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.


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.



Paul Mees – his final words on transport planning

Paul Mees who was recognised as one of the most influential planners in Australia in 2011 by the Planning Issue, passed away this week after battling with cancer. Mees a public transport advocate, known for his incisive debate on transport issues continued his vocal support for public transport right up until 6 weeks ago when he spoke to 7.30 Victoria about Melbourne’s planned East West Link.

Mees, a transport academic had this to say about transport planning in Melbourne.

“The government have decided on the basis (as far as I can work out) of no evidence what so ever, to prioritise roads. I think the evidence from around the world shows that as a city gets bigger and bigger you have to prioritise rail and public transport…”

We hope that his passion and concern for these issues will live on in future generations of urban and transport planners influenced by his research.

For more on Paul Mees read Matthew Burke’s ‘Vale Paul Mees, Australia’s leading transport & land use researcher’ on The Conversation.

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.

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