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

Plan Melbourne a Missed Opportunity?

Earlier this month, the Victorian State Government's long awaited Metro Planning Strategy 'Plan Melbourne' was released. This follows on from the discussion paper (written up here) released in October last year. This MPS seeks to provide a strategic direction for Melbourne to 2050.

The Plan has its own summary document, and there's also a nice summary from Tract here, so I won't go over it again.  I've picked out a few points from the MPS to discuss below (pretty much skewed towards my interests - so not a lot on freight and economic clustering, which takes up a fair chunk of the document).

On the plus side, the idea of breaking the Melbourne metro area into subregions to get better integration and collaboration between stakeholders is a good one.  I'm glad there's a fixed urban growth boundary (though how fixed we'll see).  I like the 'toning down' of the activity centre hierarchy into Metropolitan Activity Centres and Activity Centres (were Principal Activity Centres so much different from Major Activity Centres anyway?).  The newly created Metropolitan Planning Authority also seems like a step in the right direction in terms of finding a scale to address metropolitan issues - though I really hope that this opportunity is realised.  With details still not clear about who will be on the board, and what they are mandated to do, there are concerns that the MPA could be pretty tokenistic.

Now, onto the beefs.  Generally, Plan Melbourne has fallen short of providing the brave leadership that is needed to guide our city to a more environmentally, socially and economically sustainable future.  I mean, this plan is looking to 2050 - so we should have something amazing to aim for.

The overarching vision of the MPS is that "Melbourne will be a global city of opportunity and choice".  That sounds fair enough, though it is so vague, how could it not be?  The tone of Plan Melbourne is often vague. There are not enough specifics, not enough tangible targets included.  I've previously written about Sustainable DC - a strategy for Washington DC that I liked for it's gutsy goals, supported by detailed actions.  It had tangible targets, for instance, like cutting citywide obesity by 50% by 2032, supported by staged actions that had funding commitments.  Copenhagen 2025 has the specific goal of being carbon neutral by 2025.  Now that is amazing.

Plan Melbourne seeks to facilitate the supply of more affordable housing.  However, there are no specific goals, and only limited mechanisms to achieve this.  Inclusionary zoning is certainly not on the table. Affordability is proposed to be addressed in the MPS by promoting development in either the growth areas (where the cost of living is high due to transport costs) or selected medium-high density areas.  It is hard to see how this will address the supply of more affordable housing.  It also does not bode well for diversity, despite the discourse of 'choice' being a central theme throughout the Plan.  It seems as though there is no middle ground; development will be either in the form of detached housing in existing established suburbs, or higher density buildings in identified renewal precincts (such as Fishermans Bend, Cremorne, East Werribee, Jewell and Ringwood to name a few).

Plan Melbourne also fails to provide any realistic indication that public transport is a priority, other than the Melbourne Metro proposed to commence in the medium term.  Whilst we can 'move towards' more public transport infrastructure, the East West Link is assured, and will soak up Melbourne's infrastructure funding for the foreseeable future.  Carolyn Whitzman puts it well in her article published in The Age over the weekend:

If you argue that a shift to more active and sustainable transport - walking, cycling and public transport - is both inevitable and desirable, you might not want to have as your first transport priority a downtown highway that will do nothing to relieve congestion in the outer suburbs that need help most. Mind you, this is a plan that argues that it would be easier and more sensible to build a third airport than build a rail line to the two airports that already exist (read on here).
Whilst on transport, acknowledging the potential of buses is a serious omission from Plan Melbourne.  Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) was mentioned in the discussion paper, but disappears from the MPS.  What a shame to miss out on an opportunity to provide infrastructure that is more environmentally friendly, encourages people to walk more and that is also cheaper to build.

Plan Melbourne also misses the opportunity to really put environmental sustainability on the agenda.  It seems the main mechanisms to address this is to locate housing close to transport and services (though this could be difficult given the new residential zones, particularly in the style that Boroondara and Glen Eira have applied them), and improving water management.  I was hoping to see more regarding climate change mitigation (climate change is mentioned, though hardly at all - you would never have guessed it is a serious issue).  Where are the goals for green buildings, energy and infrastructure? Sustainable DC has a target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50%, and lists departments and organisations responsible for making it happen, along with specific actions.  Why can't we commit to an ambitious goal like this?

Overall, it seems as though there are some good ideas in Plan Melbourne (and there ought to be with some of the best planning brains in Melbourne contributing).  However, I get a sense that this plan has been watered down to the point that it does not make the most of this opportunity to set the direction for Melbourne for the next 40 years.  It will likely result in a continuation of the status quo and it does not 'try' hard enough to get tangible outcomes that will make Melbourne a fairer, more sustainable city - and that is a shame.

However, this is meant to be a draft MPS (though you would never have guessed it by reading it - it doesn't say draft anywhere, and it is polished to the nines!).  So the good news is there is time to have your say.  You can make a submission up to 6 December, so if you've got something to say, don't miss out.

Click here to download Plan Melbourne.
Click here for Carolyn Whitzman's article in The Age, and read on for a critique of Plan Melbourne by Michael Buxton.

Open Source Tech Putting Slums on the Map

A recent study has shown how open source technology was used as a key part of slum upgrading in Kibera, Kenya.

The site MapKibera provides a digital platform for residents to provide information about their community. They share local news, allowing their perspective to be shared online.  Mapping teams map local amenities and resources, shedding light on infrastructure in the area.  According to MapKibera's website:

Kibera in Nairobi, Kenya, was a blank spot on the map until November 2009, when young Kiberans created the first free and open digital map of their own community. Map Kibera has now grown into a complete interactive community information project.
This effort is the first-ever digital base map of the community.  With all parts of the slum mapped out, Kibera was no longer invisible. And don't underestimate the power of a good map! Planetizen points out that John Snow’s map of cholera deaths in 1850s London helped change the practice of city planning, which long considered those communities too chaotic to handle.

Other open source technologies, such as 'Voice of Kibera', (a citizen-reporting site) enables residents to report happenings in the community by SMS and another program recruits residents to monitor the progress of infrastructure projects.

What I like about these initiatives is that they are driven by locals.  It highlights awareness of local issues.  Whilst identifying the problem is only the beginning (we haven't even begun to look at addressing anything), it is an important first step, and shows how open source tech can give a voice to marginalised citiznes.
Read on here at Planetizen, or go straight to MapKibera or Voice of Kibera.

Tools to Redesign a Street Yourself

I've just spent the last 10 mins playing with this site 'blockee' to redesign Albert Road (outside the DLA office), the way I like.  Was pretty fun, so give it a try.

All you do is select an image from streetview (or load anything you like), then use the tool to add features to the street, such as street furniture, infrastructure and other activities.  Be patient with the toggle to select different features - this took a while to kick in, and only seemed to come up with features every second click, but there were heaps of different things to add.

As you can see, I've added a bike lane, solar panels, zebra crossing, bike parking, fruit and veg cart and free wifi to my street... yeah!

It's great to visualise these infrastructure upgrades and amenities in a street I'm familiar with - and that's what I love about this tool.  It's great to put the user in the drivers seat.  If more people became familiar with tools like this, and thought more about local street upgrades, who knows, might even result in some actual street upgrades.

Play here, and read on at Gizmodo.

Planning for Pedestrians Makes Dollars and Sense

Pedestrians are just great.  Compared to people who drive to the shops, pedestrians are more environmentally friendly, healthy, add to vibrancy, interest, safety, social capital... AND recent studies confirm - cold hard cash.

Here's why walkers (and streets that encourage them) are awesome from an economic perspective:

  • Making streets better for walking can boost trading by as much as 40%
  • Can raise retail rents by up to 20%
  • Pedestrians spend more than drivers - up to 6 times more (in London, this was measured to be 147 pounds more per month).
Did you also know that retailers overestimate the frequency of customers that drive versus those that walk (sometimes by up to 100%)? This shows a need to bring people who walk to shops (not drive) more into public consciousness.  Encouraging pedestrian shoppers and the economic benefits they bring is more important than ever now, given recent rumblings of decline from some in the retail sector.

The report concludes that:

  • High street decline appears to be a continuing trend.  Investments in walking in public realm make economic sense and are likely to pay for themselves in the long-run. 
  • Consumers have a willingness to pay for local environmental improvements, so ways should be explored to take advantage of that to help raise revenue for these investments.
  •  Public realm interventions should be carefully designed to ensure that local people – as well as the high street - benefit from them.
  • High property prices can also have a downside, potentially restricting local access to home ownership and reducing retail diversity, as smaller businesses are priced out of the market. This should be borne in mind in designing public realm improvement projects to ensure that that high street and residential diversity is promoted.
Whilst the notion that great public spaces, and pedestrian friendly streets are good for business is already established, it's nice to see some case studies documenting the benefits with a bit of rigour.  There are also studies making the same link with bikes (yay).

Read on at Rudinet, or read the study in full here.

New Rez Zones: More Councils Show their Cards

A few more Councils (Boroondara, Moreland and Stonnington) have shown their cards regarding their application of the new suite of residential zones since I last discussed what went down in Glen Eira.

As mentioned in the previous post, Glen Eira's implementation of the new zones has placed 78% of the municipality in the NRZ zone, limiting these areas to no more than 2 dwellings on a lot, and an 8m height limit. The implementation was based on Glen Eira's change areas and diversity areas from strategic work undertaken almost a decade ago - you can see the map of the new zones in Glen Eira here.

Boroondara is basing their application of the new residential zones on a Neighbourhood Character Study that has not been scrutinised at panels, nor been formally exhibited. Broondara are zoning 80% of their residential land NRZ, with a smattering of GRZ (19%) and hardly any RGZ (1%, located predominantly along Riversdale Road west of Camberwell Junction). The schedule to the GRZ is proposed to be varied to include a 10.5m mandatory height limit, increased boundary setbacks and minimum private open space provisions.

Stonnington and Moreland are taking their draft residential zones to the community for consultation.

Stonnington’s draft application of the zones includes RGZ predominantly along arterial roads that are on the Principal Public Transport Network (PPTN). The GRZ and the NRZ appear to be well balanced throughout the municipality. Most NRZ areas are also protected by heritage overlays, neighbourhood character overlays or proposed neighbourhood character overlays.

Moreland’s draft application of the zones proposes spheres of RGZ within 400m of activity centres (including potential neighbourhood activity centres) and most train stations. GRZ is generally proposed around the perimeter of these RGZ 400-800m of activity centres and most train stations. The remaining residential hinterland, and some areas in the south of the municipality are zoned NRZ.

Both Moreland and Stonnington have applied the zones more or less as intended; with RGZ surrounding activity centres and transport corridors, NRZ in areas with character, environmental or heritage value, and GRZ elsewhere.

In contrast, both Glen Eira and Boroondara have applied the new zones conservatively, placing restrictions on development in the majority of the municipality, and providing very few opportunities for growth.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the high proportion of NRZ could limit diversity of the municipality outside of activity centres. Opportunities for low rise multi-dwelling development in residential areas that exist currently thanks to being well located to shops and services (and in keeping with the existing character) could be lost. For instance, there are areas in Glen Eira such as along Alma Road, that have an existing character including multi-dwelling development (low rise apartment blocks), and this is the form of development that will suffer. Under the new zones, remember only 2 dwellings are permitted on a lot, preventing low-rise multi-dwelling development in residential areas like this. It also shows that the point of the NRZ (to protect character) is not truly being achieved, because it prohibits what exists in the character of the area it seeks to protect. Low change does not always equal detached housing.

A more balanced approach, as demonstrated by Stonnington and Moreland, better reflects the intended objectives of the new residential zones.

Read more on this for StonningtonMoreland, Boroondara and Glen Eira