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


Street Design: The Secret to Great Cities and Towns

Recent travels around the UK and Europe have revealed to us how important street design is, in creating spaces that are comfortable, useable and aesthetically pleasing. How to create great streets is the focus of Street Design a recently released book by two accomplished architects and urban designers, Victor Dover and John Massengale.

Street Design: The Secret to Great Cities and Towns provides insights on how good street design can unlock economic value, increase happiness, improve health and reknit neighborhoods. In the United States the Complete Streets policy has been adopted by over 600 jurisdictions, with communities demanding beautiful streets where people want to be. Street Design provides a blueprint for how to meet that demand.

This manual for street design looks at hundreds of streets old and new, revealing what works and what doesn’t and the secrets behind designing beautiful streets and walkable places. Massengale and Dover have solutions for how to improve neighborhoods, cities, and towns: to make them walkable again. This begins with great streets where people want to be, where they feel comfortable, safe, and enjoy their surroundings.

Street Design is a useful handbook for urban designers, civic leaders, architects, city planners, engineers, developers, landscape architects, and community activists. It is ideal reading for any person who wants to make their community walkable and create memorable streets that are not just routes to someplace else, but great places that are destinations in themselves.

The guide includes information on:

  • how to design new streets and improve existing ones to create more walkable cities and towns
  • examples of more than 150 excellent historic streets, retrofitted streets, and new streets, explaining why they are successful and how they were designed and created
  • common street-design challenges and ways they can be addressed through placemaking
  • strategies for shaping space in the public right-of-way through correct building height to street width ratios, terminated vistas, landscaping, and street geometry.

With over 500 colour and black-and-white photos and afterword by James Howard-Kunstler, we look forward to Street Design providing a source of inspiration for creating better streets around the world.

Saltaire: a model village of the 19th century

Salts Mill

Saltaire in West Yorkshire, England is a UNESCO listed heritage site recognised for the significance of the town planning of the site. The planned model industrial village is largely intact and was influential in the development of the garden city movement.

Saltaire was named after it’s founder Sir Titus Salt, a wool mill magnate who was looking to improve the living conditions of his workers. His vision was for a new community where his workforce would be healthier, happier and more productive.

mill worker

Salts Mill factory worker in the 1800′s

Salt commissioned architects Henry Lockwood and Richard Mawson to design the village, with development commencing in 1851. The Salts Mill factory was the first building to be completed in 1853. The village surrounding the factory was designed in a classical style, inspired by the Italian Renaissance and included a school, church, town hall and a variety of housing types. Compared to typical worker’s residences, the housing was of a high quality with each residence having a water supply, gas lighting, an outdoor privy, separate living and cooking spaces and several bedrooms.

terrace housing Saltaire

Example of row housing in Saltaire

Saltaire proved significant in that it provided the model for similar developments, both in the United Kingdom and elsewhere including in the USA and at Crespi d’Adda in Italy. Ultimately the town planning and social welfare ideas manifested in Saltaire were influential to the 19th century garden city movement in the United Kingdom and internationally.

cafe in mill chairs and tables

Renovated interior of Salts Mill

If you are in this area of the world, a visit is well worth the effort. Not only will you be able to visit one of the original New Towns, but you can also enjoy the refurbished Salts Mill, now home to the David Hockney 1853 Gallery, as well as an amazing book shop, art store, cafe, restaurant and homeware store.



HafenCity Hamburg: Europe’s largest inner-city development project

view of HafenCity former port area

HafenCity in Hamburg is Europe’s biggest inner city urban redevelopment project covering a site of approximately 157ha. HafenCity was originally part of Hamburg’s free port area and is now being converted to mixed use development including offices, hotels, shops and residential accommodation.

The HafenCity project was announced in 1997, with the initial Masterplan completed in 2000. Since this time construction has included the development of the U4 Subway line, completion of the first neighbourhood Am Sandtorkai / Dalmannkai and the opening of HafenCity University Europe’s only University focused solely on architecture and metropolitan development.

HafenCity Master PlanHafenCity will enlarge Hamburg’s city centre by 40 percent.
Source: © M. Korol / HafenCity Hamburg GmbH

The Master Plan for the eastern section of HafenCity was revised in 2010. Much of the area still looks like a work in progress, with substantial construction still continuing and the entire development expected to be completed by 2025.

Overall HafenCity is an exciting port redevelopment project, which it is hoped will become a vibrant, attractive area, suitable for a range of uses and end-users. It will be interesting to see how the entire development evolves and the learning and research outcomes to emerge from the newly created University of the Built Environment and Metropolitan Development at HafenCity University (HCU) Hamburg.
To find out more about HafenCity click here.

Revitalising Cities: Case Study Sheffield

Currently the Planning Issue is on the road and checking out the English countryside. Yorkshire is our focus for this month and has got us thinking about the revitalisation of post-industrial cities. Cities that were once the powerhouse of the industrial revolution including Sheffield, Leeds, and Manchester, have had to find innovative ways to reinvent themselves. How have they been going? What have been the successes and failures?


Sheffield the original steel town, is home to 551,800 people. It comes across as a gritty, edgy city with a lot to offer. Since the downturn in the steel and coal industries from the 1970s onwards, there have been various attempts to revitalise and redirect the city.

Winter Garden Sheffield

Winter Garden Sheffield

Projects to regenerate  run-down parts of the city have included the Heart of the City Project, which initiated a number of public works in the city centre including the renovation of the Peace Gardens in 1998, opening of the Millennium Galleries in April 2001 and opening of the Winter Gardens in May 2003. A public space to link these two areas and the Millennium Square, opened in May 2006. Additional developments included the remodelling of Sheaf Square, in front of the recently refurbished railway station.

Peace Gardens Sheffield

The Peace Gardens Sheffield

Transport options include the Sheffield Supertram, which opened in 1994 and consists of 60km (37 miles) of track across three lines. The city is also home to the University of Sheffield.

Sheffield University recently hosted Marcus Westbury from Newcastle, Australia to speak about his experience regenerating the Newcastle city centre (Renew Newcastle), taking a bottom-up approach. In his speech he encourages planners to create adaptable places and for everyone to become a city maker.

To view his speech click below

Marcus Westbury Talk on Renewal and Revitalisation from the Bottom Up

For more on Sheffield City Council’s regenerations projects click here.


Frank Lloyd Wright and the City: Density vs Dispersal

Frank Lloyd Wright's Broadacre City

The Museum of Modern Art’s (MOMA’s)  Frank Lloyd Wright and the City: Density vs Dispersal exhibition looks at Wright’s ideas for growing American cities in the 1920s and 1930s. His contrasting ideas included radical new forms for the skyscraper and a comprehensive plan for the urbanisation of the American landscape titled “Broadacre City”.

Visitors to the exhibition will encounter the spectacular 12-foot-by-12-foot model of this plan, which merges one of the earliest schemes for a highway flyover with an expansive, agrarian domain. Promoted throughout Wright’s life, the model toured the country for several years in the 1930s. Juxtaposed against this vision are the monumental models and drawings produced of his skyscraper visions: the six-foot tall model of his 1913 San Francisco Call Building; the model of his only built residential tower, the Price Tower, in Bartlesville, Oklahoma of 1952–56; and the eight-foot drawings of the Mile High tower project.

The exhibition has been made possible by the recent joint acquisition of Wright’s extensive archive by Columbia University’s Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library and MOMA. To visit book here. Frank Lloyd Wright and the City is open from 1 February to 1 June 2014 @ MOMA New York City.

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.