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Urban greening in high density environments

Creating 'Vertical Forests' in high density residential developments

Will they stay or will they go

Image credit: Gareth Williams
Young professionals starting families are increasingly choosing the suburbs to raise a family.

With decent schools, good services, lower crime and affordable housing, the prospect of moving to the suburbs is attractive to those with small children and as priorities change. Previously, these young professionals tended to live in walkable urban areas.

A panel discussion on this topic was hosted by the Urban Land Institute in Washington, D.C. One of the panellists states, "If you build a city filled with efficiencies and one-bedrooms you are pushing people out at exactly the time that they are starting to put down roots and spend money."

By building housing stock to cater to singles, couples and the ‘childless’ you exclude an entire demographic from setting up roots. Should cities look at ways to accommodate families before they depart? Do you think that they do enough? And does it make economic sense to keep families in cities?

The recently released discussion paper ‘Better apartments’ raises similar questions in relation to housing diversity. It notes that ‘only 5% of apartments being constructed or marketed include three or more bedrooms. This could mean that very few apartments are suited to the long-term needs of household with children who tend to prefer more than two bedrooms’.

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Glass bridges

China has done it again. 

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If you are suffer a fear of heights this may not be for you. But if you are an adrenaline junkie, conquering the highest bungee jump in the world could be right up your alley.

The world’s highest and longest skywalk is due to open in China in July.

The skywalk at the Grand Canyon of Zhangjiagie spans two cliffs and stretches 430 metre, is six metres wide and has a drop of 300 metres! That sounds okay right?! Add to this that the skywalk is glass and you can see straight down. No thank you!

Capable of holding 800 tourists at a time, the plus side is you will be able to view the stunning national park (inspiration for the movie Avatar). 

Five million catch ‘the G’

Since its launch in July 2014, the Gold Coast light rail system, dubbed ‘the G’ has had more than five million paid trips. The equivalent of each person in Queensland making a trip.

The Gold Coast light rail project is one of the biggest public transport projects in the country, and the biggest transport infrastructure project ever undertaken on the Gold Coast.

Image credit @thebridegene
Patronage across the tram and bus system have increased by 22.6 per cent in the first 8 months since the G and bus network changes were implemented.

TransLink's Deputy Director-General Stephen Banaghan said "What the Gold Coast trams have created is a measurable and real global increase in commuters using both trams and buses across the whole network."

It seems the students from Griffith University are making use of the network. Many of the 20,000 students are getting on board. When the semester started there was a 34.1 per cent increase at use of the Griffith University Hospital campus stop.

Read more about ‘the G’ in the links below.

Smart Lighting

Image credit @EDIFICIO AYASHA, Arq. Jose Orrego, Bogota – Colombia

Expanding urbanisation and expected population growth in cities is placing pressure on finite resources. There needs to be smarter thinking around how energy resources are used as urban areas expand. What technologies can be adopted and implemented by cities to improve resident’s lives as well as be more energy efficient.

A report entitled Lighting the Clean Revolution: the rise of LED and what it means for cities was developed by Philips and the Climate Group in 2012 to look into the application of LED (light-emitting diode) lighting in cities.

Harry Verhaar from Philips states that lighting accounts for 19 per cent of the world’s total electricity consumption. He advocates the use of smart lighting such as LED lighting at street level to bring about electricity savings of 50-70 per cent.

Cities including Sydney have implemented a program to roll out LED lights. So far they have installed more than 5,545 lights in parks and at street level. The city has already saved almost $370,000 and reduced energy use more than 46% since March 2012. There are plans to replace about 6,500 conventional lights with LEDs over the next 3 years. It is the first of its kind in Australia.

Producing a brighter light than a traditional street light, LED lights makes a huge difference to a community’s sense of safety, as well as improve the look and feel of a city. Often lighting can be overlooked, however, other cities such as New York, London and Hong Kong have joined Sydney to trial LED lights. This was arranged by the international environment collective, the Climate Group.

To read more about how innovative urban lighting is catching on follow the links below:
'Tower of Ring' (LED light design)Image credit: Eastern Design Tianjin (China) -

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Aging in a Dense Urban Environment – Putting the Oldies to Work

Could urban farming in dense built form environments help manage the needs of the aging population?

The 2015 Intergeneration Report – Australia in 2055 projects that the number of Australians aged 65 and over will more than double by 2055 compared with today. As part of this trend, it is expected that the labour force may decline, resulting in a smaller tax base therefore less ability to deliver services at the standards expected by the community (Australian Government, 2015). Providing flexible and suitable work opportunities to allow those over 65 to continue in the workforce will reduce the impact the aging population has on the economy.

The aging population trend is not just affecting Australia. Across Asia, the population is aging at a rapid rate.

“The number of people aged 65 and above in Asia is expected to grow 314% from 207 million in 2000 to 857 million in 2050” (SPARK Architects, 2015)

Singapore is no exception with its age distribution shifting significantly (SPARK Architects, 2015). To respond to this, the Singapore Government has established the Ministerial Committee on Aging (MCA), which has developed a vision for what is titled “Successful Aging”. Successful Aging is described as the “enhancement of participation, health, and security for seniors” (SPARK Architects, 2015).

Not only does Singapore have an aging population, it also faces food security issues due to its reliance on imports. Singapore has no hinterland for farming, therefore, 90% of its food source is imported (SPARK, 2015). To address both the aging demographic and food scarcity, SPARK Architects has come up with a conceptual idea for high density affordable retirement housing combined with urban farming. “The proposal titled “Home Farm”, integrates vertical aquaponic farming and rooftop soil planting with high-density housing designed for seniors that provides residents with a desirable garden environment and opportunities for post-retirement employment” (SPARK Architects, 2015).

The concept is described as offering multi-dimensional benefits related to economics, food security and quality, social engagement, health, sustainability, place making and healthcare provision (SPARK Architects, 2015).

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The high density design includes a range of unit sizes to respond to different preferences for living arrangements and financial situations. SPARK director Stephen Pimbley says that “it has potential to be implemented anywhere that has the climate to support leafy green vegetables on building facades and rooftops” (SPARK, 2015).

 One of the key objectives of Home Farm is the delivery of jobs for seniors where they live. Job opportunities stemming from this proposal include planting, harvesting, sorting, packing, tours, sales on site, delivery, cleaning, and so on (SPARK Architects. 2015). The work completed can then be remunerated through a salary, contribution to bills or free produce contributing to the health of the elderly residents.

With Australia facing similar issues with regards to an aging population, how we design our cities and housing will need to adapt to these changing conditions, ensuring the aging population has access to a diverse range of affordable housing in highly accessible locations. Perhaps the Home Farm model could work in Australia. The implementation of frameworks like Home Farm could provide the aging population a salary to supplement their super/ pension, along with free healthy produce and an outlet to get involved in social activities.
 What do you think? Could we remodel the retirement village template to a higher density outcome with the incorporation of urban farming? Could this model be built into how we undertake urban renewal developments into the future?

You can read more about the proposal here


Winter is coming (it does sounds like a line taken from Games of Thrones!), but it is certainly not the time to hibernate until spring shows up. Exploring Melbourne urban environment is a continuous challenge, nor can the cold weather, rain or hail stop the city from burgeoning.

If you have not wandered at the back end of the Art Centre in Southbank, now is the time. Testing Grounds has been one of Melbourne’s best ‘pop up’ in the last past year and is extending its stay for another 12 months. A temporary space is not your ordinary traditional pop up. It occupies an empty space, be it a decaying site or future development site, until it reaches its next stage. It performs several functions in the urban environment and community life.

Testing Grounds was initiated by The Projects with the support of Arts Victoria. It lies in a weird location between Sturt Street, Fanning Street, and City Road. It is concealed behind the Australia Ballet and its only neighbours are tall residential and commercial buildings. It is definitively not the coolest or most inviting location in town and yet, this space acts as a powerful catalyst for creativity while bringing life in Southbank’s unloved and forgotten precinct.

This outdoor space features a series of shipping containers, which are fitted to suit the evolving needs of visitors and artists. As such it contains a bar, artists’ space, workshop areas and landscaping. The different elements can be assembled to create a stage, host an art exhibition or use for urban farming.

Image credit: Testing Grounds
Image credit: Testing Grounds
This temporary space is a true open space in between the raw surrounding built form. It attracts the general public, residents, students and professionals (and kids too – read more on kids friendly cities here) and invite them to experiment a space in constant evolution.

Image credit: Testing Grounds 
Image credit: Testing Grounds
Although some temporary spaces seem to be more permanent than they should, it is undeniable that they serve a purpose bigger than occupying an empty space.

Who knows what is next? Will it turn into a residential building once its mission is accomplished?

People's market, Collingwood

Image Credit: Urban Inc
Oxley Apartments (under construction) - Former People's market location

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Kids Friendly Cities

For those of you who thought this story was going to be about baby goats living in urban environments, you might be disappointed. Kid friendly cities is about designing for the needs of children in public spaces. It’s not a new concept of course, the well-known town planner Jane Jacobs wrote about how children and teenagers were being designed out of public spaces of American Cities in the early 1960’s (amongst other things). 

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Anyway, when we came across this interesting blog from ‘Sustainable Calgary’with six fast facts on what kids need in cities, we thought we’d ask ourselves whether we've seen some interesting child friendly public spaces around Australia that might address some of these needs. 

A few that come to mind include the Children’s Garden at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne. It’s a good example of a free public space where children can interact with nature - it comes complete with a mini-watercourse for floating twigs down the river. The bronze pigs in Rundle Mall (a bronze sculpture of four very cute life-sized pigs installed back in 1999) became a hit with children shopping with their parents in the Adelaide CBD and the interactive fountain ‘Water Labyrinth in Forest Place, Perth. 

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 We’re interested to hear about your experiences as former children or current parents in our cities. Are planners and urban designers doing better job of designing for kids in public space lately? What are some great child-friendly spaces in your neighbourhood?