Transformative Urban Development Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Marc Bartsch BTRP M.L.Arch RPIA RLA

Since the delivery of the presentation ‘Public Transport Revolution: The Making of Place in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’ in Brisbane in 2015, work on the Riyadh Metro has continued at a rapid pace, and by early 2017 most of the required tunnelling is complete. At the surface, throughout the city there are numerous access shafts and structures which will provide for station access.

Marc Bartsch

The disruption to the already chaotic traffic of testosterone fuelled Riyadh (remember only men can drive, badly) is not really evident. A few advertisements in the city newspapers was the sum of the public consultation, and word of mouth provided the rest, so that the traffic funnels its way around the extensive barriers and obstacles.

The fate of pedestrians, which are a significant proportion of the over 6,000 deaths on the road per annum in Saudi (one every hour), continues to remain less important. Pedestrian crossings across the station sites are limited to a sign, and the priority is maintained for vehicles which for someone on foot requires breath-taking accuracy and fitness to achieve a crossing.  When the reconstructed roads and “public” domain along the metro route are completed based on the German precision of the Albert Speer and Partners design guidelines (more akin to a design manual which forms part of the design and construct process), the opportunities for pedestrians will improve dramatically.

The new metro will truly recalibrate the footprint for urban development with a hierarchy of centres now focussed on a public transport, rather than based on the floor space of a free-standing retail box set within a sea of car-parking. It will also facilitate shared use of a transport mode in a society with strictly gender segregated shopping and entertainment areas, and transport modes (the new metro will have family only carriages however). There are many critics of the social and political structure of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, however as a country transformed by the discovery and exploitation of oil, the commitment to the delivery of public transport has provided the opportunity for a new agenda in city design.

The current LA style arrangement of regularly choked freeways will be given some relief, and recast the city as a place more accessible for those who don’t own a car or who can’t drive. Ironically the ban on women being able to drive (enforced car-pooling) while acknowledged by the west as undemocratic and sexist ,has probably saved Riyadh from complete extinction by traffic congestion. The advent of twenty first century public transportation accessible to all, and which does not come to a standstill after prayer, gives the city a fresh and welcome start.

Marc was Senior Planner and Advisor to the Metropolitan Planning and Urban Design Department, of the Arriyadh Development Authority, KSA in 2014 and involved in the team responsible for a number of Transit Orientated Development planning projects to accompany the $25 billion metro which is currently under construction.

 

Step outside for a moment: the value of pedestrians in healthcare precincts

Michaela Sheahan, Researcher, HASSELL

Bump space, serendipitous encounters: whatever the label, the name of the game in healthcare design is connecting people. But the focus on internal collaboration has some unintended side effects: buildings get bigger, and people spend more time inside.

External space is shrinking as large clinical and research buildings bring teams closer together via soaring atria, internal streets, and sky-bridges. Good connections are vital to a well-functioning hospital, but as public realm diminishes, so does walkability and street activity. Nothing kills a precinct quite like a deserted street.

My research shows that as these precincts grow, two indicators of pedestrian activity – Walkscore and intersection density – decrease. The bigger a precinct becomes, the more difficult it is for people to walk around.

Large buildings and impermeable blocks obstruct pedestrians, and limiting land use to only healthcare decreases small business opportunities. If every nearby building is a health facility, people won’t go outside to grab lunch or drop into the bank. In Boston’s high density Longwood precinct an internal pedestrian network is being developed in response to traffic danger and a need to connect teams across buildings and streets. In Houston’s vast Texas Medical Center, the combination of a sky-walk system, a car-dependent location, and exclusive healthcare land-use leaves the footpaths empty. The meticulously landscaped gardens and public spaces are wasted.

Designers and administrators are working to overcome the barriers to vibrant precincts; high land costs and burgeoning healthcare space requirements limit opportunities. But modest initiatives in external space can deliver large benefits.

At the Gold Coast University Hospital, courtyards provide opportunities for fresh air and quiet conversation.  The Necker Hospital in Paris is replacing obsolete buildings with a park.  In Boston, small public spaces host musical performances to coax staff outside. In Melbourne’s Parkville, public seating has come a long way since the old wooden park bench, and at Sydney’s Westmead Hospital precinct, a new vision that prioritises walkability and community integration is just beginning.

These small acknowledgements of the importance of street level activity suggest a willingness to invest in public realm projects for the good of patients, staff and the community. High quality design of the spaces between buildings plays a crucial role in inviting everyone to step outside for a moment.

This research project was funded by the National Association of Women in Construction, and Cult Design. The full report can be accessed here: http://apo.org.au/node/53548

How urban bushland improves our health and why planners need to listen

Urban bushland has health benefits beyond being a great place to go for a walk. It filters our air and water, helps cities avoid extremes in temperatures, and is linked to lower rates of chronic disease.

But these and other health benefits are virtually never accounted for in local and state land development processes.

Urban planners need to consider these health benefits when making decisions about the future of our cities.

Urban bushland, like this in the Western Australian city of Joondalup, provides health benefits to locals who access it and the wider population. Author provided

What do we mean by urban bushland?

Urban bushland ranges from a bush park of native trees, to wetlands – in fact any native vegetation characteristic of the local region. With its undisturbed soils and associated wildlife, urban bushland is more diverse than other types of green spaces in our cities, like parks. So it adds significantly to neighbourhood biodiversity.

The more unfragmented the landscape, or unaltered the bushland, the more likely it will be to retain its biodiversity. Hills, watercourses and gullies, or a mixed forest, have greater biodiversity than flat land or a plantation of trees. Landscapes that change by the season add to that diversity.

The health benefits of green spaces (and urban bushland) partly comes from this biodiversity.

In cities, health benefits work at two levels. Not only do local residents receive health benefits when they use urban green spaces, the wider urban population also feels the health effects.

Originally Published by The Conversation, continue reading here.

Higher-density cities need greening to stay healthy and liveable

Access to high-quality public open space is a key ingredient of healthy, liveable cities. This has long been recognised in government planning policy, based on a large body of academic research showing that accessible green spaces lead to better health outcomes.

However, cities are home to more than just people. We also need to accommodate the critters and plants who live in them. This includes the species who called our cities home before we did.

Greening cities that are becoming denser is a major challenge. Green spaces and density are both good for health outcomes when designed well. However, higher-density development can place added pressure on green space if not well planned and managed.

The South Australian government is leading the way in the design of public green spaces in denser cities by bringing together the multiple actors needed to create change. This includes the Heart Foundation, Departments of Health and Ageing, Environment Water and Natural Resources, Office for Recreation and Sport, the South Australian Local Government Association and the Office of the Chief Architect, as well as researchers from RMIT University and the University of Melbourne.

This is the new shift required for urban greening practice – led by practitioners with support from research evidence provided by (and in collaboration with) academics.

In Victoria, Planning Minister Richard Wynne has called for the suburban backyard to be maintained in the refreshed Plan Melbourne 2017-2050. This policy recognises the importance of private green space by establishing minimum garden areas in new developments.

Another major challenge is increasing urban heat and climate change. Some tree species we know and love will no longer be viable in cities that are several degrees warmer than they were.

Suitable species for future climates need to be selected, as the City of Melbourne has recently demonstrated. Increasing temperatures and the resulting loss of old trees will have adverse consequences for public health, ecology and biodiversity.

Understanding how best to achieve these benefits, and the trade-offs involved in delivering them, is particularly important today. Our cities are growing rapidly. We are seeing increasing populations, greater housing density, rising temperatures, growing rates of obesity, diabetes, stress and depression, and declining native biodiversity.

Originally Published by The Conversation, continue reading here.

Abstract Submission Now Open for 2017!

The 10th International Urban Design Conference will be held at Surfers Paradise Marriott Resort & Spa, Gold Coast, Queensland from Monday 13 – Tuesday 14 November 2017.

The conference theme for the 10th anniversary is Disruption, Divergence and Designed Intervention – Making Change Happen and will showcase innovations and projects embracing and creating transformational change in urban environments. The aim is to include highlights ranging from the modest but high impact idea to the new Eco-city, from technological experimentation to multicultural cities and from the use of big data to physical city making.

Abstract Submission is now open for those wishing to present at this years’ conference, topics include:

  • City making and disruption
  • Community advocacy
  • Creating equitable cities
  • Diversity in the ecology of technology
  • Design and climate change
  • Population growth, densification, renewal and innovation
  • Urban regeneration
  • Urban Design Policy
  • “The Missing Middle” – how to transform suburbia
  • Risk and resilience
  • The future of work, urban impact
  • Transport and traffic
  • Satellite cities
  • Planning, functional design
  • Public space transformation

Submit your Abstract for 2017 here!

Registration is also now open for those wishing to take advantage of early bird discounts currently available!

For more information on the 2017 International Urban Design Conference on the Gold Coast this November, please visit www.urbandesignaustralia.com.au