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The Death and Life of...

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Urban greening in high density environments

Creating 'Vertical Forests' in high density residential developments

Iconic or eyesore?

As Australia 108, Melbourne’s latest landmark tower is unveiled, the perennial debate about whether Melbourne ‘needs’ another icon reignites. But how much does it actually matter? Urban designers will tell you that it is how the building ‘hits the ground’ that is important. How does it contribute to the streetscape?

So often we see the sad sight of yet another mediocre building going up. We see city councils approving ordinary design and we see cities across the world looking uglier because of it. We see property developers rushing to get their building up, wanting to make a quick sale and profit, and not really caring or thinking about the aesthetics of the building.

Design blog, The Cool Hunter, has put together an interesting piece on the importance of architectural design in shaping our cities’ built form personalities, claiming that “the aesthetic of a building should be the Number One priority”. Read the Cool Hunter’s full article here.

Does a building have a responsibility to enhance the surrounding area or be mindful not to make it worse? Will the building still look great 10, 15 or 20 years from now? Will it become an iconic landmark and a beloved site, or will it become a dated gimmick?

This debate is not new, and it is certainly not limited to Australia. With its flat landform, and regular street grid, Toronto has a long history of using distinctive architecture to enhance the city’s legibility.

University of Toronto building, Toronto

Ontario College of Art and Design, Toronto
Toronto City Hall

Royal Ontario Museum

Sears Head Office

Brookfield Place

We say Melbourne needs more iconic buildings, but what do you think?

Creating a new inner urban future

Melbourne’s St Kilda has a fascinating and varied history and whenever you visit you always find something new (or old) and interesting to lead you off on a tangent.

Never boring, the eclectic mix of residents representing most socioeconomic groups has one thing in common: they are passionate about their ‘place’.

While the community focus is often on the St Kilda triangle or seaside – which was once Victoria’s first official tourist precinct – back just a bit from the attractive waterfront is a mess of roads coming together to form St Kilda Junction.

Back in 1975 the Melbourne Metropolitan Board of Works oversaw some work which ripped the heart from the Junction – widening high street, destroying the historic shopping precinct of 150 buildings (including the Junction Hotel), and changed its name to St Kilda Road. The resulting traffic mess and lack of soul is what we see today.

David Lock Associates and Arup have this week launched a student competition, asking planning and urban design students to put their talents to re-monumentalising St Kilda Junction and restoring St Kilda road South (the former High St) as the living backbone of the suburb. We want them to develop an urban design framework to create a new future for the Junction, whilst acknowledging and respecting the past.

Did you know there is a 300 year old, ancient Corroboree Tree at the Junction?

Or how about the fact that Windsor Railway Station was originally called Chapel Street Station and is currently on the Victorian Heritage Register?

And it’s interesting to note that the first passenger train from Flinders St to St Kilda took just 12 minutes 158 years ago – do we do any better now?

What would you like to see to bring St Kilda Junction and St Kilda Road South into the 21st Century?

If you know any students who could show us the way forward, let them know about ‘Re:imagine the Junction’:

Initial registrations close on 11 August.

Enough with bikes! What about walking?

There has been greater commitment toward making travel patterns more sustainable and car-free using strategies, policies and encouraging innovative projects. In Europe, the Netherlands is probably leading the way in terms of cycling with its floating Hovenring roundabout (built last year) which offers a dedicated futuristic roundabout for cyclists that improves safety and efficiency.
Their French counterparts are not short on ideas either, in fact the Ministry of Ecology and Sustainable Energy Development is currently testing and monitoring a new scheme based on tax-free payments for employees who cycle to work! That’s a pretty compelling reason for donning the lycra on these cold mornings.

Meanwhile Melbourne’s latest metropolitan strategy, Plan Melbourne, aims at delivering a compact city aka the ‘20 minutes city’ to encourage a mode shift to walking, cycling or public transport use. Among these active transport modes, cycling has attracted a lot of attention however ABS data reveal that this transport mode is strongly male dominated across all states capital cities. On the other hand, walking has been left behind with data showing a decline despite the increasing number of people living in the CBD and in the renewed inner city areas (Mees, 2009). So why does walking get the cold shoulder when it is readily accessible to a wider population, in comparison with cycling, while retaining the same benefits (zero greenhouse emissions, improved health etc.)?

The good news is that Melbourne seems to be heading in the right direction by acknowledging the importance of walking in its recently released draft Walking Plan. Refining our public transport and facilitating cycling is not enough. Walking plays an important part in connecting people and places, thus the need for actions and concrete measures to encourage walking and further develop a walking network in the central city and the inner suburbs.

Melbourne’s CBD overflows with examples of cramped crosswalks and pedestrian footpath such as the one just across from Southern Cross Station.

Credit: Draft Walking Plan
Elsewhere, the problem is the same, how do we remove physical barriers and constraints that impede walking?

A case of wine on the line. That would be Plantastic.

The David Lock Associates team is keen to hear your feedback on their performance. Our client survey will remain open for another week and if you answer a few short questions you could be in the running for a case of wine.

The survey takes just 5 minutes and will help us focus on the things our clients most want from us in 2014.

Follow the link to the survey and don’t forget to leave your details at the end to be in the running for the prize. Click here:

Urban Supersta(i)r

As the host of the 7th World Urban Forum, the Colombian city of Medellin has come under the urban spotlight in recent months, and has been widely praised for its dramatic urban transformation. 
The iconic imagery of the bright orange escalators rising up through the informal settlement of Comuna 13 has come to represent South America’s new form of urbanism. And the world is excited. But just how much impact do these kinds of projects have on the lives of the citizens?

Colombia’s second largest city, Medellín, has a long history of gang warfare, and was regarded as the drug crime capital of the world throughout the 1980s and 90s. During this time, life in the slums was dangerous, with the settlements nearing the top of the steep hills the most socially, physically and economically marginalised. The construction of the escalators was seen as a way to deal with this inequality and improve the quality of life for the city’s most excluded.

The benefits to people’s quality of life are clear but there has been criticism that the $5.5 million spent on the project could have been better spent throughout the city. Before the escalators opened in 2012, residents of Comuna 13, one of Medellin’s largest slum areas, were forced to climb 357 steps. The escalators are akin to a free public transport system to the residents, enabling them to get to and from work and school safely and easily

The escalators were installed under the Proyectos Urbanos Integrales (Integral Urban Project), which included a series of urban interventions that aim to raise the levels of quality of life for residents in certain neighbourhoods across Medellin. It was especially designed to intervene in areas of the city’s most deprived and marginalized, where the state usually has a high social debt. The project constructs safe public spaces, new public buildings and the improvement of existing schools, medical centers and other services that contribute to social development and the mitigation of poverty.

“A walkway in Medellín's Comuna 13 is one of many projects in the impoverished neighborhood that have improved mobility and access to the city for residents. (Christopher Swope/ Citiscope)”.

As Proyectos Urbanos Integrales’ most widely recognised initiative, the novelty factor of the escalators is undeniable. But beyond the hype have the escalators actually contributed to the economic growth of the area? Do they deserve the applause they have received for improving safety throughout Comuna 13?

Journalist Letty Reimerink recently spent three months in Comuna 13 to find out the answers to these questions. Hitting the twitter community this week, you can read more about her findings here.

Read about Medellin’s transformation into the new Latin American superstar here.

CCTV also provides an snapshot of Comuna 13 and the success of the escalators.

It’s the Congealing Era People – let’s get coagulated!

According to Pete Saunders (Urban Planner and Writer) our cities are entering a new era in the development of cities which he calls the “Congealing Era”.   It’s probably better described as the ‘cluster era’ but he’s got a good point about the way that cities are shaped by the social, economic and technological changes through the different generations.

 While the story relates to American cities, the concept is relatable to the development of Australian cities. There was the Early Era, Industrial Era and Auto Era which each brought about different patterns of development.  The Early Era saw people living in closely settled cities because travel was limited. People ‘clumped’ together with the majority of (limited) essential services within walking distance. The Industrial Era initially saw ‘workers’ live close to large manufacturing businesses that were usually located very close to the city centre, while the wealthy started becoming more mobile and chose to live in leafier suburbs or escape the pollution with weekend houses. The Auto Era brought about the ability for more people to choose to commute to work. Urban areas were seen as unclean and more people ‘dispersed’ to the clean and green suburbs with a backyard and garage for their shiny new motor cars.  

 Today, many of the inner city areas have been gentrified, manufacturing industries have been pushed out of the cities (and mostly moved off shore) and ‘urban’ is the new ‘suburban’.  Much like fashion, what was old is new again. The Gen Y’s have a taste for the walkable neighbourhood like its 1899. Cars are now considered a waste of money (give me a plane ticket with a carbon offset thanks) and ye-olde style bikes are retro cool (is that a Penny Farthing you’re riding?).   

 The populations of our cities are bigger now though, and the metropolitan areas are better connected with trains, trams etc.  so the daggy old suburban strip shopping centre is making a comeback and planners are encouraging this with higher density living and shopping around these where they’re close to transport nodes – providing a diversity of housing to attract a diversity of people, all clumped together like the old days, but in nodes along major public transport routes… and so the lumpy, clumpy city is born with its clusters of people all bumping together (while staring at iPhones) in concentrated urban centres, linked by railway lines and bike lanes across a sea of leafy suburbia while staying connected wit.  To congeal is unreal!

Floating cities – is this the future?

Given that 71 per cent of the earth’s surface is water (and that it’s likely to increase), plus the need to retain productive land to support our ever increasing population, maybe concepts like floating cities aren’t as far-fetched as they seem. Further, they might be a necessity rather than a tourist attraction. This also reminds me of the concept ‘floated’ ten years ago to build eco islands in Port Phillip Bay, off the coast of St.Kilda. I’d like to see that.

Take a look at this proposal outlined in The Age recently.

Everyone’s talking about cities

Image source: Future of Cities - 

Last week planners and urban designers gathered in NSW for the 7th Making Cities Liveable Conference, while this week the focus is on Build Environment Meets Parliament (BEMP) – a great initiative by the Australian Institute of Architects and other key industry peak bodies.

With the aim of bridging the gap between politicians, the built environment sector and the wider public, the BEMP summit has run for five years now, tackling a range of issues. Let’s hope the built environment gets some airtime in a week when all the focus is likely to be on the carbon tax!

While BEMP runs in Canberra, the Victorian State Planning Conference will take centre stage in Warrnambool looking at how our industry needs to transform to thrive.

It seems all around us there are options and opportunities to talk about planning and shaping our cities.  And that is what we love to do.

There are definitely some clear trends emerging from all this considering, collaborating and conversing:
  • Design for people first in a way that makes it easy for them to get around and access what they need to live well
  • Make sure what we design is sustainable and leads to resilience
  • Liveability, inclusivity and health at any age are key goals for cities.

The Sydney Morning Herald is running a compelling series of articles exploring the development of places and cities that is well worth a read. Check out the latest in the series here:

And for some further inspiration, the ABC has been running The Human Scale: In Five Chapters. You won’t want to miss it, so if you did, you can catch up on iView.

Tell us what you think are the most important aspects of a well-designed city?

The glitz and glam of the property market?

Image source: Homes of the Rich blog
It’s been nearly a decade since the housing market crashed in the United States of America and on the surface it seems like it has bounced back with new more expensive zip codes. Even though the housing crisis crushed a lot of people’s dreams of owning their own piece of land, it doesn’t seem to have affected the uber-wealthy American.

Data provided by Krishna Rao at Zillow’s breaks down the top 10 most expensive ZIP codes in America. The majority of the highest-priced ZIP codes are within the bay areas.

The drive of the median house price puts pressure on the standard household to enter the property market and is widening the gap between the haves and the have nots. Even though the percentage of homes with a value of $1 million -plus is small, it is still creating segregation within the major cities.

At the other end of the property market, the locations with the lowest housing values are in the ‘hard-pressed’ and ‘crisis-ravaged’ areas of Memphis, Kansas City, Flint or even Michigan. And let’s not forget the city of New Orleans, hit by hurricane Katrina in 2005. 

Image source:

Illustrating the big divide between rich and poor, Zillow’s data shows just over a quarter of the ZIP codes (over 5000 of them) have median home values below $100,000.

So for those of you with a cool $4 million in your back pocket we thought you might be interested in what all that loose change will buy you in the US compared with here at home. 

Well, you could pick up this 1,300 square metre home with 6 bedrooms and 7 bathrooms set on 4 acres of landscaped gardens in Wake Forest, North Carolina. 

If you don’t like the sound of that commute back to the office in Melbourne of Sydney, then you could get something a bit closer to home like this relatively modest house in leafy Malvern, Victoria.  It only has 4 bedrooms and 4 bathrooms on about 900 square metres of land, but it has enough space to park the SUV, and is within walking distance of fashionable High Street for spot of shopping and a latte. 

Image source: 

Or if you work in Sydney, you could snap up this cliff-top residence in Vaucluse.  It has 5 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms.  It’s not on its own estate but it has a great ocean view.

Image source: 

Calling all clients

David Lock Associates is running a client survey to make sure we are hitting the mark with our service delivery.
If you are a client or a collaborator please let us know what you think of our performance. You can find the survey here.

You can also go into the draw for a case of wine. The survey takes just five minutes.

Imagining Future Landscapes

If you stumble across Edward Burtynsky photographs you can’t help but be visually stunned by the beauty in his captured landscapes.

However, take another look because these are not natural phenomena rather manmade scars; the aftermath of humankind’s systematic ravishing of the earth in search of valuable but finite resources.

Burtynsky seeks out vast areas of waste materials from manufacturing, chemical run off from nickel works and cavernous mining holes in Western Australia and photographs these landscapes. I find that in his work he imposes a strange transitory beauty on these places. 

Image: Nickel Tralings #34 Sudbury Ontario Canada, 1996

The images of Western Australia – the “super pit” at Kalgoorlie and the Silver Lake Operations at Lake Lefroy are the landscapes of Australia’s future – the legacy our generation will leave. As planners can we imagine a vision for the future for these places? 

Image: Super Pit #4 Kalgoorlie Western Australia 2007

Image: Silver Lake Operations #16 Lake Lefroy, Western Australia, 2007

More information about the Edward Burtynsky can be found here

These boots were made for walking

A recent survey of America’s top 30 metropolitan areas – the findings of which are tabled in the publication ‘Foot Traffic Ahead - Ranking Walkable Urbanism in America’s Largest Metros’ reveals just how important Walkable Urban Places are – otherwise referred to as ‘WalkUPs’.  

To ascertain a city's walkability, the study looked at each city’s WalkUPs or areas where homes, offices, schools, retail, cultural and entertainment facilities/spaces are accessible by public transport, compared with driving. It then considered what percentage of a city's office and retail space was concentrated in those WalkUPs.

The report was prepared by LOCUS, a coalition of developers and investors who partnered with Smart Growth America and researchers at George Washington University. It demonstrates who’s winning, who’s in transition, and who’s lagging behind in the race towards capturing the market demand for WalkUPs.

Chris Leinberger, president of LOCUS, says that “as economic engines, as talent attractors and as highly productive real estate, these WalkUPs are a crucial component in building and sustaining a thriving urban economy. Cities with more WalkUPs are positioned for success, now and in the future.”

Based on the following major findings of the survey, dynamic, productive walkable districts are in high demand.
  • The top ranking metros had more office and retail space in their walkable areas which correlates to an average of 38% higher GDP per capita as compared with the lower ranking metros
  • The top ranking metros were also typified by a higher percentage of residents with university degrees.
  • Office rent in urban WalkUPs is at a 74% higher premium per square foot over drivable suburban areas.
  • WalkUPs are easier to navigate, have a higher concentration of housing and reduced carbon footprint.
Foot Traffic Ahead underlines the economic power of walkable places and identifies which metro areas are adding them fastest. The likes of Washington, DC, New York, Boston, the San Francisco Bay Area and Chicago ranked among the top current areas for walkable urbanism - no surprises there, as they have history on their side. Many of these locations are home to major industry and business and developed their infrastructure long before cars became an American mainstay, making them naturally more walkable.  Some cities with a reputation for urban sprawl, like Miami, Atlanta, Los Angeles and Denver, are however getting on board, making some surprising and unexpected shifts toward walkable urban development.
(See our other blog post: 'Who would have thought?')

Based on these unfolding trends, there is the potential for market demand for tens of millions more square feet of walkable urban developmentwhich equates to hundreds of new WalkUPs. Meeting this demand is an opportunity to create huge value for these communities – where a greater portion of the population have ease of access to jobs, schools, shopping, transportation, cultural and entertainment facilities, all the while attracting increasing development and investment every year. Sounds like a winning formula to me!

Image source: The Wake Up Call

Who would have thought?

Los Angeles, the city of bumper-to-bumper traffic and labyrinth of freeways, could be an up-and-coming city for WalkUPs [pedestrian orientated development], according to a new report Foot Traffic Ahead - Ranking Walkable Urbanism in America’s Largest Metros’, which ranks walkable urban areas in the top 30 metropolitan areas of the United States. You can see a video about the report here. Or for more check out 'These boots were made for walking'.

Car-friendly LA, as it turns out, ranked 18th on measures of walkable urbanism, out of the 30 metro areas surveyed. Only 16% of its office and retail space is in areas that are considered ‘walkable’. Yet 45% of that pedestrian-friendly space exists in the suburbs. So despite its sprawl, LA has potential to become a hub for walkable development.

In the early 20th century, LA boasted the longest rail system in the world. It was dismantled in the highway heyday of the '60s, but plans are again in place to revive it. Los Angeles is currently investing more into rail transit than any other metro in the US.

With committed funding of more than $40 billion over the next decade, five new rail lines are under construction in 2014, adding to the eight new commuter, light, and heavy rail lines already open.  The former rail system that Los Angeles developed around is essentially being re-built from scratch.

Suburban cities, including Pasadena and Santa Monica - both founded before the widespread adoption of cars - are also developing pedestrian-friendly initiatives, making new rail investment a viable long-term plan. It's hard to take a train to the 'burbs if you still need a car to leave the station right?

That being said, retrofitting suburban cities for walkability is easier said than done. How exactly do you make an immensely sprawling city like LA more community-oriented and more desirable? If LA continues to commit significant resources for new trains and pedestrian initiatives, the subway-streamlined city of Spike Jonze’s imagination in the movie ‘Her’ may just be possible - a future version of LA which is more dense, has better public transport and has managed to overcome its dependence on the car. No wonder this film resonates with architects and urban designers alike. 

Image source: Fast Company and Flickr

Designing out crime

The inspirational American-Canadian journalist and author, Jane Jacobs, gave us the concept of the ‘eyes on the street’ and we’ve been reminded of this concept with some recent and contrasting developments in Australia and India.

But could we use similar design and logic to achieve better safety outcomes in both places?

The City of Melbourne has just endorsed its Beyondthe Safe City Strategy 2014-17 which aims to achieve a vision ‘where people feel safe, connected and able to participate in city life at any time of the day or night’.

‘Safer by design’ is one of the seven key principles which underpin the strategy  and some of the actions include carrying out gender analyses and gender equity audits of public spaces to help identify, understand and address the different safety needs and issues for women and men.

The City of Melbourne works to utilise the principles of crime prevention through environmental design. While Melbourne advances its integrated approach, over in India there are major challenges in this area, but the key principles could still be applied.

New Delhi has landed itself with the disgraceful moniker of the rape capital of India.

While there may be many cultural issues at play for New Delhi, NeilPadukone in the Atlantic City Lab says perhaps one issue which has not been well considered is the role urban design can play in safety.

He says like many Indian cities, New Delhi has lots of ‘single use’ design, which may have had its roots in a positive agenda such as ensuring people didn’t live right next to industrial developments, but it is creating an unsafe environment in other ways.

Right now it is very hard to travel around by foot, bike or even public transport given the great distances between different parts of the city. The greenery and parks are so thick and overgrown that they don’t provide respite or safety, instead they can hide what goes on and the lighting is poor at night.

These limitations are not helping people feel safe – nor in reality are they safe.

Rather than following the American path of suburban sprawl, the face of Delhi could be improved with some mixed-use development.

Mixed use planning would enable women and girls to feel safer when they go about the normal business of daily life; going to work, taking the children to school, socialising etc. There would need to be commitment to change which includes more opportunities for ‘eyes on the street’, through the integration of social, industrial, retail and residential spaces with far better access by foot.

Not only are these approaches better for the environment, but they also provide access to a greater number of work opportunities – the more people are around and watching the safer you will feel and be.

As Padukone suggests it will be interesting to see how tightening economic circumstances with large growth in the city, provides the opportunity to rethink suburbia and prioritise safety and liveability.  

It's an app-ening thing

There are now apps for almost everything from banks to newspapers to restaurants; it seems everybody is jumping on board. Cities are joining the trend. The 2014 New Cities Summit in Dallas earlier this month showcased several new and emerging apps designed to address specific urban problems or enhance urban life. Angel Hsu, Project Director at EPI, outlined some of the following apps that were showcased at the summit:

Peerby is an app developed in the Netherlands that allows neighbours to share items with each other. The app makes it easy for neighbours to send out a request to borrow an item – for example a vacuum. If a neighbour has an item available, they can respond to the request.

Square is designed to let anyone accept credit card payments using just an iPhone. It's revolutionised garage sales and the like, and is well on the way to fulfilling the dream of a cashless society. Based exclusively in San Francisco, Square Wallet cuts the credit card out of the equation: just like with Foursquare, you check in at a location and then all you need to do to pay is say your name at the till. If you're a regular somewhere, it'll even check in automatically, letting you dispense with checkouts altogether.

Djump is an app similar to the likes of Uber or Lyft. The app offers an informal taxi service similar to a ride sharing service. The service limits trips to a 30km distance and users can then offer as much as they would like.  

Bridj is an app that leverages big data to create 'pop-up' mass transit routes. Bridj takes users directly between each point on the map. On average, this saves users about an hour each day compared with public transit. Bridj uses large-scale mass transit datasets to determine direct routes that will get people from point A to B much faster, on luxury buses with free wifi!

Social Cyclist allows users record their rides, report road conditions, request bike parking and request bike share stations. The app also allows users to make suggestions to local governments and planners as to where to improve or add bike lanes or other amenities.

NextDrop is a text messaging service for residents in cities with unreliable water provision. The app provides information to its users on:
  • When they’re getting water
  • When there's a delay in their supply
  • When pipe damage might affect them 
  • When someone in your community provides water updates.
There is a 10 rupee a month fee for the service, but sign up is free. It also provides a "Live-Valve Map" that shows the status of water delivery in every part of the city. The services are currently available in Hubli-Dharwad and Bangalore.

Whilst these apps are designed to ease the stresses of city life they are now meeting resistance from the cities themselves. Apps such as Djump, Lyft or Uber that give rides to strangers who would rather not wait for a taxi are butting heads with regulators that aren’t quite sure what to make of them. Taxi drivers in the US recently rallied in protest about unregulated car sharing services being able to operate without permits and licenses that they are required to have.

Like all emerging technology it takes time to iron out the creases. Regardless, the future of city-based app technology still looks very bright.  With the ability to find new things to do, places to eat and people to see; to unlock hidden gems in a city, or act like a local in a city you've never seen before all from the palm of your hand, the possibilities are endless.