Armchair Geoprapher talks to Greg Mews

New Paradigm for Sustainable Development

Since I have devoted my life to Urban Synergies – the team and I worked very hard but took sufficient time to develop a new paradigm for sustainable urban development that includes health and well-being as well as ethical behaviour as a core principle.

Since the “Brundtland Report – Our Common Future” in 1987 and the “Limits to Growth” from 1972 what we commonly understand under “sustainable development” does simply not deliver.

Critical reflection is needed! The latest measurements of IPCC report on global greenhouse gas emissions showing alarming levels and industry is working with a model that does very little or not enough to drive positive change. We know that more that 50 per cent of the world wide population lives now in urban conditions and at the same time cities are the greatest contributor and emitters of pollution threatening human health. Only when we acknowledge our collective bio history, critically reflect and collaboratively work towards a new paradigm we will be able to sustain us.

We are committed! To make a meaningful contribution and to help creating a better world we introduce Urban Synergies healthy sustainable development model.

USG Sus Graphic Kopie

Should you have any questions relating to our model we would love to hear from you. Feel free to visit our website www.urbansynergies.org

Urban Synergies on study tour in Mexico
Shaping healthy communities- Urban Synergies study tour in Mexico..learning together without borders! Be part of it and share the love for future generations.

Get moving: cities fit for life through better research and policy advice

Get moving: cities fit for life through better research and policy advice

Just came across this excellent blog piece on Active Living. In the Australian context – University of Canberra, University of NSW and University of Melbourne are delivering similar research for better policy outcomes.

Source: http://sustainablecitiescollective.com/node/172911

Many cities around the globe are home to dangerous roads, social stigmas that bicycling is “for the poor,” and urban designs that neglect walking and bicycling. Photo by Slightly-less-random.

Cities around the globe are seeing a creeping problem of growing physical inactivity, due in part to the lack of pleasurable every-day walking and bicycling. While in some cities there are ample facilities for a refreshing commute on bicycle, a leisurely stroll to the neighborhood market or park, or the ability to walk to high-quality public transport, many of the world’s metropolises are home to dangerous roads, social stigmas that bicycling is “for the poor,” and urban designs that neglect walking and bicycling.

The Problem

Physical inactivity currently causes 3.2 million deaths worldwide every year, and a growing number of the world’s inactive population comes from low- and middle-income countries. In Brazil people have become more sedentary – physical activity is expected to decrease by 34% from now to 2030. In China, where physical activity already plunged 46% between 1991 and 2009, it is expected to decrease by an additional 51% by 2030. Behind these numbers are sinking levels of active transport, such as walking or biking. Beijing, once known as the bicycle kingdom, has seen the cycling share of total trips plunge from 62% in 1986 to 16% in 2010 while private car trips have increased their share from 5% to 34%. A study in China showed that as people purchased vehicles they became more obese over time, a trend most evident among men, with another study in Colombia showing similar results. This trend has revealed itself across Asia, Latin America and even in Africa where motorization is currently occurring at a lower rate, but where urbanization will boom in the coming decades.

But among policy and decision-makers, the issue remains largely under the radar – and justifiably so. There is little, and in some countries no existing body of research on how to effectively promote active mobility as it pertains to physical activity, let alone basic information on household travel. Many cities’ travel surveys cover only vehicular modes, leaving out walking altogether.

Nevertheless, there is a nascent body of useful research on things such as improvements in mass transport, the built environment (street density, access to parks and traffic safety), efforts to close streets on weekends for Ciclovias, mostly in Latin America, as well as studies trying to determine the context of the physical activity and transport relationship.

The Fix

With an opportunity to do more, EMBARQ has been working with the International Development Research Centre (IRDC) of Canada to identify research that could inform effective policies and actions that increase active transport in low- and middle-income countries. After a recent workshop with researchers and decision-makers in a variety of sectors from transport to health to housing and land use, three broad categories have been identified.

  • First, research is needed that shows the economic and quality of life benefits of active transport. Decision-makers need information to take action. The more we understand about how active transport connects to priorities such as economic development, climate change, traffic safety, air quality, traffic congestion or social equity, the better prepared we will be to make the needed changes to cities. One current tool to build on is the WHO Health Economic Assessment Tool for walking and cycling, mostly applicable now to the developed world.
  • Second, with many stigmas, policies processes and other issues connected to why or why not active transport succeeds, research is needed on how political and other forces play a role. Examples include comparative studies of policies (e.g. Ciclovias), reviews of cultural and political needs and opportunities.
  • Last but certainly not least, research should provide practical information on how urban design and transport projects can bolster active transport through street networks, BRT and Metro, bicycle infrastructure design, access to parks and public spaces, and bicycle sharing to name a few. Examples include a review of key design characteristics that promote walking in Bogota, or assessing urban design and the relation to active living in China.

One participant of the workshop noted that research regarding physical activity and transport is a relatively new one, which has existed for 15 years in the United States but has been absent until the past few years in the developing world.  Providing the necessary research on this issue will require mobilizing resources from a variety of fields from health, transport, housing, parks & recreation, environmental organizations, urban planning and others to come together. If done right, we could see more people walking and bicycling their way to healthier lives against the challenges of urban growth and personal motorization.

For whom or what is your city been built for?

For whom or what is your city been built?

Next weekend the world leaders in EcoMobility will meet in Suwon, Korea and discuss ways how we can enable healthier urban systems. Places that make it easy for you to be personally mobile and be friendly to the planet! The EcoMobility world festival will showcase in district scale a conventional vehicle free urban system. I look forward to some engaging discussions with other speakers and participants.

You can learn more under www.ecomobility2013.iclei.org or www.ecomobilityfestival.org/

Photos provided by ecosia, greenpeace and GHM.

Green Economy Leaders Report

The independent Green Economy Leaders Report for Stockholm, recently released by Phillip Rode from LSE cities program might be interesting to inform and cross reference our progress in Canberra. See http://files.lsecities.net/files/2013/06/LSE-2013-Stockholm-Final-Report-webhighres.pdf

I found the following key finding particularly interesting in the chapter and policy response on market failure:

Built form and sustainable transport integration: ‘Stockholm could consider further ‘push’ policies to reduce car ownership and car use by introducing car-free developments and additional restrictive measures. Related ‘pull’ policies could include the promotion of bus travel (Bus Rapid Transit, bus lanes and bus corridors), further multi-modal integration, and a comprehensive cycle strategy. Finally, significant potential exists for the redistribution of public street space from private car use to public transport and walking with a focus on shifting travel patterns from private motorised to public or non-motorised travel.’

Cost/benefit analysis: Narrow cost benefit analyses on the impact of green policies on economic growth often fail to provide the whole economic picture; both the socio-economic costs of negative externalities (eg from climate change and local pollution) and the wider benefits that green cities can foster (eg attracting young entrepreneurs and skilled professionals through a green, high tech urban environment) are generally underestimated or entirely ignored. Indirect costs of green policies on the wider economy are also challenging to measure quantitatively.

Public private partnership: ‘In many cases, an efficient mechanism for public investment in green growth is through public private partnerships, with public funds leveraging investment from the private sector. Partnerships are not only effective means of raising capital, but also vehicles for knowledge sharing and collaboration innovation for solving technological challenges that no one firm, research institute or government department can solve alone. Examples include public private waste policy programmes in Durban, eco-district innovations in Portland, Oregon and the city governments of London and Berlin bringing together the large range of actors needed to make electric mobility succeed economically and environmentally.’

Recently published in Australian Urban Design Forum – More under the following link:

http://udf.org.au/udf-quarterly/udfq-102-june-2013/article/green-economy-leaders-report/

10 EASY IDEAS TOWARDS A BETTER BICYCLE STRATEGY

Image

The following ideas and suggestion may benefit the process of creating a better bicycling strategy and hopefully healthier urban fabrics in the long run. However it’s also based on the assumption that content research, data collection has been undertaken for your particular local government area prior overlaying these suggestions.

  • 1. Compelling

A good bicycling strategy should carry through a compelling lifestyle message that is aligned with the long- term vision of your city or municipality e.g. a sustainable, prosperous, healthy and liveable. This needs to be supported by strong and imaginative visuals throughout the strategy and I don’t mean just male dominated sport cyclists.

  • 2. Goal setting

Be clear about your most powerful message in your current political environment of your city. Have a realistic target and focus on how do get there- this should be the new reality on the horizon of your urban environment. Have an integrated and whole of government approach as part of the exercise.

Prevent unrealistic expectation by communicating projected budget allocations early. As long you don’t have the money you will find it hard to implement actions.

  • 3. Communication of benefits

Instead of focusing on the issues, celebrate the potential benefits that every member of the community will have because of this strategy. For example economical benefits, CO2 emission savings, less road network congestions, less air and noise pollution, social inclusion, safer, health benefits, happier and more child friendly environments.

Stylish easy to read graphs, facts, simple and consistent language/ terminology should make it easy for all members of the community to understand the bicycling strategy.

Use before and after shots or photomontages, illustrate in sections of the strategy different bicycle users in different problem situation and show what you might be able to do about it as part of the strategy.

  • 4. Community consultation

Include holistically active and meaningful engagement opportunities for the community members and stakeholders groups. For example arrange sessions where the existing users are: coffee shops, at street festivals, at workplaces, in schools and universities, at popular bicycle destinations. No one knows a network better than the people who are using it every day.

Most importantly ensure that the community is empowered, feels that you have heard them and you understand what needs to be done. Therefore effective prioritisation and inclusion of innovative concepts support commitment and vision.

Do it proper in the first instance as it will save you a lot of hassle and time later!

  • 5. Pure happiness

Evidence suggested that people that are more physical active as part of their daily routine enjoy incredible physical and mental health benefits. Harness this energy and celebrate the civil community through colourful and inclusive images that aim to mainstream bicycling in your community. Make sure images are from your local community and are high in quality. Do this in the strategy documents, at consultation sessions as well as use these images for campaigns afterwards.

  • 6. Convenience mapping

Demonstrate in easy to read maps that you are seeking to create a network of convenience for bicycle users. Make sure that members of the community understand that is very much part of an ongoing conversation and by no means a map that is set in stone. You are keen to hear more and create ongoing conversation channels with the community e.g. bicycle hotline, online portal, Bicycle Advisory group to the government. Utilise projects that are already working in the city very well and celebrate these early wins and commit to what you can do with projected budget in the future and perhaps do it even better!

  • 7. Bicycle brand label

Branding is very much part of the contemporary zeitgeist and if you are committed to make a valuable contribution to a bicycle revolution- show leadership by creating with the community a unique and strong brand label. Supported by a strong slogan or claim this should be included and integrated in many of your city programs e.g. tourism (cups, t-shirts, stickers, flags), active transport (stencilled on the paths, displayed on traffic messaging boards, in busses), health messaging (TV adds, workplaces), infrastructure provision (in bus shelters, on water bubblers, light poles, community message boards, shop fronts).

  • 8.Comfort and safety

Comfort and safety comes first -provide options on how to achieve realistic, sustainable and better network maintenance. Demonstrate pride and include some of your local government staff members from the maintenance team in the strategy and communication e.g. in images showing them at work.

As one size doesn’t fit all – address what want people perceive as a serious safety barrier to bicycling more often. Stick with the realistic arguments, as we won’t be able to change the weather. Apply the following hierarchy:

  1. Children and older members of the community
  2. Families
  3. Students
  4. Urban ‘hipsters’
  5. Employees (commuter cyclists)

Showcase solutions such as some big-ticket items e.g. new separated off road bike lane or child friendly neighbourhoods, as well as small but effective ways that can have a big impact e.g. bike priority on intersection.

  • 9. Time travel

The contemporary urban society is often suffering on the perceived issue of not enough time and therefore you need to think about of ways how to improve the real time travelled on bicycles in a direct and effective manner. A dear colleague of mine Dr Paul Tranter has done some excellent work on “effective speeds” in urban environments and strongly suggests getting hold of some of his research findings.

As part of demonstrating the benefits of short travel times on bike perhaps think about the introduction of digital message boards that display travel times for bicyclist compared to vehicles along selected routes. This can be powerful in creating strong messages for behaviour change.

Focus also on how people may go further and quicker by considering new infrastructure such as bicycle highways in appropriate parts your city, or better integration with other means of travel e.g. bike’n’ride or bike racks on all busses.

10. Summary

Make sure you are able to have a summary of your entire strategy on one page available. This should include referencing of modal split as well as cross- references to head topics in the strategy itself with projected targets. Include links to the ongoing communication stream. This is useful for you in meetings and for every stakeholder or interested party to advocate for the collective ideas to make your city a better, healthier and more liveable place.

PLANNING TRANSPORT FOR ACTIVE AND HEALTHY REGIONAL COMMUNITIES

Australia’s population is expected to reach 35 million by 2050 and the nation’s regional towns will play an important role in supporting sustainable growth and connecting people with employment hubs. Transit-oriented development will be pivotal in ensuring that regional centres remain healthy and sustainable communities as they continue to grow. We had the chance to catch up with Greg Mews, Active Living Coordinator at the Heart Foundation and speak about the complex interrelationship between urban and transit planning, density and public health.

Question: What planning and transport parameters do regional towns need to consider to encourage active and healthy communities today and in the future?

Before I am able to answer this question I’d like to highlight that we cannot continue with our current “business as usual” approach to policies and strategies. We are facing a number of significant challenges in transport, climate change, liveability and public health. As for public health challenges, the rates of overweight and obese Australian adults has doubled over the past two decades, with Australia now ranked as one of the fattest of the developed nations. Overweight and obesity affects about one in two Australian adults and up to one in four children. Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death in the country, with almost 50,000 deaths in 2008. CVD is responsible for more deaths than any other disease group.

Regular physical activity plays an important role in promoting healthy weight and reducing the risk of cardiovascular and other lifestyle-related diseases. Conversely, sedentary behaviours at home, in transit and at work are independently linked with overweight, obesity and poor health.

For this reason the 2010 National Preventative Health Task Force report, “Australia: the healthiest country by 2020“, identified the need to reshape urban environments through consistent town planning and building design that encourages greater levels of participation in physical activity and through appropriate infrastructure investments in walking, biking, food supply and recreation.

The World Health Organization reports that one-third of physical inactivity can be prevented by changing the local environment alone. This means across the board we need rethink our approaches around planning and design of the built environment, including open spaces, health, active transport, sustainability in infrastructure and activation of other resources that activate the public realm. We have been able to engineer physical activity out of our daily routines and are now paying the price for it. Physical inactivity costs the health budget an estimate of $1.5bn a year and the economy $13bn a year.

Sedentary behaviours are influenced by increasing car dependency, built environments that do not support active and healthy lifestyles, an increasing reliance on advancing technology and modern conveniences, and occupations that impose prolonged sitting times. One study found that each additional hour spent in a car each day was associated with a six per cent increase in the likelihood of obesity. Conversely, each additional kilometre walked per day was associated with a five per cent reduction in the likelihood of obesity.

Regional towns and cities will have a very important role to play in encouraging a more active and healthy lifestyle. The 2011 State of Australian cities report confirmed that older Australians are moving away from cities with a similar trend among younger Australians and higher skilled people moving to near-city and coastal regional areas. If we are committed to achieving healthier and more active communities we need to ensure all people including the elderly, the young, and the disabled, have equal access opportunities to convenient and safe active transport systems that are supported by innovative land use forms.

Question: How can walking and cycling be better integrated with existing transport modes?

There are plenty of examples from around the globe and increasingly from within Australia showcasing innovation in better integration of active travel into existing networks. Perth has now a good head start in experimenting with transport-oriented developments and the South Australian Government released last year their guideline documents called “Transit-oriented developments…through a health lens“. The ACT government just endorsed the Transport for Canberra Strategy, which is truly an integrated strategy that offers a lot of good solutions.

However these are all prominent projects that demonstrate leadership in absence of a clear overall direction from the federal government. What we need is an integrated national active transport strategy, established by an independent national active transport authority, which embraces policies and planning for walking, cycling and public transport. This will be instrumental in providing consistent framework and help to overcome the current challenges.

Question: Density is often stated as a crucial factor when it comes to providing regular and reliable transport services. Thinking globally, what are the most creative approaches you have seen in improving access to public and active transport infrastructure in low density regions?

Greg Mews: Paul Mees the author of “Transport for suburbia” (read a book review here) might be the best person to ask this questions but from a planning/design perspective “density” or as I’d like to refer it to “compact built form” can be beneficial to achieve reliable transport services if done right. What does this mean? It’s more about diversity around land use and density rather than radical densification. If corridor intensification is the chosen option to achieve better public transport service outcomes then it must be:

a) balanced with a mixed form of land use, which helps to reduce distance travelled;
b) come with good traffic regulations and enforcement (parking restrictions etc.);
c) the urban design in corridors and around hubs need to be in human scale, with quality open space and quality architecture;
d) In particular in the Australian context we need to overcome the thinking that public transport stops need to be attached or next to highways or main roads;
e) Foremost any development within an existing/ established neighbourhood environment needs to have the support of a representative majority of the community.

However I’d like to refer to two cities, which have done an excellent job in achieving innovative results around improving access to active and public transport. First is Freiburg in Germany, most people may already studied or heard of the district Vauban, where they achieved in an extraordinary exemplar case to reverse the transport hierarchy, which means people first, then bicycles, then public transport and private vehicle last. If you think this could not be achieved in an English speaking country I’d like to highlight the exemplar case of the city of Portland, Oregon USA.

Question: What constitutes good levels of density from a health and active living perspective?

Greg Mews: I hope my previous question answered this to a degree. However I’ve recently taken part in a conference of the Urban Age project, a global investigation into the futures of our cities, organised by the London School of Economics. Under the umbrella “Cities, health and wellbeing” we discussed density and the impacts on human health in the case of Hong Kong with its hyper density and very efficient public transport system. We found that this is a rather inherently complex issue.

Knowledge exchange around latest evidence, evaluation, research and strategies is essential in finding a local solution to the issue. Wherever I have worked the local climate, culture, ecosystem, planning systems were very unique and evidence as well as local knowledge seems to me the most sensible way forward in determining the best density and health outcomes for a city.

On that note I might say that the Heart Foundation has just released a report on precisely this matter. In May 2012 we will also publish our Active Living Impact Checklist for developments that can help achieving better outcomes for physical activity on site specific level. Healthy Spaces and Places, the national guide to designing places for healthy living, developed in the unique partnership between the Planning Institute of Australia, the Australian Local Government Association as well as the Heart Foundation, offers a range of solutions and ideas for healthier neighbourhoods in Australia.

Question: You will be presenting at the inaugural Regional Transport conference, to be held on the 22nd and 23rd May at the Gold Coast. What discussions would you like to have with industry peers at the forum?

Greg Mews: In order to increase walking, cycling and public transport use it is necessary to reduce car use. I’d be very curious to have an informed discussion around how we can achieve the most cost effective way in delivering an improved public transport service that offers a real alternative to the private vehicle in the Australian context. Only if we make active travel an easy and convenient option we have a chance to overcome many of our current challenges.

Changing the economics of car use towards a system that encourages a more rational consideration of modal choice might be a way forward. As well as having a debate around transport modelling for regional areas to ensure that the models represent travel and location behaviour in an effective manner. Variables such as physical activity need to be included as well as cost effectiveness of making changes to the existing modelling system.

More under the following link http://www.informa.com.au/conferences/transport/infrastructure/regional-transport/interview-with-greg-mews

Physical inactivity carries a long-term high cost

People need to engineer exercise into their daily routines, TONY STUBBS writes

We know that physical inactivity – apart from contributing to the nation’s obesity crisis – is a major health problem in its own right. Our current lifestyles are costly and can be deadly. Each year, physical inactivity costs the economy an estimated $13.8 billion, causes 16,000 premature deaths and carries a higher risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, colon and breast cancer.

Evidence of the emphatic link between cardiovascular disease and physical inactivity dates back to the 1940s and, today, physical inactivity is the fourth leading contributor to the overall burden of disease nationally.

In the ACT, more than two-thirds of all adults do not get enough exercise to achieve health benefits. Results of the Physical Activity and Nutrition Survey showed three out of four year 6 students in Canberra do not achieve their recommended activity requirement each day.

n addition, the ACT chief health officer’s report in 2010 showed four in five children aged between 12 and 17 did not meet the national activity guidelines.

More than ever, investment and action is needed to encourage people to use active modes of transport – walking, cycling and public transport – to increase exercise and improve health outcomes for future generations. It is well recognised that investment in activity is the best buy in public health today.

The Heart Foundation has long advocated building physical activity into our daily lives. Being active – such as cycling or brisk walking – for just 30 minutes a day can halve your risk of cardiovascular disease.

We know people who use public transport have a good chance of getting their recommended level of physical activity during their travel.

Analysis of household travel data from the Victorian Integrated Survey of Travel and Activity found people who use public transport on a particular day spent an average 41 minutes walking and/or cycling as part of their travel – five times more physical activity than those who only use private transport.

But how can we further change our nation’s capital from being a car-dependent city? How do we get more people to walk or ride a bike to school, work or other destinations? On a broader scale, how do we tackle the challenges of congestion, climate change, the liveability of our cities and public health?

The ACT government has made big strides in the right direction in the active transport agenda undertaking a broad range of initiatives to encourage walking and cycling as alternative modes of transport. It has injected serious dollars in local infrastructure to promote active transport including improved lighting and security around public transport hubs; better pedestrian access and bicycle storage facilities; and improved corridor planning on Northbourne and Constitution avenues.

The government is now a signatory of the International Charter for Walking, which has a strong commitment to increased inclusive mobility and creating a healthy culture for walking.

Most recently, the Transport for Canberra plan is to be commended for the inclusion of a high-level physical activity taskforce, a focus on creating a sustainable, compact Canberra and investment in physical activity projects with everything from pools to footpaths, bike tracks and sports grounds.

In addition, the government has helped the Heart Foundation’s active living project, which encourages initiatives for a built environment to promote the uptake of an active lifestyle. This project – combining expertise from planning, health, transport, landscape architecture, academic and urban design sectors – has been internationally recognised for its work to overcome barriers and identify opportunities to support a more active Canberra community.

We still have a challenging task ahead of us. There remains a desperate need to tackle our obesogenic environments head on – and that means ongoing investment in programs and infrastructure that will make the healthier transport choices – walking, cycling and public transport – the easier choices.

And we know what works. The evidence base is overwhelming and solid; comprising Australian and international programs and initiatives where communities, towns and cities have got people out of cars and into more active modes of transport, often in vast numbers.

We must work collaboratively with a whole-of-government and whole-of-community approach to tackle our physical inactivity and obesity epidemic. The Heart Foundation’s active living forum, to be held on May 8, will bring together professionals from the government, business and community disciplines to do just this. The focus of the forum will be to develop actions to design Canberra’s built environment to enable the ACT community to lead healthier, more active lifestyles.

We are the nation’s leader when it comes to the use of active transport, but only about 7.5 per cent of the Canberra population walk or cycle to work. We need to engineer physical activity into our daily routines to reverse these statistics. Our vision for the ACT to boost participation in walking, cycling and public transport involve:

■ A consistent implementation of the recommendations in the Transport for Canberra strategy and the planning strategy.

■ Sustained and targeted funding for infrastructure, such as continuation of the one-off $3 million for infrastructure announced last year.

■ Ongoing funding for programs and policies and other education and behaviour change initiatives.

The cost of driving change is high, but the human and economic costs of obesity and chronic disease are significantly higher. Britain’s then chief medical officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, made this resounding point back in 2010: ”I recommend that the threat of climate change should provide sufficient impetus for action to substantially increase walking and cycling as common forms of transport.”

Tony Stubbs is the chief executive of the Heart Foundation.

Read more: http://www.canberratimes.com.au/opinion/physical-inactivity-carries-a-longterm-high-cost-20120419-1x9se.html#ixzz1seZHKUOC

Share the space

3 cars stop, 24 people cross the street and 7 bicycles cruise along within 10 seconds on a Friday afternoon in Bunda Street, Canberra. I am sitting in a street café overlooking a zebra crossing between the Canberra Centre and City Walk.

3 cars, 24 people and 7 bicycles – an interesting modal split that made me think about joining the dots and drawing a picture in regard to appropriate street design with people in mind.

My first dot will be around the latest initiative by the Australian Federal Government, which recently launched the National Urban Design Protocol with the ideal title “Creating places for people”. The document aims to define high quality urban design and to provide a consistent quality framework for future design throughout the country.

My second dot will provide a connection to this initiative and what happens (or still does not happen) on the ground. For example, the National Capital Authority recently announced a delay in rolling out an urban design project for Bowens Crossing until 2014, the year afterCanberra’s Centennary. The reason for the delay is cited as a funding shortfall resulting from major capital maintenance works to be undertaken on Scrivener Dam. It is unfortunate to see projects like Bowen Crossing postponed  The Federal Government and theCanberracommunity should demand higher priority for quality urban design projects and the improvement of local amenities.

My third dot will be the apparent disconnect between budget reality, community expectation and future budget projections.  Funding for urban planning and design projects will become increasingly scarce as competing priorities place pressure on the ACT Budget.  I’d like to invite you to bear in mind, for example, that the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Health Directorate budget is increasing by 11 per cent per annum and in a ‘business as usual’ scenario will, according to Access Economics, consume the entire ACT Budget in the medium to long term.

Let’s start joining the dots and attempt to draw a picture.  On the one hand, we are creating a strategic framework for better quality design to meet community expectations.  On the other hand, we will have in the long run less funding to realise those expectations.

The picture that came out of connecting these dots is not good one. Here is my initial attempt to rescue the drawing to ensure quality spaces for all people.

a)     I’d like to start by highlighting that there is no silver bullet solution to what is becoming an increasingly complex problem.

b)     Education is key. In order to resolve a complex design issue we need to have a certain amount of common knowledge around the issue.

c)      Potentially competing interests need to work hand in hand with a collaborative spirit to achieve designs that will benefit all members of the community.

d)     Be creative, be open-minded and think outside of the square. There are no wrong questions.

Drawing a short initial exemplar illustration onBunda Streetas a shared space:

a)     The advantages of making streets more people friendly are potentially far-reaching, encompassing environmental, social, economic and health benefits.  Most academics and leading practitioners in various fields call for an integrated and holistic approach to issues such a climate change, non-renewable resources, food access as well as the obesity epidemic in Australia. A triple bottom line approach is necessary and needs more than just a single tool.

b)     What is a shared space? www.dtf.gov.uk/publications/ltn-01-11

What is the Urban Design Protocol? www.urbandesign.gov.au

What are the benefits of making streets more walking and cycling friendly? www.heartfoundation.org.au/SiteCollectionDocuments/GoodforBusinessFINAL_Nov.pdf

What do most stakeholders in the ACT think about creating better places for people? www.healthyplaces.org.au/userfiles/file/News/act_activelivingreport.pdf

What has the ACT Government committed to do in relation to walking and cycling? www.transport.act.gov.au

What has the ACT Government already done?  For a start it signed on 1 November 2010 the International Charter for Walking. www.walk21.com/papers/international520Charter%20for%20Walking.pdf

Of course every reader should feel encouraged to research further pending their level of interest.

c)      Call out for a workshop that brings all parties together in a comfortable and neutral environment and share stories (personal or evidence based) about the importance of having equal access to good quality spaces for all members of the community in Canberra Civic.

d)     Some creative ideas for Bunda Street as a high quality shared space:
–> Consider innovative pavement design using local recycled materials;
–> Use intelligent landscaping (trees, planting) to provide a green, balanced environment that can protect the space from the heat island effect.
–> Ask local stakeholders to commit to maintaining the new amenity.  In addition to enjoying well maintained spaces, homeowners stand to benefit economically from quality urban design projects in their local neighbourhoods.
–> Think about human scale and imagine walking with a kid’s eye through the space. As an ideal outcome you should feel comfortable to move freely in the space and be able to communicate easily with other people.
–> Have in mind that we will have 20 + per cent elderly people by 2030 and consider the needs of disadvantaged groups.
–> The place should be considered as an open living room where people can celebrate, communicate and interact 24/7.
–> Think even of interesting signage that invites users to change their behaviour. This could be by having a big welcome sign saying, “You are entering the city’s open living room”.

e)     Recently the South Australian Government announced the creation of an independent Commissioner for Integrated Design. Such a person could ideally provide the platform and framework of collaboration and facilitate the dialogue needed to achieve a satisfactory and truly democratic outcome.

3 cars stop, 24 people cross the street and 7 bicycles cruise along within 10 seconds on a Friday afternoon in Bunda Street, Canberra.

Be an urbanist and share the space!

Healing Canberra – by taming the cars and creating a solid pattern language

If we want to heal the Canberra pattern language we need to have a healthy balance between providing sufficient area for development within the existing footprint (commercial viability), efficient and convenient circulation and high quality social spaces.

The wound is deep!

The recent Hawke review of the ACT public service indicated that Canberra is 10 times less dense than Melbourne and Sydney, is one of the lowest density cities worldwide and less than one quarter of the ACT is suitable for development. The potential for significant urban redevelopment is apparent and key to enable efficient and convenient circulation systems.

What do I mean with that? Efficient movement allows all people to move from A to B in a fast way. However, convenient also includes what happens between A and B.  So far Canberra has been successful in “perceived efficiency” to move people from A to B via cars. The implication on equal access and holistic safety to this form of movement by the population with a youth and aged perspective is concerning. Bus use is still far beyond being convenient for all members of the community and as the Ottawa example shows requires long- term support.

Car use just creates convenience for a small number of people per vehicle and degrades the space between A and B to a “desert quality” or when have you seen last time a good crowed of people having quality time on a medium stripe.

In other words people had for a very long time a very exclusive way of moving in space, which resulted in a 30 per cent increase in road infrastructure that needs to be maintained, not even to mention impacts on human health and their environment through air pollution, heat island affects, amount of sealed surfaces etc.

In search for a right medicine!

In the medium term future cars won’t disappear, but we need to tame the cars and change the pattern language in the city if we are serious live in a sustainable and healthy Canberra.

The street pattern and urban structure is important to determine the pattern of movement, setting the parameter for subsequent development and in contributing to an urban character.

Introducing a stronger movement hierarchy, plan under the banner of “city of short distances”, which allows people meet most of they needs in short walking/ cycling or public transport distances and maximise the opportunities of social spaces in between.

The Department for Transport in the UK adopted in 2007 a new movement hierarchy for their “Manual for streets”:

  1. People;
  2. Bike users;
  3. Public transport;
  4. Special service vehicle, car share and taxis;
  5. Private cars.

The shape and size of an urban block is important in conjunction with basic typologies/ codes/ rules about physical parameters. Innovative and creative precinct plans can address these issues and are able to address social spaces that benefit all members of a community.

Indicator for getting healthy!

The greatest indicator of a disappearing wound is when you start seeing a wide range of people using urban spaces up to 24/7- simply more people living, ageing and socialising locally in very safe, pleasant and child friendly environment.

Be part of the healing process!

The ACT Government has released two key strategies for public comments. The ACT Planning strategy will set the direction around Canberras future pattern language and other urban design challenges. The Transport for Canberra strategy aim is to tame the car and providing a real opportunity to create equity in transport. The strategies can be found under http://www.timetotalk.act.gov.au/time-to-talk/. Make a difference – be an urbanist!