EDITORIAL

Reflections on the New Urban Agenda and what it means for Australia
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Urban Synergies Group (USG) hosted the Urban Thinkers workshop ‘Urban Talks: Emerging issues from Grassroots to International’ in order to contextualise the outcomes of the Habitat III agenda and the New Urban Agenda from an Australian perspective. The event took place on the 29th of November 2016, in Canberra, Australia, with academicians, researchers and practitioners in attendance. This article summarises the collective findings of the event.
During the opening contribution Gregor H Mews, founder of Urban Synergies Group, provided valuable insights and reflected on key messages from the Habitat III Conference in Quito, Ecuador. In particular, the paragraphs relating to the ‘Right to the City’ concept, Health and Well-being, Public Spaces and Sustainable Mobility were centre of the attention.
Mews stressed that cities today cover around two per cent of the total landmass, but are responsible for 70 percent of the Gross Domestic Products (GDP’s). At the same time, they are responsible for 80 percent of the global energy consumption, producing 75 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions and generating 75 percent of total global waste (UNEP, 2015, Cities and buildings report). Fast urbanisation is also having an effect on lifestyle that directly affects health. As a result, health challenges such as physical inactivity, unhealthy diets, overweight and obesity are increasing in emerging middle-income societies.
We are living in a world of uncertainty and accelerated change. If we want to win the race against climate change and promote a sustainable urban development we all need to work together. The New Urban Agenda emphasis that a successful implementation of its vision and commitments depends on the involvement of formerly atypical agents: community organisations, marginalised groups and independent actors, such as private sector and academia. In accordance with Dr. Joan Clos, executive director of UN Habitat, the message delivered was clear: ‘We shall leave no one behind’.
The average Australian lifestyle overshoots earth’s carrying capacity. There is a growing need to rethink and readdress the way we plan, finance, develop, govern and manage cities in Australia. This is a call for action where leadership at all levels is required pushing for the adoption and implementation of a truly sustainable, people centred, aged and gender responsive and integrated approach.
In order to reflect on the visions and implementation of The New Urban Agenda participants were invited to engage in a debate around the following three questions:
  • How can we implement the New Urban Agenda?
  • What are your top three action items?
  • How can we at USG work with you to enable better health and wellbeing outcomes?

Findings

The participants discussed in groups and presented their ideas for adopting The New Urban Agenda principles and for achieving effective implementation of actions. The findings of the final discussions were:
  • Regulatory government bodies should push large developments to be thinking about public realm upgrades and corresponding long-term cultural programs, to provide ways to enable social connection and so stimulate a sense of community. Bring back the ritual of having parties in the community, places where people can celebrate and meet. The participants stressed that an improved public realm is very important for sustainable communities.
  • Reinvestigate different sustainable urban forms in order to provide a greater housing choice and to allow affordability with the interface dynamics of the region in mind.
  • Improve strategic planning and investment in productivity in peri-urban areas under the assumption that some people do want to live in those areas.
  • Another area for collective action was identified in relation to productive use of space in the city: the role of autonomous vehicles and future transport corridors function.
  • Cities need to be committed to deliver better overall sustainability outcomes. There must be an open debate and actions around optimal instead of maximum productivity.
  • Questions such as ‘How many resources are different population groups willing to consume and give up?’ ‘How do we want to live in this new urban world?’ and ‘What are the choices we need to make in order to ensure health and wellbeing for all?’ must be resolved.
  • Research and existing findings on people’s lifestyle choices in relation to sustainability must be effectively translated and communicated ensuring that people can make better informed choices. Grassroots groups, civil societies, social entrepreneurships and governments need to collaborate more effectively.

Urban Synergies Group was acknowledged as a key partner that provides a platform for these discussions and exploration of collaboration. This article was also published by our partner the World Urban Campaign late 2016 and can be accessed by clicking here.

Article by Urban Synergies Group
Photo Credits (CC): Aline Santos (CC)

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Urban Talks: Implementing the New Urban Agenda through accelerated actions on active travel in Australia

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The Urban Synergies Group team is looking forward to see you there. The event will also be recorded and can be viewed later in the editorial section on this website.

Please RSVP until the 20th March, by sending an email to info@urbansynergiesgroup.org

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Interview with Gregor Mews on “Shaping Spaces for Gen Z”

"Play is the way children
make sense of the world
in which they live!"
Maxim Gorky

This is an interview with Gregor H. Mews, Founding Director of Urban Synergies Group, on insights around the need for a Forum on healthy child development and their environments in Australia.

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1. Why are you organising a forum, and what do you anticipate to achieve with it?

We at Urban Synergies Group, together with our partner the Health Research Institute at the University of Canberra, found sufficient evidence that indicates the health conditions of children in Australia are concerning.

The international forum “Shaping Spaces for Gen Z“ is part of our collaborative commitment to shed light on an important societal issue, that cannot continue to be ignored. Our message is clear and simple- we need to do better. If we want to ensure that future generations can enjoy equal opportunities, prosper and develop to their full potential, we need to explore new approaches to decision making around such ‘societal’ challenges. Collective actions need collective discussions and a fair, informed process for key decision making.

With this forum, we want to create a platform where we can come together with all relevant stakeholders and passionate members of the community, including concerned parents to do something about this societal challenge.

We will attempt to answer two questions. Firstly, how can we provide more daily opportunity for children to develop the social and emotional skills, psychological resilience and physical attributes to enable them to succeed in life as independent individuals? Secondly, how best do we align our collective resources to reconfigure our environments and the opportunities available to children within them in a fair, effective, efficient and cost-effective manner?

2. Why do you focus on child play, and what kind of relation does it have to obesity?

From our own data gathered since 2000, 69% of primary school children in the ACT are of low general fitness and 1 in 4 are classified as over a healthy weight. Children’s gross motor skills are another area of serious concern. We observed children that are unable to walk properly backwards, because they never had the opportunity to explore and engage in risky experiences on their terms. In our society the perception of risk has shifted. The ACT Government is aware of this and is committed to address this issue. Many Non-government organisations are doing their very best to reverse this health crisis.

Play offers a very potent narrative for children to engage in a meaningful way with the natural world around them, if we allow them to have enough space and time. Indeed, evidence suggests who children that engage regularly in outdoor play have higher levels of physical activity. Children are not even aware that they are getting healthier, because it is simply fun. Playful experiences offer mental health benefits and improve their capacity to be creative as well as learn important social skills. We are thrilled to have our colleagues from Yale University join us on the day, sharing their latest research findings.

However, despite of all the evidence, the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child clearly states in article 31, that children have a right to play. In theory, this alone should be enough reason for adults to make sure their children have enough time and space for playful experiences in our cities. The health data helps to strengthen the case for play.

3. Is there a big cost associated with transitioning environments to allow for adequate physical exercise, what is this compared to the greater cost of childhood obesity?

True, there is a high cost associated with childhood obesity, which puts pressure onto the healthcare budgets, not just in Australia but worldwide. Combining these costs with physical inactivity as an independent risk factor is even more compelling. Infrastructure interventions in the built environment cost money and can have a lasting impact over their lifespan. This can be more or less helpful to achieve better health outcomes. Spent in an effective way, a piece of health supporting infrastructure, for example a safe and inclusive bike lane or footpath connecting attractive destinations, can become an effective measure in preventing diseases. However, the questions we should be asking ourselves are; how much do you value your own life? Can you put a price tag on it? Perhaps you want to be loved, spend as much time as possible with people you care about, grow up in comfortable home and have access to clean and safe environments. All of these contribute to your overall health and well-being. So I’d like to ask you why do you choose to spend these days so little time among your loved ones, feel like you need to spend more money on a bigger house, and pollute the environment contributing to an ecological footprint that is now five times higher than this earth's carrying capacity? The price tag is our children's overall well-being and we all are starting to pay for it. They are becoming fatter as well as sicker and sadder. Playful spaces near you can be part of the solution. Share your thoughts with us, be part of the debate and help us shape spaces for future generations on Wednesday 8th March.

Interviewed by: Kimberley Le Lieve, FairFax Media.
Background information on Gregor H Mews

Useful information about Shaping Spaces for Gen Z

 Urban Thinker Campus

Shaping Spaces for Gen Z Forum Program

Register for the Forum

Background information on Gregor H Mews

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Envisage the city we need! Designing healthy streets with children

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Urban Synergies Group committed to implement the New Urban Agenda with an emphasis on healthy environments for future generations. As part of the 100.000 Dollar commitment across the Asia- Pacific region we design a program that aims to empower children and young people in city building processes. Our kick start in 2017 will be the International Forum "Shaping Spaces for GenZ" on the 8th March 2017.

In the lead up to this forum Urban Synergies Group hosted in collaboration with the Cross Culture Design Lab and the Health Research Institute at the University of Canberra a street design workshop with children from the Girlang Primary School.

The students aged range was between 8- 10 years. Aim of the workshop was to empower children and elevate their view on how their city should look and feel like.

The following video provides valuable insights and captures some of their views in relation to a healthy street environment in Canberra. We would like to express gratitude and say thank you to all parties and children involved.

Should you be interested in learning more about the findings you are invited to take part in the forum and register by clicking here.

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Season Greetings from Urban Synergies Group

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"Your good deeds might seem invisible, but they leave a trail that is imprinted on the heart of others."

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Become part of shaping healthy communities worldwide. Consider starting by securing your copy of "Right to the City- an exploration in picture" and click here.

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Urban Talks- Reflections on the New Urban Agenda in Canberra, Australia

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You can also RSVP through our facebook page with link below.
https://www.facebook.com/events/1115115388585437/

The Urban Synergies Group team is looking forward to see you there. The event will also be recorded and can be viewed later in the editorial section on this website.

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USG Publication launch at UN Habitat 3 conference in Quito, Ecuador

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Urban Synergies Group (USG) launched today the booklet on "Right to the City" at the Habitat 3 conference in Quito, Ecuador. This conference was organised by the UN Habitat. The aim of this conference is to determines the future of urban development globally for the next 20 years. Our team at USG as one of the Global Assembly of Partners informed the development of the 'New Urban Agenda' document on three key issues:

  1. Right to the city - in line with our Perspective Statement on the 'Right to the City' that has been developed with the involvement from grassroots level.
  2. Health and well-being in planning and urban design.
  3. Child- friendly environment as part of the public space agenda.

Apart of being able to provide constructive input in a round table discussion at the Children and Youth Assembly infrastructure stream- one of our key highlights so far was the launch of the booklet on "Right to the City" earlier today.  As the only constituency Urban Synergies Group got exclusive access to the UN Habitat library in the UN Pavilion. Listen to our Founder and Director Gregor H. Mews on what he had so say by clicking on the video recorded live earlier today in the UN Pavilion.

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This is your invitation to become part of our philosophy and contribute shaping healthy communities internationally.

Purchase a copy of our crowdfunded booklet and choose where your contribution should go. Support either to play space projects in Vietnam or to local  safe journeys to school project  "Tunnel Talk" in Australia.

Click here and follow three simple steps if you want to call this booklet your own.

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Our efforts here in Quito are not over yet. Tomorrow, 19th October 2016, we will participate in the discussions at the Transport day, support ISOCARP on "Smart Cities and the New Urban Agenda" from 12.30 -1.30 pm and will showcase our perspective at the "Moving from Habitat3 to Implementing the Right2City from 2-4 pm.

Be part of the debate and follow us on twitter for the latest updates and news on the New Urban Agenda - UrbanSynergiesGroup @usg_gregor.

 

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Light rail in Canberra – who are the losers and the winners of the first stage

The debate about Capital Metro in Canberra, Australia, has focused on net impact (with analysis suggesting 60% of benefits consist of wider or indirect economic benefits). But who gains and who loses potentially?

Light rail done well in Potsdam, Germany (Source: Gregor H. Mews)

Earlier this year, researchers at the University of Canberra Health Research Institute undertook a literature survey of studies of existing light rail projects globally, identifying potential wider co-benefits (economic, social and health related) of such projects.  Assuming, as the literature suggests, that value uplift (increase in land value) directly attributable to light rail is marginal because so many other factors affect land value, but value capture (the capacity for attracting development finance) is strong, we offer:

(a) The likely biggest winners, from largest to smallest:

  1. The ACT government. Government-owned land value, and the number of dwellings along the corridor, will increase, driving up government revenues. (Netting out coverage of project costs). Of course ultimately these revenues will be spent across the ACT community but the benefits to individuals, dispersed across 300 000+ taxpayers, are difficult to extrapolate right now.
  2. Property developers. The property industry will enjoy the value capture benefits of the project by leveraging the public investment in light rail, especially with an improved ability to attract finance at lowered cost.
  3. Property investors. Property investors along the corridor will gain from higher property values in response to increased demand for apartment accommodation in the city. ABS data show that new unit development in the ACT had a 32 per cent increase in new projects between 2014 and 2015, highest of all construction classes.
  4. Gungahlin ‘edge’ residents. Research shows that single corridor rail projects such as the Capital Metro will actually benefit residents living on the outer edge of Gungahlin (and rural residential areas over the border), especially if the park and ride facility at the Gungahlin town centre terminus is free. A recent Australian Automobile Association study showed that in Canberra, the total cost of car ownership is just under $300 per week, the cheapest for capital cities. So Gungahlin edge commuters who currently travel the furthest to the city by car can benefit from travelling by car to the Gungahlin terminus, catching the light rail into town, then traveling to the terminus on uncongested roads and speeding along the tram route to their work. Over-the-border residents have light rail access without paying rates.
  5. Auto commuters along the route. Commuters who choose to continue to travel to work by car along the tram route will also gain a marginal net benefit from reduced congestion.

(b) The likely losers, from smallest to largest:

  1. Some ACT residents (excluding Gungahlin) living more than 1 kilometre from the tram. Those unable or unwilling to walk or cycle to a tram stop will contribute to the project through taxes but not benefit from either value uplift or enjoy tram travel time savings. (As the network expands beyond its first phase more residents will benefit).
  2. Already active travellers who currently live along the corridor (especially renters). The rate of active travel is highest in the inner north of Canberra. Many residents choose to live in these suburbs to be able to enjoy close proximity to employment and services. Light rail provides no additional benefit to them but does lead to higher housing costs.
  3. Some small and medium enterprises along the corridor. Research shows that one of the biggest economic effects of light rail is changing the mix of commercial activity along the corridor. Some firms will gain but the others will lose since some retail outlets and services may be forced to close or move out of the area.
  4. Rail users with complex travel tours. A travel tour refers to the number and diversity of activities that a user undertakes during a daily commute. The simplest tour is a return trip from home to work. More complex tours are undertaken by families with young children. The single corridor design of Capital Metro will not be able to cater for all the activities undertaken by families needing to visit many destinations during a typical working day. These groups will likely have to continue to own cars until most activities (e.g. afterschool activities) are relocated closer to the rail route - unlikely to happen any time soon.

Existing private renters, especially lower and fixed income. Research shows that economic activity along light rail corridors is largely captured by the gentrification of adjacent land up to 1 kilometre from tram stops. This is often facilitated by government policies to do with zoning and incentivising development. While governments can put in place programs to support those on public housing, residents in the rental market are often forced out through higher rates and therefore are the biggest losers.

About the authors

Dr. Andrew MacKenzie is an Devotee of Urban Synergies Group as well as a Assistant Professor with the Faculty of Arts and Design, University of Canberra and Dr. Cameron Gordon is an Adjunct Associate Professor with the Health Research Institute at the University of Canberra and both were principal investigators on the study above. Both can be contacted through info (at) urbansynergiesgroup.org .

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Urban Synergies Group at Habitat 3

 

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Invitation

Meet us at Habitat 3. Come and discuss with us "Smart cities in the New Urban Agenda" at the ISOCARP side event of the Habitat 3 conference in Quito, Ecuador.

When: 19th October 2016, 12:30- 1.30 pm
Where: Room MR10, Casa de la Cultura Ecuatoriana "Benjamin Carrion", Quito, Ecuador

Habitat 3 Implementation Plan

We don't just talk we do...Urban Synergies Group committed more than 100.000 Dollars to implement "Shaping Spaces for Gen Z" over the next five years across the Asia Pacific region as part of the Habitat III Implementation Plan. Join and/or support us! Our Founder Greg Mews will be available to meet you after the side event session to discuss opportunities for collaboration. Alternatively you may contact him per email to make arrangements during the conference under gregor (at) urbansynergiesgroup.org.

Shaping Spaces for Gen Z- international Forum

Last but not least we are delighted to announce that we are hosting in partnership with the Health Research Institute, University of Canberra,  a International Forum "Shaping Spaces for Gen Z" on 7 December 2018 in Canberra, Australia.

Get involved and don't miss out! Secure your ticket and click here for Tickets.

 

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USG interview with Ric Stephens, President of the International Society of Cities and Regional Planners on ‘Right to the City’

Right to city image

(Picture copyright by Gregor Mews)

Urban Synergies Group (USG) Founder Gregor H. Mews met with Ric Stephens, President of the International Society for Cities and Regional Planners (ISOCARP) on 18th August 2016 in Sydney, Australia. The following interview is part of USG lead up commitment to raise awareness on the making of the New Urban Agenda, Habitat III, and the 'Right to the City'.

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USG: What does ‘Right to the City’ mean to you in a professional context?

RS: From my view the issue of equity or equality with respect to ‘Right to the City’ is a big discussion question here in Australia and where I am from in Metro Portland in the USA. The big discussion we are currently having is on affordable housing. In Portland we are considering it under the term “equitable housing” and for Habitat 3 it is the concept of “adequate” housing. The real issue here is not just providing affordable housing rather housing for a broader range for society and to provide housing that is equitable in the sense of the ‘Right to the City’, but also in the sense of adequate housing that is not only the housing that is affordable but accessible to amenities. In other word’s you can have affordable housing, but what does it mean if there is no ability to find jobs or schools nearby for the children. The question of the ‘Right to the City’ is broadened from affordability or equity and then a larger definition provided by UN Habitat with adequate housing.

USG: What about your personal experience?

RS: Personally having a more diverse city is really more desirable than having a city that is structurally limited in terms of demography. Where I worked in Southern California we are having a variety of cities where only senior citizens live. It’s a weaker, less vibrant in every sense of way. It may be more safe and they have more interest in the common. But even they would say that they are missing the sound of children hearing them laughing. Not having the diversity of culture really limits the quality of life. I’ve seen that first hand in some communities for example in Metropolitan Portland, where I live and work, we really embrace a cultural diversity.

USG: Would you agree with the premise ‘We should design more playful environments in order to create a sense of mystery and uniqueness in our urban systems?’

RS: Definitely, most cities and this is a bit of a discussion I had during this visit in Australia. Globally, the plans and vision for cities such as the master plans and the documentation to implement those development and zoning codes don’t have any or very little provision for a sense of place. Sense of place that have a lot of elements such as a sense of discovery, sense of time and even a sense of joy. Those elements I am missing from those documents that define places from an administrative and governance point of view. Creating mysteries in cities, creating possibilities to explore and discover places would be something really wonderful to incorporate.

USG: What do smart cities to offer in terms of ‘Right to the City’?

RS: The smart cities concept is really controversial, because many of my colleague’s feel that having a technology component, which is so commercialised, won’t address the issue that you are in a city in line with ‘Right to the City’. Of course the profit mode of other drivers for smart cities don’t usually include directly equity or social responsibility. For developing countries smart cities can offer increased opportunities for of citizen’s engagement. Even in poor cities a high percentage of the population has smart phones, that can be the foundation for creating a smart city which is also a city that is equitable.

USG: What are your top three take away messages that get us closer to healthy cities for all?

RS: This does not represent ISOPCARP and is my personal opinion. I would say the first one is to bring nature back into the city. Biophilia, the concept of the love for nature and biophilic design is really critical. We need to bring nature back into the city and in a systems way. Not just ‘plunk’ a tree here and there or scatter it with a park, but have a system of nature in the city where we are creating an urban ecology. This would be linking the parks with trails, creating meaningful green roofs, green streets, green walls and second and in connection to that is providing local food. We need to bring local food back into the urban environment. I always ask my students and colleagues how far do we have to walk to find food in the environment –a berry, a nut or vegetable. In some cities the question is there is no place to walk to find food. So we need to change our thinking with nature in the city.

The second recommendation: I feel planning has tried so hard to become a science that we overlooked and bypassed being an art. Or perhaps not ourselves but necessary being artist but at least bringing art and culture back into the city in a meaningful way. And again we have ‘plunk’ art where everything is built by dropping a statue in a place or put a mural on a wall or somewhere, but that is not meaningful. We should have culture in the city where we have public spaces and art everywhere. The city should be infused with cultural expression and there should be ways where people can express themselves about the city. Maybe one street is a festival street. They close the street and its used for Madrigal or Christmas or Ramadan – whatever the events are. There needs to be a venue for cultural expression. We should have more things where art permeates the city in every form. Streetscapes and build urbanscapes should all have art as a component of that.

The third element that would make cities more lively is the idea of a smart city. Our cities can be seen as dangerous places and difficult places for many people, but people understand cities. Information and knowledge is more ubiquitous. Cities can be friendlier places, finding your way around and navigating through the city. All of this is part of the smart city concept to make cities understand better. Of course along with this concept is the importance of citizen engagement. Our cities should be much more vibrant where people understand and care about the governance of their city.

USG: Thank you very much indeed for your valuable observations and critical reflection on issues that are fundamental to shaping healthy communities around the world.

The Urban Synergies Group perspective statement on 'Right to the City' can be downloaded by clicking here, but our commitment to 'Right to the City' goes even further...

Urban Synergies Group is revisiting the 'Right to the City' and will contextualise the concept in a contemporary context as part of a creative work, which will be launched at the Habitat 3 conference, 17-20 October in Quito, Ecuador. The creative publication on 'Right to the City' is reaching out to passionate individuals around the world aiming to raise awareness and fund ethically activities that create healthier environments on the ground.

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