I want to ride my bicycle – San Francisco brings ideas to Canberra

A great talk from Tim Papendreou who was visiting Canberra this week to promote all things San Francisco, cycling and active transport. An inspiring and encouraging talk about how to make change within bureaucracy despite the inherent challenges.

Papendrou provided a great reminder that cities are for people and that this should be the focus of transport planning. Seems obvious, but it is something that can get lost in engineering and design solutions.

Two interesting publications that he drew our attention to were the Urban Bikeway Design Guide and the Urban Street Design Guide.

Urban Bikeway Design Guide coverUrban Street Design Guide

We look forward to see what emerges next from his team of “plangineers” (what you get when you cross a planner with an engineer!) A theme that is catching, judging by the front cover of the most recent edition of the Institute of Transportation Engineers journal.

Engineers + Planners = Success coverpage


Shaping our future cities: an art form

Book cover for The Art of Shaping the Metropolis

Of the 7 billion human beings on the planet, more than half live in cities. It is expected that the number of people living in cities will increase to 5.5 billion people by 2035, with an average increase of more than 200,000 people per day.

With more than 600 metropolises of 1 million or more around the world, the challenge of how to plan for their ongoing growth and expansion is a sizeable one. A framework for planning the development of urban areas is needed and the task of urban planners worldwide is to address the issues presented by the continued growth of cities.

Mr Pedro Ortiz a senior urban planner at the World Bank addresses these issues and more in his recent book ‘The Art of Shaping the Metropolis’. The book expands on a methodology for metropolitan planning developed by Ortiz during his time as director of the Strategic Plan for Madrid. The Metro-Matrix method provides a framework for the creation of metropolitan plans and offers a progression in metropolitan planning thought and the planning and development of major cities.

Ortiz envisages a new city form that moves from the dominant monocentric model, with a Central Business District surrounded by concentric rings (a bit like the layers of an onion), to polycentric cities, based on mass public transport, with a reticular grid pattern. If developed and designed well, each centre will have its own character, enhanced by designers of public space to create centres with a sense of place blending culture, heritage and modernity.

The challenge for many cities, particularly those that are rapidly expanding is how to structure the urban edge and the expanding metropolitan form. The Metro-Matrix method provides a common set of rules for dealing with these issues and provides a framework for dealing with the complexities involved in metropolitan planning, including competing priorities, short election cycles and disparate interests. Moving to a different model for metropolitan planning, involves a change in mindset in regards to governance, from centralised decision-making, to democratic and shared decision making.

Ortiz’s book explores the origins of the rectangular model for city planning versus the circular (monocentric) model and notes that wealth drives metropolitan expansion as much or more than population increases. He identifies that for metropolitan planning to succeed it is important to reach a social consensus. In this way the Plan does not need to be approved but becomes a way of thinking in that metropolis.

The transition to a reticular matrix approach to planning metropolises can be described by the analogy of a chessboard. The matrix creates the grid pattern of a chess board, but what is important is each chess piece in the square and how it operates. Once you have the framework offered by the metro matrix method, you are ready to play chess and guide the direction of the metropolis, its’ centres and functions effectively. This is likened to moving from a dart board approach to planning where development is focused on the city centre and is ad hoc and uncoordinated between different functions, to a strategic approach where institutional policies (such as economic efficiency, social equity and spatial development)  work together in a coordinated manner.

reticular matrix chessboard versus dartboard
Source: Ortiz, P. 2012

Tellingly, Ortiz comments in his book that

“the most powerful elements of society often lack the vision or interest to accept the emerging change and fail to foster the optimal development path, to shape a new paradigm.”

Clearly with the rapid urbanisation of nations throughout the world, a new framework for dealing with this growth is needed. Ortiz offers a compelling case for consideration and implementation of the Metro-Matrix method and places this in the context of urban planning history, the recent experience of developing cities and a theoretical base for decision-making and governance.

To purchase ‘The Art of Shaping the Metropolis’ click here.
To find out more about Pedro Ortiz and his work click here.


Active Travel

Walking Riding & Access to Public Transport

The Australian Government’s Department of Infrastructure and Transport has had a productive week, with not only the release of the State of Australian Cities 2013 report, but also the final report on Walking, Riding and Access to Public Transport.

The report aims to articulate the Australian Government’s interests in broadening the range of transport options in our communities: by increasing the share of people walking and riding for short trips; and improving their ability to access public transport.

The final report incorporates and considers almost 200 submissions received in response to the release of the draft report in October 2012 which explored how a national approach might help to increase the role of active travel in Australia’s urban transport systems.  

As well as outlining broad principles and actions, the report recognises that the economy benefits by more than $21 every time a person cycles 20 minutes to work and back and $8.50 each time a person walks 20 minutes to and from work.

To read more on walking, riding and access to public transport click here.



State of Australian Cities 2013

State of Australian Cities cover

The fourth State of Australian Cities report was released this week and includes interactive web-based maps and the second tranche of  Australian Bureau of Statistics’ 2011 Census population and housing data.

The report’s main focus is how the change in Australia’s industrial structure (described in the 2012 report) is affecting its major cities and what this may mean for productivity and equity.

Interesting facts include:

  • Australia has one of the highest population growth rates in the OECD.
  • Aside from city states like Singapore and Monaco, Australia is the most urbanised nation on earth.
  • An increasing number of people are living further away from city centres in major cities while higher-skill, higher-paying jobs, are becoming concentrated in central areas.
  • Australian cities tend to have higher private car use than public transport use when compared with overseas cities.
  • Since 2008, residential energy use has accounted for 12 per cent of Australia’s total energy consumption.
  • Energy demand for space heating and cooling is projected to increase in the coming decades. Factors influencing increased demand include houses with the largest average floor areas in the world, the decreasing occupancy rate of dwellings and the increased use of whole-house heating and cooling systems.

  • Nearly 40 per cent of total national energy use is expended in moving people and freight. The transport sector uses 73 per cent of Australia’s total liquid fuel, with over half of that being used by road transport.

  • The transport sector also contributes the largest proportion of average household carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions at almost 42 per cent. Light passenger vehicle use alone accounts for 35 per cent of Australia’s average household emissions, by far the largest overall component of the transport sector’s emissions.

  •  Rates of walking and cycling fell throughout the 1990s before recovering in the first decade of the century. The proportion of journeys to work made by bicycle is now the highest it has been in 40 years.

To read more about the State of Australian Cities click here.



Jane’s Walk

“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.” — Jane Jacobs, ‘The Death and Life of Great American Cities’

This year, Jane’s Walk will be held on the weekend of the 4th and 5th of May. Jane’s Walk is an exciting event that orginated in Canada with the purpose of promoting the legendary ideas and legacy of urbanist Jane Jacobs.

Free walking tours are led by locals in a community who want to to create a space for residents to talk about what matters to them in the places they live and work. Jane’s Walk encourages people to explore their neighbourhoods and meet others in their community.

Since its inception in Toronto in 2007, Jane’s Walk has expanded rapidly and in May 2011, 511 walks were held in 75 cities in 15 countries worldwide.

The vision of Jane’s Walk is for walkable neighbourhoods, urban literacy and cities planned for and by people.

So are there any walks being held in Australia? From what we can see there is currently one registered walk in Adelaide and one in Melbourne. Not many, so as the website says, if there are no walks in your city… be the first!

For more information go to http://www.janeswalk.net/



Active Design

New York City Active Design Guidelines cover page

Karen Lee  Director of the Built Environment Program at the New York City (NYC) Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has been touring Australia speaking about the connection between urban design and human health. In particular she has been promoting NYC’s Active Design Guidelines, which are a fantastic resource developed over several years to support the implementation of urban design practices that support physical activty and improve health.

To download a copy of the Active Design Guidelines visit the Centre for Active Design or to see Australian based case studies and guidelines on the same issue visit Healthy Spaces and Places.

We are hoping to track down a few of the before and after shots from New York City, to demonstrate some of the Active Design success stories, including Playstreets.

State of Australian Cities 2012

State of Australian Cities 2012 cover page

The State of Australian Cities 2012 report was released yesterday by the Australian Government’s Major Cities Unit.

The report identifies that while Australia’s major cities are among the world’s most liveable and increasingly powered by knowledge industries, they are also being affected by extreme weather events and struggling to house the continuing influx of new residents.

State of Australian Cities 2012 provides useful data and updated statistics on Australia’s eighteen largest cities, as well as highlighting the specific initiatives of local councils and state planning authorities to promote more productive, sustainable and liveable urban communities.