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.

Why are countries creating their own cryptocurrencies?

Over the last few months, we have seen countries creating or preparing to make cryptocurrencies including China, Ecuador, Senegal, Estonia, Russia. The reason that countries are looking at cryptocurrencies(Cryptocurrency) is they see it as a way to efficiently and cheaply move forward in many areas including

  • digital payments – if you have been in Asia especially China in the last two years you would have seen the vast number of people using digital payments to pay for nearly every transaction.
  • productivity – reducing the time and actions required for transactions
  • tracking illegal activity – there some people using Cryptocurrency for illegal activities, if countries start to limit the currency exchange to their countries Cryptocurrency then they can track transactions more easily
  • control – central banks like to control currency, they will most likely declare their Cryptocurrency to be legal tender (fiat) in their country.
  • reduce volatility – by being able to control the currency they will try to reduce volatility and rein in runaway markets and use levers to manipulate their market. This is most likely why some countries have shut down ICO and currency exchanges so they can start their own Cryptocurrency.
  • generate revenue from transaction fees
  • reduce fraud
  • ease of exchange – currently every time you go to another country you either have to used credit cards or exchange for cash. If you can exchange on your phone from one country’s Cryptocurrency to another you will be able to move more freely between countries.

There are still some issues with countries creating Cryptocurrency and that includes public acceptance, security, exchanges. The future will be interesting and how the world will change in the coming ten years around cryptocurrency. We will most likely see several countries with their own currency such as estcoin, DAD, and more.


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 –

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.

Changing landscape uses in China

Use of landscape and recreation is changing in China. Over the last few years I have been in China landscape uses have changed from passive uses(people watching, reading, singing & card/table games) with a some active uses(dancing, exercises, badminton & kite flying) to more and more different uses. There has been a great increase in active(roller blading, basketball, tennis, football(soccer), running, dog walking/running) and passive (more younger people reading/chatting on phones, computers and electronic devices). As landscape architects we need to address this increase in uses not only in designing parks but also for future planning. Future planning is one area that requires greater involvement from landscape architects and government, there are numerous passive parks around major cities and new cities but not enough future planning for active recreation.

Passive Recreation

In The Park from Ricardo Mendialdua on Vimeo.

There is also a change in the use of regional and national parks as tourism increases and younger (&older) generations start to get participate in ‘newer’ sports such as skateboarding, bmx/fixies, rollerblading, skiing, snowboarding although not that new to western countries these are burgeoning sports that are spreading across the nation. Although Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzhen, Guangzhou may already have some of the facilities for these sports there is a need for urban designers, landscape architects and landscape planners to plan for these future uses. Leaving planning to later will lead to ad-hoc landscape design and planning along with devastated landscapes as developers & government see a need in the market and rush to provide facilities. Also remembering that there are sports and uses that haven’t been invented yet and that unplanned or disused areas (not oversized plazas) are needed to allow new forms of recreation will be created and grow.

Active Recreation

Shanghai Basketball from Paul Hammond on Vimeo.

“串儿 (chuan’r)” is a snow boarding video parks in Beijing – one indoor park and one outdoor park. Also is shows that brands and parks are blurring the lines between public, private spaces and park funding. “串儿 (chuan’r)” teaser from Steve Zdarsky on Vimeo.

Keynote by Kongjian Yu (俞孔坚 土人设计)at IFLA 2011 Congress in Zurich [Video]

Kongjian Yu (俞孔坚) gave a keynote at the IFLA 2011 Congress in Zurich which give a brief history of his career and then moves on to his ideas about Big Foot Landscape/Urbanism. Kongjian Yu has been key in changing the attitude in China from traditional landscape gardening or landscape as floral art and creating a vision of landscape architecture as natural landscape. His projects have won numerous ASLA and other awards across the world for his parks and especially the Houtan Park designed as a wetland park on the rivers edge of the Shanghai EXPO 2010 park. Houtan Park is a landscape that is used by many in China as best-practice for wetland design.

Anyone wishing to know more about landscape architecture would be well-served in watching this keynote at IFLA.

Landscape architecture: Keynote of Kongjian Yu from hayal oezkan on Vimeo.

Landscape architecture in China needs to become more professional

I have been working in China for over 6 years as a landscape architect and there are many differences in comparison to Australia and Canada where I have worked before including size of the project, speed of design and the materials used (some good some bad). But the biggest difference that strikes me about the profession is the lack of professionalism among designers, technicans and new graduates. I am not talking about whether they dress in suits, take short cuts or lie to clients (the last two obviously not professional) but what I am referring to is that the role of  a landscape architect in China is very blurred. In western countries, landscape architects are seen as professional consultants and advisers where their advice  to clients is in the best interests of society, clients, collegues and the landscape & environment.

In China, many clients are using architects or landscape architects for the first time and often see us as merely facilitating their vision and what they often don’t see or receive is the professional expertise that we can give clients to make their vision come true to last for decades. However, it has dawned on me over the years that many in the profession of landscape architecture in China don’t understand their role as a professional. They see their role as designing or constructing the landscape in the best interest of speed and saving money not the long term longevity of the clients project or the environment. This has occurred for many reasons, many of us strive to become registered landscape architects in our home countries where we go through a test/s and interview and have to sign a membership agreement to adhere to a set of rules and regulations regarding professional conduct. Professionals acting on behalf of the best interests of the client, the environment and your professional integrity whether your designing a masterplan or working on-site as client representative.

Why has this come up? Well, it just seems to frustrate me that many of my colleagues in the profession in China see their role as merely facilitating the clients wishes rather than advising the client as a professional on the best approach to their project or current issue for the long term not just the short term. I am not saying all landscape architects in China act this way but it just seems to be a reoccurring mindset.

How the chinese profession addresses this issue is left to be seen as the contemporary landscape architecture profession is still very young and growing with members every year. I hope that landscape architects in China become more professional and advise on the best interests of the environment, their clients and their fellow world citizens.

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