A City for People: Liveable, Connected and Vibrant

This article was kindly contributed by Dr Michael Cohen, Director of City People, who will be speaking at the 2018 International Urban Design Conference, held from 12-13 November at SMC Conference and Function Centre, Sydney. 

Place Consultancy City People, recently brought together a powerful team of collaborators to tackle a Gehl “City For People” report:  architects, artists, urban geographers, historians – even the local funeral director.

Turning cities and towns upside down

I still vividly remember the first time I went to a festival in the streets when I was growing up. It was a delicious, topsy-turvy world: neighbours had brought their lounge room furniture onto the footpaths, weird and wonderful artists took over the roads and friends and strangers danced and laughed in each other’s company. That experience really hit home and I decided my life’s pursuit would be to turn the public places of cities and towns upside down with art.

Later, I literally took my art to the street and for about twelve years toured the world.  I performed a solo physical comedy show in streets, town squares, pedestrian malls and parks of towns and cities, big and small.  Often I was invited to perform by arts festivals but I would also often arrive ‘cold’ in a town and seek out places to perform where members of the passing crowd became my customers.  (Incidentally, street performers understand many of the variables of public domain urban design intimately – that is the subject of another blog someday!).

What drove me then still inspires me:  I am interested in how the quality of people’s lives in our shared public places can be changed for the better.  For me, this is most interesting when arts and cultural projects become tools for positively affecting people’s association with places that they live and visit.  It’s now been many years since I performed on the street but creating cultural life in public spaces has always been my trade:  both with festivals and performance, and also with public art and temporary urban interventions.

The Rocks Village BIzarre : photo courtesy Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority

In Australia, many of our public places are going through systemic change.  And some of this work is directly the result of Gehl team members who have done extensive work with various local government authorities.  Sydney, the city in which I live, is currently undergoing a massive transformation of its civic heart with its core arterial roadway now being opened up to pedestrians, and its congested city centre to be unknotted with a major public square.  Similarly Melbourne’s city centre has been through a huge change for the better.  It is now a peopled city whose public places now thrive and prosper – and it’s a far cry from the sparse, narrow footpaths where I tried unsuccessfully to ply my trade in the early 1990s.   So our two major cities in Australia – that house almost half of the country’s population – have had some major liveability boosts with the help of Gehl.

Gehl concept design for Sydney’s George St

The urban innovation accelerator

So it was really exciting for me recently to have the opportunity to work with the city of Wollongong and have a hand in progressing some of the recommended changes that have come about from a City for People report that Gehl developed during 2014-16.  The report assembled hard baseline data on pedestrian behaviour in Wollongong and it set some aspirational goals for how to make the city more liveable, connected and vibrant – with some short and mid-term goals for how to get there.

One of the pitfalls I’ve noticed working with local and state government authorities is that sometimes the impetus for change in our cities stalls before implementation can ever begin.  Whether it’s due to the intricacies of public-private partnerships, the capacity of internal staff or the political whim of the day, often big picture visions can rest on the shelf until they are well out of date.  However, employees of the City of Wollongong have taken an active hand in keeping the vision and intent outlined in their City for People report alive.

City People designed an Urban Innovation Accelerator for Wollongong that used the Gehl City for People report as its mandate to create citywide activation projects.  I brought together a core team of participants to work with me for twelve days:  artists, community activists, designers, urban geographers, a composer – even a funeral director.  Our mission was to devise temporary city activation projects that would bring the vision of the City for People report to life.  We used this laboratory environment to grow ideas for Wollongong that spoke to the place:  its physical character, its communities and its histories and social memories.

Urban Innovation Accelerator concept paste-up by artist Paul Gazzola & designer Ian Tran

A series of provocateurs were invited in: the city’s planners, historians, safety officers, academics and innovation workers all created a hothouse of ideas.  The core team then worked with the opportunities that Wollongong’s cityscape presented:  the bells that are still missing from the local church, the city’s disenfranchised skateboarders, the billboard marooned high on the city skyline – these elements became the creative palette for our collaborators.  They generated a series of terrific activation concepts for Wollongong’s public places that are a real fit with the place.

I can’t spill the beans on the terrific project ideas that emerged but you can get a sneak peak at the Wollongong Urban Innovation Accelerator in this short video clip. We were able to dive deeply into the aspirations of ‘vibrant and connected’ and ask for whom are we improving the city and why?  Who are the people who are not coming into Wollongong?  How can we spend money wisely so that these communities feel at home in our civic heart?  There is a whole range of short and mid-term projects that are meaningfully connected to that city.

The City of Wollongong is now deciding which of the projects it will implement but the benefits are clear.  We have a city that has seized the intent of its City for People report produced with Gehl and it’s not waiting for all the big-ticket items and planning developments to land.  It’s ready to improve the quality of its public life – and it’s happy to turn a few things upside down in order to keep that vision alive.

 

PKI: Living infrastructure: Transforming an ugly duckling

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.

Joining us at the conference is Mr Jock Gammon, Managing Director at Junglefy who will present on ‘PKI: Living infrastructure: Transforming an ugly duckling’.

Abstract

The Manly Vale commuter car park is the world’s first “breathing” car park integrating 9,000 plants into its façade to provide living design, functionality and cleaner air. Located on Sydney’s northern beaches B-Line bus route, this car park is covered with Breathing Wall modules which have been scientifically proven to reduce air pollutants including particulate matter, C02 and volatile organic compounds.

The project is the first in the world to use rotating Breathing Wall panels that have been designed to rotate 180 degrees to allow safe access for plant maintenance. The rotating panels eliminate the need for scaffolding or ropes access and extend the application of plant walls to areas previously thought to have been too difficult to install living infrastructure.

With nearly 90% of Australia’s population located in our cities and unprecedented urban development, our trees and green space have become the trade off to our changing needs. Urban planners are tasked with the challenge of designing our cities to expand up and out whilst retaining green space and natural ecosystems. Living infrastructure provides the opportunity to include vast amounts of plants into cities in a very small imprint. Plants and green space have been shown to improve liveability, the economy, resilience and the environment.

The private sector and government have recognised the importance of plants and are leading the way with industry transformation. The Manly Vale car park was undertaken by the NSW government arising out of demand for quick and efficient transport between the city and Sydney’s northern beaches. The project will be subject to ongoing testing by UTS to prove the efficacy of the Breathing Wall in an outdoor environment and is likely to be the first of many projects to use this technology as a solution to improving health, wellbeing, noise and aesthetic.

Biography

Trained as a horticulturist with studies in Environmental Science, Jock loves plants and understands their power at making cites more liveable. As Junglefy’s Managing Director, he works with clients to ensure that living infrastructure projects can be realised in a cost effective and low risk manner. Being a natural innovator, Jock developed the award-winning ‘Breathing Wall’, an active green wall system, scientifically proven to accelerate the removal of air pollutants, volatile organic compounds and particulate matter. Jock continues to challenge the status quo, through investing in research and the science behind the Breathing Wall and other new technologies.

For more information on the 2018 International Urban Design Conference visit the conference website at urbandesignaustralia.com.au

UD3: Gold Coast Building Height Study – An Approach to City Image

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.

Joining us at the conference is Miss Katrina Torresan, Senior Urban Designer with Urbis who will present on ‘UD3: Gold Coast Building Height Study – An Approach to City Image’.

Abstract

Urbis in partnership with the City of Gold Coast have prepared a visionary city-shaping strategy – Gold Coast Building Height Study, An Approach to City Image. The study considers the city’s natural and built environment against its potential future growth in order to identify opportunities for urban change and clarity. The study sets a new benchmark for the region, identifying a unified vision and strategic guidance that inform a future intentional city shape.

The Gold Coast, famous for its iconic tall building skyline, golden beaches and world heritage hinterland is currently undergoing a period of significant transformation. To retain its competitive advantage, the city needs to accommodate an expected population increase of 320,000 by 2036 in a manner that retains the city’s enviable lifestyle, protects its world-class environment and supports investment in infrastructure and development.

Together with the City of Gold Coast, Urbis’s design and planning teams worked for several years to understand and capture the values that define the Gold Coast as a young, unique and maturing city. Through research, analysis and stakeholder workshops, these values were then translated into a suite of building height principles to guide the development of place-based buildings that align with the vision for the city’s future image across it’s designated urban area.

Importantly, this study is the foundation for future decision-making policy on the Gold Coast. The values and principles in this strategy will underpin all future strategic planning and development assessment decisions regarding building height across the city. This approach will replace the existing binary approach to regulating building height with an inspiring and place-based policy that is deeply rooted in the values of the city. The result is a city that has a clear direction for its city image and one that is in response to its unique natural setting.

Biography

Katrina is a senior urban designer and registered architect working with Urbis in Sydney. Katrina is interested in creating optimistic and authentic spaces that foster communities. Katrina draws on her travels and experiences abroad, having worked in London, Vancouver and across Australia to deliver innovative design solutions. Katrina is passionate about the role and importance of design, and particularly enjoys collaborating on large multi-disciplinary projects. Katrina graduated with the university medal from the Masters of Architecture program at the University of Queensland in 2010.

For more information on the 2018 International Urban Design Conference visit the conference website at urbandesignaustralia.com.au

Shaping Cities: The Design Imperative

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.

Joining us at the conference as a keynote speaker is Ms Caroline Stalker,Design Director Urban and Principal, ARUP Australasia (QLD) who will present on ‘Shaping Cities: The Design Imperative’.

Caroline’s Bio

Ms Caroline Stalker

Caroline is a highly skilled designer, communicator and leader of teams for complex urban design and master planning projects. Her career spans 30 years and a range of project types, including new communities, urban regeneration around transport hubs, city and town centres, universities, public spaces, public buildings, mixed use and multi-residential buildings. Throughout her career Caroline has demonstrated a sustained commitment to enhancing people’s connection to the natural world and each other through design, and an outstanding ability to take an holistic approach to the complex design problems of cities. This has been recognised over the years through numerous architecture and planning awards. Caroline is an Adjunct Professor, School of Design, QUT Creative Industries, and has served on and chaired awards juries in both architecture and urban design, and held advisory roles for government.

Abstract

The vast majority of Australians live in places that are untouched by the hands of architects, urban designers, or landscape architects.  Following a childhood in Australia’s great laboratory of urban ideas, Canberra, the idea that the city is shaped by intelligent acts of design seemed the norm to me – until we moved to Brisbane in the late 70s.  Sitting tidily at the opposite end of the city design spectrum from Canberra, late 20th century Brisbane, like other Australian cities, was growing at pace, shaped by the twin forces of escalating private car ownership and use and unshaped urban expansion.   The imperative for design in these two examples represent two extremes: the ‘top down’ design-led city vs the un-designed city of laissez faire individualism.  Each instance paints a different role for design and the designer; prime author or minor player on individual sites.

These days we talk about city design as a collaborative act, a complex deliberative democracy where disciplines and stakeholders sit alongside one another. This more civilised response to urban complexity brings with it important opportunities for integration, multi-disciplinary and multi stakeholder engagement.  The role of design and designer is to provide a platform for this collaboration.  However, reflecting on 30 years of design practice, the great majority of work has also required applying clear and strong design thinking to retrofit ad hoc urban development that doesn’t work well as an urban environment.  The driving imperative here is to structure unstructured settings, provide the unifying community glue of public realm where there is none, and create a distinct whole place for people out of fragments of land so that people can occupy the resulting spaces in new ways.  It’s always collaborative, it’s always complex.  But the collaboration has always needed filtering through a powerful design framework that orchestrates the pieces and the complexity. Without strong design thinking as a platform for bringing together the collaborative effort, the ‘whole place’ puzzle remains unsolved.

As the 21st century unfolds, we have a new raft of megatrends that are shaping cities, while we are still dealing with the legacy issues of 20th century urbanism.  These include the emergence of the digital disruption in transport, retail and work practices, and changes in urban energy systems and our changing urban demographics.  These shifts all demand new thinking, new approaches, new policies to response.  Increasing complexity demands more collaboration, more integrated layers of expertise.  With these demands comes an even greater need for the organising and humanising layer of strong design in shaping cities.

The paper will present project examples from Arup’s global portfolio to illustrate design imperatives in contemporary city making.

For more information on and to join us at the 2018 International Urban Design Conference, please visit the conference website at urbandesignaustralia.com.au

How many people make a good city? It’s not the size that matters, but how you use it

Australia’s population clock is, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, steadily ticking away at an overall total population increase of one person every 1 minute and 23 seconds.

Many are debating what the ideal population is for a country like Australia. But because most of this population growth is concentrated in our big cities, perhaps we should be thinking less about that and more about the ideal size of a city. Historically, there have been many theories on what this would be.

From Aristotle to Albanese

For Aristotle (384–322 BC), for instance, the key was balance. Cities had to contain a minimum number of groups, such as citizens and slaves, to work politically. Similarly, a city’s population had to be balanced against the size of the territory it drew its resources from to enable each citizen (but not slave) to have what he called a “good life”.

Aristotle reputedly drew on the constitutions of what were then known as city states. These aren’t directly comparable to today’s cities but do make for good test cases with which to examine urban models. City states of the time, in the vanguard of urban life as they were, were equivalent to small towns of today and less connected and more homogeneous.

During the 20th century, as the world’s population grew, planners around the world tried to deliberately limit the size of cities. But how did they decide on the ideal size?

Planning theorist Lewis Keeble wrote in the late 1950s that the ideal UK city size could be determined by setting the distance for citizens to reach the countryside. So, a resident in the centre of a town could reasonably be expected to walk to the edge of the city for a distance of two miles (3.2km).

In the lead-up to the 2016 federal election, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull aimed for a deal to be struck between all levels of government, to deliver suburbs where residents can get to school or work within 30 minutes. And in a speech to the National Press Club two years earlier, Labor’s shadow minister for cities, Anthony Albanese, said he was “particularly attracted” to the concept of the 30-minute city.

It’s not the size that matters

But a city’s liveability isn’t equal to its appeal for living and working in. Tokyo, the largest city in the world, will never top the liveability scale. Its infrastructure challenges are of a different order compared to Australia’s cities. The equivalent of Australia’s population passes through the ticket barriers of Shinjuku, its busiest station, in a week.

Under this concept, with a density of 50 people per hectare, the ideal city size would be 160,000. For a city, where the population would have access to public transport, Keeble estimated this would be around 4 million.

Keeble was the first to admit these calculations were naive. Yet a calculation of city size based on the biological limits of the human body, mixed with the use of public transport, echoes contemporary thinking. Cities that often top the liveability scale – such as Melbourne and Vancouver – are universally mid-sized (around 4-5 million people) with low population density.

More recently, in the late 1990s, the Italian physicist Cesare Marchetti’s term “the 30-minute city”, first proposed in a relatively obscure paper, has been drawn into policy language.

But these challenges are being managed quite successfully.

Originally Published by The Conversation, continue reading here.


Discover more about the importance of urban planning

The International Urban Design Conference will be held at the SMC Conference and Function Centre, Sydney, NSW from Monday 12 – Tuesday 13 November 2018. The conference will showcase innovations in projects and research embracing and creating transformational change in urban environments.

Find out more about registration options here.