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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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.

Fast Rail Projects Vie for Federal Government Funding

High speed rail between Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast is a step closer to becoming a reality, after securing federal funding to develop a business case.

The Queensland project was one of 11 submissions shortlisted to receive a share of $20 million in public funding from the Turnbull government to develop a business case.

Twenty-six national rail submissions were lodged last year in a bid to ultimately share $10 billion of federal funding to improve rail connections between cities and regions.

The Consolidated Land and Rail Australia, or CLARA, also released a statement on Friday announcing their selection by the federal government to put forward a business case.

Submitted by Stockland, Smec, Urbis and KPMG, the “North Coast Connect” project proposed upgrading the existing line from Brisbane to Beerburrum, Beerburrum to Nambour and Beerwah to Maroochydore, creating 200km of fast rail that could potentially see train travellers reach the Sunshine Coast from Brisbane in 45 minutes.

As shortlisted projects, CLARA and the Sunshine Coast fast rail projects will now make a business case to be put forward for the next stage of selection.

They join the NSW government’s proposal for a Sydney to Newcastle connection.

The business cases are expected to be delivered over the next 12 months, and the Turnbull Government’s funding for the business cases will be combined with funding provided by the project proponents.

Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Michael McCormack said the intention of this process is to develop detailed proposals for faster rail services between major cities and surrounding regional areas.

“The successful proposals in NSW, Queensland, and Victoria were selected following a competitive assessment process for their potential to substantially improve the efficiency of rail links between key regional centres and major cities.

“If these proposals prove to be viable, they offer the potential to significantly reduce journey times on these key corridors—meaning better options for people who want to have the lifestyle of a regional centre but access to the job opportunities of a big city,” he said.

“We have also ensured that three different transport corridors, in three different states, are being considered.”

Once the business case for each proposal is complete they will then proceed to independent assessment by Infrastructure Australia.

Should the rail project in the Sunshine Coast be approved, it will add to the region’s current transport infrastructure action which includes the construction of a new main runway at the Sunshine Coast Airport, after John Holland Group was awarded a $225 million contract to begin construction.

Originally Published by The Urban Developer, view article here.

Design crimes: How ‘hostile architecture’ is quietly hurting our cities

It would be hard to find a more blatant and unapologetic attempt to deter loiterers than the Camden Bench — a seemingly innocuous piece of brutalist urban architecture, hidden in plain sight on the streets of London.

Installed by Camden’s local council in 2012, according to UK-based artist Stuart Semple, the benches are the best example of the worst kind of urban design.

“It’s basically a big ugly concrete bench … It’s kind of like its designers are proud of the fact that it’s anti-everything,” he says.

As critic Frank Swain put it, the Camden Bench is the “perfect anti-object” — a largely featureless lump of concrete that is just curved enough, just angled enough and sufficiently solid to deter extended interaction of any kind.

These benches used in Camden are designed to prevent people from getting too comfortable.

“The Camden Bench is a concerted effort to create a non-object … a strange kind of architectural null point,” Mr Swain says.

Despite its imposing concrete brutality, the Camden Bench is in fact one of the more subtle instances of what’s known as “hostile architecture” — a kind of urban design intended to control, coerce and often prohibit interaction and social relations in public space.

Hostile architecture takes many forms, from the overt and aggressive, like metal bars on park benches and anti-homeless spikes, to the seemingly innocuous, such as benches mounted just a little too high, to make lingering uncomfortable.

But if, as urban sociologist Robert Park wrote, in making the city we make ourselves, one might wonder what collective self-conception has produced a city covered in metal spikes, illuminated by blue lights, buzzing with high-frequencies — paranoid, anxious and hostile, by design.

 With his artwork, Semple aims to break down the barriers that impede social life. His latest campaign, calling on people to photograph and share examples of what he calls “design crimes”, is an attempt to document the impact this kind of design has on our urban landscape.

“Very slowly, bus stops get perches so you can’t really sit on them, spikes appear [and] there’s a lot more sound being used now,” Semple says.

“Some councils are actually playing frequencies that are targeted at young people’s ears and it stops teenagers congregating.

“When we talk about hostile design, hostile architecture, make no mistake — there are groups of people spending time, effort and money commissioning this stuff and designing it to be as brutal as possible against human beings.”

“We know this from architecture history — if you start making things look ugly, uninviting, hostile and dangerous, those places start to become like that.”

Who has a right to the city?

The use of disciplinary architecture in public space is nothing new.

It has long been used to control, manipulate and police the ways in which public space is used and the forms of interaction and sociality that are possible within it.

Its use, however, as an instrument for urban segregation — to separate those entitled to access public space from those deemed undesirable — is a growing phenomenon.

“It’s a symptom of a deeper malaise in the way cities are used,” urban designer Malcolm Mackay says.

“Historically, defensive architecture was used to deal with the enemy without — the marauding hordes coming over the horizon, knocking at the city gates and trying to get in.”

Today, he says, that anxiety has been turned inwards.

This shift has accompanied a radical redefinition of public space, one that has seen common ownership transferred to ownership by strata companies or large corporations.

Originally Published by ABC News, continue reading here.

Toowoomba tipped for growth: Affordable houses, high returns.

Toowoomba properties are not only affordable, but also have returns expected to beat southern capitals like Sydney and Melbourne.

That’s according to a new report by market research firm Propertyology.

It found 39 growth locations across the country where median house prices were less than $400,000 but were also expected to outperform the capital cities for growth over the next few years.

Toowoomba was listed as one of nine Queensland locations tipped for growth.

BUY NOW: Raine and Horne property sales consultant Paddy Ryan believes the Garden City is in a prime position for growth.

Propertyology’s analysis looked at criteria including affordability, economic diversity, essential infrastructure, lifestyle, increased demand for housing and expected improvement in economic conditions.

Raine and Horne Toowoomba property sales consultant Paddy Ryan agrees Toowoomba is in a prime position for growth.

Mr Ryan has been in the real estate industry for seven years and said he was enthusiastic about what was in store for the city.

Originally Published by The Chronicle, continue reading here.