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

Housing, Boundaries and Cash for New Homes

Last Wednesday, the Herald Sun published an article reporting the Planning Minister's firmer stance on maintaining the Urban Growth Boundary of Melbourne. It states "Planning Minister Matthew Guy said Melbourne had reached its geographical limits and the days of expanding the urban growth boundary were over."

 Instead, the focus will shift to regional towns, with the minister claiming "Twenty years from now, if you want to live in a house-and-land-style market, that's going to be outside Melbourne" .  This is part of a push for Victoria to become a 'state of cities' rather than a 'city state'. Decentralisation is not new in Victoria.  But what will it accomplish this time?

With this stance on the UGB, it's also intended that "Melbourne will need to accommodate greater density in defined areas".  Yep, there you go - the 'd' word.  But how does this fit with yesterday's announcement that first home owners buying new homes will get a monetary bonus, whilst those buying established homes miss out?

Currently, the deal is First Home Buyers get $7,000 for both new and established homes.  As of July 1, those buying new homes will get $10,000 whilst the $7,000 currently offered for established homes will be scrapped (although stamp duty savings of up to 50% will be applied for all first home buyers).   

So essentially this is adding a $10,000 incentive to buy a new home.  Where are the new homes in Melbourne?  In the growth areas. Where are the jobs, services and infrastructure?  Not in growth areas (generally).  So it seems that this policy will likely encourage the sprawl that the Minister hopes to quell with his latest comments on the UGB.  It also goes against the objectives of the Metro Strategy which seek to realise potential in middle ring suburbs, and promote a '20 minute city'.

The justification for the incentive is more and cheaper housing - though this is not based on any evidence. The treasurer was quoted "Increasing the First Home Owner Grant on newly constructed properties and boosting the stamp duty concession will make the dreams of many young Victorians become a reality sooner".  Really? Is it really our dream to contribute to urban sprawl and the lifestyles that come with it?

Read the Herald Sun article about the UGB and decentralisation here.  Read more on the 'budget boost for new homes' here.

Thanks Adam Rossimel (Harlock Jackson) for sending through the Herald Sun article!

Share the (urban) Love

Pop-Up City shares 3 examples of inspiring urban sharing projects.  Share the love!

Pop up seed sharing stations are the latest venture to gain popularity in the USA and Canada.  These stations encourage the community to exchange seeds and gardening know-how with each other.  'Eating in Public' also provide info about how to set up your own one of these models - anywhere.  Although I haven't seen any seed stations like those described in Melbourne, there are networks to swap seeds with others both online and at community gardens.  Wouldn't it be great to see more of seed stations around to encourage people to grow their own produce.

Tool sharing 'libraries' are not really new, however, they are getting more prevalent.  They also now offer more online interaction as well as face-to-face interaction between users, who can share their ideas as well as use the service for borrowing tools.  Melbourne actually has a tool library officially opening up this week in Brunswick, so check it out if you're a fan of DIY.

The last of the 3 featured examples of tactical urbanism is the Fruit Fence. These are basically clip on bags that hook to wire fences and form planters for fruit and veg (hooray more food!). They are meant to include self watering systems, though community care is proposed to be managed by twitter posts and sms. Given the planter's location on fences, these bags are claimed to be perfect for climbing plants like beans, peas and strawberries. According to 'pop up city' "the Fruit Fence planter bag encourages a sense ownership over cityspace, and shared responsibility for taking care of the city." And food.

Read more at Pop Up City.

Renew Australia Tackles the Docklands

The 'Renew Australia' model for urban renewal is cited as a success, particularly based on it's role in revitalising parts of Newcastle. But how will it work in  Melbourne's Docklands?

The Docklands receives a hefty amount of criticism, and is described as being uninviting and empty. Creative businesses are notably lacking in the area.  According to Marcus Westbury (founder of Renew Australia), there's a vicious cycle thing going on; "Nothing is there so no one goes there. No one goes there so no one wants to open anything there".

The Dockland Spaces project (a collaboration between Renew Australia, MAB, Places Victoria, and the City of Melbourne) is attempting to change this. The aim is "to create fertile ground for experiments and see what happens". Basically, they do this by negotiating with property owners of vacant spaces and matching them with local creative initiatives who will use the space for teensy tiny rents ($20 a week).

He explains, "We don’t actually set out to make the area “cool” or “hip” or whatever but to unpack the process and lower the barriers to entry so more people can try more things. We aim to make the place maleable and responsive to the initiative and experimentation of individuals or small groups who have imagination but have no capital."

So far, the Spaces project has a 3D Printing Studio on board, a bunch of young architects, and a place that produces organic picnic hampers.  Several other creative types are on the waiting list (artisans etc).

The premise behind this initiative is that the cheaper rents will entice unique, creative businesses, and each business will attract people, and those people will attract other people, eventually resulting in a vibrant, unique and interesting place (this is the case in Newcastle for instance, where Renew Australia was born).

I'm interested to see what eventuates from this.  Although there's just a few tenancies involved now, who knows what we could see down there if the project takes off?

Read more on the Spaces project here.

Read Renew Australia founder Marcus Westbury's blog post about it, or see more in The Age article.

Measuring a City's Potential for Social Interaction

There's been a few studies lately about access to fresh food, access to services and whatnot, but what about access to other people?

Well, 'access to people' is tricky (people move around after all) but this article on The Atlantic Cities explores how the potential for social interaction is constrained in cities and highlights some research that has created an indicator for 'social interaction potential'.

In a nutshell, this indicator was applied to the 42 largest regions in the USA, and it found that:
  • The factors that most constrain social interaction potential are decentralisation, fragmentation, and long travel.
  • Social contact opportunities are negatively affected by urban sprawl.
  • Decentralisation affects social interaction potential more than Fragmentation and Commute Duration
  • Intensification of land use through densification and infill will increase the potential for social interaction.
In an interview, one of the authors (Steven Farber) comments:

"If we build cities that isolate people, that don’t allow people to have social contact with one another, we’re at risk of people having lower levels of social capital, of people not being able to depend on their social networks for things"

What do you think? To what extent do you think the form of the city influences potential for social interaction? And what are the implications of less potential for social interaction in our busy lifestyles?

Read more at the Atlantic Cities here. Or check out the original research here.

A Neighbourhood So Exclusive it's Empty

This NY Times article describes the crazy expensive region of London, Belgravia, where despite containing thoroughly sought after property, no one is using it. "Almost no one seemed to be coming home. Perhaps half the windows were dark."
What has happened in Belgravia? Well this cartoon sums it up pretty simply; owners and tenants are displaced by 'international oligarchs who don't actually bother to live there'.  The properties are bought up by the mega rich, who have several other properties, so only live there some of the time, contributing to the emptiness of these areas.

What I think is interesting about this, is that is adds an extra step to the gentrification cycle - a transition from 'bankers' (read high socioeconomic status) to 'international oligarchs' (read international, super high socioeconomic status). It highlights a really strange scenario where the most sought after places to live can become places where people do not actually live.  Looks like such a swish area, with beautiful squares, close to parks, and a great central location - with so many underused properties, I wonder if anyone over that way needs a house sitter?

Read more here. See the cartoon here.

A Match Made in CitiNiche

'Who knows better what a residential development needs than its residents?'

This question underpins a new venture, CitiNiche, which aims to match people who share common interests and preferences firstly with each other, and also with a design team, to provide them more bespoke housing tailored to their needs.

The website explains:

"With large corporate developers increasingly dominating the property development industry, the range of living choices has become more generic, with little or no consultation of the individual (who ultimately funds construction) in the planning phase. CitiNiche helps you determine your housing, giving you an avenue to voice your ideas, so you can shape your life and the community you live in."

It does this through crowd-sourcing. The website invites people to join 'niches' with others who may have similar preferences, such as space for pets, an emphasis on urban agriculture, larger sized apartments, loft-style living and even an 'empty slate' option where you get simply a shell to customise later.  Or, you could start your own niche in whatever strikes your fancy (you could seriously have some fun with this!).

Once you've picked your niche, you can share ideas, which are followed by design teams.  When enough group members are on board (though no indication as to how many is 'enough'), they are invited to workshop their ideas together with potential designers.  If you're interested in progressing from that point, the cash comes into it - time to pay a 'small' refundable deposit.  Only once planning approval is in the bag is when you seriously have to reach into yours and commit.

So the residents get a tailored design solution, and the chance to more meaningfully participate in the design process, and the developers get something too - their market is already there, which reduces part of the risk of the development.

It'll be interesting to see how this gets going over here.  I really like the idea of being able to have a say in the kind of housing you want from the design stage - this idea does seem to depart from traditional development theories based on market projections, and I think this will encourage diversity and creativity if it takes off.  There's already a site marked out for potential development in the Docklands, so hopefully we can see how it progresses.

Thanks to Adam Smith from Harvest for the info. Read more about the project on the CitiNiche website.

Victoria's New Zones: An Update

Early last month, the Minster for Planning released an update to Victoria's reformed planning zones that were originally put forward in July 2012 (see Plantastic's earlier post here).  The updates to the zones occur following a 'detailed' consultation process, and recommendations from the Ministerial Advisory Council (a Coalition Government body).  These new zones are to be brought in on July 1 this year, and local governments will have a year to implement them.

I've already described each of the residential zones in the earlier post, so check back there for a description. Changes between the July version and the final March version for residential zones are summarised below:

Neighbourhood Residential Zone
  • Overall mandatory building height reduced from 9m to 8m or as specified in the schedule.
  • Stricter conditions for medical centres.
  • Neighbourhood character of single and double storey residential development is emphasised as a stated purpose of the zone.

General Residential Zone

  • Increased minimum lot size for as-of-right development of one dwelling from 200 to 300sqm.
  • Stricter conditions for as-of-right medical centres, though still permitted in the zone.
  • Neighbourhood character emphasised as a stated purpose of the zone.

Residential Growth Zone

  • Height increased from 12.5m to 13.5m or as specified in the schedule to the zone.
  • Increased minimum lot size for as-of-right development of one dwelling on a lot from 80 to 300sqm.
  • Small shops and food and drink premises allowed, but must be within 100m of a commercial zone or mixed use zone.
  • Offices of less than 250 sqm will be allowed where located within 100m of a commercial zone, though will require a permit.
  • Emphasises housing diversity, and provides for housing at increased densities of up to and including 4 storeys.

Changes are also proposed to the existing Mixed Use Zone, Township Zone and Low Density Residential Zone to align with the features of the new residential zones.

Another interesting change on the table summarising each zone (see page 3) is that the previous version required ResCode to apply for buildings up to 3 storeys in the Mixed Use and Residential Growth zones.  In the new version, this applies up to 4 storeys.

Some further detail is provided regarding implementation.  Draft criteria are proposed for testing where and why each zone should be applied, which includes things like neighbourhood character, housing strategies, land use, employment opportunities and access to services.

Read on for more about each zone, see the Miniter's response to the advisory committee report, and check out the committee report.

MicroMAX: A Compromise Between Private and Public Transport?

Rinspeed has devised this funky car design that is kind of a micro-mini bus, that according to one article  is "intended to merge personal and public transportation on a shared basis, like a cross between Smart's car2go and a minibus taxi".  This is specifically targeted to encourage ride sharing - which is where you hitch a ride with others as opposed to taking your own - a kind of private public transport.

The system is app-based.  Smart phones alert the car of others who want to go the same way; "think taxi, but personally owned and operated".

Ride sharing is pretty rare in Melbourne (or at least it seems that way to me), though crowd sourced ride sharing schemes are becoming more common, particularly in Europe (such as this one, but you'll need to translate it from German).  Ride-sharing seems like a good opportunity to get more cars off the road, and in places like Melbourne, it could work well - especially given that so many people go to similar places (centres such as the CBD).

As for the design, it looks pretty swish - sure, you kind of lean rather than sit, but these babies are equipped with a fridge and a coffee machine.  

However, the site cautions that this is more a conceptual design to inspire other solutions, rather than itself providing the answer to congestion in cities.

Read more at translogic, and at IOL.