London Underground - reimagined!

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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

Behind the 'Green' fence

Green Square. Haven’t heard of it? Well, according to Sydney Mayor Clover Moore its Australia’s biggest urban renewal project. You know that vacant site on the way to the airport that seems like it’s been fenced off and covered in signage forever…. well here is what is going on behind that mysterious fencing.

Green Square is the name given to a 280 hectare precinct located 3.5km south of the Sydney CBD, this includes the suburbs of Beaconsfield and Zetland, and parts of Rosebery, Alexandria and Waterloo (see map of the development area below). The $8 billion project involves transforming former industrial land into a vibrant and sustainable urban environment that will be home to 40,000 residents.

Three property developers, Leighton, Mirvac and Landcom are working with the City of Sydney to drive the project over the next 20 years, adding office buildings, retail, residential properties and a range of community facilities to the area. The development promises innovative housing design, bespoke business and retail, and creative and engaged communities.

The Green Square project has been presented as a game-changer by the development consortium which is looking to anchor the area around a ‘cultural hub’ – its new town centre. 

They boast the town centre will be completed in just a few years, when typically such a task would evolve over decades. But is this a good thing? Isn’t it the evolution of a centre that gives it its culture and unique identity? Shouldn’t this growth be organic and led by the people who reside there and users of the space? How successful has the manufacturing of a centre been in the past (Docklands anyone?).

Reservations aside, Green Square is focusing on high-quality design and creating a welcoming, exciting and connected neighbourhood. The renewal is built on the ideals of green living, with recycled water, efficient uses of energy, parks, gardens and entertainment spots with cycle and walking routes.

Most recently Koichi Takada Architects have released the details of a mixed-use, multi-residential development at the gateway to the town centre (see pic). The 20 storey tower will accommodate 416 residential apartments and 5,000 square metres of retail and restaurant space. This is one of approximately 1,500 development applications for Green Square, including a new library, a public plaza and an aquatic centre and sports park. That is a lot of DAs! Hopefully the City of Sydney can cope with this influx of applications and not cause costly hold ups for developers.

So it turns out there is some exciting stuff going on behind the fences – we can’t wait for the grand reveal.

Banner image source: Koichi Takada Architects

Looking to Copenhagen on liveability

Many cities seek to emulate Singapore, a global financial hub known for its visionary approach to urban planning. So which city does high-tech, disciplined Singapore aspire to be like?

The answer: Copenhagen.

Vaidehi Shah writes in that despite Singapore’s many accomplishments, it lags on some liveability indexes because it tends to favour skyscrapers and roads over ‘human-centric’ amenities such as bike lanes and walking trails.

Monocle magazine’s “Most Liveable Cities Index” ranked Copenhagen number one ahead of Melbourne earlier this year. Town planners, urban designers, and even some transport planners look to Copenhagen as an international exemplar for ‘getting it right’. 

But is anyone looking to Melbourne? After all, Melbourne consistently ranks as one of the top three most liveable cities. So why aren’t our Asian neighbours looking to us?

The streets of Melbourne
Image source: Phoenix Group – Melbourne for everyone website

Singapore. Image source:
Speaking on “People Oriented Strategies for City Planning” at the NTUC Auditorium recently, Prof Jan Gehl explained there is a new paradigm on safe and sustainable cities rooted in people’s access to mobility and social interaction. He said the key to achieve this is by reorienting urban spaces away from the modern aesthetic of skyscrapers and wide roads, to a more human-centric approach that promotes cycling and walking.

Is Melbourne’s love of wide roadways and tall buildings holding us back?

Taking it underground

Straight out of Sydney, this creative project has turned a section of an underground car park in King’s Cross into an art gallery. What a creative use of an under utilised area of a car park, which still retains its function for parking but becomes a multi-functional space. 

Over 30,000 visitors have made the descent into the car park to visit the art space – also known as the mechanic’s office. It measures five metres by five metres however there is also the potential to expand the exhibition or event beyond the mechanic’s office to include other areas of the car park including stairwells, elevators and common areas. 

Closer to home, the loading bay of our Surry Hills office is also cunningly turned into an art gallery for regular exhibitions and events. 

The versatile underground carpark at Kings Cross.
What spaces do you know about that could be creatively transformed?

See more here.

The future of transit in new suburbia

The urbanisation of America continues to role on and not just within cities but also out into the suburbs writes Leigh Gallagher of City Lab. Like in many Australian cities a vast majority of urbanisation in the US is now being undertaken within the depths of “car dependant” suburbia at the peripheries of large cities and regional centres. Whilst developers promote a sense of community, walkability and access to “the main street” the majority of residents in these areas still need car access to commute to work or run substantial errands.

Contrary to the belief of many transit purists that “if you are not removing the car, you’re not urbanising the suburbs”, Gallagher argues that these urban developments are transformative for cul-de-sac transplants and still represent an important step even if the transport issues are not fully resolved and I tend to agree. 

The simple fact is the majority of suburban development in both Australia and the US has been undertaken within the last 50-60 years, in areas with little to no access to public transport and reinventing them by building rail transit is quite difficult. It is challenging for a number of reasons – density, geography and cost. Unlike older suburbs, new suburbs are not as capable of being efficiently linked by rail routes, thus the economics of creating these links become incredibly challenging without significant subsidies. 

While this debate continues there have been some emerging approaches to the transit problem. Not surprisingly Silicon Valley is leading the way with Google partnering with GM on a pilot car sharing service that will give its employees’ access to 50 electric cars that are linked to a mobile app that matches drivers and cars for their morning and evening commute. Mercedes Benz is trailing “Boost by Benz” that transports children around to their various extra circular activities in brightly coloured vans and GM and Toyota have recently stated they would start giving discounts on new cars to Uber Drivers.

Dublin, Ohio is actively seeking to create a rich and robust non-motorised environment through its recent rezoning of 1100 acres to create the Bridge Street District, a mixed use urban environment complete with a $14 million pedestrian bridge. Other towns within Ohio are reinventing bus networks on the premise that the bus today is a high tech, clean, energy efficient mode of transport that can carry many passengers, go anywhere and is much cheaper than rail.

However, the simplest solution to this issue, as Gallagher suggests is developing New Suburbia off the back of Old Suburbia by seizing the opportunity to build updated and urbanised housing stock in areas where transit already exists. She goes on to discuss that inner ring, transit-oriented suburbs of many American Cities are going to be the next “big thing” and insists that they have already started to rise as a separate entity from car oriented suburbs.

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

Can't get enough of the trams

What are the things that make your city stand out? Things that should almost always be in the same sentence? Like Sydney and its Harbour Bridge, Opera House or beaches, Rome and the Colosseum or Rio and the Corcovado.

Well apparently for Melbourne it’s the trams – we just can’t get enough of them.

The Age newspaper recently ran a poll to ask its readers what they considered as the most distinctive or iconic features of the city, indicating that the Victorian Government was soon to put together a Distinctive Melbourne policy. 

The newspaper (or its journalist Aisha Dow) put forward their suggestion of the top 8 and asked readers to vote.

The options included the old tram network, graffitied streets, laneways (ever expanding with restaurants, cafes and retail surprises around every corner), the Hoddle grid and Victorian-era terraces. 

No MCG I hear you cry? What about Flinders St Station, the brilliant but sometimes maligned Fed Square or the colourful beach boxes on Brighton Beach?

Well a few of the reader comments did touch on our sporting precinct and the beautiful gothic and art deco architecture, but of the 5000+ who cast their vote online, 45 per cent went with the old tram network, with the next closest 25 per cent for the laneways.

Let’s hope the government has plenty of time for public input to its strategy as these kinds of discussions are always going to provoke people’s passion for their place. 

What is your best bit of Melbourne?



Funky Sydney or Melbourne wannabe?

The City of Sydney has released its Draft Cultural Policy and Action Plan for comment.

Be warned, it’s not a light read!

But once you delve into it, there is some exciting stuff in here, not to mention some pretty pictures. How does this sound as an ultimate outcome: ‘A critical mass of cultural experiences and creative works are created, preformed and preserved’? Well that’s what it’s aiming to deliver.

The Plan is set out with six key priorities, which gives it a good structure:

· Precinct distinctiveness and creativity in the public domain

· New avenues for creative participation

· Sector sustainability: surviving and thriving

· Improving access, creating markets

· Sharing knowledge, and

· Global engagement.

Each priority has clear and concise actions with a short, medium or long term timeframe assigned against each one.

My favourite section, probably because I can see how this can be put into action (or how our regulatory systems are not always helping making this happen), is precinct distinctiveness and public domain development. This is really looking at community development and getting more people to spend more time in areas around the city for the right reasons (no protesting or looting involved). I don’t think you can go wrong with promoting this as a priority in order for a city to flourish. This section looks at festivals, public art in many forms, events, culture and new ‘pop ups’. 

And this is where the Melbourne similarities begin, cue hipster sighs: activating and creating laneways, street art, clusters of creative, more culture…

But why can’t Sydney have more of these things? Melbourne will always be Melbourne but it will be interesting to see some of these cultural initiatives evolve and what the differences really are when the same concepts are applied in different cities.

The City of Sydney identifies the main barrier to more culture as the red tape that comes along with it – council and other restrictions, not to mention costs, for events or installations that are sometimes only temporary.

Credit: Green Square library, Stewart Hollenstein and the City of Sydney
This comes back to the policy makers, the planners and the enforcement officers – where the City needs to take a look at itself and become an enabler for an enlivened and revitalised city. The actions out of this section all set out short term strategies for changes to the City regulatory process and in particular the planning system – which is definitely a step in the right direction. There is talk of making processes more streamlined and not just for the big players. But are the strategies too vague? Do they offer certainty and clear direction about what changes are needed? What would you planners out there suggest?

What struck me as soon as I got in to the document was the enormous amount of consultation undertaken through a variety of different mediums. Tweeting, texting, online surveys, open forums and community meetings – this is the future.

So take a look at this document and make some noise!

Stairway to heaven

As part of many urban development projects we look at ways to get people engaged with their cities and local places.

But street artists have been doing their bit to make our cities beautiful in their own way for a long time and these examples of painted stairs from all over the world are a real inspiration, demonstrating that the art is perhaps going to new levels.

Imagine going out for a run and being faced with one of these amazing staircases – it might inspire you to make it all the way up?!

From the mosaic steps in San Francisco created by 300 local community members to the colourful piano keyboard in Beirut (where you might not expect to find such inspiration), it is amazing what a small group of people can do and how they then remain engaged and proud about their city or suburb once they’ve been involved.

Sometimes all it takes is a bit of imagination to create a beautiful urban space.



Credit: Kimhwan SEOULIST

See more here.

Is this the future face of motoring?

Photo: Google says it will start testing its driverless car this year. (Google)

Google, has just revealed its own self-driving prototype car. 

The cute compact two seater has no steering, accelerator or brake. It simply has an on and off button and importantly two cup holders! The car relies on Google software and sensors to do the driving for its passengers.

Google plans to build around 100 prototype vehicles for testing and hopes to run a pilot program in California. If all goes well we could expect to see these cars on Australian roads (or a least the technology in other more mainstream brands) in the next 5 years or so.

The more interesting proposition of such driverless cars, is their potential to change not only our car owning habits but our commuting behaviours. As this technology rolls out there will be numerous new planning implications to overcome as we integrate driverless vehicles with our current ‘manual’ fleets.

The next trick will be to get such cars to fly and fold up into a suitcase, just like George Jetson’s.

High-Rise Heaven – Asking more from our towers

Credit: UN Studio
Melbourne is facing ever increasing pressure to deliver more housing in areas with high land values. With a policy framework intent on squeezing the most out of these areas, the result is to build high. Love them or loathe them, it seems the tower will become a permanent fixture on Melbourne’s horizon. The focus for most designers and planners has been on how it looks or whether it contributes enough to the public realm.

High-rise buildings use around 16% of the world’s energy. They can be expensive to run and inefficient in their use of space. Nearly a third of the height of some skyscraper serves no apparent functional purpose.

Solar panel manufacturers Hanwha has recently emblazoned the facades of its 29-storey, 1980s headquarters in Seoul with hundreds of solar panels to harvest energy and help cool interiors. The remodelling, undertaken by UN Studio, also includes new high-performance, energy saving windows.

The simple argument that, by their very nature high-rise forms are sustainable is open to debate. Should Melbourne’s planners be demanding more from our towers? Retrofitting, or simply fitting, high-rise buildings with sustainable design features can reduce the energy consumption of the building making a positive contribution in the battle against climate change. It can even contribute positively to the urban environment.

Putting us in the shade on sustainable energy

While our government reduces investment in sustainable energy and steps away from green policies, in other parts of the world the ideas for sustainable energy production put us in the shade.

Coming from a small company in the United States is an idea that could produce more renewable energy than the whole county uses – now that is astounding when you think about it.

Hexagonal glass solar panels with LED lights can be installed on the surface of the road, driveways, parking lots or any other flat surface to generate power. 

Credit: Solar Roadways
The possibilities are endless – for private users as well as for governments. Essentially you could pave your driveway in these hexagonal panels and charge up your electric car and light up your house. Then again governments could build roads with the solar panels and hook up the resultant energy to the grid.

The company called Solar Roadways is now into the crowdsourcing game to raise funds to move into production.

This all might sound far fetched, but the panels have undergone rigorous testing and can take the weight of trucks. They are also looking at whether recycled materials can be used to make the panels and whether storm water can be collected and send it to a treatment facility.

Perhaps in our very sunny country, we could think again about where we invest for alternative energy sources.