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

Biophilia: This is not a music review

Although an outstanding musical project- in which the eccentric Icelandic artist Bjork explores and plays with the idea of interconnection between music, nature and technology - Biophilia finds its origin in a scientific concept brought to life by the American biologist Edward O. Wilson (also known for his work on ‘Biodiversity’).

Essentially, Edward O. Wilson suggests that human kind is intimately attached to other living systems but how does this love of living systems (literally) echo in our urban environment? Is its translation into derivatives like biophilic cities or biophilic urbanism only another unsuccessful attempt to resuscitate sustainable development? We could also ponder on the actual impact of the implementation of an urban forest strategy such as the one prepared by the City of Melbourne in an attempt to relocate the city within the forest rather that the forest in the city while ensuring that the municipality’s canopy cover continues to expand.

Is the greening of the city enough?

There are numerous acknowledged benefits to bringing nature to the cities from alleviating pollution, environment protection, and biodiversity conservation to reducing urban heat islands.

What distinguishes Biophilia from the traditional sustainability movement is its focus on reconnecting people to the nature. Or like others have put it: Biophilia is the missing puzzle of sustainable development which takes it a step further.

Cities worldwide are joining this new approach to urbanism and are providing remarkable examples of dense urban environment intrinsically embedded with nature. Cities such as Oslo and Singapore are setting an example for future biophilic cities. It has involved the restoration of rivers through the city (the Akersleva River in Oslo which is now a green corridor), the incorporation of Park Connectors in Singapore which connects two regional parks in a highly urbanised city. This bond between the urbanites and the nature infiltrates not only the streets, parks, building facades or rooftops but also places such as schools, hospitals and office buildings.

How radically different Elizabeth Street would be if the former creek was restored along with a renewed ecosystem.

Read more on biophilic cities and design.

Fun Up the City - 75 Tips and Tricks

So many ways to make cities more fun... this list  describes 75 of them!

Some of my favourites include:

source: Dezeen

source: Shareable

source: whoopdedoo

source: notesontheroad

source: BART swings 2009

The list goes on.  And why not make cities a bit more fun? If you make a few people smile, chat to someone they might now know, and take pleasure from their surrounds, then you're encouraging more interaction with the neighbourhood and community.

Read on here.

Gentrification, Displacement and Democratisation of Urban Space

There's been a bit of chatter lately, particularly in the UK about gentrification. Last month, the Guardian stated that "gentrification is now the predominant form of neighborhood development" with affordable housing on the decline and displacement going up and up.

Photo: Bill Cooper

There's also been some research conducted here in Australia by AHURI (Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute), examining the impacts of gentrification in Melbourne and Sydney.  According to the study:
In Melbourne just over 34 per cent of the vulnerable households living in the gentrified suburbs in 2001 had moved out of the area by 2006, while in Sydney nearly 41 per cent of vulnerable households had moved out.
This includes renters and home-owners, though interestingly, the AHURI study showed that renters were more like to move to a suburb nearby, whereas home-owners were just as likely to move to city fringe areas or regional cities further afield.

The study notes that the perceived benefit of gentrification (the 'improvement' of the neighbourhood) is actually false.

The ‘gain’ of higher income households to one political jurisdiction, thought
of in ‘global’ terms, may be cancelled out by the migration of lower-income displaces
to others. Social problems are thereby evacuated through the 'improvement' of
neighbourhoods and are thereby often seen as evidence that gentrification has
positive impacts on social problems when in fact the net gain to the wider system may
be close to nil and take no cogniscance of the social and psychological costs of
Further, as the number of people on low-incomes in a gentrifying area declines, the volume of welfare services able to assist those remaining also declines, making even harder for those who don't move (not to mention the issues faced by those who do move - often to areas with worse access to services).

The report concludes that failing to plan for population diversity results in compounded problems for lower income residents and negative outcomes for the broader population—poorer employment, education and health outcomes and rising crime and social harm.

The Guardian article aligns with the AHURI report, debunking the 'trickle down benefit' of gentrification.  However, interestingly, the article states that the worst myth regarding gentrification is that nothing much can be done about it.  Things like more and better public housing, rent control and regulation, community control of neighbourhood space, expanding social welfare, strengthening unions and empowering social movements could all contribute to addressing displacement.  According to the article:
Even today, it's not too late to unforeclose urban politics and build an alternative to the city of gentrification and inequality. The opposite of gentrification isn't urban decay; it's the democratization of urban space.

Read on here at the Guardian, and here at (AHURI).

Cycle Safety Round the Globe

This article in The Guardian shows what it's like to cycle in several cities around the world including Malmo, Delhi, Berlin, Beijing, Paris, Moscow, Rome, Cairo, New York, Tel Aviv and Los Angeles.

Some cities have an entrenched cycling culture, all the infrastructure, and even free bike pumps (Malmo) and some provoke a near death experience each time (Delhi).  Other interesting things I learnt from this article:

  • Germany has a drink-drive limit for cyclists (0.16% - and seems England does not have a limit at all)
  • Cyclists were involved in more than 10,000 of China's 67,759 traffic accident-related deaths in 2009
  • Paris was the first city to introduce a city wide free bike scheme
  • In Rome in 2011, more bikes were sold than cars for the first time in decades, and their new mare is a bike fan.  Yay.
  • Cycling is not attempted much in Cairo.  Cairo Cycling Club was founded five years ago, it had just four members
  • Tel Aviv is apparently a cycle haven.  What with being flat and sunny, and having loads of bike share, looks nice.
Great to see that even in really tricky environments like Delhi and Cairo, that cycling is on the up, and we can clearly learn a thing or two from many of the examples laid out in the article.

Read on here.

Census Data Measures Australia's Progress

'Is life in Australia getting better? Take a look, you might be surprised' beckons the MAP video (MAP - Measuring Australian's Progress, a tool on the ABS website). MAP   consulted on what is considered important to Australians, coming up with 26 'aspirations', that were linked with indicators.  Each element was tested against the indicator, using census data from the ABS.

Results seek to demonstrate if each element has either as improved (green tick), stayed the same (orange line), or worsened (red x).  Where the data is lacking, there's a blue question mark.  The range of aspirations relate broadly to society, governance, environment and economy.  A list of the aspirations (and their results) are shown below:

The full report discusses what was included in each indicator, as well as why its important.

The ABS acknowledges that 'progress is a mixed bag'.  Some indicators have stayed stable, some have improved, and some have worsened.  They have also owned up where they don't have the data to answer several of the elements raised in consultation.  That's not surprising given that some elements are ultra-subjective, such as 'a fair go'.

The tool shows that for the most part, Austrlians are better off in terms of health, learning and knowledge and jobs.  We haven't changed much in terms of 'societal' stuff like home, relationships, community connections and diversity, and we have gotten worse in terms of sustaining the environment and a resilient economy.  Yikes.

Ultimately results such as this need to be taken with a grain of salt; it is problematic to generalise; personal experiences will differ greatly and results will be influenced by heaps of different factors, and there is no sensitivity in built to pick up on this kind of stuff.  However, I think it does show ways census data can be used to 'tell a story' and compare these elements over time.

Read on here, and check out this summary page and video at the ABS.