creative pragmatism' - simultaneously thinking inside and outside the box.

The concept of creative thinking is not a new one. The writings of Charles Landry illustrate the need to embed a ’culture of creativity’ in the way organisations, planners and designers operate.

In its Cultural Place-Making Strategy, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, London is seeking to place culture and creativity at the heart of its planning projects. Beyond embracing culture as an important element of place-making, the Council is hopeful that its Strategy will put creative thinking at the forefront of its planning and development.

Kensington and Chelsea are doing more than just building cheap studio space for artists and graphic designers. Intrinsic within the document is the desire to engrain a new creative direction within their planning processes. Their intention is not to prescribe overly detailed guidelines and rules; instead, they are looking to facilitate developers, architects, designers and artists to think imaginatively about development. They are seeking to 'broker' relationships between the development and creative industries and the local community. Council’s intention is to encourage a more collaborative approach to master plans and development proposals.

Such a stance raises questions around current planning practices in Victoria. Do planners have to be more pragmatic about development? Do we have the necessary skills to negotiate desired outcomes? Is there a need for a paradigm mindset shift away from ‘development control’ to ‘development facilitation’?

After all, a city is an evolving organism, and development and growth is somewhat inevitable. As planners, we need to be at the forefront of change proactively affecting it and negotiating outcomes that are desirable for communities as well as the development industry.

Current planning practices in Melbourne are widening the gap between the public and private sectors. The system has become worryingly adversarial. The number of VCAT hearings in relation to planning and the environment rose 13% between 2009-10 and 2010-11. Of the total number of applications 28% of them appealed a refusal. VCAT has become a second home to many of our pre-eminent planners, designers and lawyers. The ability to think creatively, within the realms of financial pragmatism and imperatives, can help us move away from this adversarial approach to planning.

The City of New York is another example of where a progressive planning department is actively facilitating change. Over the past ten years the Department of City Planning has shown what can be achieved by thinking creatively, pragmatically and positively.

The Department has not only thought about reshaping its urban spaces. It has also turned to new ways in which to work with their planning framework. They have actively re-zoned areas in all five boroughs, tweaked permitted building heights and offered incentives to developers in exchange for new parks. Importantly, the Department is working with communities to identify where there is opportunity for growth.

The High Line Linear Park, built on a derelict rail line elevated above the streets on Manhattan's West Side, has received worldwide acclaim. The Department’s role in facilitating this project expertly nurtured a community inspired idea. New planning tools including re-zoning and design controls sought to reinforce the existing built fabric and ensured the park benefits from access to sunlight and air. A new transfer mechanism enabled ‘lost’ property rights to be sold to other parts of the City, ensuring developer industry support.

The development industry in Melbourne also has a significant role to play. It is important for developers and their consultants to think more creatively and to gain a deeper understanding of the places where they wish to build. This requires an investment of time and commitment from developers, planners and designers. It also means being prepared to undertake meaningful engagement with the right members of the local community.

Recent research from Oliver Hume has highlighted an increase in the number of units being sold off-the-plan (Apartments – The Metropolitan Melbourne Apartment market June Quarter 2012). Whilst the intensity of development is not necessarily a bad thing it is interesting to note that only one in five new multi-unit developments have community facilities or amenities. The predominance of one and two bed properties aimed primarily at an investor market does little to create a mixed or balanced society.

The challenge being laid down by Kensington and Chelsea, to think more imaginatively about our developments is inspiring. And it is a challenge that both the public and private sectors in Melbourne should consider. The project examples in New York are proof that metropolitan planning departments, communities and the development industry can work together to achieve better outcomes for our city. They prove that it is not na├»ve to think that working together can unlock development potential and create quality places. It will take some courage and for some, it will need a change in their state of mind and approach. For others it won’t require too much change from their current practices. Likewise, some members of the development industry will need to acknowledge they have more of a duty to deliver quality products. Otherwise, Melbourne’s reign at the top of the liveability tree will be short lived.

100 Urban Trends: A Glossary

If you asked a whole lot of people what they thought were the hot topics in cities, what do you think they would say?  The BMW Guggenheim lab travelled to Berlin earlier this year, and ran a bunch of workshops based on this question.  Responses were used to form a 100 term glossary, which provides a nice little snapshot of trends (as well as a quick source of reference for the jargon that us planners are wont to throw around).

"Their definitions aim to document and take the 'temperature' of a particular time and place—Berlin in the summer of 2012—and to understand what city experts and non-experts alike gathered to discuss: what cities were, are, and can be."
Browsing through the glossary, it's really interesting to see the range of terminology that makes the cut; including familiar things like 'decentralisation' and 'crowdsourcing' through to terms I'm not so familiar with, like 'Disneyfication', 'hackerspace' and 'upcycling'.

The terms we use show where our interests are; it would be interesting to compare this data from Berlin with similar exercises in other cities.  I wonder what would make the list in Melbourne...

See the the glossary here.

Swimming the Next Form of Commuting?

Why catch the train when you can swim to work? Well that's what is being proposed as a concept  in part of Regent's Canal, London for the UK's Landscape Institute High Line competition - this idea from creators Alex Smith and David Lomax won 2nd prize (after the mushroom idea I wrote about last issue).

According to the article:

"The LidoLine would be a clean ‘basin’ inserted into the canal, allowing commuters to safely swim alongside boats separated by a three-layer membrane to filter the water."

"Like the tube, there would be a series of stations along route, where lockers and changing facilities would allow the amphibious commuter to change from speedo to suit, swimsuit to skirt, in time for their morning meeting."

Phew well that's one less thing to worry about - access to clothes.  That's if the icy London weather hasn't already put you off.  Apparently, the creators have thought about this, and propose that it be used as a fast ice skating track in winter (now this I would like to try, especially with some kind of hockey stick and a 'mighty ducks' vest).

Either way, I think this idea is pretty original, and I'm all in support of finding more options for active transport, so hey, worth a few minutes of consideration.  After all, it would also be kind of cool (literally) to get some swim training in on your daily commute!

Read more here.

Thanks to Teresa Qualtrough for sending this through.

Crossing the River a Hop, Skip and a Bounce

Paris will become an even funner city if plans to install a trampoline to cross the River Seine are actually put in place.

"Formed by three giant lifebuoy-like inflatable modules—30 meters in diameter—strung together by cord, the bridge is set to be located strategically in relation to the Eiffel Tower, so as to provide users with a unique view of the city."
What do you think? Harmless fun? Death trap? Only for tourists? I can see all angles, but if this popped up in Melbourne on the Yarra, I would definitely have a jump!

Read on here.

Billboards: Watch This Space

This idea to replace billboards with mini sky forests popped up on Kickstarter a few weeks back, and has also been discussed on planetizen.

According to its creators:
"UrbanAir transforms existing urban billboards to living, suspended bamboo gardens. Embedded with intelligent technology, UrbanAir becomes a global node - an open space in the urban skyline… An artwork, symbol, and instrument for a green future."

These bamboo gardens would also be used to monitor air quality, transmitting info via Wifi to whoever us interested.

Ok, so I think these would kind of look a little strange driving over the bolte bridge, but a splash of green has gotta look better than advertising, and if I was stuck in traffic I know I'd prefer to stare at bamboo trees than slogans.  I'm also quite impressed with the government in LA, who have already agreed to provide a billboard for a test run.  Good on them for testing out new ideas.

Read more on the kickstarter page here (including a video).