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What slums can teach us about community development

Kevin McCloud Slumming It in Dharavi
Photo courtesy of ABC Australia

A recent program presented by Kevin McCloud (Grand Designs) looks at one of the largest slums in Mumbai, India. Some of the world’s leading architects and planners claim that Dharavi solves problems facing modern day cities, such as how to provide neighbourhood meeting places, a sense of community and low rise, high density compact neighbourhoods.

What planned cities may have gained in privacy, the provision of unpolluted residential environments and general amenity, we may have also lost in terms of providing a built environment where strong communities can form and people can access goods and services within easy walking distance of their homes.

The introduction of sanitation which stimulated the beginning of the town planning movement is still something  lacking in many slum environments and contributes to a significant burden of disease in these communities. While much could be contributed in regards to the provision of updated sewerage, water and drainage systems, there is also much that we can learn from slums in terms of community building and the advantages of proximity to others,

Dharavi, India is being slated for wholesale demolition, with the chief architect presenting Le Corbusier style plans for development. Unfortunately what may be gained in terms of cleanliness and order may also result in the dismantling of existing communities and people-friendly environments.

To watch the show and form your own views see Slumming It on Channel 4 in the UK or on ABC iview in Australia alternatively the show is available for purchase from ABC Australia.

Urbanology – What would your future city look like?

Urbanology online game for BMW Guggenheim Lab

Urbanology produced for the BMW Guggenheim Lab is a game that examines the complex ways in which cities develop. It puts you in charge of your own city by presenting a variety of real-world urban dilemmas. Every decision you make impacts your city negatively or positively; often in ways you might not expect. At the end, a custom algorithm takes eight major categories (innovation, transportation, health, affordability, wealth, lifestyle, sustainability, and liveability) into account, and then calculates the closest real-world equivalent to the city you’ve created.

We had a try of Urbanology and after 10 thought-provoking questions were given the response that the city most similar to how we had responded was….gasp…Houston! With the highest priority sustainability and the lowest priority wealth.

Urbanology would probably be more meaningful to Australians if it gave an Australian city equivalent, i.e. Houston = Melbourne (no idea if this is correct or not!).  Urbanology is fairly simple and would probably be a good thought starter for citizens and local communities who haven’t considered what types of decisions and trade-offs their city or local council has to make.

A great online tool for community engagement, we are looking forward to seeing what else the BMW Guggenheim Lab has to offer during the next year.

Top 5 Most Influential Planners of 2011

Before you get too embroiled in 2012, pause and take a moment to think of those you consider most influential in planning for 2011. Which Australian “planners” do you consider to have exerted a broad influence on urban planning thought, action and ideas.

Ideally they are leaders who have not just been influential within a particular organisation or region, but are recognisable nationally as influencing the direction of urban planning in Australia.

To get your thoughts started we have compiled a list of the top 5 most influential planners in Australia for 2011, to hopefully inspire us as we move into 2012.

Top 5 Most Influential Planners in Australia 2011

1.       Dorte Ekelund

Head of the Major Cities Unit, the only Australian Government Division solely devoted to urban affairs. Dorte has overseen the release of the first, and now second State of Australian Cities Report, providing an overview on how Australian cities are tracking. She has also been instrumental in getting city and regional planning focused funding on the agenda, illustrated by a raft of new programs and other achievements such as the Australian Urban Design Protocol and recently announced Urban Policy Forum.

2.       Dr Peter W Newton

As Research Professor in sustainable built environments at Swinburne University’s Institute for Social Research Peter has been instrumental in forward thinking urban research including the recent report Towards a new development model for housing regeneration in greyfield residential precincts (AHURI July 2011) and the release of books including Urban Consumption (2011 CSIRO Publishing). Peter’s academic interests in sustainability, urban planning and urban regeneration, provide the perfect confluence for understanding and interpreting where we are headed with urban planning  and infill and how to achieve better outcomes.

3.       Dr Paul Mees

Senior Lecturer in transport planning at RMIT, Mees legal background has put him in good stead for analysing the validity of planning policy thought. Always challenging, and the author of numerous books and papers including more recently Public Transport Network Planning in Australia (Mees and Dodson May 2011). He is also a regular in the media due to his thought provoking insights that sometimes seem set to derail mainstream planning ideas. Stay tuned!

4.       Sue Holliday

Director of consulting firm Strategies for Change and active across a range of boards and forums, Sue is a regular speaker at public events on planning matters. Her involvement in shaping discussion on urban planning in Australia includes as member of the COAG Cities Expert panel, Chair of the Built Environment Industry Innovation Council and member of the recently announced Australian Government’s Urban Policy Forum.

5.       Kirsty Kelly

Possibly the youngest CEO of the Planning Institute of Australia, Kirsty has brought a town planning background and Gen X perspective into the organisation. With her prior experience as President of the South Australian branch of PIA she has a good working knowledge of the organisation and its complexities and has been able to introduce fresh ideas on representing the planning profession in Australia.

To vote for your top 5, send an email to planning.issue@gmail.com with the subject heading ‘Most Influential Planners 2011’ or add your comments to this article. We look forward to your feedback!

The High Line – New York City

purple flowers with city background

The High Line is a success story in the community influencing planning outcomes.

The High Line, an elevated freight train line was constructed in the 1930s in New York City to separate freight trains from street level. After trains stopped using the line it lay unused and threatened with demolition, until in the late 1990s Friends of the High Line was formed to protect the structure.

Friends of the High Line encouraged the City of New York to preserve and maintain the elevated rail line as a public park and eventually after several studies and much discussion, construction on the park began in 2006.

The first section of the High Line opened in June 2009 and changed it from this..

Old view of NYC high line, train line

To this…

The High Line Park in New York City

An innovative solution for disused or underutilised infrastructure and a great case of the community being able to activate and sway government decision making. Could this be an alternative use for elevated roadways, that one day may become a relic of the past? Wouldn’t the Cahill Expressway in Sydney look picturesque with some native grasses and shrubs adorning it?

A special thanks to the High Line for use of these photos, if you enjoyed reading about the High Line you might also enjoy this article on an local artist’s experience of living next to the High Line.

The Planning Issue joins twitter

In case you hadn’t already noticed the Planning Issue is now signed up to twitter and is enjoying sourcing urban planning analysis and information in the twittersphere. To follow our updates see 

One interesting idea we have discovered is the tweetchat, which is an online discussion via twitter. If you are interested in joining an urban planning focused discussion This Big City is starting a monthly series of tweetchats, with the first topic to be ‘the economics of sustainable cities – can we afford to make our cities more sustainable?’

If you would like to join the first City Talk tweetchat on 19th January 2012 simply login at the designated time, follow the #CityTalk hashtag, and make sure you include the hashtag in your tweets if you want to join in. Unfortunately the scheduled time for the City Talk tweetchat at 7.00PM London GMT seems to translate to 6am on Friday 20th January for Sydney, Australia. Might be good for those keen bean early risers!

Upcoming discussion topics will be published on City Talks, or you can follow @thisbigcity and @futurecapetown on twitter for updates.

Cities are made – 2012

Cities don’t just occur – they are made. And it is those who come forth with new ideas and dare to lead who make them great.

While reading through ‘Sydney’s most influential people: the (top 100) 2011′, in the (Sydney) magazine I came across the above quote by Joel Meares and thought it both apt and inspirational for those involved in creating our future cities.

My hope is that 2012 will be a year for bold leadership and new ideas about the design and direction of our cities. We hope that you can join us, to make this an inspiring year for the urban planning, design and development community.

Happy New Year!

Canberra – A city Australians can feel proud of

At the recent 2011 Walter Burley Griffin Memorial lecture, Sue Holliday outlined her ideas for Canberra and its planning future.

She started by explaining the importance of affection for a place. Affection results in pride in that place and concern for its future. She noted the lack of affection that many Australians have for Canberra, but also identified that it can be difficult to have affection for a place you have never visited or experienced. For those who do visit, or live in Canberra there is not always the experience of a sense of community or activity, once again lessening their affection and attachment to Canberra.

Sue, insightfully described the conflicted relationship between the Commonwealth Government and the ACT Government in continuing to plan the nation’s capital. Since self government in the ACT (and even prior) the Commonwealth Government has been looking to lessen its responsibility for the national capital. Reflecting this has been a series of reviews of the National Capital Authority over the past decade, which interestingly have all found there is a need for the Commonwealth to retain involvement in planning the national capital.

Meanwhile the ACT government has for the larger part ignored Canberra’s role as the national capital in its strategic planning documents, while at the same time wanting to have more control over its planning future.

Ultimately, Sue identified that Canberra needs to be a functional city, not just a city of symbolism. In order to achieve this more integrated planning future for the city, she outlined a series of steps.

  1. Work out governance arrangements - then update the National Capital Plan, incorporating key planning principles. Preferably undertaken by a joint ACT Government/Federal Government planning team.
  2. Adopt the key principles of the Griffin Legacy in the ACT Planning Strategy.
  3. Implentation – adopt the Hawke review recommendations and ensure that governance, vision and structure are right, and
  4. Develop new planning principles.

Critically she emphasised the need for the Commonwealth to resource these initiatives. Referring to her recent experiences visiting Montpellier, France she observed that “people want lively, sustainable, active cities and will reward politicians accordingly” (for supporting and making this happen).

What is needed to ensure that there is adequate support and investment in Canberra as the national capital?

How do you think Canberra can become a city that all Australian’s feel affection for?