Making a global agenda work locally for healthy, sustainable living in tropical Australia

Life in the tropics is often seen as “living in paradise”, a place where everything grows and flourishes. This picture-postcard environment is not the year-round reality. At certain times of year, intense heat, humidity and the wet season affect liveability, making outdoor activity unattractive and thereby reducing social cohesion.

Urban living can already be pretty insular these days. People move from temperature-controlled houses to temperature-controlled cars to temperature-controlled offices, and vice versa. There’s no need to talk to anyone really. And exercise? It’s something you try to fit in if you can – but you probably don’t.

An ideal city life might be one in which you walk or cycle to work easily, say hi to a neighbour, and pick up some fresh produce for lunch along the way. While it is nice to expect that people will do this for a healthier self and planet, the truth is that daily life choices depend on convenience.

Furthermore, the planning and design (or haphazard evolution) of urban spaces largely dictate the way we live. This in turn affects our health in many ways. It can, for instance, encourage or discourage active lifestyles, social cohesion and access to healthy food choices.

This is where the New Urban Agenda comes into play.

The New Urban Agenda and why it matters

The New Urban Agenda, drafted by UN-Habitat and endorsed in late 2016 by the United Nations General Assembly, aims to help everyone to benefit from urbanisation.

Through Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11 (Sustainable cities and communities), the agenda provides a guide for developing safe, inclusive, resilient and sustainable new cities that promote social integration and equity. It can also provide the impetus for conversations about the growth, redesign and redevelopment of existing urban spaces.

Making the New Urban Agenda work locally depends on more than overall regulations, or “importing” southern Australian solutions to the tropics. Even within the Australian tropical region, the climate varies. Cairns experiences a tropical monsoon climate (wet tropics), while Townsville is exposed to a tropical savannah climate (dry tropics).

The way public spaces should be designed must, therefore, also vary within the tropical climate zone. We need to listen to locals, understand their behaviour and preferences, then promote these preferred public space qualities through urban planning and design.

Good design can improve the choices we make. But what is good design? And how do we adapt general guidelines to specific places and cultures?

Urban diaries to understand each city

Urban diaries are premised on the importance of local history, values and knowledge. This approach aims to “distinguish underlying organic relationships between people and cities from indiscriminate prescription imposed upon place”. Urban diaries are a powerful tool for personal observation, raising awareness and creating positive urban change.

In our investigation, participants are invited to shoot and caption photographs of their surroundings, noting what makes their lives healthier, happier and stronger, and what does not. These images will be shared through social media and used to capture ideas and start conversations.

These urban diaries will help clarify how Cairns and Townsville function as tropical cities. At the same time this approach will help bring to light ways of improving local lifestyles by implementing the New Urban Agenda principles in this local context.

Place-based urban planning and design

Climate-responsive planning and design are important to make sure people can incorporate incidental exercise into their everyday routine. People will use public spaces if these are designed in a way that mediates the negative impacts of tropical climates.

What type of spaces and features will encourage people to walk even if the temperature outside is 40℃? We are particularly interested in three overarching questions. These concern how existing urban infrastructure and amenities promote or restrict:

  1. active lifestyles
  2. social inclusion
  3. healthy eating.

These questions will be explored through public participation in the upcoming UN-Habitat World Urban Campaign Urban Thinkers Campus events in Cairns on June 8 and Townsville on June 15. Drawing on urban diaries, these events will provide the fundamental basis for understanding these places through a local lens.

Originally Published by The Conversation, continue reading here.

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Growing cities face challenges of keeping the masses moving up, down and across

Cities worldwide face the problems and possibilities of “volume”: the stacking and moving of people and things within booming central business districts. We see this especially around mass public transport hubs.

As cities grow, they also become more vertical. They are expanding underground through rail corridors and above ground into the tall buildings that shape city skylines. Cities are deep as well as wide.

The urban geographer Stephen Graham describes cities as both “vertically stacked” and “vertically sprawled”, laced together by vertical and horizontal transport systems.

People flow in large cities is not only about how people move horizontally on rail and road networks into and out of city centres. It also includes vertical transport systems. These are the elevators, escalators and moving sidewalks that commuters use every day to get from the underground to the surface street level.

Major transport hubs are where many vertical and horizontal transport systems converge. It’s here that people flows are most dense.

But many large cities face the twin challenges of ageing infrastructure and increased volumes of people flowing through transport hubs. Problems of congestion, overcrowding, delays and even lockouts are becoming more common.

Governments are increasingly looking for ways to squeeze more capacity out of existing infrastructure networks.

Can we increase capacity by changing behaviour?

For the last three years, Transport for London (TfL) has been running standing-only escalator trials. The aim is to see if changing commuter behaviour might increase “throughput” of people and reduce delays.

London has some of the deepest underground stations in the world. This means the Tube system is heavily reliant on vertical transport such as escalators. But a long-standing convention means people only stand on the right side and allow others to walk up on the left.

In a trial at Holborn Station, one of London’s deepest at 23 metres, commuters were asked to stand on both sides during morning rush hour.

The results of the trials showed that changing commuter behaviour could improve throughput by increasing capacity by as much as 30% at peak times. But this works only in Tube stations with very tall escalators. At stations with escalators less than 18 metres high, like Canary Wharf, the trials found the opposite – standing would only increase congestion across the network.

The difference is down to human behaviour. People are simply less willing to walk up very tall escalators. This means a standing-only policy across the network won’t improve people flow uniformly and could even make congestion worse.

Is people movement data a solution?

With the introduction of ticketless transport cards it’s now possible to gather more data about people flow through busy transport hubs as we tap on and off.

Tracking commuters’ in-station journeys through their Wi-Fi enabled devices, such as smart phones, can also offer a detailed picture of movement between platforms, congestion and delays.

Transport for London has already conducted its first Wi-Fi tracking trial in the London Underground.

Issues of privacy loom large in harvesting mobile data from individual devices. Still, there’s enormous potential to use this data to resolve issues of overcrowding and inform commuters about delays and congestion en route.

Originally Published by The Conversation, continue reading here.

Join us at the 11th International Urban Design Conference

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.

Topics will include exploring the potential of mixed use places, spaces and precincts/districts, urban design best practice, designing safety into a city, future proofing, connectivity and design quality outcomes.

The conference will also explore the links which create the concrete physicality of the built environment, the complex social, economic, political and cultural processes through which the physical urban form is produced and consumed.

Applications to Present and Registration are NOW OPEN!

Conference Topics Include:

  • Potential of mixed use places, spaces and precincts/districts
  • Regulating urban design
  • Safe city design
  • Transport
  • Design quality
  • Digital

Individuals and organisations are invited to submit an abstract (summary of your presentation) to deliver an oral presentation or poster presentation which addresses one or more of the conference topics. The abstract should be no more than 300 words and outline the aims, contents and conclusions of the presentation. Abstracts should not include tables, figures or references. Please also submit 3 key learnings of your presentation, as well as a 100 word biography of each presenting author.

All proposals will be reviewed by the Program Committee. Presentations will be selected to provide a Program that offers a comprehensive and diverse treatment of issues related to the Conference topics.

For more information on the 2018 International Urban Design Conference, topics, to submit your application to present, registration and more please visit the conference website at urbandesignaustralia.com.au

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.

Present at the 11th International Urban Design Conference

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.

Topics will include exploring the potential of mixed use places, spaces and precincts/districts, urban design best practice, designing safety into a city, future proofing, connectivity and design quality outcomes.

The conference will also explore the links which create the concrete physicality of the built environment, the complex social, economic, political and cultural processes through which the physical urban form is produced and consumed.

Applications to Present and Registration are NOW OPEN!

Conference Topics Include:

  • Potential of mixed use places, spaces and precincts/districts
  • Regulating urban design
  • Safe city design
  • Transport
  • Design quality
  • Digital

Individuals and organisations are invited to submit an abstract (summary of your presentation) to deliver an oral presentation or poster presentation which addresses one or more of the conference topics. The abstract should be no more than 300 words and outline the aims, contents and conclusions of the presentation. Abstracts should not include tables, figures or references. Please also submit 3 key learnings of your presentation, as well as a 100 word biography of each presenting author.

All proposals will be reviewed by the Program Committee. Presentations will be selected to provide a Program that offers a comprehensive and diverse treatment of issues related to the Conference topics.

For more information on the 2018 International Urban Design Conference, topics, to submit your application to present, registration and more please visit the conference website at urbandesignaustralia.com.au