What is Synaptic Urbanism?

Urbanisation is not a new phenomenon. As our species transitioned from migrant hunter-gatherers to farming societies with permanent settlements, we started to build cities as centres of trade. Cities are a product of our natural human state.

“The city is a fact in nature, like a cave, a run of mackerel or an ant-heap. But it is also a conscious work of art, and it holds within its communal framework many simpler and more personal forms of art. Mind takes form in the city; and in turn, urban forms condition mind”    Lewis Mumford (from ‘The Culture of Cities’ 1938).

The challenge for our species is that we are increasingly dependent on accelerating city growth to safeguard basic necessities such as farmland and water supplies; we can no longer sustain a dispersed society. The UN projects that 85% of the world’s population will live in major cities by the year 2050.  The implications of the rapid acceleration in urban living are multivalent and demand a reassessment of our understanding, from practical considerations of infrastructure, transport, water, housing and public places to the broader socio-political and economic contexts in which the framework of physical infrastructure is set.

I use the term Synaptic Urbanism to describe an analytical approach and associated set of tools we may use as we begin to navigate this complex urban future in a manner that is specific to the local conditions, culture and climate of each place. Each city has competing priorities for investment, infrastructure, urban repair and social provision. The decision makers heretofore have prioritised investment based on a combination of fiscal objectives, political drivers and in many case as a response to unforeseen events.

Therefore many past investments in our cities are ineffective and incomplete. If we begin to add the overlay of spatial data that is currently available to cities then policy makers can make more informed decisions on investment priorities. We can identify the small investments that can complete previously disjointed strategies. The key component is that these Synaptic Urbanism interventions do not need to be large investments, they just need to be in the right place and they must do the right things.

Michael Hegarty RAIA RIBA AoU
National Practice Leader │ Australia + New Zealand
GHDWOODHEAD

Squandering riches: can Perth realise the value of its biodiversity?

Perth is not known as a model for suburbia and its suburban condition is similar to that of developed cities the world over. However, it does stand out in one respect: it sits in an exceptionally biodiverse natural setting. A strong, informed vision for this setting’s relationship with the city could help Perth become an exemplar for similarly positioned metropolises everywhere.

The greater Perth region has been designated the Southwest Australia Ecoregion (SWAE). This is one of only 35 “biodiversity hotspots” in the world.

Reconciling future growth with biodiversity is a key issue for urban design and planning this century. Indeed, if current trends continue, global urban land cover will increase by 1.2 million square kilometres (equivalent to half the area of Western Australia) by 2030. Much of this will happen in biodiversity hotspots.

This is important because it is estimated we will lose nearly half of all terrestrial species if we fail to protect the hotspots. We will also lose the ecosystem services upon which human populations ultimately depend.

Perth has a reputedly strong planning system and is comparatively wealthy. If it can’t control its city form to protect biodiversity – compact cities generally being recognised as the best model for protecting land for conservation – then city administrators elsewhere, particularly in the developing world, are likely to struggle.

Perth’s Green Growth Plan

The release of the state government’s long-anticipated Perth and Peel Green Growth Plan for 3.5 million may herald a shift in the relationship between the city and the biodiversity hotspot. The plan encapsulates two broad goals:

  • to protect fringe bushland, rivers, wetlands and wildlife in an impressive 170,000 hectares of new and expanded reserves on Perth’s fringe
  • to cut red tape by securing upfront Commonwealth environmental approvals for outer suburban development.

While ostensibly positive achievements, a question remains as to the implications of clearing a further 45,000ha (3% of the Swan Coastal Plain) of remnant bushland which is not protected by the conservation reserves.

Furthermore, the typically disconnected conservation reserves proposed in the Green Growth Plan lack overall legibility. This stymies the public’s ability to conceptualise the city’s edge, which leads them to care about it (like London’s greenbelt, for instance).

Finally, a question remains about how a plan that places restrictions on outer suburban development will accommodate the powerful local land development industry over time. This is a concern given the frequent “urban break-outs” – where urban development occurs outside nominated growth areas – between 1970 and 2005.

In 2003, the ABC asked revered Western Australian landscape architect Marion Blackwell, “Are we at home now in the land we live in?” She replied, “No, we’re not. We don’t know enough about it, and not enough people know anything about it.”

We still have work to do on our engagement with biodiversity in Western Australia, and Perth specifically, before we can become a model for future cities.

Read more.

7 Major Projects Shaping Brisbane As Australia’s New World City

Brisbane; it’s Queensland’s metropolitan jewel and has hopes of soon stepping onto the international stage as Australia’s next ‘world city’.

There are a number of development projects announced or underway in Brisbane that are projected to be up and running by 2022, each bringing its own unique quality to the city.

  1. Queen’s Wharf

Queen’s Wharf Brisbane is set to attract new visitors and investment as it reconnects the activity of Brisbane’s defining parts of the city like the Botanic Gardens, the Queen Street Mall, the Cultural Precinct, South Bank, the Parliamentary Precinct and the Brisbane River.

Queen’s Wharf will include:

  • Five new hotels– including premium brands like the Ritz-Carlton
  • Three residential towers
  • A new department store
  • About 50 food and beverage outlets
  • A riverfront moonlight cinema
  • A Queensland Hotel and Hospitality School in partnership with TAFE Queensland.

The development is expected to deliver $1.69 billion annual increase in tourism and 1.39 million additional tourists per annum, along with $4 billion to the Gross State Product.

  1. Northshore Hamilton

Owned by Economic Development Queensland (EDQ), Northshore Hamilton is Brisbane’s largest urban renewal precinct, spanning 304 hectares and will have an important role to play in helping the city position itself for the future.

In the next 20 years, Northshore’s primarily industrial area will be transformed into a $5 billion vibrant riverside precinct over the next 20 years. It will cater for 15,000 residents and become an employment hub for about 15,000 workers in retail precincts and office parks.

  1. Brisbane Airport Redevelopment

Brisbane Airport Australia is currently on the way to delivering the country’s best runway system with the $3.8 billion New Parallel Runway Project (NPR) for Brisbane Airport. While the airport has about 100 other projects in the works for the next 10 years, this NPR is considered the biggest aviation project in Australia.

  1. Howard Smith Wharves 

The Howard Smith Wharves project covers a 3.43 hectare riverside precinct that will connect the New Farm Riverwalk and the CBD and revitalise Petrie Bight

The Howard Smith Wharves project’s key features include:

  • A dining, retail and tourism centre utilising the existing heritage-listed buildings
  • New public open spaces that may be used for markets and festivals
  • A 64-room, five-star Art Series boutique hotel
  • A hotel facade that blends into the cliff face with natural tones and textures to keep the iconic Story Bridge as the main focus
  • Underground carpark for about 350 vehicles
  • A 1500sqm exhibition space.
  1. Brisbane Quarter

Located at 300 George Street and developed by Taiwan’s Shayher Group, Brisbane Quarter is the city’s first integrated, world-class mixed use precinct.

Brisbane Quarter encompasses a complete city block with Brisbane River views and will include Australia’s first purpose-built W Hotel, two levels of riverside dinning and luxury retail shopping beneath a 40 storey Prime Grade office tower, as well as an 82 storey luxury residential apartment building.

  1. Brisbane Metro

While still in its early stages, the Brisbane Metro Subway system was a commitment by Brisbane City council to provide a reliable high-frequency transport system that will reduce CBD bus congestion, cut travel times and allow for the redirection of buses to improve services in the suburbs.

  1. Brisbane Live

Brisbane Live is Australia’s response to New York’s Madison Square Garden in New York City, as a 17,000 seat world class arena which will showcase international superstar concerts and performances as well as world sporting events.

Brisbane Live’s masterplan image

The complex will be built above Roma street rail lines and would make use of public transport facilities making it accessible to everyone in Brisbane.

Read more.

 

Paris is leading the world in progressive urbanism – here’s how

paris urbanismAt a time when cities are under pressure from growing populations, global warming and worsening inequality, we need to be making the most of our urban spaces. In the face of these challenges, Paris is leading the way toward a more transparent, democratic form of urbanism, to keep the city growing in a fair and sustainable way.

Last year, under the direction of mayor Anne Hidalgo, the city opened up 5% of its annual budget – worth €20m – to popular vote. Parisians were invited to select architectural and urban projects, to be funded by City Hall. The winning projects included public arts installations, co-working spaces, new pedestrian spaces, community gardens and vertical farms.

But local authorities across the world are facing tight budgets and decreased funding from central governments, which is limiting their capacity to improve our cities. So for now, the scope for publicly funded urban regeneration projects is limited.

An alternative solution is to lend or sell publicly-owned land and buildings to private investors, who have the capital to fund major urban developments and upgrade infrastructure. Yet privately-led regeneration comes with its own problems: private developers seek returns on these new developments, which means they often fail to address local needs and accelerate gentrification.

Yet it seems Paris has found a way to navigate this process in a more transparent and engaging way. In 2014, Mayor Hidalgo launched Reinventing Paris – an international competition inviting proposals for “innovative urban projects” to redevelop 23 sites across the French capital. Selected areas included old public baths, abandoned electricity substations, parking lots, disused hotels, empty plots of land and industrial brownfields.

Earlier this year, the 23 winning projects were announced. These are currently undergoing a final round of review and – pending final approval – construction should start in 2017.

For the competition, the City Hall relaxed its planning rules to encourage participation from smaller organisations, which are less familiar with the intricacies of Paris’ rigid planning system. In the first two stages, the only constraint for proposals was that an architect needed to be involved. To read more click here.

The 9th International Urban Design Conference will be held in Melbourne in November.  To express your interest in the 2016 Conference CLICK HERE.

Watch as the world’s first 3D-printed house goes up!

ALONGSIDE a canal in Amsterdam, architects are attempting to 3D-print an entire house. If they are successful, it would be the world’s first ever 3D-printed building.

via Watch as the world’s first 3D-printed house goes up!.