Urban Voices book released

Urban Voices coverpage of book

Urban Voices was recently released to celebrate the 100th edition of the Urban Design Forum. The book Urban Voices looks at urban design in Australia over the past 25 years and looks ahead to the challenges for the next 25 years.  It contains contributions from a wide range of people interested in how our cities and towns function and the quality of life they deliver.

The book acknowledges that urban design in Australia is a work in progress, with the past 25 years seeing radical changes in nearly all spheres of life in Australia, and the world.  These changes include climate change, population and household structure, immigration movements and urbanisation, as well as media and communications, finance, and governance.

For more on the past, present and future of urban design in Australia purchase Urban Voices or check out the Urban Design Forum for urban design news and updates.

Design 29: Creating a Capital

Design 29

The Design 29: Creating a Capital exhibition at the National Archives of Australia showcases the designs shortlisted  for the 1911 Federal Capital City Design Competition for Canberra.

The exhibit displays many of the the original entries of the design finalists and is an interactive exhibit that utilises augmented reality technology on iPads, to imagine how Canberra might have looked today, had some of these designs been realised.

The exhibit will be running from 1 March to 8 September 2013 at the National Archives of Australia, Queen Victoria Terrace, Parkes, Canberra.

See the ABC news report for further information on the Design 29 exhibit.



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.

How Urban Design Can Help Curb Obesity

aerial view of streets and houses katie chao and ben muessig/Flickr

Thanks to   for use of this article on the ‘Fat of the land: how urban design can help curb obesity’  by Billie Giles-Corti, University of Melbourne and Carolyn Whitzman, University of Melbourne.

Giles-Corti and Whitzman discuss below, how we can change our obesogenic environment through urban design.

Compared with our grandparents, feeding, clothing, and entertaining ourselves has never been easier: a one-stop weekly shopping centre trip in a car, facilitated by convenient parking and light-weight maneuverable shopping trolleys that allow us to whiz around the supermarket with ease.

In fact, these days people don’t even need to leave home to do their food shopping, order takeaway food, bank or pay bills, shop for clothing or household goods, “visit” with their friends, read the newspaper or amuse themselves. Using the internet or telephone, activities that used to involve some level of activity or a short walk, can be done with “anywhere, anytime” convenience.

The internet and telephone have made life easy but it’s not all good news. teoruiz/Flickr

If we couple this lifestyle of convenience with a media environment that advertises and provides an attractive array of easily-accessed, low-cost and tasty, high-fat, high-sugar foods – it’s not surprising that obesity is such a huge problem.

Australia is one of the global leaders in the obesity epidemic, with two-thirds of Australian adults and a quarter of Australian children, overweight or obese. Alarm bells are ringing in health circles about the impact this will have on all the major preventable diseases: type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer. These diseases will get worse unless we can help people maintain a consistent belt size throughout their life.

Poor diet, lack of physical activity and other sedentary behaviours are the main culprits in the obesity epidemic. People choose how active they are and what they eat. But their local environments – their neighbourhood, local parks and streets, as well as their homes, workplaces and schools – provide opportunities and barriers that affect those choices.

There’s widespread agreement that we’ve created obesogenic environments that encourage both inactivity and overeating. So what can be done about it?

People are more likely to walk and cycle if they live in safe, compact, pedestrian-friendly neighbourhoods. Marionzetta/Flickr

For a start, we could improve neighbourhood design to get people out of their cars and onto the streets. People are more likely to walk and cycle if they live in safe, compact, pedestrian-friendly neighbourhoods characterised by connected street networks, access to nearby destinations such as shops and parks, mixed uses of building such as housing above shops, and high population density.

People living in the suburban sprawl walk less, drive more, and spend more time in sedentary pursuits, such as watching television or cruising on the internet, than those living in compact, pedestrian-friendly neighbourhoods. We need to plan services in new communities so that schools, shops, public transport, and parks arrive at the same time as housing – so that residents can develop good walking, cycling and public transport habits from the outset.

At the same time, we need to share the resources available in established suburbs closer to the city where there’s already good access to parks, jobs, and public transport. This means increasing the number of people who live in inner-city suburbs and giving more people access to existing shops and services.

We also need to think about quality and access to open space: parks, ovals, play grounds, and school grounds. The way open space is designed gives people cues about how it is to be used – is this open space simply for vandals and hoons, or does it say to local residents (regardless of age), “this space is open for active business, come and join in”?

The way open space is designed gives people cues about how it is to be used. Grant MacDonald

Similarly, we need to make the most of what’s called “blue space” – waterways, such as creeks, lakes, rivers and beach fronts. We know that in wealthy areas, blue spaces are opened up and invite the public to be active with walking and cycling paths, but is this true in lower-income areas?

There’s growing evidence that people who drive long distances to work are more likely to gain weight. Reducing commute times would not only be good for the environment, it would also be good for our waistlines – particularly if it involved walking or cycling to rapid public transport. This requires the right types of jobs to be available locally – what type of local business activation models could assist?

We need to give people choices so that healthy options are easy to pick – in neighbourhoods, schools and workplaces. Policies ensuring there’s plenty of fruit, water, and healthy take-away food – not just high-fat, high-salt, high-sugar alternatives – give people the opportunity to make healthier choices.

Providing access to community garden spaces encourages children and adults to develop a love of fresh food has the potential to have a positive impact on our waistlines too.

Community gardens encourage people to develop a love of fresh food. RDPixelShop/Flickr

And we need to think carefully, as a community, about how happy we are about the way unhealthy food is marketed and actively promoted so readily to children and young people. This normalises unhealthy food choices. We may need restrictions on the marketing of fast food to children in the mass media, at school and at sporting events.

These are choices to be made not only by individuals and families, but also by society. Planning and policy interventions are crucial to correct a serious market failure that is promoting unhealthy lifestyles, at the expense of the health and well-being of the nation and the future life expectancy of our children.

We have choices to make as a society. We know what we prefer – how about you?

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.

National Urban Design Awards 2012

The national urban design awards were announced this week at the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra. The annual event, is a prelude to the one day Built Environment Meets Parliament event held at Parliament House every year to discuss built environment, planning and design issues.

Winners of the national urban design awards were:

River Quay, Brisbane
Best Delivered Outcome – Small Scale
By Brisbane architects Arkhefield and landscape architects Cardno S.P.L.A.T

Darling Quarter Darling Harbour Sydney
Source: Aspect Studios

Darling Quarter, Sydney Harbour
Best Delivered Outcome – Large Scale
By ASPECT Studios, FJMT, ARUP, Hyder Consulting and Lend Lease

McGregor Coxall Parramatta River Urban Design
Source: McGregor Coxall

Parramatta River Urban Design Strategy (Sydney)
Best Policy, Program or Concept – Small Scale
By McGregor Coxall for Parramatta City Council

Future of Penrith proposed railway precinct
Source: Penrith City Council/C3West Campement Urbain

The Future of Penrith, Penrith of the Future (Sydney)
Best Policy, Program or Concept – Large Scale
By C3West Campement Urbain for Penrith City Council

Capital City Conundrum

Main Avenue Canberra Australia
Source: Virtual Australia

Canberra continues to be perceived as an aberration when compared to other Australian cities and an unpopular destination for national and international visitors. Although much maligned Canberra holds a special place in urban planning history. The upcoming centenary celebrations for Canberra are also increasing the focus on the city and its future development

A paper recently released by the Australian Government’s Parliamentary Services ‘A Capital Conundrum’ sets out to provide a snapshot of Canberra and an overview of its history to mark 100 years since Canberra’s foundation in 1913. The paper contends that Canberra needs to raise its profile and that urban design has the potential to raise the image of the city.

Here are some of the key recommendations of the paper:

  • Establish a multidisciplinary board or integrated commission on urban design for Canberra.
  • Permanently appoint a city architect/planner with a brief to develop and implement urban design policy.
  • Reinvigorate City Hill (currently an urban park in the middle of a roundabout) with a gateway structure and treatment symbolic of the city that links to the lakeside location (the paper mentions the Arc de Triomphe as an example!)
  • Review local, national and international transport connections for, and within Canberra to overcome its sense of and the cost of, isolation from the rest of the Commonwealth.

The paper also mentions that Canberra’s urban fabric would benefit from design attention and provision for alternative travel modes, together with innovative solutions to address housing sprawl, energy and water use and social amenity.

The conundrum for Canberra (as referred to in the title) is why such an excellent and carefully planned city is so little known overseas and so little loved in Australia.

What are your ideas for Canberra? Is better urban design required or better marketing? Maybe Canberra is doing just as well (or better) than anywhere else and simply needs an image overhaul?

To read more The Capital City Conundrum: an exploration of Canberra as Australia’s national capital.

Philadelphia City Planning – Winning Back the Waterfront

Cleveland City Planning Philadelphia

The Philadelphia City Planning Commission recently approved unanimously a new master plan for a six-mile stretch of the central Delaware River. The Master Plan includes a waterfront trail and calls for more low-rise buildings, better public access to the river, parks every half-mile, and an extension of the city’s street grid to the water’s edge.

As part of the plan, the city would need to invest $770 million over 25 years to upgrade the infrastructure and public spaces along the central Delaware.

Private property owners impacted by the Master Plan have criticised the plan as “overly aspirational” with one complaint being that it will “impose public access rights on private property without compensation, which is bad planning.”

However aspirational planning that increases public access to waterfronts, clearly works well in professional circles, with the Master Plan having just received the American Institute of Architects’ Honor Award, the profession’s highest recognition of work that demonstrates excellence in architecture and urban design.

View the Master Plan for the Central Delaware: Transforming Philadelphia’s Waterfront.