Why the need for speed? Transport spending priorities leave city residents worse off

Australian governments are set to spend more on transport infrastructure than ever before. Federal and state infrastructure spending, driven largely by transport projects, was expected to total $31.6 billion in 2018, increasing to $38 billion in 2021, even before the latest Commonwealth spending announcements. Will all this construction make it easier for us to get around, our journeys more enjoyable, or our cities more liveable for a growing population?

Since the 1950s, spending on transport infrastructure has largely been justified on the basis of its ability to increase travel speeds or reduce travel times. For example, the New South Wales government estimates its $17 billion WestConnex toll road will deliver travel time savings motorists would value at about $13 billion. But new tolls will largely cancel out any benefit. This means the ultimate beneficiary will be the toll road corporations.

Australian governments are set to spend more on transport infrastructure than ever before. Federal and state infrastructure spending, driven largely by transport projects, was expected to total $31.6 billion in 2018, increasing to $38 billion in 2021, even before the latest Commonwealth spending announcements. Will all this construction make it easier for us to get around, our journeys more enjoyable, or our cities more liveable for a growing population?

Since the 1950s, spending on transport infrastructure has largely been justified on the basis of its ability to increase travel speeds or reduce travel times. For example, the New South Wales government estimates its $17 billion WestConnex toll road will deliver travel time savings motorists would value at about $13 billion. But new tolls will largely cancel out any benefit. This means the ultimate beneficiary will be the toll road corporations.

Rethinking the need for speed

The need for speed is being questioned in other aspects of modern life. The Slow Food Movement urges us to savour and enjoy our meal times, rather than view eating as an unwelcome interruption to our busy days.

For my PhD research, I asked a similar question of our travel time. What if it’s seen not only as a cost to be minimised, but as valuable time that can be used to work, exercise or relax?

It’s important to note that average daily travel times don’t decline no matter how much is spent on transport infrastructure. How then can investment be prioritised to make our travel time more enjoyable and productive, while at the same time improving access to economic and social opportunities?

Originally Published by The Conversation, continue reading here.

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Present at the 11th International Urban Design Conference

The 2018 International Urban Design Conference will be held at the SMC Conference and Function Centre, Sydney, NSW over 12 – 13 November.

The conference will showcase innovations in projects and research embracing and creating transformational change in urban environments.

Topics will include exploring the potential of mixed use places, spaces and precincts/districts, urban design best practice, designing safety into a city, future proofing, connectivity and design quality outcomes.

The conference will also explore the links which create the concrete physicality of the built environment, the complex social, economic, political and cultural processes through which the physical urban form is produced and consumed.

Applications to Present and Registration are NOW OPEN!

Conference Topics Include:

  • Potential of mixed use places, spaces and precincts/districts
  • Regulating urban design
  • Safe city design
  • Transport
  • Design quality
  • Digital

Individuals and organisations are invited to submit an abstract (summary of your presentation) to deliver an oral presentation or poster presentation which addresses one or more of the conference topics. The abstract should be no more than 300 words and outline the aims, contents and conclusions of the presentation. Abstracts should not include tables, figures or references. Please also submit 3 key learnings of your presentation, as well as a 100 word biography of each presenting author.

All proposals will be reviewed by the Program Committee. Presentations will be selected to provide a Program that offers a comprehensive and diverse treatment of issues related to the Conference topics.

For more information on the 2018 International Urban Design Conference, topics, to submit your application to present, registration and more please visit the conference website at urbandesignaustralia.com.au

Queensland Renters Given the Option to Go Solar

Thousands of new Queensland rental homes will receive solar panels in a landlord and tenant-friendly rollout delivered by roofing materials supplier Stoddart Group.

SunYield is the new energy product offered by the roofing company in conjunction with energy retailer Powershop and software firm Repost Power, which will see renters save about $275 a year on power bills.

The rental sector has largely missed out on the benefits of solar panels due to what has been a complex and messy billing process between landlord and tenant.

Stoddart Group plan to install 15,000 systems across the next three years.

With this technology, Stoddart Group Energy Systems general manager Adam Taylor says the landlord owns the solar system and can either sell the power to their tenant at a discount to the market rate or export it to the grid if the tenant chooses not to buy it.

“In the next two to three years, we’ll see a complete shift – from rarely seeing a rental property with solar to it being difficult to find a new one without it,” Taylor said.

Across the next 12 to 18 months, Taylor said the aim is to develop smart boards that will meet the technical requirements for NSW and Victoria.

The SunYield package includes a 6.5KW solar power system, combined with a Stoddart Smart Board that replaces the standard meter box on a new home.

It’s also battery ready, allowing landlords to add batteries as they become cheaper and increase the proportion of solar-generated power sold to the tenant.

Previously landlords had to personally negotiate a fair deal with tenants on the value of the solar power, then read the meter each month, bill the tenant and collect the payment, in what was a complex process, Taylor explains.

“Renters have long missed out on the benefits of solar power simply because it was too hard or complicated for landlords to justify the cost.”

The process is automated via a smart switchboard and “the tenant receives a single monthly power bill for all electricity consumed from both the solar and the grid”.

Investment builders such as Choice Homes, Brighton Homes, Fortitude Homes and MetInvest will be the first groups to include SunYield as standard on their new homes. Stoddart Group will soon extend the technology to other builders.

While the rollout will not occur with existing rental homes due to the way in which the technology operates, Taylor believes the technology will quickly become standard on all new investment properties.

Originally Published by The Urban Developer, continue reading here.

Locals call for a ‘High Line’ on Sydney’s north shore

Residents of the Sydney suburb of Lavender Bay are pushing for a linear park to be developed along side a historic rail line that would provide a pedestrian link between Lavender Bay and Waverton Station.

Established in 2016, the Sydney Harbour High Line Association describes itself as “a group of like-minded people that sees the importance of building on the amenities to support the huge growth in the number of people living in Sydney in general and the lower north shore in particular.”

According to the Mosman Daily, earlier in April the association met with a State Government committee, where it presented its detailed plans for the publicly held land that lies beside the railway. If the project goes ahead, the park would be operated by North Sydney Council.

Proposed ramp access from Harbourview Crescent. Image: Sydney Harbour High Line

The heritage-listed rail line is not used for a passenger service, but is used by Sydney Trains for driver training. The site is significant due to its connection to artist Brett Whiteley, who famously painted scenes of Sydney Harbour from his home in Lavender Bay, adjacent to the railway tracks, as well as the “secret garden” created by Brett’s former wife Wendy. The Whiteleys’ house and garden were both recently added to the state heritage register.

Local state MP Felicity Wilson, who supports the project, told the Mosman Daily that she had “secured an agreement from Sydney Trains to explore the feasibility of installing a segregated walking track alongside the current active line.” The proposal is inspired by and takes its name from the High Line in New York City, an elevated railway conversion designed by Diller Scofidio and Renfro. This was in turn inspired by the first rail park, the Coulée verte René-Dumontin in Paris, which opened in 1993.

Originally Published by ArchitectureAU, continue reading here.

Materials that make heat worse for our kids demand a rethink by designers

It is with some relief that Australians are leaving behind the excruciatingly hot days of summer. But did you ever stop to think about the role of design in making matters better – or worse? Spending all day in air-conditioned rooms before walking out to a car that has baked in the sun all day is an exercise in extremes that many of us have faced. It’s easy to forget these conditions are shaped and mediated by design.

Campaigns warn us about the dangers of leaving children in hot parked cars. However, there are many more designed microclimates in the city where “real feel” temperatures far exceed reported air temperatures. One example, where children spend many hours of the day, is the childcare centre, where we found some artificial surfaces can become dangerously hot.

Our preliminary study over the record-breaking summer of 2017-8 assessed the thermal characteristics of outdoor play spaces in three childcare centres in Western Sydney. We discovered that summer temperatures can vary dramatically, depending on the materials and environments being measured.

We measured air and surface temperatures to generate detailed information about the effects of heat on shaded and non-shaded surfaces at each facility. These included artificial materials such as “soft fall” surfaces and Astroturf, “semi-natural” materials such as bricks and woodchips, and natural materials, including sand and grass.

In full sun, the artificial surface materials became dangerously hot. Soft fall surface temperatures reached 71-84°C on days when air temperatures were in the low 30s. Astroturf heated up to nearly 100°C. Plastic toys in direct sun reached temperatures up to 73.7°C – that is one hot rubber duck!

You can see the effect of different surfaces in the thermographic image below. It shows tens of degrees of difference between soft fall and thick grass in full sun.

Hot materials undermine safety benefits

Soft fall, as the name suggests, is widely used to create “safer” environments for children should they fall. Rising heat undermines this safety benefit. Because it transforms the material into a source of potentially significant harm it also reduces the time that can be spent playing outdoors.

Contrary to their current widespread use, this study found that artificial materials like soft fall and Astroturf should be used sparingly and only in shaded settings. Shade does make a significant difference to the temperatures recorded, but shaded soft fall and Astroturf were still hotter than shaded natural surfaces. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a centre with an old camphor laurel tree supplying ample shade in the play space recorded the lowest daytime air temperatures.

A thermally healthy outdoor play space is crucial for supporting children’s social, physical and cognitive development. However, the extreme temperatures recorded in this study turn such spaces into hostile environments that leave little option but to move indoors to cope.

Indoor activities tend to be more sedentary, which is linked to reduced physical fitness and rising obesity. We already spend around 90% of our time indoors in environments (including cars) that depend on air conditioning for habitability.

Of course, you can only air-condition a space effectively if it is enclosed. The rise of the “indoor biome” has been associated with poor air quality and a raft of other complex hazards.

Yet childcare centres with cool, comfortable outdoor play spaces, designed to enable both mobility and a connection with nature, are far from the norm in our rapidly densifying cities. The newest centre in our study, for example, had the smallest outdoor activity space, with the least shade, very limited natural ground cover and the greatest proportion of soft fall. This raises questions about the impact of design trends on the quality of outdoor activity spaces.

It is worth noting too that, given the level of demand, there is often little choice about where a child might be offered a place.

Climate change makes design even more important

How accountable should designers be for the everyday living environments that they create? For example, could the designers of the past have known about the environmental, social and cultural impacts of one of the most transformative designs of the 20th century, the car?

Perhaps not, but things have changed. The need to adapt to a changing climate makes good design important for our survival. And that, in turn, demands designers take greater responsibility for the harms arising from their work.

Originally published by The Conversation, continue reading here.