We have recently seen an increasing number of news stories about plastic pollution, an ocean full of plastic bags, scenes of a diver in Bali surrounded by floating plastic, however, a recent study  has found that terrestrial microplastics could be between 4 and 23 times greater than that found in the ocean and it may be that agricultural soils alone might store more microplastics than oceanic basins. The study cites research that finds that most plastics are prone to disintegrate rather than decompose especially those that are biodegradable and these are found as microplastics (less than 5mm) and these, in turn, continue to disintegrate into nano plastics (less than 0.1 μm). The problem is growing and microplastic pollution could be so widespread that it could create a baseline shift of physiological and ecosystem processes of terrestrial species.
I lived in China for over 10 years and saw the transformation of cities through the building high-speed rail connections. The first weekend of my time in China in 2005, I took a K-Train to Suzhou(about 100kms from Shanghai) to see the gardens, and it took about 55-60 minutes on the train and we passed through a couple of other cities along which I think were Anting and Kunshan.
Move forward to 2008 when High-Speed Rail started D-Train (“Dongche”, 动车) in China at 250km/h (155mph) and then later in 2010 the new G-Train (“Ggaotie”高铁) that can reach 400km/h (280mph) when the same trip between Shanghai and Suzhou now takes 23-32 minutes cutting the time in half. HSR has been so transformative that some air routes in China no longer exist.
The high-speed rail(HSR) has transformed China and has been used to create new cities and relieve the transport stresses placed on major cities by decentralising the population of cities. Whilst we still continue the same work paradigm of working in offices in Central Activity/Business Districts we will require people to travel into “downtown” in the morning and then leave and return to their homes in the cities. Whilst we all still ponder the possibility of autonomous vehicle travel we have to look toward solutions including decentralising populations from major cities. Melbourne and Sydney have both now sprawled over large areas with populations of over 4 million, the density is low although increasing over the last decade there is still major stress on the transport system.
The has been an ongoing discussion for the last 30 years of a high-speed rail line between Melbourne and Sydney due to the number of flights between the cities (one of the busiest in the world) and also due to the fact that they are the largest populations in Australia. However, this discussion often doesn’t go beyond expensive feasibility studies. I think that the premise of connecting the two biggest cities is the wrong discussion around high-speed rail infrastructure but in fact, the discussion should be focusing more on connecting regional cities (Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo and Newcastle, Wollongong and the capital Canberra) to the main centres to decentralise the populations and increase business centres.
Through HSR we could see populations move and grow these regional centres with most populations being 70,000 to 400,000 people whilst the major cities have grown beyond 4 million.
For Melbourne, it would seem the best solution would be to first connect Geelong and Melbourne via Avalon Airport with a travel time of 18-24 minutes cutting the current travel time(1 hour) by over 60% and would connect Melbourne’s second airport to the city.
In Sydney, it would seem that connecting Canberra via the new airport at Baggerys Creek and Wooloongong would be the first route due to the amount of travel (car and air) that happens between the cities. Currently, the travel time is 4 hours 8 Minutes to travel 280-350km, which high-speed rail this could be cut to 1hr 30 – 1hr 45 based on two intermediate stops.
The financial benefits for regional cities are generated through increased population growth and tourism and reduced costs for major cities due to the reduction in the needs creating new housing and infrastructure.
Australian Governments have attempted to shift populations by moving departments or statutory authorities to regional cities, however, it is often hard to get people to relocate due to the distance from friends and family.
The issue with most planning studies and models we see from planners and architects show increased density in the central business district with higher towers. This is not the answer but will increase the current problems due to increase density and reduction in open space.
There are numerous issues around the current population growth in Melbourne and Sydney, each having grown by over 1 million people in the last decade, however, we constantly keep looking at the solution of increased density with new surburban rail stations on overcrowded lines as the silver bullet. However, there are numerous regional cities that have populations of less than 10% of major cities and by connecting these to the major business districts through rail and increasing the density of office buildings and mixed use in these centres rather than increasing residential populations through large towers.
These idea is only one of many but it is a large idea that could make the largest difference to Australia’s major cities.
I recently posted a post on WLA (my landscape architecture blog) which aim to raise awareness of cities heading towards Day Zero such as Cape Town in South Africa who may have to progressively turn off taps in July throughout the city.
The city of Cape Town known as the hosting of the 2010 World Cup and known for its amazing landscape including Table Mountain has been in drought for 3 years and is heading towards Day Zeroy when dam levels reach 13.5% and the taps will be turned off in a phased approach. The government has set water restrictions at Level 6b which restricts water to 50 Litres per person as the original Day Zero date was April 12, but through the efforts of city and residents to save water has delayed Day Zero several times and is now predicted to be 15 July 2018. The city has provided guides, calculators and a Day Zero dashboard to educate residents on how to reduce water use including:
Read more at World Landscape Architecture
I recently published Pop ups – the fast food of landscape architecture or the catalyst for regeneration? on WLA about popups with my main point that popups are a simple idea that has been co-opted by designers, cities, and organisations as a fashionable easy fix for bigger problems and also a “look we are doing something about it” moment. Popups have become a highly orchestrated, overly designed and highly detailed in construction, whereas they are most successful when they are testing an idea that is simple in nature and execution.
“Over the last two decades, we have seen the popularity of pop-ups grow within cities from retail stores to parklets. Pop-ups fall into various typologies from the short event (1-3 days) such as Parking Day, seasonal installation, semi-permanent installation such as pilot study for possible retrofitting a street. Are these pop-ups transforming cities and attitudes towards public space or are they little more than brightly coloured interventions that are becoming the “fast-food” of landscape architecture?”
Recently the Victorian Government announced that the Yarra Building in Federation Square which currently accommodates the Koorie Heritage Trust is set to be demolished to make way for an Apple Global Flagship Store. The public backlash from the community was swift as there was no public consultation or Expression of Interest or due process. The main concern from the public is two-fold, the use of cultural public space that celebrates Australian Federation is set to house a global commercial enterprise and secondly that the proposed building has little reference to existing iconic architecture.
Alternative Locations for the Apple Global Flagship Store
Just before the Houses of Parliament broke for the Christmas holiday they approved to increase security (or perimeter security enhancements as its known security jargon) at Parliament House by surrounding the roof and their lawns with 2.6 metre, 1.5 metre and 1.2 metre high fences at various intervals [pdf] which has drawn great ire from Australian architects including Glenn Murcutt and Australian Institute of Architects.
Why is there such outcry over increasing security at the centre of government in Australia? The design for Parliament House which was won by “Mitchell/Giurgola & Thorp and imagined Parliament House that symbolically rose out of the landscape and could not be built on top of the hill as this would symbolise government imposed on the people…it was important that [it] be seen as extending an invitation to all citizens. The grand lawns of Parliament House allowed the public to be able to freely access and walk over the Houses of Parliament.” . This grand idea that won the design competition provides an insight into the values of Australia, its cities, communities and people and is the main reason why so many architects and the public are voicing their opposition to the fence, whether in newspapers, blogs or on social media.
Cities can be seen as a construct of various systems or as an organism with various inputs, outputs that adapts to the environmental conditions. Cities have never-ending ‘growing pains’ (or shrinking pains) with a recent pieces of writing showing that no matter whether your in a developed or developing nation, cities continue to change due to the influence of people. “In the battle between tech and the city, should designers choose a side?” by Mimi Zeiger, “What Tech Hasn’t Learned From Urban Planning” by Allison Arieff.
With both these interesting pieces I found myself thinking about cities and how they change over time. What I kept coming back to is that tech companies change at phenomenal rate of speed, think about how you life has changed due to tech in the last five years – the smart phone, social networks, retail purchases and delivery, photography, and the list goes on. Now, think about how your city has changed in the last five years and you may have noticed small changes with urban renewal (or decay), but what is soon apparent is that cities change over decades and not years.
Tech companies thrive on change, the unknown and the pace of change; whereas cities and residents fear change and often why projects take years to come to fruition. The other reason is that budgets and investment at a private level (tech companies) is often easy to obtain and you only explain the problems and failures to a small group of investors with a large amount invested, whereas a city is large group of people with a small amount invested but demanding large amount from their city government in terms of information, services. Therefore, tech companies often struggle to understand why San Francisco residents aren’t happy with change especially rapid change that has occurred over the last 5-15 years.
Rapid urbanisation of millions of Chinese has occurred and will continue to occur over the next 25-30 years. There is a change in focus from mega-cities to smaller cities and towns as the country transitions from exports to consumerism based economy. What has changed in a urban design focus have to do with economy? In short, everything. China for the last 30 years has been focused on developing big cities and as we can see from the 10 mega cities developing in China that the increased density and hyper density are two different things. There is a limit to the a liveable population density and city size that can support without major environmental impact. Hyper-density is where we start to reaching over 5,000-10,000 people per square kilometre, once you get beyond this there is an environmental and sociological impact on the city. How do we change this?
The rural areas of China are being transformed into new cities, fast trains, inter-city roads and the push for urbanisation as a form of efficient way of providing work, housing, and food. But the question is the current model going to work – that is creating mega-cities (10+ million) and regional cities (5+ million) really the solution. They may be successful in terms of financial growth and GDP but fail in terms environment and liveability. Thankfully, it was announced recently that local officials will also have their success measured by level of pollution in their city. This is a step in the right-direction, however more could be undertaken for officials to be accountable for the liveability of the city.
Liveability includes not only GDP and housing, it includes access to services(health, education, transport), the amount and quality of green open space, pollution levels(air, water, soil). Green open space is on the increase but the quality of the space is often poor. With the spaces often large ‘beautiful green’ areas with little programming. They maybe successful from a environmental
I think China would benefit from allowing for more townisation rather than large urbanisation of rural areas. Building mega and smaller cities will in the long run create a shortfall in rural workers and continue the inefficient use of land with plot farming. Building towns with technical skill training centres in towns will allow for a smooth transition from small family plot farming to more efficient farming with higher quality, higher yield and high-revenue crops. More efficient land use is key to providing the fast growing middle class with the amount of food they will demand. Also changing land use and farming practices is one of the quickest ways to reduce pollution (air, water and soil).
Also hukou reform will occur over time and I see that the changes may occur in bigger cities first and then trickle down to 2nd, 3rd and 4th tier cities. I think that the biggest need is for a re-evaluation of how cities are created in China and whether mega-cities are the answer for the remaining 750 million chinese or is there hybrid model that can occur. I think the planning system would benefit from more flexibility and also more research and analysis of recent new cities.
Interesting things I read this week
China’s next chapter: The infrastructure and environmental challenge | McKinsey & Co
Urban planners eye China’s cities | People’s Daily
China to hold local leaders responsible for air quality | Channel News Asia
Hutong Vs. Highrise: A Photo Essay On China’s Radical Urban Changes | Gizmodo
Techno-utopias are wrapped up in their own visions of nature” | Dezeen
I have started reading China Greentech Report 2013: China at a Crossroads 中国绿色科技报告 2013：站在十字路口的中国 and will make a blog post later.