Build it and they will walk: the suburbs that foster good health

Jason Dowling  |  City Editor for The Age

If you design suburbs so walking to public transport, shops and parks is an easy option, people will walk – that is the simple and clear finding of long-term Australian research.

urban sprawl

Health and planning experts are urging governments to make health a feature of planning laws and city growth strategies.

Researchers monitored the amount of walking by more than 1400 people building homes in new developments in Perth. Readings were taken before moving in and about 12 months later.

The results, published in the journal Social Science & Medicine, showed transport-related walking declined and recreational walking increased.

Read the full story here

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LIVEABLE- “Evolving the density models to address our growing pains”

Like it or not, our population is growing, and the decision makers of society continue to wrestle with the dilemma of accommodating the dreams of this next wave of new home owners. However cracks are starting to appear in the bricks and mortar as society leans on the comfort of conventional housing models.

Beneath suburban utopia’s veneer lie some dark ills that are of grave concern to the social planners and urban designers.  Family violence, youth suicide and mortgage stress have been directly linked with sprawl, and it is evident that the dream is actually unliveable.  Typically attention is turned to the opportunities of densification, however the majority of successful and vibrant higher density models tend to be CBD and inner suburban contexts, with a significantly different demographic profile and a paradigm that is receptive to alternate housing and living models.

This paper aims to better understand the impacts of urban consolidation on liveability by finding common ground between the inner Melbourne and outer suburban Casey contexts, and then articulating where the differences lie, what definitions need to be reconsidered, and how this needs to be physically manifested in the outer model. The study includes an assessment of the raft of benefits of alternate models, which extend far beyond basic higher yields, reaching into the viability of our transit networks, the efficacy of our efforts towards a sustainable city, and the physical and emotional health of our community.

Growth can be in harmony with liveability, and this has a clear built form outcome. Invariably the solutions lie not simply in built form, but in a more foundational shift in the psyche of our society. While not all questions can be answered, the paper seeks to sharpen the dialogue, elucidate the opportunities and pave the first steps for a liveable society.

Nathan Islip, Team Leader – Urban Design, City of Casey will speak at… the 6th Making Cities Liveable Conference, in conjunction with the Sustainable Transformation Conference, is being held from the 17th – 19th June 2013 at Novotel Melbourne St Kilda. The collaboration brings together National, State and Regional delegates to explore, exchange ideas and network.

Two Conferences! Three Days! 90 Presenters! One Location in 2013Healthy Cities.com.au

Planning Positively for an Ageing Population in New Zealand

There are constant references in academic literature to the aging of New Zealand’s population and this is sometimes represented in the popular press as the arrival of a silver tsunami. However, awareness of the issue has not as yet led to similar informed debate on how the issues of this aging population will be addressed and how urban areas may need to be altered to remain liveable.

In particular the planning community seems to have taken a limited interest in the needs of an aging population despite an upsurge in interest in and use of urban design to create more liveable and healthy living environments. This paper will look at what change is needed in the New Zealand planning system to both acknowledge the aging of the population and to plan positively and flexibly for it. It will look at how urban areas can be better designed to both meet the needs of an aging population, particularly to allow them to age in place while still providing good quality liveable environments for the balance of the population.

A/Prof Caroline Miller, Associate Professor, Massey University, Palmerston North, NZ will speak at…

Two Conferences! Three Days! One Location in 2013

6th Making Cities Liveable Conference, in conjunction with the Sustainable Transformation Conference, is being held from the 17th – 19th June 2013 at Novotel Melbourne St Kilda. The collaboration brings together National, State and Regional delegates to explore, exchange ideas and network.

The joint conference will be a platform for Government, Industry sector professionals and Academics to discuss causes, effects and solutions. Delegates will have access to an extensive range of topics with over 90 presentations across three days including Keynotes, Concurrent Sessions, Case Studies and Posters. www.healthycities.com.au

Is there room for nature in our cities?

By Peter Fisher, RMIT University and D Trainham, RMIT University

Welcome to the CBD. Take a look at all the glass masonry and asphalt. The streets are canyons. Apart from a tree in the footpath, or a Peregrine Falcon way overhead, there’s little nature to be seen.

Nature is absent in these landscapes, or more correctly “hardscapes”. This runs counter to the trend to put urban people, and particularly children, back in touch with the natural world. Grass, flowers, birds, butterflies and worms are increasingly rare in a world of denser development. There’s no sense of season apart from flowers in street-side stalls.

As much as five-sixths of our CBDs are buildings: asphalt dotted with street trees. The ratio of biomass to hard mass in such environments is minute.

Trees help cool environments, while buildings increase heat absorption and reflection. This suggests cities are very poorly adapted to a projected 4-6°C global warming – a world where it may prove impractical to ever again grow large trees especially in hot pavements.

Greening the city

Cities like Kobe are returning nature to the streets. Peter Fisher

Research is revealing that, although we may have left the savanna, it’s still a part of our wiring. Hospital patients who have a view of some sort of nature recover faster and need less medication.

A recent article in Nature, “City living marks the brain”, points to a far higher incidence of mental illness in urban versus rural areas. Green exercise can act as a therapeutic intervention, which is doubly important in the hyper-dense environment envisaged by outspoken developers.

However it’s not like that everywhere. In places such as Vancouver, setbacks are mandatory for high rises and view corridors have been preserved.

Elsewhere, European and American cities have undertaken benchmark projects to soften the impact of roads. Hamburg and Madrid have roofed their inner autobahn/highway to create parklands. Portland tore down its waterfront freeway to do the same, as Seattle is currently doing.

Other North American cities inspired by Michael Hough’s evocative book “Cities and Natural Processes” have returned rivers, ravines, swamps, and parkland to their natural state. Then there’s New York City’s High-Line, a greenway for walking, running or simply sitting. San Francisco has its “parklets” and sidewalk gardens.

A Melbourne model?

In Melbourne virtually no public greenspace has been created within the grid proper since City Square in 1980, and even it has succumbed to the granite treatment and been chopped in half. Hardscape is on the rise with planning applications for more than 50,000 new apartments in 200 developments in and around the CBD.

Few have recognised the “green-shift” now underway globally and recently embraced by Perth.

New York’s High Line, a place for city-dwellers to escape to a little nature. Flickr/Ed Yourdon

It’s helpful for urban designers seeking a context to immerse themselves in the pre-white settlement setting. Proto-Melbourne would be unrecognisable: wattle in bloom, kangaroo grass, kookaburras and kingfishers along the river. Above where Queens Bridge now stands were The Falls, where clear freshwater cascaded; and to the west, amid a swamp with masses of water birds, lay a shimmering blue lagoon ringed by pigface.

Each city has its own tale of what followed. Take a look at these two images of The Falls – this one at foundation and this one in 1857 – that’s an awful lot of trashing in just 22 years.

Such squandered landscapes defy replication at their original scale but we can replicate them on a small scale. It is a matter of rethinking the user experience. Roof gardens (including food crops), green walls, plant-draped atriums, water features and borrowed scenery are ways of using interiors, walls, and ceilings.

Buildings have long been in the front line of fighting climate change through “green building” rating systems. It’s time they were enlisted to reforge our linkages with a landscape that people have all but forgotten.

The opportunities are highlighted by a design for a three sided hospital in Spain – one side is a green wall; another is solar panels in the colors of a butterfly about to go regionally extinct; and the third is a vertical farm that will feed people in the hospital. It is one example of the ways our cities can become truly green.

This article written in collaboration with Dr. Peter Fisher was done as an unpaid work and is not part of any sponsored research project. Some of the ideas expressed in this article may appear in a recently published article: Naturizing outside-in: Reconnecting buildings with the natural world through a design innovation metric in the January 2013 issue of the Singapore based journal, CITYGREEN.

Peter Fisher does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

The Conversation

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

ABS population figures: we’re growing, especially in WA

12 February 2013 — Western Australian continues to record the fastest population growth rate of all states and territories, 3.3 per cent, according to the latest demographic figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, that will have an impact on planning for a more sustainable development industry.

Tasmania recorded the slowest growth rate at 0.2 per cent.

The figures, which cover from 30 June 2011 to 30 June 2012 and were released in December last year, found that Australia’s population increased to 22,683,600, up by 359,600 during the 12-month period.

This places the annual population growth rate for the year ended 30 June 2012 at 1.6 per cent, up from a low of 1.1 per cent for the year ending March 2011.

The Bureau says the growth of Australia’s population has two components: natural increase (the number of births minus the number of deaths) and net overseas migration.

To read the full story, click here

Planning and design of master-planned communities for healthy living

Due to growing health concerns linked to inactive living, a number of new masterplanned communities in South East Queensland are creating supportive environments for physical activities. Varsity Lakes in Gold Coast is an example of such community which provides both infrastructures and programs to encourage active living. The objective of the paper is to examine the relationship between built environment and healthy communities through a review of current literature.

Synthesising these findings, a conceptual framework is developed for supporting active and healthy living in master-planned communities. The three key factors are;

1) place
2) program
3) partnership

This framework is then applied to Varsity Lakes as a case study area for validation.  The paper identifies key challenges and opportunities Varsity Lakes face in its role in promoting active and healthy living and draw implications for the planning of future master-planned communities.

Bhishna Bajracharya, Associate Professor of Urban Planning, and Linda Too, Associate Professor of Urban Development, Bond University presented at the 2012 Liveable Cities Conference, you can download the full paper, “peer reviewed”,  in the conference book of proceedings from the event website. www.healthycities.com.au

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Urban Ecology and the Future of Cities

In June this year Helen Meikle, Research Fellow and  Hisham Elkadi,  Head of School, Architecture and Building from Deakin University presented the following paper at the 5th Making Cities Liveable Conference.

The role of ecology in a sustainable future is prominent in the media, academic writing and political decisions; as such environmental pressures, as well as economic, social and political, increasingly influence planning for the future. This paper looks at how this translates into the process for planning future cities – highlighting gaps in knowledge and issues of implementation. It draws on interdisciplinary sources to explore three main elements of the debate:  What is urban  ecology and why is it important to sustainable cities?; What gaps are there in the ecological knowledge of planners and policy makers and why are there gaps?; and How can urban ecology be integrated into the planning of future sustainable cities?.

The paper does not aim to provide a definitive answer to the problem; rather it addresses the first two areas and identifies potential directions for the third. It takes Australia, as national, Victoria, as regional and Geelong, as local, points of reference.

You can download the full paper in the Peer Reviewed Book of Proceedings from the conference website http://healthycities.com.au

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