Tropical Urbanism – Supporting a City in a Rainforest

Study awarded highest honour at National Planning Awards

In Cairns, the relationship between built form, city planning and landscaping is expressed as Tropical Urbanism and is a defining characteristic of the region’s identity.

The Tropical Urbanism: Cairns City Image Study was a combined effort of Cairns Regional Council and a consultancy team comprising Tract Consultants, Follent, Peddle Thorp and local firms CA Architects and Total Project Group Architects.

3D of the Abbot Street Hotel by CA Architects

Tropical Urbanism was incorporated into the CairnsPlan 2016, which was adopted in March 2016 with the inclusion of assessment criteria for development in a number of codes and a supporting Planning Scheme Policy (The Policy) to provide additional guidance.

The Policy includes requirements for development to achieve 15% vertical landscaping and 50% shading on each façade, as well as separation and promotion narrow buildings for ventilation, increased heights and a generous street canopy to provide ventilation and shading and allow for pedestrian movement in response to tropical climatic considerations.

The policy has been well accepted by industry, winning the 2017 National PIA Award for Planning Excellence – the highest accolade for planning in Australia. This followed success in two Queensland PIA awards, including the Best Overall Award for Planning Excellence across all categories. Judges commented that “the study represents a significant contribution of tropical expertise that can be offered, transferred and adapted to suit the needs of other tropical cities, with Cairns defining itself as a leader worldwide in the area of Tropical Urbanism”.

Local Architects have embraced the policy, with several planning applications having been made under the CairnsPlan 2016 that will result in improved urban place and tropical design outcomes. This will result in enhanced aesthetics, shading, sustainability, increased landscaping in the horizontal and vertical planes and improved amenity, leaving a great legacy for planning in the City

The policy encourages designs that better reflect the sense of place and Biophilia, or connection with nature, which can energise residents and the experience of tourists visiting Cairns’ unique tropical environment.

One example is the Abbott Street hotel and apartment building by CA Architects which has been designed to explicitly embrace the principles of tropical urbanism whilst capturing the flavour of Cairns. An architecture of high canopies, filtered shadows, water play and large volumes capture the essence of the rainforest and reef, blurring the lines between indoors and outdoors. The activated street fronts, covered public spaces and landscaped edges provide a uniquely Cairns experience.

To support the implementation of the policy, particularly the provision for 15% vertical landscaping, Council intends to engage further with the building and construction industry to explore how to the policy may be further refined through guidance on species selection, vertical gardens, podium planting, and shading devices.

Cairns is currently developing a new City Centre Master Plan, which will further integrate Tropical Urbanism principles into the urban domain through a series of identified urban design projects.

The Tropical Urbanism Policy provides a framework to express the unique tropical environment on two levels; firstly by providing a physical representation of the brand of Cairns as a City in the Rainforest (where rainforest meets the reef); and secondly by ensuring that the urban domain remains climatically responsive and is a place that people want to live and visit in generations to come.

This article was kindly provided by Sophie Barrett, Coordinator Strategic Planning, Economic Development & Sustainability, Cairns Regional Council

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.

Green cities are not just for the elite

Green cities have become a key goal of urban development. They are environmentally friendly, provide clean water, protect green space, and offer an enhanced public experience.

However, they’re not perfect. In fact, some of the different needs of citizens may have been neglected amid all the attention lavished on green cities. A green city in many real-life cases is neither green everywhere, nor green for everyone. Also, a green city does not guarantee an economically strong city, nor a livable place for people of all income classes.

Seen from the perspective of urban dwellers of different socioeconomic status, there are five urban development objectives that can be considered as ascending stages on a scale of livability.

First, in its most basic form, urban life needs to ensure a livelihood for citizens.

Second, it should enable accessibility, allowing its residents to participate fully in daily urban life.

Third, urban life should be affordable, ensuring that urban infrastructure, such as housing, and urban services, such as health care, are affordable for citizens.

Fourth, it requires resilience, enabling people to withstand social threats such as crime or environmental impacts like extreme weather events. Finally, at the highest stage, urban life has to provide for livability, which allows people to fully enjoy what their city has to offer.

Published by Eco-Business, read the full article here.

Why Australia Needs Greener Cities

Higher density urban living has become a primary concern for urban planners, who grapple with issues such as infrastructure development, traffic management and housing solutions. But beyond these physical concerns, there are a number of very real human issues that also need to be addressed by planners as well as developers and architects.

For all of its benefits, city living isolates people from the natural world, and new research is finding that this isolation affects the wellbeing of urbanites. With some clever design thinking, however, we can create cities that are more sustainable and offer a higher quality of life.

As cities grow, it’s easy for green spaces to become an afterthought in the planning process. This is not just the case in public spaces, but also in the development of residential and commercial projects.

Parkroyal on Pickering, Singapore
Parkroyal on Pickering, Singapore

Many city councils now have limited regulations in place specifying how much green space a new building should deliver, but going above and beyond this will have a positive impact on the environment, wellbeing of residents, the liveability of the property and its resale value.

In the last week alone there has been a great deal of public discussion over the design of apartment buildings in Brisbane, after research by Associate Professor Rosemary Kennedy from QUT’s Design Lab found that many new developments are too hot for the city’s sub-tropical climate.

Due to the excessive heat generated from their glass facades, these building require a higher amount of air-conditioning for temperature regulation.

“One of my major concerns is that we’re not designing our buildings using good design; we’re using electricity to solve design problems,” she said in an interview with ABC News.

She believes that as buyers become aware of these design issues, resale prices will suffer and tenant turnover rates will increase.

Building our cities without any regard for climate regulation contributes to the urban heat island effect, which negatively impacts the liveability of a city. This effect occurs when building materials such as concrete, glass and bitumen absorb and hold on to heat and, as a result, increase the temperature of a city.

By incorporating plants into buildings through rooftop gardens or green walls, however, we can begin to offset this effect and cool the structure, in turn reducing the need for air-conditioning.

If we were to create enough green spaces to cool Australia’s cities by eight degrees, it is estimated that the reduced use of air-conditioning alone will lower carbon emissions by 12–15 percent each year.

One Central Park, Sydney
One Central Park, Sydney

Integrating plants into city buildings is also an effective way to absorb stormwater runoff and reduce the noise levels experienced within office and apartment buildings.

These benefits are in addition to the well-known role trees play in filtering the air by soaking pollutants. So what seems like a simple element of city design can have a big impact on sustainable living and the practicality of a building.

It’s not just the environment that benefits from the practice of biophilic design – human health and mental wellbeing improves too. A recent 2009 Dutch study found that those who live less than 1km from green space had lower incidence of 15 diseases including depression, heart disease, diabetes and asthma.

Here at home, 83 percent of Australians relate relaxation and time out with green spaces, and 73 percent see their garden as a place to improve their mental wellbeing.

It is believed that this inherently positive association with nature lowers stress and anxiety levels, contributing to improved mental and physical wellbeing. Given this association, buyers are willing to pay more for a feeling of connection with nature.

Read more.