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Urban greening in high density environments

Creating 'Vertical Forests' in high density residential developments

Appy neighbours

A 28-year-old Dutch man who lost his job, was dumped by his girlfriend, and returned home to find his apartment (and all his possessions) ablaze, has developed an App which turns the neighbourly act of lending your power drill, into a community building phenomenon.

For Dan Weddepohl, showing vulnerability wasn’t easy in the era of Facebook, where everybody seems to lead cheerful and happy lives. But it led him to an interesting discovery.

“Neighbours I didn’t really know up until then came by to bring all kinds of essential things, like food, blankets or cooking utensils,” Weddepohl recalls. “It turned out that people really like helping others. I also found out that asking for help creates real human contact. I realized that this is what really matters in life and not the designer clothes or the flashy car. It’s people that make you happy.”

The experience led Weddepohl to develop a website and mobile app called Peerby . The idea is to make it as easy as possible for people to borrow stuff they need from their neighbours. Users type into the app what they need — power drills, ladders and other tools for household projects are common requests. Peerby then queries nearby members. If someone has an item they’re willing to lend, they respond and use the app’s messaging tool to sort out the logistics. All this typically happens in less than 30 minutes.

More than just a temporary exchange of goods, these interactions have become a form of community building.

Of course, Peerby isn’t the only app focused on facilitating sharing among strangers. “Collaborative consumption” are increasingly meaningful buzzwords in a growing number of cities around the world. Everything from car rides (Uber, Lyft, Bla Bla Car, Snappcar) to meals (PlateCulture, MealSharing) to lodging (Airbnb, Couchsurfing) to clothes (DigNSwap, Rewear) can be exchanged through apps.

Read more about it here.

Watch: Daan Weddepohl’s winning presentation at the New Cities Foundation’s 2014 AppMyCity! competition.

Banner image credit:imore.come

Full Steam ahead for the Bays Precinct

A summit of international industry leaders was held over 3 days in Sydney late last month to join great minds in planning for the urban transformation project known as the Bays Precinct.

This summit drew on the expertise of global, national and local urban transformation specialists to explore best-practice urban renewal from across the globe, as well as investment and finance options for infrastructure to better inform the development of this precinct. The world leading urban renewal experts provided ideas and lessons learnt on the best ways to revitalise Sydney’s inner harbour area.

The Summit highlighted some challenges to be addressed and UrbanGrowth NSW will now begin preparing a statement of principles to guide its evolution, before more detailed strategic plans are advanced next year.

So where is The Bays Precinct? It is within 2km to the west of Sydney’s CBD, it consists of 80 hectares of government owned land and harbour waterways. And what is it? The Bays Precinct Urban Transformation Program will transform currently underutilised areas into a destination that will contribute significantly to the economic, cultural and social wellbeing of the city and the state.

The Bays Precinct will be revitalised as a world-class, iconic waterfront destination, and will deliver vibrant and dynamic places for the city and the State. Read more here

Danger diesel

Diesel: outdated and dirty, or a model for excellent fuel-efficiency in a more environmentally conscious world? When I was a child, my father the engineer and car enthusiast, would stress to me how diesel pumped out harmful sulphur-based fumes. When I became older and the costs of owning a car were factored into my lifestyle, the modern “ultra-low-sulphur” diesel engines were attractive thanks to better bang-for-your-buck, and, for the benefit of my conscience, lower CO2 emissions than petrol.

Car makers have seen some sense in this too. In recent years, Australia has been increasingly following European Union emission regulations, and we have witnessed some car models like the Ford Territory replace their larger petrol engines with smaller diesel ones.

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What do we do then, when Europe decides to ban diesel? Authorities in the UK and France are beginning a push to curb and eventually get diesel cars off the road in the name of other pollutants like Nitrogen oxides and various carcinogens. Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris wants diesel cars out of the city, with a plan to become more friendly to pedestrians and cycling-dominated instead. Boris Johnson, the famed mayor of London, similarly has plans to halve pollution and introduce hybrid buses, and zero-emission taxis.

What this means for their cities is a shift away from personal motor vehicles to public and active transport. The byproducts of more active citizens and less-congested roads could even be beneficial for the economy thanks to fewer lost hours from poor health or being late to work.

What would our cities look and feel like with such changes? We (perhaps) no longer have an East-West tunnel to think about here in Melbourne, so would that investment be better placed where Paris and London have put theirs? We have followed Europe on vehicular emissions so far… will we keep doing so?

Read more:

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Tree time back in favour

Who doesn’t like a nice avenue of street trees? Most of us would agree that an avenue of trees makes for a more pleasant urban environment.

But there are some people who have good reason not to like trees of course: plumbers (tree roots get in your pipes), power companies (those branches get stuck in the power lines – give them the chop), builders (roots can damage footings) and the people who lay the footpaths around them.

We found this recent article by Alan Davies in ‘The Urbanist’ as a reminder of the benefits of planting street trees with his suggested “green the streets of Australia” program.

Tree planting was something that seemed to be commonplace a few generations ago, but then fell out of favour. As these trees are now getting to the end of their life expectancy it seems that street tree planting is now back on the agenda.

Our observations in Melbourne are that street tree planting is making a comeback. The wide tree-lined boulevards that were established in Melbourne many years ago such as St Kilda Road, Dandenong Road and Mt Alexander Road rated a mention in Plan Melbourne as something to draw inspiration from in our new transport corridors. The City of ME Melbourne City Council is also focussing on greening the city through a comprehensive tree planting program. 

Ackland Street, St Kilda
Image credit: DLA

Church Street, Middle Brighton
Image credit: DLA
As cities densify, the role of streets to provide amenity, recreation and ecological benefit becomes more important. Streets become de-facto ‘open space’ in urbanised areas where people walk, jog, ride, drive, sit, eat, drink and meet up with friends. Other than our home and workplace, the street is the place where the majority of us spend most of our time, and it is the place where we all come together and experience the city – so it’s an investment that benefits everyone in some way (even the plumbers and electricity providers amongst us), which can’t be a bad thing can it?

Arc-ing up for architecture

Interesting machinations in Victoria with the Australian Institute of Architects seeking to have the use of registered architects mandated for Victorian buildings over three stories, after some architects have been dropped from building projects once permits were granted.

While the Housing Industry Association opposes the move, there appears to be support from the City of Melbourne and some other inner city councils, particularly in relation to high rise building permits. Strangely enough they want to see a property built the way the architect intended and the way it was approved!

It seems that a recent trend of dumping architects to save money once a planning permit is granted, is resulting in poor outcomes with attractive features dropped from new high rise developments.

The Age has reported that the City of Melbourne has taken this issue to Victoria’s newly sworn in Planning Minister, Richard Wynne, asking him to ensure architects Elenberg Fraser are kept on for an 89-storey project on Spencer Street.

These rules are already in place in NSW thanks to the State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP) 65 good design principles.

Wave Building in Broadbeach, showing the style and quality of an architecturally designed apartment building 
Image credit: DLA
Who wants new buildings that don’t contribute to the public realm or are built with poor materials? We sit pretty firmly behind the AIA on this one!