Starting off 2019

I have great hopes for 2019 and today is the first day of 2019 and I am planning ahead for World Landscape Architecture and also some other side projects this year.

The first month will be busy with organising the WLA Awards which is starting to receive entries with a deadline of March 1. This is the third year and I am proud to say that the jury is once again is full of highly experienced jurors.

I am also involved with some ASLA events this year and looking to partner with a few other landscape architecture organisations this year.

Be one the look out for more from me and also WLA in 2019. I wish you all the best for your family and friends and feel free to contact me through email and social media.

Decentralising Australian cities via high speed rail

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.

Welcome to 2018

2018 has arrived and its another year with which we all hope is better than the last and we plan for work, holidays, events, and more. Some people have resolutions around an action like losing weight or similar, but as I posted at the start of 2017, I am more of a person who sets goals and breaks them into mini-goals (typical project manager style).

For 2018, I have once again set some goals around work, WLA, life, family and health – not in the order of course ;-).

I wish you and your family a great 2018 and hope that the year brings whatever you hoped for.

Presenting at conferences – provide knowledge over promotion

Over the last few years, I have attended a few conferences and seminars and the people I remember the most are those who are passionate about the topic and those who provide some insights and knowledge. The people I forget or remember for the wrong reasons are those people who see this as a promotion opportunity and present their work in a general sales pitch.

When presenting at a conference we are often presenting to our peers, so its not really a great audience to be giving a sales pitch, they are more interested in you,  your process and the knowledge you can share rather than promotion.

Here are some tips for making an interesting presentation

  1. Make it about the audience
    If you were in the audience what would want to know about you? what would make you think – hey this person really knows their stuff?
  2. What is your key message?
    All too often we make the mistake of trying to cover too many points in a limited time span. Most people will only remember 3-4 key points, there it is better to centre those points around one key message
  3. Tailor the presentation to the time allowed
    You have to remember to tailor the presentation to the time and try not to overrun.
    – 10 minutes then make 1-2 good points and take it slow. I have made the mistake in the past of adding too many points as I feel the need to cover more information but it is better to make it memorable for people with one key point.
    – 30- 45 minutes then 3-4 points that are well thought out and structured. If  — – More then 45 minutes then make it 3-4 points and the rest Q&A.
  4. Tailor the message to the audience
    When you start thinking of ideas and complete your first draft it is best to try and think about how to tailor the message to the audience and remember that not everyone in the audience may know about your industry or work, it is best to go through and remove acronyms and jargon. I have sat through 10 minutes of presentation until I realised what the acronym stood for.
  5. Go broader than your own work
    As stated previously, we are not interested in a sales pitch, so sometime it may require you to include work from other companies. Of course, you will credit them and seek permission first. Some of the best presentations I have seen provide a broad range of projects that present the best examples of an idea or theory.

Remember, the presentation is about your audience and not you, it is best to provide knowledge that is most valuable to them and avoid seeing as a great to promote you or your company.

 

Launching the WLA Awards

I recently just launched the WLA Awards, in its second year. The first year was a learning curve and I hope that the coming awards will be as successful as the 2017 Awards. I am lucky that I have again have jurors who willing to volunteer to spend hours pouring over pdf files to score, comment.

I had a conversation with a few people at ASLA in Los Angeles recently and it was interesting that many said that their needed to be more awards to acknowledge the work of landscape architects. It reinforced my resolve to continue the WLA Awards as long as I can and promote the profession of landscape architecture to a broader audience.

I created the awards to allow for landscape architects across the world be honoured by their peers. I always hope to get jurors from different nations, backgrounds and experience. It allows for different views to be expressed and also for not one country or type of landscape project to win.

I also changed the award categories this year to include two scales for Built Award category – Small and Large. This change allows for the smaller projects to get recognition, I have had interesting conversations that big projects always seem to win the awards, so this year I set out to try and balance that problem.

Also I removed the Research & Communication category as it  received about quarter the entries of other categories and seem to be not acknowledged by academia(this is a common problem which I may write about at another time) and organisations as most entries were from design firms or individuals.

The next few months will be slightly stressful, seeing if firms will enter and organising the submissions for jurors, the chasing up and then the final announcement and ordering the awards. I feel for those who are in ASLA, AILA, Landscape Institute, who organise numerous categories and entries and then the final ceremony. I have thought of having a ceremony but it is hard to find a venue that would encourage winners to attend as they are spread across the world, let alone the cost of hold a ceremony.

I am looking forward to judging the Editor’s Award. It is always fun to look at the submissions and shortlist my own and then select one at the end. It could be seen as arrogant but after 10 years of curating this blog, I thought that I could have one indulgence. Hope you enter. Find out more at WLA Awards.

Changing the climate change message from the fear to solutions

Over the past few years it has struck me how the climate change movement and the numerous presentations I have watched in person or online try to move people to action through fear and numbers.

First, lets address the numbers issue. All too often referring to large scale problems whether it is gun violence, road trauma or other major issue refer to numbers as a means to get people to take action or adjust behaviour. However, over the past twenty years I have noticed that people cannot grasp numbers too well especially those of large proportions (e.g. millions or billions) as it is not a number they deal with on a day to day basis. Also, time and numbers also creates a numbness and is why people often switch off when listening to people discuss the impacts of climate change because for some people they can’t see the impact of sea level change when discussed as a problem that will impact in 2025 or 2030 or 2050. Due to the nature of people’s attention spans being ever slowly reduced to seconds, it is hard to expect them to think in years and decades.

Second, fear is often the way we try to get people to listen and to change behaviour. The fear of consequences is what our parents used, teachers used and governments use to change our behaviour. However, like numbers this continual method of use fear and consequence to change behaviour is waning with people starting to realise that they can live with the consequences as it the impact is spend over so many that it has little impact on their day to day lives.

How do we get the message of the importance of climate change and the need as a species to take hold? There is two methods we need to use – group action and visual solutions.

Group Action – We often try to get people to change individually (through fear and guilt) to make an impact, however often it falls on deaf ears as they feel that changing their own lives doesn’t have a big impact on problems that are larger than life. Therefore, it is better to education people about groups (community, city, state, country, worldwide) they can join and how they can get the message out to broader audience using large numbers of people and how they can influence government, companies, and organisations through group action.

Visual Solutions – all too often the message we provide around climate change is are numbers, or the consequences such as the maps showing flooding of Manhattan or Shanghai or another large city. We need to show solutions and results in photos, diagrams, videos, animation and other visual formats. An image can move people, showing people images of reef that was once lost and now reborn, or a river delta that has been saved with oyster reefs or a wetland park that is mitigating flooding as part of “sponge cities” in China. These images have impact along with information provide people with a message of hope that there are solutions.

Climate change is one of largest problems the world has ever faced, but we will only create solutions and save the world by changing the message from one of fear to one of solutions.

Give people respect and time

Recently, I noticed in various situations that people are very busy, especially this time of year coming up to Christmas when the pressure is on to meet client deadlines (which fascinates me but that is another separate post), but often they brush people off or give them what they requested at the last minute expecting a miracle that they can finish the work on time. We are all busy but, we all hate being left on the edge waiting for someone else to come through, so be have empathy and honest with the person and say I don’t have time or if you can’t get it to them when they asked then say I will be able to get it to you by X time or date. The same when dealing with clients don’t tell it is going to be delayed the day before or off the deadline, call them when you find out and explain the situation and how you are taking steps to deal with it. That is respecting their time and their situation and having empathy for the people, most people have someone they are reporting up to so the stress is amplified up from the bottom if each person is missing a deadline and that’s why everyone’s bosses are stressed 😉 but also learn to manage down but teach people how to manage up.

On making time for people, I try when possible to meet or talk with people and give them time, I would rather give someone 5-10 minutes of time that is well spent either providing feedback on their problem or listening to their idea and brainstorming to get them to closer to where they want or could be rather than feigning interest for couple minutes.

 

Why professional/industry niche books will still exist.

Over the last few years the publishing industry has been struggling with declining sales and creating more books with broader appeal (high increase in coffee table books). However, I think that books will still exist although the maybe more increase in digital format (ebook, pdf, interactive) and that is because they are edited and curated around a topic or idea providing a broad range of information. You might be thinking “of course, what a simple thing to write” but I think that in a world of fast information and being bombarded with information and being able to search any topic we have lost site of the value of books and what they bring.

This sentiment may seem fairly ironic or hypocritical coming from someone who publishes a blog on landscape architecture with over 5,000 posts but I think that we often get too lost in thinking about the bright new shiny thing and how the old shiny thing will be killed off, this has happened numerous times in history. The radio didn’t kill newspapers, tv didn’t kill radio, the internet didn’t kill (all) newspapers, online blogs didn’t kill magazines, online streaming hasn’t killed tv, and the next thing (AR, VR, whatever R) will not kill off online streaming. Books will still be around as they are an easy way to gain knowledge about a topic in a concise, curated format and I think spending two hours in a book store is more relaxing than spending two hours reading through news articles and the comments section.