London Underground - reimagined!

Alternates to the London Underground map

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

Built Form Back on the Agenda

By Brodie Blades

The recent appointment of Jamie Briggs MP as the Minister for Cities and the Built Environment by the Turnbull government formalises a resurgence of the importance of our cities within the Federal agenda – the likes of which we haven’t seen since the Whitlam/Fraser era of politics.

Image source: Parliament of Australia
At face value this represents a sorely needed prioritisation of planning and the built environment within Federal circles, and you would certainly be forgiven for being swept up with the potential positives this could bring. The Planning Institute of Australia have ‘warmly welcomed’ the intention of the appointment in heralding a new era of coordinated and well planned development.

It has been almost five decades since the Federal government’s previous significant intervention into the Australian city, this is not the first time that urbanism has been formally recognised through Federal portfolios and the question arises as to what can we learn from previous frontbench appointments.

A logical starting point would be Prime Minister McMahon’s early 1970’s appointment of Kevin Cairns as a traditional Minister for Housing who – in 1972 – recommended an Inquiry into the Australian City that would be a fact-finding exercise on all levels of government (and the industry) to determine future action. Whilst promising, the Inquiry was never initiated and the Whitlam Government’s coming-to-power shortly thereafter shifted priorities to the newly created ‘Department of Urban and Regional Development’ as a platform for ongoing advocacy and coordinated change. Unfortunately, with the demise of the Whitlam Government in 1975, the Fraser government installed John Carrick as the Minister for Cities, he lasted for a total of 41 days before the portfolio was terminated.

The dismantling of this position heralded a general shift away from urban prioritisation and intervention within subsequent governments, the Howard/Abbott government’s sought little policy intervention in Australian cities while the Rudd/Gillard government’s ‘Major Cities Unit’ was a largely academic role in producing reports (including the ‘State of Australian Cities Report’) and advocating for policy.

Based on this, the precedent set regarding urbanism and the Federal government appears to be one of constant evolution with limited outcomes, which is perhaps symptomatic of political intervention in urbanism in general. Above and beyond this, Professor Alan Davies writes an excellent article here on the specific barriers facing meaningful action with the recent appointment of Jamie Briggs, which includes limited regulatory capacity, the actual influence of the portfolio in comparison to others that exist, the discrepancy between Malcom Turnbull’s sophisticated understanding of the complexity of urban issues compared to that of the government as a whole, and expenditure powers.

However, the potential of the portfolio to act as a vehicle for meaningful action cannot be ignored. Greater advocacy, streamlined collaboration, formal prioritisation of urban issues, greater industry engagement and the potential for coordination of long term change programs are all direct possibilities of the creation of the new cities portfolio.

Planners and urban design professionals have long since understood the importance of cities and the built environment to the future of Australia, and at face value the recent creation of the Cities and Built Environment portfolio align elements of Federal decision-making with this understanding.

While the above would indicate that it is perhaps too early to celebrate, surely the appointment of Jamie Briggs can only elevate the importance of built form and Australian cities within both the minds of decision makers as well as the conversations of every day Australians – which in itself is perhaps all that is needed as a catalyst for meaningful action for the future of Australian cities.

What do you think? What do you see as being the biggest challenges and potential outcomes of this appointment?

Further Reading:

Places for People

By Sean Hua

Hot on the heels of my previous article about experiencing the city on foot, eminent staff from the City of Melbourne have been engaged with the media over their Places For People report. Robert Doyle (Lord Mayor) and Rob Adams (Director of City Design) both speak about designing cities such that they are accessible and attractive environments for people to get around on foot. Built into this equation is the necessity for cities to provide the requisite services and amenities within a walking distance.
Balancing these factors effectively prioritises pedestrians over cars. As I mentioned before, we must design for the speed at which we want to move through a space. Fast, car-paced movement is a poor environment for pedestrians. Likewise, slow, walking-paced movement is not conducive to driving. Try speeding on Bourke Street Mall, or having a leisurely stroll down the middle of the Hume Highway. It just doesn’t mix.

There will be opposition. While those backing the independence an automobile provides might be worried at such a change, the last 3 decades of interventions – blocking off streets to cars, increasing the active frontages at street level, improving paving conditions etc. – within the City of Melbourne have clearly increased the vibrancy of the CBD.

Melbourne isn’t the only city to have experienced this change. Fly to the opposite end of the world to New York, and you will find a city who themselves have experienced a dramatic positive change to crime levels and street activity in the last 30-40 years. The Highline, one of the city’s more well-known rejuvenation projects, is off limits to cars. Now, there is even talk of turning the iconic and fabled Broadway into a linear park. Who gets to use it? You guessed it: cars don’t.

I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s always worth repeating… we’ve got the knowledge and the capability here to do some great things with our cities, for our people. So why follow when we can lead?

Eco-friendly building projects

By Kathryn Cuddihy

Two urban building projects, in New York City and Portland, Oregon, have been designed using environmentally-friendly wood instead of concrete and steel. Could this innovative use of material show a glimpse of what cities of the future could look like and how environmentally-friendly materials may change our skylines?

The Guardian
As winners of the US Tall Wood Building Prize Competition, each building is designed to be safe, practical, sustainable and a minimum of 80 feet high.

The use of sustainable materials is important with timber coming from forests that are renewable, this ensures there is enough stock for future use, and forests aren’t just cut down. Much of the timber used is low-grade, it has no other uses and has previously been affected by disease or insects. Once it has been treated it becomes strong, durable and is a useful building material.

The Guardian

The Guardian
Other positive qualities of timber buildings are that they are dense enough that it is resistant to fire, earthquakes, wind and other elements. For example, during a fire timber chars on the outside and retain strength and slow combustion.

Timber-built buildings also reduce greenhouse gas emissions by storing carbon in their walls and frame. The New York City building looks to reduce energy consumption by 50 per cent compared to a normal building.

If we could harness the use of more sustainable materials during building construction I think this is a great way to ensure cities of tomorrow are sustainable as well as beautiful (if the images here are anything to go by). What are your thoughts on sustainable materials?

Read more (and see more) images by clicking on the links below.

Tap and pay: changing the way we move

Would easier fare payment increase your likelihood of taking public transport?

Image: Planetizen

Tap and pay eftpos was introduced at a similar time to myki, and has been embraced by consumers and industry. The increased convenience of easy payment options is obviously hugely popular, and arguably increases people likelihood to pay on card over cash, with some busy venues displaying signs advising they prefer you tap than pay cash. By comparison, the myki system has had a number of issues, and some improvements, but many friends of mine still opt to take a taxi or Uber if the price is comparable and they don’t have a myki card on them (particularly to avoid paying the additional $6 for a new card).

In the interest of increasing public transport usage, it helps to make the option as convenient as possible for people, particularly irregular users with the potential to be ‘won over’. As Melbourne moves ever so slightly towards increasing the provision of public transport (, is this the kind of technology we should also be investing in? Could a myki app be a cost effective way to improve the user friendliness of the system without a complete overall?
Read more in Planetizen.

By Claire Whelan

Variety is the spice of urban life

What is your favourite urban place? I suspect for most of us it is a place of variety: varied people, varied buildings and varied activities. This creates a stimulating experience.

Image: Mark Sheppard

But mostly we now seem to build unvaried places. Suburbs, whether high- or low-density, full of similar buildings and similar streets that attract similar people. Rarely a non-residential use in a residential place - unless forced by the planning system - because it doesn’t provide the best return.

In Guardian Cities, Richard Sennett writes about the joys of ‘porous cities’ - those that are inviting to all people, truly mixed use and flexible - and questions why we’re not building them. In Melbourne, a local council is trying to force more mixed use in one of its activity centres, against the tide of market forces.

If the purpose of planning is to direct market forces (and public interventions) to create better places, should we be working harder to create diversity, rather than allowing the market to create a monoculture?

By Mark Sheppard