Trying to get support for WLA

My landscape architecture blog – WLA has been a labour of love for 10 years and has luckily had supporters for about 6 out of the 10 years. It has always been hard to get financial supporters for WLA as it seems even now in the prosperous time’s people don’t see the value. WLA is not the only landscape architecture blog or writing that struggles to get funding.  I am not complaining and understand the pressures of running businesses. However, it is troubling when the industry doesn’t back its own in promoting the industry, especially when every month I am paying out $$$ and not getting a salary or stipend for promoting the landscape architecture industry.

Many ask why don’t get more suppliers support WLA due to the high traffic on the website (50K visitors/month and 235,000 ranking in the world) and often my response is a mix of “suppliers don’t understand the value of blogs, digital media and are still into buying print and going to expos” or “they do their own blogs, social media and marketing so allocate the budget inhouse”. It is challenging and frustrating at times, usually at the end or the start of each year I think it is worth continuing for another year? What am I gaining? What are the benefits? Many think that WLA is some large team with a large budget when the truth is it is a one-man show using my own funds to keep it going. Many landscape blogs and sites have come and gone over the years, there are four (some old and some recent) that remain on different platforms (some with institute funding), 2018 will be interesting to see the changes.

I hope that 2018 is a good year and that I can get some more sponsors and partners. Currently, I have a few for this year and are thankful for their support.

China | more thought needed about urbanisation

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.

Public and Private Space

This week the protests continued in Turkey which began with the outrage at the privisation of Gezi Park, it is becoming clear that public open space is an issue that will always spark citizens to go into action to save their cities spaces.

The Gezi Park example is a extreme case but all over the world as state and city governments attempt to raise revenue they are turning to development of public open space as it is one of the only assets that many cities have remaining due to privitisation of services (utilities, education, health, transport).

There are some successful situations of private developments providing public open space in cities such as Hong Kong, there will always be a need for public open space for recreation and civic or cultural events. These whoever are usually small in scale to the large cultural spaces such as squares, local and regional parks. However, it seems many governments are overstepping the line by turning public space into private space whether this is leasing a local park or garden for a wedding or the extreme of developing a whole park or square for private use.

Public open space (parks, gardens, squares, etc) provide space for citizens and visitors to relax, recreate, meet and communicate and also to experience nature, culture and human connections. A lack of programmed and unprogrammed public open space creates soulless cities as landscape architects we need to push for public open space and rally against the push for privitisation of public spaces.

Footage from the RC drone that was shot down by police [HD] from Jenk K on Vimeo.

What I read that was interesting this week
Building Hyperdensity and Civic Delight | Design Observer | Vishaan Chakrabarti
“Sound urban development is the lynchpin of the hyperdense environment. Yet public advocacy for high-density development is extraordinarily low, primarily because its merits are misunderstood.”

Five Robotic Bike Parking Systems That Solve an Urban Dilemma | Gizmodo
Maybe New York should have looked at these first for citibike?

Atkins to develop Eco-Low Carbon Urban Planning Guidance in China
Funnily enough I was contacted by another group of companies to join this commission but they didn’t get it. Be interesting to see what Atkins develops and if its published publicly. I hope its more ‘practical’ for governments and developers rather that another dust collector.


5 Ideas Apple Gleefully Stole From Google, Twitter, and Microsoft | Fast Co Design

When I saw iOS 7’s new icons and features, I instantly thought they had Android and Windows features came straight mind. As for the new Mac Pro it is a disappointment and I think that they will have to develop a rack option for digital studios and heavy users as a cyclinder is not really an efficient use of space. I have used used desktop macs back in Australia including a G4 and G5 Macs including the ‘cube’ which cracked and overheated. There will always be discussion about Apple’s designs but I hope Apple continues to innovate.

Asian universities are leaping up the league tables, but China is getting left behind
Personally, I think there is a shortage of qualified and experienced staff to join the many new universities opening in China. This problem will be solved over time but there will a period of transition. There is transition occuring in every industry in China as the national focus turns from looking out to to looking in. Interesting times ahead.

Why do we accept mediocrity in landscape architecture?

Recently, I have watched videos with Bjarke Ingels, Rem Koolhaus, Fabrio Novembre, Marc Newson, Michael Van Valkenburgh, Karl Lagerfeld and many others to gain more of an understanding of idea generation and design in various industries. What struck me during watching these videos is the willingness of society (and some designers) to accept mediocre design as something that will just occur as part of the marketplace and mainstream design realm. So why is it that we accept this mediocrity in the design profession and its not just architecture or industrial design but it seems that mediocrity is more and more prevalent in recent times in all design industries.

Does it necessarily need to be this way? Personally it seems that many have gone down the ‘path of least resistance’ and that the ‘market’ is influencing the way we design as a shift occurs towards developing markets and away from developed economies. Design standards seem to have been calibrated to the market and aiming at the lower level  to meet the standards of these immature developing markets with iteration after iteration of the same design to the point where is has become ubiquitous.  Where this can be seen more evidently is in the car industry where Porsche, Rolls Royce, BMW, Audi, Lamborghini, Bugatti have produced numerous ‘special editions’ and variations of the same model with very little design development for developing markets such as China.

The same is occurring in landscape architecture where the same design language and style is being used over and over again with little departure from the previous design. Some may see this as a firm/person developing a signature design language, I personally see it as lack of design energy and also a lack respect for the intellect of clients. Landscape architecture should respond to the culture, place, climate, terrain and numerous other elements that influence the design process to develop a unique concept that will create the best design for that site no matter how big or small. I understand that in China there is often little time to analyse, understand and design with the extraordinary short deadlines but I think we owe it the community, client and most of all ourselves as landscape architects to design something to the best of our design ability and to shun mediocrity.

The growing importance of water in China

Water is growing daily in importance in China with water featuring more and more in the news and government announcements. Water as a economic and cultural issue is coming to ahead as it starts to impact on the economic growth of China and the health of its citizens. There have been recent announcements about investment in water, water pollution in drought in China.

The Ministry of Water Resources announced that they plan to spend 1.8 trillion yuan (286 billion U.S. dollars) on water conservation projects during the 2011-2015 period(12th 5 year plan). The funds are to be used to relieve droughts and floods, efficiently allocate water usage, protect water resources and establish a mechanism for the scientific development of water conservation. (14 Feb – Source Link) The government plans to invest as total of 4 trillion yuan (US$634.9 billion) in water conservation projects over the next 10 years.

Also Hu Siyi, vice minister of water resources, recently said water shortages, serious river pollution and the deteriorating aquatic ecology are “quite outstanding” and may threaten the country’s sustainable growth. The ministry’s data showed that 40 percent of Chinese rivers were seriously polluted and unfit for drinking after 75 billion tonnes of sewage and waste water were discharged in 2010. Hu also said that about 20 percent of rivers were so polluted their water quality was rated too toxic even to come into contact with.

To address the problem, the State Council, or China’s cabinet, unveiled a guideline on Thursday(16 Feb) to regulate the use of water under “the strictest criteria,” capping the maximum volume of water use at 700 billion cubic meters by the end of 2030. According to the guideline, China will work to keep its total volume of water use below 670 billion cubic meters in 2020. Also, the government will tighten its supervision over exploitation of underground water, further protect sources of drinking water, and restore the aquatic ecological system by introducing water-use licenses and other measures. (16 Feb – Source Link)

The importance of water is also growing due to the drought in South West Yunnan which has been effecting crops and cities. The Vice Premier calling on local governments to increase the speed of irrigation and water conservation projects in Yunnan.

The water economy will grow at an extrodinary rate over the next 10 years as the government invest trillions of yuan, cities urbanise, agriculture increases efficiency, sewerage and pollution of waterways is addressed. Realising that water will become more critical for the growth of China than many other resources is key to understanding the water economy.

Water is reaching critical point for many cities, farmers and industries and is just starting to get the respect it deserves in China. As designers it is our role to assist the government achieving the goals they have set whether on the macro scale of landscape planning or on the micro scale of site design. As designers we have many design tools and technologies(water testing, watershed analysis, SUD, etc.)  available to address water issues. Understanding and using these tools is also key to remaining informed about this growing issue in China that will feature more and more in our design process.

China pushing faster growth in western regions

The central government has been increasing its focus on the western region of China for some years but in the 12th 5 year plan (2011-2015) it seems as though their is a greater push into the west not only in manufacturing but also in other areas of growth. So what are the western regions of China? They include  Xinjiang, Tibet, Inner Mongolia, Guangxi, NingxiaGansuQinghaiSichuanChongqingShaanxi, Guizhou and Yunnan.

In a recent announcement the government outlined goals for western regions in economic growth, infrastructure construction, ecological environment, public service, and people’s living standards. What interested me in the announcement was not the usual numbers for kilometres of roads or railway but the numbers set for ecology and energy use.

Western regions must employ a 15-percent cut in energy use per unit of gross domestic product (GDP) from that of the end of 2010, and they should cut water consumption by 30 percent per unit of industrial output growth, according to the plan.

As a key indicator of ecological conditions, nearly one-fifth of the land in western regions should be covered by forests by the end of 2015, according to the plan.

China plans faster growth in western regions – Gov.cn

What these numbers tell us is that there is a shift towards the conservation of energy, water and forests. Previously the numbers were more about GDP, roads, housing, cities and population numbers. Now its seems the government announcements are focusing more on conservation.

Happy and Prosperous Year of the Dragon

The rabbit is bounding away and the dragon is just around the corner as we celebrate the coming of the Year of the Dragon. Chinese New Year in China is always an interesting time of year, lots of people go home, Shanghai turns into somewhat of ghost town(in comparison to the raging Spring/Summer period) taxis are a little easier to get. This year we will be staying in China but many people are heading south to warmer climates to get away from the chilly winds.

On a personal note, I get mixed versions of my fortune from reading on the web and offline, but I will forge on into the Year of Dragon by putting a few different ideas into to action to make this year even better. Wish everyone a happy and prosperous Year of the Dragon.

What’s in a name? Companies that use country of origin to become ‘international’

There is a growing number of landscape firms in China, some are foreign, some local and many a mix (often referred to as sino-american or sino-australia, etc). The company names are interesting to read some a very simple and aimed at a certain market, others keep their name from abroad or just create a literal translation of their name in Chinese. There is however a disturbing trend of ‘international’ firms in China that are international in name only. These are the chinese firms that register a name in Australia, USA, Canada, UK or another country and state that they are an international company. This is disturbing to me as many do not have any international staff or qualifications but are utilising the simple business registration laws in overseas countries.

Many of these firms are in a ‘rush to the bottom’ by alluding to clients that they are international – they maybe in a legal sense but not culturally or in their design approach. The reason many developers and governments engage international firms is to gain the broad experience and talented staff that many international firms have at their disposal. This is not to say there aren’t good local chinese firms with talented designers – there are many. However, the illusion the ‘international’ companies are creating will in the long run hurt their company, the country they supposedly represent and the landscape design industry in China. I am not disturbed that they are using international names or countries as selling point, I am disturbed that they are harming landscape architecture in China, which is very young although China has a long history of garden and landscape design, the landscape architecture profession is relatively immature.