People oriented city planning

Kingston foreshore buildings Canberra

Jan Gehl’s recent visit to Canberra brought with it a reminder and a clear message that cities are for people.

The history of many cities, particularly those designed and constructed in large part through the 1960s and 70s, has been to design for the car.

Canberra like many other Australian cities has made half-hearted and piecemeal attempts to tame the car, this has come in the form of pedestrian malls in the city centre, and the occasional lacklustre public square.

The public life of Canberra certainly suffers from the spread out nature of its suburbs and multiple centres and has been designed in plan view, with little thought for the human experience, particularly for those attempting to walk through its spaces.

Gehl’s concept of a human scale city is one which is designed for a person walking through the space at 5km/h. At this speed we see detail and can identify people, and at this pace there is the need for small scale visual interest and interaction. Cities designed for car use, tend towards big block development, open expanses and limited pedestrian scale detail.

Useful measures of success, when considering whether a city is designed for people include:

  • Is it accessible for a 7-8 year old (does it allow them to move around independently and safely)
  • Number of cultural events
  • Weekend visitors to the city centre (not just a place for office workers)
  • Number of evening activities such as restaurants, concerts etc.

While it was disappointing that Gehl didn’t provide much commentary on Canberra (hard to do within a brief visit), his advice to remove 50% of the asphalt certainly wouldn’t go astray.

From this perspective that would mean less surface car parks, more buildings with ground floor activity and smaller scale elements between existing big box developments and the street or surrounds. Sections of Canberra that have begun to experience some of this human scale development include Braddon, New Acton/East Acton and Kingston Foreshore.

cone sculpture at New Acton

Let’s hope that next time a Gehl Architects representative comes to Canberra the same can be said for other activity centres such as Woden Town Centre, Mawson and Weston Group Centres (to name a few). As these spaces, while delivering retail floorspace and convenient car parking, are underwhelming as places for people.

Canberrans love Canberra for many valid reasons including it’s clean, unpolluted air and water, it’s extensive outdoor recreation system, the ease of travel (by car mainly, or bike if you are fit) and the employment and education options available.

However for Canberra to continue as one of the worlds most liveable cities and become a vibrant city loved by visitors as well as residents, there will need to be a greater focus on human scale development, transport choice (not just cars), public meeting places, connected pedestrian and cycle networks and greater housing choice (not only detached houses on individual blocks or apartments, but more townhouses, terrace houses, cohousing, supportive housing etc).

Focusing on places for people, and ensuring that the overriding objective of putting people first in the design and planning of any new place or development, would support a more vibrant and active Australian capital.

Festival of Urbanism: Health and high rise, is density bad for you?

Just in case there is not enough on your calendar, the Festival of Urbanism has just launched in Sydney! Running from the 15 October to the 6 November 2014, the festival is packed full with interesting of events. Tonight’s discussion is ‘Health and High-rise – Is density bad for you?

Expert panellists (see below) will address health issues related to increased density.

  • Associate Professor Stephen Corbett, Director of the Centre for Population Health in Western Sydney Local Health District
  • Dr Jennifer Kent, Urban Planner, Macquarie University
  • Dr Peter Sainsbury, Director of Population South Western Sydney Local Health District

To attend register here.

The theme of this year’s Festival of Urbanism is ‘Megaprojects’ for more information see the Festival of Urbanism.Tr

 

Happy PARK(ing) Day 19 September 2014

Parking Day logo upside down car with park growing out of it

Temporary pop-up parks and artistic installations are occurring worldwide today in celebration of PARK(ing) Day, these will transform metered parking spots into temporary public parks.

PARK(ing) Day started in 2005 when the San Francisco arts collective ‘Rebar’ came up with the idea that paying a parking meter is a bit like renting a public space, so instead of parking a car, why not park something better?

On the third Friday of every September, designers, creatives, planners, architects, landscape architects and anyone passionate about new ideas for their city, temporarily transforms on-street car spaces into creative places that make the street more enjoyable, attractive and sociable.

park in a parking spot, lady on sun chairSource: Romania PARK(ing) Day website 

Here are some links to PARK(ing) Day events:

For more information see the PARK(ing) day website.

 

Utopia

ady standing next to man with high vis jacket with arms out - Utopia mini-series

Utopia is a new mini-series on the ABC following the dramas and office politics of the fictitious National Building Authority.

Story lines vary from investigating the feasibility of a very fast train (no surprises there!), an endangered grass threatening plans for a new container terminal and accidentally announcing that a community garden will be included within a waterfront development.

The plot borders on reality and will cover some familiar territory for Australian-based urban planners. Discussions are peppered with phrases such as “compact urban form is the buzz word at the moment” and the satire is further lightened with sub-plots of office dramas, including a communications manager with more energy than sense, performance reviews gone bad and numerous jabs at Gen Y employees.

For anyone who has worked in a government office, on major developments or just enjoys a good laugh this is a great satirical mini-series.

Episode 5 ‘Arts and Minds” is screening tonight (Wednesday) at 8.30pm, or you can catch up on missed episodes on ABC’s iview.

two men with poster boards behind of the very fast train

 

 

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.