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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

Smart Cities = Smart Governance

Will larger Council areas accomplish better planning decisions? Food for thought.

Possibly the most controversial topic in NSW Planning reform is the amalgamation of Sydney Councils. Will the proposed Council amalgamations result in improved governance and allow for better planning decisions? Or will larger council areas result in decision making losing touch with the local area?

Local Governments had until the end of June to submit their ‘Fit for the Future’ responses and prove they have ‘sufficient scale and capacity’ to cope with future demands, or they face a merge with a neighbouring Council.

Figure 1: NSW Governments ‘Fit For the Future’ program to reduce the number of Sydney councils from 42 to about 15. Image source: Sydney Morning Herald (SMH)

Councils are being evaluated based on four criteria: scale and capacity; sustainability; infrastructure and service management and efficiency. In regard to scale and capacity, Councils have been set a population target over 100,000, which at the time of the 2011 Census, was only achieved by 18 of the 42 Sydney Councils.

The main argument in favour of bigger councils is that it increases strategic capacity of Councils, however this is met by a strong opposition that argues that amalgamations will lead to a diminishing representation of local communities. 'Local councils should remain local' is a popular slogan found in many Council Customer Service Centres across Sydney.

Councils' stances on proposed amalgamations are as follows:

Hunters Hill, Ryde, Lane Cove, Ku-Ring-Gai, Manly, Pittwater, Auburn, Holroyd, Botany Bay, Leichhardt, Strathfield, Ashfield, Canada Bay, Burwood, Hurstville, Marrickville, Woollahra, Mosman, Fairfield, North Sydney, Kogarah, Randwick, City of Sydney, Liverpool, Canterbury

Hornsby, Warringah

Willoughby (still consulting), Rockdale (still doing consultation), Parramatta (still consulting), Waverley (preparing report on consultation for council)

No merger required:
Bankstown, Blacktown, Blue Mountains, Camden, Campbelltown, Hawkesbury, The Hills, Penrith, Sutherland, Wollondilly

Councils which are resisting mergers most loudly are ones with a long history and a strong local identity. Among the most vocal opponents are council areas where the borders give a certain cachet to their residents, such as Mosman or Hunters Hill. Others have long histories such as the City of Ryde, which traces its history back to 1841. Under the new plan Ryde would be cut in two.

UDIA NSW Chief Executive Stephen Albin has said that although NSW as a whole does not support the amalgamations, they will undeniably create efficiencies in the NSW Planning System. “Forty three Councils in Sydney, each with their own set of planning processes, makes the job of delivering development incredibly difficult, especially when a project crosses one or even two Council boundaries,” he said.

Further Reading:

Who's in the right

A couple of months ago I was headed to work from Domain Interchange. While crossing the road, some volunteers dressed up in City of Melbourne gear handed me a small card that turned out to be part of Council's 'Share Our Streets' campaign. I had a quick scan of it but didn't really pay much attention if I'm being honest. That was, at least, until last week when I hopped on a tram and picked up one of their flyers that also covered road safety. A quick comparison of their language and scope reveals what appear to be vastly different priorities.

Firstly, I had a deeper look at Share Our Streets. City of Melbourne aims their message at pedestrians and cyclists. For example, they have instructions on how to ride your bicycle 'at a slow speed', how to walk 'stay left', and how to cross the street 'remember to look up and around you'. All pretty self-explanatory, and, one would expect, common knowledge for most functioning adults. Crucially though, only one component targets car drivers: Tips to avoid car-dooring 'Always use your mirrors'. There is no suggestion that city driving could be made safer by, perhaps, respecting speed limits, or not texting while driving, or always indicating and checking blind spots when changing lanes. These rules are often flaunted and lead to critical incidences. What I take from this is the following: Everyone watch out for cars; cars, carry on as usual except when you're parked.

Conversely, Yarra Trams adopts a more rounded view. Their instructional flyer considers the safety of alighting passengers (cars don't always slow down), how cars can consider them (please slow down!), and how both should consider the stopping distances of lorries and trams when pulling sudden movements. The overall impression I get is: Everybody, be nice to one another and the city will just work a little bit smoother, a little bit better, and most importantly, a little bit safer.

Source: City of Melbourne

Perhaps City of Melbourne considers driver education to be the responsibility of VicRoads (which it is), and enforcement of road rules to be the responsibility of the police (which it is). Cars and car drivers are least at risk from other kinds of traffic in the city, and yet they have the potential to cause some of the most damaging collisions. Should the responsibility of safely sharing roads be shouldered by those most at risk, as suggested by the City of Melbourne? Or should all of us be more careful like Yarra Trams suggests?

I know which one I'd pick.

By Sean Hua – Urban Designer/Urban Graphics

Life in the text lane...

Who reading this article is guilty of using their phone whilst walking and in particular crossing busy roads? GUILTY. Though we claim that our lives are getting busier and busier, we still find time to mindlessly check facebook and instragram numerous times a day.  In fact, recent studies have shown that people check their phones up to 150 times a day (Woollaston, 2013). And as we are so time poor, many people carry out the unsafe habit of texting whilst on the move. This is leading to a rise in the amount of unnecessary injuries due to distracted people walking into trams, cars, bikes and other pedestrians. In 2013, a study at the Ohio State University found that distracted walking injuries in the US are rising fast, with, 1506 recorded in the US emergency rooms in 2010, up from 256 in 2005 (Benedictus, 2014).

To combat this issue, Washington DC undertook a social experiment trialling a ‘phone lane’, which involved dividing the footpath into lanes marked 'no cellphone' on the left and 'cellphones: walk in this lane at your own risk' on the right (AFP, 2013). Unfortunately, the social experiment failed, with mobile phone users walking where they liked. And if they did notice the line markings, taking a selfie with it. The idea was also implemented in Chongqing City, China, however, it was reported that people didn’t particularly pay attention to the signage and were walking freely into traffic on the road.

In Melbourne, there have been several accidents where distracted phone users have been hit by trams or cyclists. So what is the solution? As a social experiment the ‘phone lane’ failed. But lets be honest, how is a lane without barriers going to stop a distracted person on their smart phone from walking into danger.

Perhaps it is a matter of redesigning the street to be more like a bowling alley with the bumper bars up, so like the bowling ball, people can’t stray off course.  Perhaps we could put electric fences up along the kerb so that people get a zap before they step out across the road.

On a more serious note, perhaps there should be a fine introduced for people texting whilst crossing roads. The Utah Transit Authority has introduced a $50 fine for distracted walking in the vicinity of trains (Benedictus, 2014).

Or, perhaps an app needs to be invented that warns you of danger ahead, vibrating when you’re about to hit something (Benedictus, 2014). Genius. What do you think?

To read the complete story head to the following links:

By Julia Bell, Senior Urban Designer

'Aladdin City' - A Reality

Ever dreamed of living in Genie’s lamp? Dubai provides an opportunity to experience this. The Dubai Municipality (DM) is officially starting the design of ‘Aladdin City’. The project will comprise almost 111,480 square metres of commercial and hotel space and 900 parking spots. It is expected to begin construction by next year and aims to increase tourism and boost the economy by the 2020 World Expo.

The project will be spread across 4000 acres and will include three main towers shaped like the genie lamps. The towers will be 25, 26 and 34 storeys high and will be connected by 450 metres moving walkways like the magic carpet of Aladdin.

As much as the proposal sounds funky and exciting, it seems to be another one of Dubai’s projects that will have high environmental impacts and offcourse this issue is not spoken about. The complex will spread over a distance of 450 metres on the historic Dubai Creek. The site will sit outside the area that is currently bidding to become a UNESCO world heritage site. Even though the towers are proposed to be built on the Dubai Creek there doesn’t seem to be any physical connection to the water body, like the walkways are elevated from the water and lose the opportunity to connect with the creek.

Dubai in past has already built artificial islands like Palm Jumeirah, The World and Palm Deria in the Persian Gulf. These islands have affected the marine life of Dubai and the region has lost almost 70 per cent of its coral reefs since 2001. Such developments do a lot of damage during and after the construction process. For example, almost 94 million cubic metres of sediments was dredged during the construction of Palm Jumeirah Island.

It looks like Dubai has not learned from its past and intends to start impacting the water quality of Dubai Creek now. It will be interesting to see how this proposal will respond to the environmental and heritage concerns related to the project are addressed.

To read complete story of ‘Aladdin City’ follow the link below:

By Amruta Purohit, Urban Designer

Real 'Green' Highrise Living

New apartment buildings in Sydney could see a huge reduction in real environmental impacts if actions outlined in a draft residential sustainability plan put together by the City of Sydney is implemented into legislation. This coincides with a shift to make apartment building design ‘greener’, for example, One Central Park which includes a 116 metre high vertical garden.

With approximately 90 per cent of new homes in the city to be high rise apartments by 2030, the City of Sydney Council plans to make apartment living more environmentally friendly in line with the Sustainable Sydney 2030 goals.

Key targets for Sydney apartments:
  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 per cent by 2030
  • Reduce water consumption by 7 per cent by 2030
  •  Divert 70 per cent of waste from landfill by 2021

At the moment, apartments account for about 10 per cent of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions.
BASIX targets currently require detached and semi-detached dwellings to emit 40 per cent less greenhouse gas than the NSW per capita benchmark, whereas the figure for high-rise apartments is only 20 per cent.

The draft residential sustainability plan is based on data that was collected in the Smart Green Apartments program run by the City of Sydney, and include reviewing and advocating higher BASIX targets to create buildings that not only appear 'green' but perform well environmentally.

The draft residential sustainability plan will be on exhibition until 11 June 2015, and a final plan will go before the council towards the end of 2015.

By Tim Cooper - Planner Sydney

Link to original article:

One Central Park by Ateliers Jean Nouvel and PTW Architects. Image: Simon Wood

David Boyle Architect’s Polychrome project was shortlisted for the 2015 NSW Architecture Awards for Residential Architecture – Multiple Housing and Sustainable Architecture. Image: Brigid Arnott

Power to the People

By Brodie Blades – Senior Planner

The votes are in and being tallied for Vancouver’s recent transit referendum. Citizens of the west-coast Canadian city were asked whether they supported a 0.5 per cent  increase to the existing state sales tax for the funding of transit infrastructure.

If successful, the increase will fund a range of transit infrastructure investments across metropolitan Vancouver, including bridge replacements, new subway lines, a new light rail system, enhanced bus services and frequency as well as enhanced ferry services. This would effectively be the biggest investment in public transportation infrastructure in the city since the 2010 Winter Olympics!

Melbourne and Vancouver have long been considered comparable in many facets (not least of all ‘liveability’), which in itself begs an important question: given the comparability of Melbourne and Vancouver – and the similarities in growing populations and transit infrastructure needs – should the concept of transit referendums and tax increases be considered here?

Transit referendums and sales tax increases for transit investment are not new concepts in North America. For example, in 2010 the residents of San Francisco voted ‘yes’ (51 per cent  to 49 per cent) to support an additional $10 a year on the fee for vehicle registrations. This translated into an additional $5 million a year for street repairs, upgrades to reliability and mobility, and enhanced pedestrian safety. Similarly, 54 per cent of the residents of Oklahoma voted ‘yes’ in 2009 for a 1 per cent sales tax increase over seven years, which raised $777 million for a new light rail system, commuter lines, transit hubs, sidewalks and bicycle/walking trails.

Perhaps the most interesting is the 2008 case of Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Agency (LACMTA) ‘Measure R’, which similarly proposed a 0.5 per cent sales tax increase on each dollar of taxable sales within Los Angeles County for thirty years in order to pay for transportation projects and improvements. 67.22 per cent of Los Angelenos said yes to the proposal, which seeks to reverse the trend of car-dependency within the county through transit infrastructure projects such as a LAX rail connection, new subway lines (including the ‘Subway to the Sea’ and new Green Line), freeway widening and implementation of carpool lanes.

In Melbourne, recent discourse on transit infrastructure investment has been closely entwined with political agendas as evidenced by the recent proposal for the East-West Link. The fallout from this argument has resulted in a dichotomy between public transport advocates (Doncaster Rail, new rolling stock, airport connectivity etc.) and road infrastructure supporters.

Whichever view you take, the question at large always returns to value for money and foresight - as the East-West Link’s estimated project cost of $6-$8 billion equals could equally be applied to other transit projects across our region. Perhaps it is time to remove the politics from transit investment in Melbourne and adopt a bottom-up approach that returns power to the people through a referendum/plebiscite on the issue.

Although unprecedented in Australia, Vancouver’s recent transit referendum and sales tax increase begs the question of whether the same could work here. What do you think? Would you support an increase in tax if it meant both having a direct say in transit investment as well as facilitating tangible transit infrastructure provision?

Further reading:

·         Moving a Livable Region – Metro Vancouver’s Transit Referendum:
·         LACMTA Measure R:

Mapping Your City's Smells

At the University of Cambridge scientists have been collecting data on how urban smells can influence urban life.

An urban smell dictionary has been created that comprehensively covers unpleasant or 'emission' odours to pleasant smelling or 'nature' odours.

After gathering data for a number of cities researchers focussed on London and Barcelona. Through social media they were able to detect where 'emission' smells and 'nature' smells were concentrated.

Check out the results below.



Poor air quality seemed to be concentrated around main throughfares (darker red), while 'nature' words (identified in green) were concentrated around the cities major parks.

Maybe use of smell can allow monitoring of pollution levels and lead to future planning decisions to reduce sections of a city being unpleasant on the nose. Or as the author states - create a wayfinding app to give users the most pleasant-smelling route to their destination.

Read the full article here.

Image source: Quercia, Schifanella, Aiello and McLean