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.


Plan for 6200 Homes in Sydney’s Newest Suburb

A new development precinct planned for Sydney’s north-west growth corridor is set to offer thousands of new homes to Sydneysiders.

The NSW government release of the Marsden Park North masterplan shows 6200 new homes will be built in the precinct over the next 20 years.

The masterplanned community, which will offer a mixture of housing options, sits approximately 12 kilometres from Blacktown CBD and 20 kilometres from Parramatta’s CBD.

Planning and housing minister Anthony Roberts said the plan includes three new local centres, a new primary school, 13 brand new playing fields and more useable open space proposed to benefit residents of the area.

The NSW government’s release of the masterplan proposes more than 57 hectares of parks and playing fields

“The new playing fields, public parks and the local centres will be easily accessible via new pathways and cycleways,” Roberts said.

“A wide range of homes would be provided for the diverse and growing community, easily accessed by new road upgrades and the Sydney Metro Northwest.”

Upgrades of Richmond Road, Garfield Road, Schofields Road and Bandon Road are planned to improve access to and from the development precinct.

Member for Riverstone Kevin Conolly says Marsden Park North will eventually become part of the new suburbs of Angus, Marsden Park and Vineyard.

“Residents will also have access to the new Sydney Metro Northwest at Tallawong Station as well as existing Schofields and Riverstone Railway Stations,” Conolly said.

The Sydney Metro Northwest at Tallawong Station is scheduled to open in 2019.

The Marsden Park North Masterplan is now open for local community feedback until October 26.

New resilience strategy highlights the disasters that could bring Sydney to a shuddering halt

AUSTRALIA’S largest metropolis has simply been “lucky” to avoid a city stopping disaster, a group of resilience experts have said.

But Sydney’s luck could be about to run out, and if the city isn’t felled by extreme heatwaves and terror attacks, more insidious creeping catastrophes such as housing affordability and chronic illness could do it in.

That’s the conclusion of a landmark analysis released on Tuesday that aims to shake Sydneysiders out of their stupor and prepare for a range of foreseeable disasters that could bring the city of five million to its knees.

The “Resilient Sydney” report, launched by City of Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore, details a slew of “acute shocks” and “chronic stresses” that could or are already occurring, and how the city can avoid falling foul of them.

Extreme heatwaves are one of the major disaster risks Sydney faces. Picture: Dr Roger Allison-Jones

Sydney is the second Australian city to sign up to the global 100 Resilient Cities program, Melbourne has had a head start of two years to get its act together. Backed by the Rockefeller Foundation, the program aims to help cities manage disruption and respond to disasters.

“What we mean by resilience is how we adapt, thrive and survive from shocks and stresses,” Beck Dawson, Sydney’s nattily titled chief resilience officer, told news.com.au.

“A shock can be a short, sharp disruption, like a flood for a terror attack, but a stress is a long, slow burning issue that can turn in to a disaster or magnify those other events because of the underlying vulnerabilities in the city.”


But the city is facing a double whammy of issues that could prevent it from coping in the face of disasters, either acute or chronic, Ms Dawson said.

One was the city’s fragmented government, with Sydney having no single city-wide council; the other was the false sense of security that can pervade a city that has faced fewer disasters than counterparts overseas.

Not that Sydney hasn’t faced its own shocks — the report lists 2014’s Lindt cafe siege, the Cronulla riots of 2005 and the 1998 disease pandemic that left the tap water of three million people contaminated as well as ongoing extreme weather.

However, the Harbour City hasn’t gone through the terrorist attacks or natural disasters that have befallen other 100 Resilient Cities members such as London, New York and Christchurch, said the executive director of the Sydney Business Chamber Patricia Forsythe.

Ageing infrastructure could undo the city in an extreme weather event. Picture: iStock

“Sydney has been so lucky up to now; often it’s said we’ve never been tested in terms of natural disasters or other issues that face other cities.

“But we have to ensure if we are ever tested we learn the lessons from other places and that is when businesses can’t open, when people don’t have jobs, when they are disrupted, that impact flows through not only those people if affect so many people. “

The report listed Sydney’s chronic stresses as the growing demand on health services, housing affordability, social cohesion, lack of employment diversity, financial inequity, chronic illnesses, transport diversity and drug and alcohol abuse.

The acute shocks, listed below, were harder, sharper hits that could throw the city into crisis at a moment’s notice.


1. Extreme weather

2. Financial institution failure

3. Infrastructure ageing and failure

4. Terror attack

5. Cyber terrorism

It’s a similar problem to Melbourne which released its resilience strategy in 2016. It concluded the city’s acute shocks could be bushfires, floods, heatwaves, pandemics, infrastructure-related emergencies and cybercrime. A rapidly growing population was a chronic stress for Melbourne.

Organisers of the report recommended households download the Get Prepared app, developed with the Red Cross and insurer IAG, which enables Sydneysiders to store emergency contacts and identify their nearest emergency services.

Ultimately, Ms Dawson said, her job revolved around three key questions: “what will stop this city, who will bear the risks and what will the cost be when it goes wrong?”

Originally Published by News.com.au – read full article here.

Locals call for a ‘High Line’ on Sydney’s north shore

Residents of the Sydney suburb of Lavender Bay are pushing for a linear park to be developed along side a historic rail line that would provide a pedestrian link between Lavender Bay and Waverton Station.

Established in 2016, the Sydney Harbour High Line Association describes itself as “a group of like-minded people that sees the importance of building on the amenities to support the huge growth in the number of people living in Sydney in general and the lower north shore in particular.”

According to the Mosman Daily, earlier in April the association met with a State Government committee, where it presented its detailed plans for the publicly held land that lies beside the railway. If the project goes ahead, the park would be operated by North Sydney Council.

Proposed ramp access from Harbourview Crescent. Image: Sydney Harbour High Line

The heritage-listed rail line is not used for a passenger service, but is used by Sydney Trains for driver training. The site is significant due to its connection to artist Brett Whiteley, who famously painted scenes of Sydney Harbour from his home in Lavender Bay, adjacent to the railway tracks, as well as the “secret garden” created by Brett’s former wife Wendy. The Whiteleys’ house and garden were both recently added to the state heritage register.

Local state MP Felicity Wilson, who supports the project, told the Mosman Daily that she had “secured an agreement from Sydney Trains to explore the feasibility of installing a segregated walking track alongside the current active line.” The proposal is inspired by and takes its name from the High Line in New York City, an elevated railway conversion designed by Diller Scofidio and Renfro. This was in turn inspired by the first rail park, the Coulée verte René-Dumontin in Paris, which opened in 1993.

Originally Published by ArchitectureAU, continue reading here.

Why do some Sydney councils encourage urban beekeeping but avoid handling complaints?

Sydney has seen an explosion in urban beekeeping with a 20 per cent increase in the number of people taking up the hobby in just a couple of years.

That’s great for the environment, with bees our most valuable pollinators for agricultural crops and even urban backyards.

But what if you have an allergy or reaction to bee stings, or a backyard pool where bees like to get their water and you need to make a complaint?

Tony Deguara lives in Sydney’s inner west with a backyard bee enthusiast neighbour over his back fence.

Tony told Curious Sydney his neighbour started out with two beehives, but the number increased to six meaning he was living next to thousands of bees as a result.

He asked: “Why do Sydney councils encourage urban bee keeping but appear to have no regulations to manage the hobby? Consequently if you have problems you have to go to the Department of Primary Industries [DPI]”.

That was the question ABC News in Sydney was asked to investigate through Curious Sydney, our series that reports on stories based on your questions.

Urban beekeeping in Sydney has grown rapidly over the last couple of years.

“I started having major problems with my neighbour — not because he was keeping bees but because he was keeping what I thought was an inordinately high number of bees,” Mr Deguara said.

“I made an enquiry with the local council to find out but they really didn’t want to know anything about it. They didn’t have any guidelines or regulations in place. They didn’t prosecute and they didn’t set up any situation where you could discuss this with your neighbour.”

Tony has a bad allergic reaction to bees. While not anaphylactic, they leave him with infections and swellings that last for weeks.

After the last sting, an infection in his foot required antibiotics.

When he asked his neighbour to reduce the number of beehives, initially his neighbour complied, but over time the number of hives crept up again.

Tony sought advice from his local Inner West Council to help him manage the issue, but the council redirected him to the DPI.

Curious Sydney found that the answer to Tony’s question is complex. Councils can manage bees if they choose to classify them under the companion animal act like pet dogs and cats, but each council has different rules.

Originally Published by ABC News, continue reading here.