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

Together Forever?

By Brodie Blades

Image Source: Fit for the Future

What comes to mind when you think of the word ‘Council’? Are you transported to a dynamic world of smiling faces capable of efficient decision-making, logicality and world-class customer service? Or the complete opposite? If you are in the latter category, it may surprise you that today’s typical Australian local government is an organisation that is becoming increasingly cognizant of the importance of efficiency and service delivery – even so far as progressing towards a more neo-Liberal ‘business model’ operation in which the achievement of self-sufficient, financially viable organisations is of paramount importance. One method of achieving enhanced viability, cost-effectiveness and efficiency in the local government sector is through Council amalgamations. 

The NSW State Government is currently exploring this issue under the Fit for the Future program of local government amalgamations, in which NSW’s 152 Local Government Areas (LGAs) have recently been required to submit their blueprints for change in a top-down State shake-up that could see many Councils merge or close. 

The NSW State Government argues that change is necessary, as more than one-third of the state’s Councils are either financially unviable or simply unable to provide the planning and regulatory capacity required to deal with unprecedented housing and infrastructure demand. Although a number of NSW’s Councils are receptive to the idea of amalgamation, most have indicated that they are opposed to the idea due to a range of issues such as an actual and perceived loss of local identity, employment opportunities and community services. This begs a key question: do Council amalgamations always result in positive outcomes, particularly for the communities that they serve?

The residents of Queensland’s Douglas, Livingston, Mareeba and Noosa Shires would certainly argue not. Although the Sunshine State is no stranger to the notion of a ‘mega-Council’ (Brisbane City Council is the largest Council area in Australia, providing municipal services to over 1 million residents), these Shires recently ‘de-amalgamated’ from their parent municipalities created by the Queensland State Government’s forced Council amalgamations in 2008. These amalgamations – which resulted in the slashing of LGAs in Queensland from 157 to 73 - led to the emergence of grassroots community movements such as the ‘Free Noosa’ movement and the ‘Capricorn Coast Independence Movement’, which ultimately escalated to form an election platform for the opposition Liberal government who promised to give Councils an opportunity to plead their case for de-amalgamation if elected. Having won government, responses were sought from affected Councils in which nineteen submissions were received and four were deemed to be financially viable. The issue was put to a referendum of local residents in each of the successful municipalities, in which the majority voted for de-amalgamation in all four instances. The Shires of Douglas, Livingston, Mareeba and Noosa were officially de-amalgamated from their parent municipalities and officially recognised as de-amalgamated, independent LGAs on 1 January 2014.

Similarly, in the wake of the Kennett Government’s 1994 Victorian Local Government amalgamations, residents in the Shire of Delatite successfully sought the de-amalgamation of the LGA into the Shires of Mansfield and Benalla after eight years of amalgamated operations. The story of Delatite’s de-amalgamation is often cited as a successful case study of bottom up resistance to forced government amalgamations, and – until the recent Queensland experience – was one of the few examples of successful municipal de-amalgamation within Australia. In more recent times, the ‘Sunbury Out of Hume’ movement is a further example of de-amalgamation that could potentially occur in Victoria in the coming months.

No doubt the experiences of the recent local government amalgamations in both Queensland and Victoria would be weighing on the minds of NSW’s communities, Councils and State Government as the State moves closer to resolution of the ‘Fit for Future’ amalgamation package. Perhaps the key lesson from the Victorian and Queensland experience is that the galvanised willpower of local communities to determine how they will be governed at the local level should be the primary guiding factor when it comes to local government in Australia. After all – regardless of efficiencies or cost-effectiveness – is community not the fundamental purpose of local government?

What have your experiences been? Have you lived or worked in a Council that was forced to amalgamate with a neighbour? What effect did it have on service delivery and efficiency? How was it received by the community?

Further reading:
Fit for the Future Council Amalgamations (NSW State Government) -
Queensland De-Amalgamations (Local Government Association Queensland) -

Smog-fighting urban sculptures

By Kathryn Cuddihy

Air pollution is a problem that effects cities all over the world. With populations expected to keep increasing in urban areas, the problems associated with smog and poor air pollution will have consequences for years to come.
Image source: Studio Roosegaarde

The Dutch city of Rotterdam is the first in the world to produce an urban sculpture that has the ability to suck in polluted air and produce an output of clean air.

Image source: Studio Roosegaarde

The structure acts as a giant ‘vacuum cleaner’ with the ability to clean 30,000 cubic metres of air in one hour. They are environmentally friendly as they run off wind power and also give back to communities as they output clean air into the atmosphere. The first was built using crowd funding at a price of $177,910. 

The structure itself has the ability to suck in polluted air, remove particles and blow out fresh air out of vents on the structure. The remaining particles are then turned into cufflinks or rings; each piece of jewelry is the equivalent of 1000 cubic metres of clean air and are sold.

Image source: Studio Roosegaarde

Urban art creates not only increases the beauty of a place, it can also create discussion and when the bi-products can be used to make products, why wouldn't we adopt these. Cities like Beijing and Mumbai could already use these to assist in reducing smog levels. Perhaps we could adopt these on freeways or in built up urban areas to beautify them as well as reduce pollution to allow those living in surrounding area the cleaner air they deserve.

To read more about these structures, visit:

Ride with me

By Sean Hua

Car drivers are apparently significantly more stressed on their commute than those that use other means of transport, as observed in this study in Montreal. Having to budget more time for their commute and the unpleasantness of the journey contributed to unhappy commuters. Have drivers have been conditioned to believe driving is the best way to get to work, and more importantly, do they have no other choice but to get to work by car? Would commuting drivers switch to public transport if they had better access to it?

Another study in Denver, Colorado, looked at the travel patterns of commuters, to see what impact accessibility to a station played on a person’s desire to use public transport. They assessed whether home or a workplace’s proximity to a station provided bigger impetus to use public transport. The results indicated three significant conclusions:
  1.  People are more likely than average to take public transport to work, if only their workplace was close to a station.
  2. People are more likely than average to drive if their workplace was far from a station, even if they have a station close to home.
  3. People are much more likely to take public transport if both ends of their commute are close to stations.
In Melbourne, both the road and rail networks appear to be near capacity. Frequent jams on the freeways and packed trains on the morning commute are symptomatic of this. Simultaneously, the polls during the recent leadership spill indicate the general public consensus is for Australia to act more on climate change. One important means to do so would be to use more efficient sustainable mass transport than a private car and its associated road infrastructure. The proposed Melbourne Metro Rail Project could be a step in the right direction, even if completion will be far into the future. Why? Read on.

This body of research suggests that the better penetration of the Melbourne CBD and inner suburbs by the Melbourne Metro Rail Project could significantly increase ridership. This is due to the CBD and the inner suburbs being areas with a high concentration of businesses, significantly higher than the middle and outer suburbs which are predominantly residential. As the evidence suggests, proximity to workplaces are a greater attractor for transit use than closeness to home.

However, increased connections around the CBD only focus on one end of the commute journey. Simultaneous residential development close to the stations and activity centres would allow both ends of a commute trip to be attractors. If the uptake of public transport occurs faster than the growth of population, it stands to reason that roads themselves would be more free of congestion, and that emissions would be reduced.

Both hard and soft incentives should be deployed to keep the now-excess road space from inducing driving demand and to promote public transport. With cleaner air, less noise, less stress and less lost-time, what more could you want?

Of course, combating climate change has many more facets than just switching from cars to trains, but for this at least… I’m all for it. Just one question though: if and when this change occurs, what do we do with all the roads?

To read more please see here.

For the studies, please see here and here. Please note, you will need to purchase the studies to view them.