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A budget for roads

The Federal Budget came out last week following hot on the heels of the Victorian State Budget and then the final Plan Melbourne made an appearance.

In the Federal Budget, infrastructure in the form of roads lay heavy on the agenda. Major road projects marked for funding included Sydney’s WestConnex, Melbourne’s East-West Link, Adelaide’s North South Corridor, NT road upgrades, the Toowoomba Second Range Crossing, and the Perth Freight Link.

More information can be found here.

As for the State Budget there is a focus on three new major infrastructure projects; a new city rail tunnel, a rail link to the airport and the second stage east-west link. Of these projects it is the east-west link that is expected to receive a contribution from the federal government.

In contrast the Feds have decided it is the responsibility of the state to fund public transport projects and as a response the new city rail tunnel proposal is a pared back version of previous proposals. Are these rail projects the right projects? Do we need a rail link to the airport when an improved bus system could do the same job? Shouldn’t it be a focus on greater extension of the city loop and more lateral connections across the city which would relieve city congestion?

More information can be found here.

So why the focus on roads?

It seems that infrastructure in Australian cities has been neglected since the early to mid 2000s courtesy of the Howard-Costello Coalition government and a failure of the Rudd labour government to finance ambitious infrastructure plans during the economic crisis. However, it is disappointing that the solution of more roads, roads and roads (a somewhat failed 1950s doctrine) has formed the solutions of our 2014 governments.

As Phillip O'Neill, Professorial Research Fellow, Urban Research Centre at University of Western Sydney says “Rather than address the complex issues of infrastructure provision with innovative solutions, this budget seems to adopt a simple formula: lean heavily on existing revenue streams in order to lever funds into road building, the easiest of all infrastructure assets to provide”.

Correct me if I’m wrong but more roads = more cars = more congestion + dependency on fuel =unsustainable futures. Whereas increased public transport investment would give an alternative to cars which would relieve congestion and provide long term sustainable transport options.

Melbourne more than any other city in Australia is experiencing massive population growth (I should know I’m one of those who arrived two years ago from Ireland).

According to the Guardian, “As of June 2013, greater Melbourne had a population of 4.35m…Melbourne has been growing faster than Sydney over the past decade, according to the ABS, and is set to become Australia’s most populous city in 2053, with 8m people.”

Plan Melbourne proposes that these people will be accommodated in the city through development of underutilised sites within the inner and middle ring suburbs, increasing housing densities calling a halt to further sprawl into the countryside. Higher density cities will increase demand for transport solutions and more cars will simply not be able to fit in the city centre. To make Melbourne’s future viable we need public transport options, so it’s disappointing not to see these also considered in the federal budget.

In a final argument for more sustainable transport options let us think back to the 80’s when Australian cult classic Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981) hit the big screen. Set in a post-apocalyptic land (somewhere out near Broken Hill in Outback NSW) where fuel has run out and survivors turn on each other fighting over food, water and petrol. When cities have collapsed and where hero Mad Max drives on the never ending abandoned highways of destroyed cities… If Max could save us now…

The off-the-shelf city with a $40 billion price tag

Could Songdo in South Korea be the template for future development? Could it be as simple as picking a site, picking a city off the shelf and paying $40 billion? Only time will tell but the South Korean City of Songdo is the first of its kind and could lay the foundation for the future development of sustainable cities.

Claire Martin, who teaches design at the School of Architecture and Design at RMIT University in Melbourne, describes Songdo as an “instant city built from scratch that can be packaged up in a box and sold off the shelf at “$40 billion a pop to countries where demand for urban life is rising.” This new city located just 60km south-west of Seoul and is almost one third compete and is turning the heads of investors, developers and the planning world alike.

Built on 1500 acres of reclaimed land of the Yellow Sea the purpose built “economic hub” comes with a hefty price of around $40 billion but boasts some of the most modern technological advancements to be seen in cities to date.

The development of the city has been launched on the back of former President Lee Myun Bak’s attempt to promote sustainable low carbon growth derived from the government’s stimulus packages to develop the country’s own infrastructure throughout 2007/08.

The city when complete will house over 100 new towers throughout its main district built to some of the “strictest environmental standards for energy consumption and waste at a price tag of close to $10billion”, according to Rita Lobo of World Finance. The entirety of the development has been designed with sustainability in mind, from the futuristic rubbish disposal system that includes an underground network of tubes sucking waste from houses and offices to vast sorting facilities to be processed and treated, to specifically designed water pipes that separate potable and non-potable water immediately directing the latter to showers and toilets in each house, to a 40 per cent allocation of land to open outdoor spaces.

Credit: Aly Song/Reuters/ 'A parisian ghost town in China'
However, the deeper you delve into this topic the more you find parallels with the ghost town developments of pop up cities throughout China. It seems however that Songdo continues to have all the answers and in an attempt mitigate the “ghost town” effect has undertaken a number of measures that seek to attract residents and businesses alike. The city has strategically attracted top quality education facilities to attract residents to fill the 22,000 plus residential units. In an attempt to lobby further investment it has also has offered significant tax reductions, subsidies and estate support in an attempt to attract business investment, including no property tax for 10 years, rent reductions for some small and medium sized businesses, and other subsidies for employees of companies with over 30 per cent international investment.

This is a very ambitious project and only time will tell if it’s successful. Nevertheless the development is at the forefront of technological design and development creating what Rita Lobo describes as a “living organism” and will well and truly be a catalyst for future urban development, albeit with a hefty price tag.

For the full article and further information regarding this topic please visit

The Ugly Indians reclaiming the streets of India!

What makes a public place stand out? Is it the design, the functional use or the landscaping, or is it just the character of that place? There is no single answer. It is a combination of all these things and most importantly it is the users who add value to these places.

Unfortunately in India many public places, especially streets, are used to dump waste. There is an ongoing argument about whose responsibility it is to keep the streets clean; is it the government who does the maintenance or the citizens who continue throwing garbage?

The Ugly Indians (TUI) group has decided to get into action rather than playing the blame game. Their vision is to see a clean India and for this they have a very simple philosophy ‘Kaam chalu mooh bandh’ which means ‘Stop Talking, Start Doing’. TUI is a group of anonymous volunteers who decided to come together to fix a filthy spot. The group originated in Bangalore (officially known as Bengaluru) almost five years ago and now has volunteers in Chennai, Goa, New Delhi, Gurgan, Vizag and Kanpur. Social media has provided a platform for this group to connect with millions of Indians who share the same frustration. The group has a huge fan following of 100.9k (as at 19 May) on Facebook and growing fast (

Every project of TUI is treated differently so there is not one solution to fix a spot. But some of the basic actions taken are to clear up the garbage, remove posters, clean the stains, build footpaths, colour the walls or kerb, fix furniture and add landscaping (plants/shrubs). Once the project is complete it has to pass the 90 day test to be successful. The test is whether the community starts taking charge of these public places. In many projects the TUI volunteers start the work and the locals join in (mostly) to take charge of their streets and public places. As we all know if the local community is engaged in the process they realise the importance of maintaining a healthy and pleasant neighbourhood.

Take a look at the images of some of the transformations, where dump yards are replaced with small gardens, stains are replaced with traditional colours, broken seats are replaced with usable seats and uneven footpaths are replaced with pleasant and walkable paths. 


Source: The Ugly Indians Facebook page
Amazed to see how much can be done in less than an hour? So do you want to know how one can contribute? Just find an ugly spot (of course in India) which has issues like broken footpaths, pot holes, garbage, graffiti, stains, cigarette litter, etc and email the pictures to The TUI team will send you a list of volunteers from that city, a guide with different techniques and may fly to your city as well (if possible). 

So next time you travelling to India and want to be part of this group, just email them and get involved in reclaiming the public places of India. Namaste.

Inclusive cities helping people with autism

We think we’ve seen one of the ultimate examples of how good urban design can help people. American landscape architecture student Elizabeth Decker has created a plan for her city of Nashville, Tennessee inspired by her brother who has Autism.

With the growing rates of diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) this could be an idea which generates tangible benefits for millions of people around the world, given the principles are also applicable more broadly.

Ms Decker applied inclusive design principles and medical and sociological research to develop an urban design toolkit. Having interviewed adults with ASD to identify their basic needs such as life skills, vocational training, mental and physical health support, employment, public transport and affordable housing, she made decisions on how the services should be grouped together to ensure easy access without the assistance of a carer. Green space was essential to the equation.
Credit: Elizabeth Decker
In her Masters’ thesis Elizabeth Decker writes “The final theoretical urban systems toolkit and diagrammatic proposal for Nashville, Tennessee provides exploratory research for city planners, architects, and landscape architects to design for cities inclusive of adults with autism, as well as other neurological disabilities or limitations.”

Ms Decker proposes that this approach ads a new disciplinary perspective for those planning for a maturing autistic population.

These aspects of urban life are something we should all consider in our work.

Thanks to Fast Company for bringing this tool kit to our attention.

Home is where the printer is

Could this be the answer to Australia‘s affordable housing deficit?

If 3D printers are capable of producing new limbs for humans, then surely a new house is not out of the question?

University of Southern California Professor Berokh Khoshnevis has spent the past 10 years working on such a vision – designing an enormous 3-D printer that can print an entire home, complete with concrete, electrical wiring and plumbing to boot.

The notion of manufacturing dwellings with what essentially looks like a gigantic hot glue gun sounds far-fetched, but Khoshnevis and his students at the University’s ‘Centre for Rapid Automated Fabrication Technologies’ have been toiling long enough to have made significant advancements on designs and prototypes. Khoshnevis asserts that they’ve effectively solved many of the initial problems associated with this technology, particularly the difficult process of extruding concrete in a layered fashion. His ‘contour crafting’ robotic construction system has now printed entire six-foot tall sections of homes in his lab. He’s also able to use gypsum, wood chips, and epoxy and is working on adobe materials. Although the first whole houses will be smaller, Khoshnevis ultimately thinks he will be able to build a 230m2 home in 20 hours.

There may come a time where the likes of Bunnings stock and rent out the 3-D printers – allowing homes to be built more cheaply, by reducing labour and material costs (construction costs could ultimately be reduced by up to 40 per cent). And because the 3-D printer only prints what it needs, this technique wastes less material than conventional construction. As with all 3-D printing, there is an unprecedented opportunity to customise the design – simply upload a file and a computer will configure the rest.

What’s not to like?!

Source: Centre for Rapid Automated Fabrication Technology [CRAFT] website


What’s so good about the middle ring suburbs?

What’s so good about the middle ring suburbs? The simple answer is, not much. The middle ring is sort of like the middle child. It’s hard to get excited about. It’s not older and established, nor new and shiny… and it often gets forgotten about.

Plan Melbourne has recognised the plight of the middle ring suburbs and has sought to address the issue by encouraging redevelopment in key locations. There’s a great deal of latent opportunity in the middle ring – you know, the place just beyond the suburbs with the hefty price tag. It’s the place where the blocks are a bit larger, you get a back yard and a car space, but the housing stock is a bit more homogenous and, well, forgettable. It’s a location with a lot of schools and families with two cars (because public transport isn’t very accessible nor affordable – sorry, your train station is just in Zone 2) and it’s also a location where there are few housing options… unless you think single storey, three bedroom detached housing in a range of different colours provides housing diversity!

So I guess we’re saying there is a consistent character to many of the middle ring suburbs, not only in Melbourne but in all of our capital cities. Some of the building materials change between Brisbane and Melbourne, for example, but the general pattern of development and community profile remains much the same.

So what’s important to protect? Is it the existing character of these suburbs or the community that lives within them? Is it the look of these suburbs that make them comfortable places to live or is it the sense of community and homogeneity of the population that makes it so damn comfortable for the two car family with the 2.4 children? It’s probably a bit of both.

So why don’t we plan for ‘a bit of both’ with some increased diversity thrown in? You see, the wide open spaces of the middle ring suburbs (in comparison to the busy inner ring) can be quite desirable for some, but if you’re not a traditional ‘family’ doing the traditional things then these suburbs can be very isolating and uncomfortable. Essentially, the homogeneity of the built form of the suburbs is a reflection of the homogeneity of the society that resides there.

Perhaps subconsciously, Plan Melbourne recognises this and seeks to make the middle ring suburbs a more interesting and diverse place which, by default, will attract a greater diversity of people. However, it seems that some councils’ proposed application of the New Residential Zones, with large swathes of Neighbourhood Residential Zone, overstates the importance of the ‘physical’ character of their suburbs. Is this because it somehow undermines the established homogenous community in some of our more ‘leafy’ suburbs?

So when we think about ‘character’, it’s not just physical density that defines it, it’s also the people. In terms of the ‘physical’ character it’s more about the general road and settlement pattern, the width and hierarchy of streets, building setbacks, street trees and materials. All of these character elements can be responded to in a sensitive way while allowing for some limited increase in residential density, including smaller apartments, to provide more housing options for residents in these communities.

Yes, there are some people who like being the middle child and want to stay in these areas!! These could be older people who no longer need the family home but want to maintain their social ties by downsizing to smaller units/apartments, or they might be younger singles who have grown up in these suburbs, studied at the local schools, played local sport and now work nearby and want to establish their own roots in ‘their’ suburb but can’t afford (or need) the three or four bedroom detached house with two car garage and don’t want to live with their parents into their 30s

So let’s stand up for the middle child and let them be heard. Let’s ‘unlock’ the potential of the middle ring suburbs and support them to be a more interesting and vibrant place with more housing options for everyone, while maintaining the front yards and leafy streets. Application of the General Residential Zone in these areas will support that.

Are smaller cities better?

Are smaller cities better? In a time of rapid urbanisation across the globe this question has been asked by many an urban designer and town planner. Romantic images of classic European cities spring to mind: Geneva, Bristol, Stockholm. Achieving high densities despite modest heights, their compact walkable urban form are the urbanists’ panacea for equitable, future-proofed urban places.

Left to right: Bristol, Stockholm and Geneva

And this discussion is now moving to the subcontinent. Not exactly with the same fascination in winding cobbled laneways and rooftop gardens, but a recent study undertaken by the Public Affairs Centre examined the urban conditions and drivers of urban change for four mid-tier cities across India. The study uses quantitative data to compare the cities’ performance in providing basic needs such as health care, education and utilities.

These ideas have filtered into India’s current political conversations, with Indian newspaper group, The Financial Express, noting that in the final run-up to India’s general elections the manifesto of most political parties includes urban development, with the prediction that the future of urban growth in developing countries is going to occur in smaller and mid-tier cities, not in the metropolitan areas.

However, changing tack from the seemingly insatiable expansion of megacities to focus on smaller urban areas will surely take discipline from India’s decision makers. India is not alone in being proud of its megacity status and shifting gears to focus on the development of smaller, less glamorous cities may be easier said than done.

For more on this, take a look at the small city research and the Public Affairs Centre’s 2012 study on the performance of India’s four of mega cities: Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai.


How to plan in music ?

While Monash Architecture Studio researchers envisaged what Melbourne could look like at 8 million by layering the footprint of Manhattan over the city, the duo formed by Judd Greenstein (composer) and Joshua Frankel (director) have depicted (in an unconventional format) the battle fought by the acclaimed Jane Jacobs and renowned Robert Moses over the fate of Lower Manhattan.

A lot has been written on these two fellows and their contribution to urban planning however I doubt any commentator would ever have dared to do so in an Opera!

Greenstein and Frankel are not novices when it comes to telling a story about cities. They collaborated to produce an animated short film featuring an ensemble performing as actors. The result, Plan of the City, is a musical journey from New York to outer space.

If you get the chance, make sure you have a look and a listen.

        Plan of the City by director Johsua Frankel    
This project is another way to approach the issues faced by urban planning today. Both Moses and Jacobs fought for their visions of what the city should be and that has now been reinterpreted to tell “a story about the people who live in those cities and how the decisions made on their behalf, by those with authority and those who resist that authority, tangibly impact their lives. It's a story about two brilliant, visionary urban theorists, each of whom turned their theory into practice, and in so doing changed the landscape of New York and the field of urbanism forever. And it's a story that continues to this day, in New York City and beyond” (Greenstein and Frankel).

Could it be that music is the best way to create awareness of urban planning issues?

Read more:

Publicly engaging Loomio

Public consultation, community engagement, public participation – whatever you call it there is an element of public engagement in most projects these days. It may be used to inform funding decisions, initiated in the early phases when scoping out a project, or undertaken (somewhat reluctantly) at the tail end (usually as a requirement by the governing authority). Take it or leave it, consultation and engagement play a huge part in our jobs and the future of our industry.

The process for consultation seems to be relatively broad and the methodology used differs for each project depending on a number of things – target audience, project nature, purpose of the consultation and nearly always budget. With no one-size-fits-all approach there is plenty of room for improvement and we should continually ask ourselves “are we doing this right and how can we do it better?”

So why not take a look at the latest development in this field coming out of New Zealand no less (no bias I promise)? Introducing Loomio, with a tagline ‘Real democracy needs to include everyone’ this start up catches your attention (well maybe not in the Eastern Bloc…). Loomio is described as a ‘decision making platform’ that lets members of a group offer a proposal, discuss its merits, make changes, and register their feelings all along the way. The purpose is simple: ‘Creating a world where it’s easy for anyone to participate in decisions that affect them’.

The difference is the user-friendly interface – an app on your smart phone making it accessible to all – well all of those with smart phones! It also offers privacy, removing emotional barriers to participation.

Credit: Loomio
So far it is being tested all across the globe—from remote villages in India, community hospitals in Vietnam, to government departments and early childhood education centres. Locally, the Wellington City Council is using Loomio to collaborate with citizens in developing policy. Along with many high profile reviews of this product there is even a TED talk about it. You know you’ve made it when you’ve got a TED talk!

Obviously this tool has been developed for a wide variety of decision making, collection of data and opinion polling. However, it is definitely relevant to many of the situations we come across in our day-to-day planning work. It could be used for registering objections for planning permits; Q and A type portals for informing community members on projects; open forums for reporting community issues; receiving feedback on particular projects with specific questions posed – what else do you think it could be useful for or do you have a project now where you could implement this type of technology?

I don’t think that this method of engagement/ data collection would necessarily replace the other mediums of consultation, especially face-to-face forums. But it has the potential to most certainly open up issues to a new, can I say younger or more tech-savvy, audience. Often submissions and objections are heavily dominated by a certain demographic or those with particularly strong opinions. There is the opportunity for this tool to engage with a wider audience and with a simplistic format you would hope more people are likely to get involved – no need to leave the house to have your say.

Given this project is in the startup and testing phase there is little to review in terms of effectiveness and outputs, but if the website and testers’ reviews are anything to go by it looks like exciting times ahead. The company is currently seeking funding donors, as incentives for contributing you can choose from a number of ‘sponsor packages’ ranging from $10 USD to $25,000 USD. Having a laugh at themselves these play up on the ‘kiwiness’ factor, one of these packages offers ‘a handwritten postcard from a Loomio team member, mailed from Aotearoa New Zealand’ and one of the more generous packages includes a meet and greet in NZ with a home-cooked Kiwi dinner – priceless.

Have you heard of other online platforms which allow this kind of consultation and feedback?

Writers note: in all of my research I cannot work out where the name for the company came from. The first reader who can answer this will receive a handwritten postcard from a DLA team member, mailed all the way from Sydney, Australia (seriously).

Would you pay to build this?

Would you donate money to your local Council to fund the construction of a local park?

New crowdsourcing platform is asking citizens to do just that, to put their hands in their pockets to fund local, civic projects, and it’s working!'s mission is to connect communities with new funding sources, companies with new earned media opportunities and citizens with the community projects they care about.

Crowdsourcing sites such as Pozible have been around for years and are increasing in popularity as ways to fund grassroots initiatives - from independent movies to the development of products and raising money for charities. As our world moves increasingly online and social media spurs a bottom up approach to citizenship, perhaps it’s not surprising that active citizenship has taken this route.

From park benches to playgrounds to skate bowls to community Wi-Fi, gains community buy-in in the most literal way.

Check out some of the successful and proposed projects here and tell us what you think!

And if you’re interested you can also find out more about the Ideas Garden shown in our banner image.