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

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.

Talking Point: City design key to future way of life

IT MAY seem obvious that most people live in cities, but it has only been true for less than a decade. Humanity has previously been a rural species.

In 1800 just 3 per cent of people lived in cities, and it was still only 14 per cent in 1900. Cities remain a novelty in the scheme of things, and we are still learning. For all its magic, city life is full of mistakes, mishaps and misery.

When I was a boy living in the country, we thought that technology could bring the urban utopia everyone dreamed of, with all the blessings of living en masse and none of the pitfalls.

It did bring benefits, but Dickens’s 19th-century London lives on in cities everywhere, in the form of isolation, polarisation and inequity. Such human factors are the focus of a big international meeting in October, along with some very 21st-century issues, disaster and climate resilience.

There have been just two previous Habitat conferences, at 20-year intervals. This year in Quito, Ecuador, some 25,000 politicians, mayors, academics, planners, activists, community advocates and business people will put together a new UN urban agenda for coming decades.

How cities look — the grand vistas, monuments and planning schemes so beloved of developers and politicians — is unlikely to figure on the Quito agenda. The focus will be on how cities can better serve the needs of inhabitants, rich and poor.

Its starting point will be 17 landmark sustainable development goals, a 15-year plan signed a year ago by Australia and other UN member nations. Number 11 of these goals aims to “make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”.

Urban ethics are a big talking point, centred on social inequity. In poorer countries, vast and rising gaps between poor and rich have resulted in one in three people living in a slum, while the rich, with government support, turn once-public land into gated communities.

Inequity, exacerbated by harsh treatment of intruders caught in gated suburbs and the touting of slum clearances as developments, threatens a city’s social fabric and economic viability. How cities confront another threat to sustainability, climate change, is also an equity issue. Rich people have resources to fall back on when extreme weather or rising seas threaten a community, but the less well-off are entitled to believe that authorities will look after their interests too.

The cynical view is that all strategic plans, from local government all the way up to the sustainable development goals, Habitat III and the 2015 Paris climate summit, are just devices to help leaders feel good while avoiding solid commitments.

According to this view, while ordinary people may feel they are being represented in the processes, and while governments invite comment on their plans, public thinking that runs counter to a chosen direction is quietly ignored.

But government should not be about self-interest, and the rest of us, armed with high-minded global declarations, are not without power. If ethical urbanisation, ethical anything, is to get its day in the sun, we need to ensure people we elect feel that power.

Peter Boyer began journalism at the Mercury in the 1960s. He has written about climate science for many years. In 2014 he was awarded an Order of Australia Medal for services to science communication.

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Building better mental health in cities from the ground up

Creating green spaces and better connections between people are just two of the ways urban planners can improve mental health.

The frenetic, isolating nature of city life can be a day-to-day struggle for millions of people. An environmental cocktail of densely packed streets and homes, cramped and lengthy commutes and noise pollution as well as significant pockets of poverty and deprivation can take their toll. As a result, mental ill health and urban life are inextricably linked.

With urban areas expected to house two-thirds of the world’s population by 2050 and some cities, such as in China, undergoing unprecedented expansion, the relationship between urban environments and mental health – and what to do about it – is rapidly coming to the fore.

“Public health is an important component of the built environment, but all too often this focuses only on physical health,” says Layla McCay, founder and director of the Centre for Urban Development and Mental Health. The thinktank was set up in 2015 to bring together researchers, policymakers and planners across the globe to push for urban space designs that create mentally healthier cities.

Cities

Projects paving the way

A well-designed urban space can have a positive influence on people’s wellbeing and help prevent mental health problems developing or becoming worse, according to McCay.

“Mental health plays a huge role in the overall burden of disease around the entire world,” she says. “It’s prevalent in every country. The statistics do tell us that people who live in cities have a 40% increased risk of depression, a 20% increased risk of anxiety and double the risk of schizophrenia.”

Urban living takes its toll

There is a considerable body of evidence internationally suggesting that urban living, especially poorly designed environments, can have negative effects on mental health. For example, substandard, overcrowded, damp housing has been proven to affect people’s capacity to cope, while the lack of something as basic as a play area can influence children’s wellbeing.

The role of planners and architects

It makes sense, McCay says, to take into account, for example, that improving street lighting and housing layout might reduce fear and anxiety about safety. The same goes for using urban design to produce plentiful open, green spaces that encourage regular interaction in “pro-social spaces” and “a sense of community” with the goal of reducing isolation.

Experts at the WHO Collaborating Centre for Healthy Urban Environments at the University of the West of England (UWE), which works in tandem with the World Health Organisation’s international Healthy Cities Project, concur that urban planning could have a substantial role to play in cities being designed with mental wellbeing in mind.

According to Daniel Black, an urban planner and fellow at the WHO Collaborating Centre, while planning professionals and researchers are increasingly becoming advocates for prioritising mental health in planning decisions, there is still some way to go before decision-makers in governments catch up.

“Mental health is still lagging behind,” he says. “Even physical health is only beginning to get on the radar. How those in control of urban development are integrating health into development is negligible.”

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Melbourne could be stripped of ‘world’s most liveable city’

THE world’s most liveable city should be small with a population of around a million and easy to get around.

And that’s not Melbourne. It’s a city where transport is delayed, urban sprawl keeps creeping further and high density apartments are rife.

According to RMIT environmental planning professor Michael Buxton, these are the things that could cause Melbourne to be stripped of its “world’s most liveable city” title this year. Melbourne has held the title on The Economist’s liveability ran

kings for the last five years but Prof Buxton said it could be the end, with European cities doing it better than Melbourne. “We are moving from a city with a population of four million to six million and that’s putting massive strain on existing services,” he said.

Austria’s capital, Vienna, was ranked number two on the liveability list last year and Prof Buxton said Melbourne may be overtaken and never catch up. “European cities value a high number of amenities and that means a lot to the citizens of these areas and they attract tourism, which is very important. Melbourne is not doing well on that at all,” he said.

“European transport systems also may not be as expensive as Melbourne’s and they function much better.”

Prof Buxton believes Melbourne has held on to its liveability title for the past five years because the city looks good on paper.

RMIT professor Michael Buxton believes Melbourne needs to catch up to European cities. Picture: Josie HaydenSource:News Corp Australia
RMIT professor Michael Buxton Source: News Corp Australia

The climate is not as miserable as some European cities and Melbourne’s tram and rail systems appears to cater well to the city.

“But it’s expensive and the problem is it doesn’t function that well,” he said.

Most of Melbourne’s problems came from a rapidly growing population, and smaller scale cities, like Helsinki, Stockholm and Berlin, were more appealing cities to live in.

Prof Buxton said city size had been debated for years and he believed once the population surpassed 1.5 million, that’s when difficulties could arise.

Earlier this year a report from BIS Shrapnel revealed there would be an oversupply of more than 20,000 homes in Melbourne in 2017.

The new liveability ratings are expected to be released this month.

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