Sunday, June 27, 2010

Picnic Table by Day... Homeless Shelter by Night.

Did you know that charity organisations across Brisbane City estimate there are more than 4,000 homeless people in Brisbane, with about 400 squatting in the CBD alone.

Melbourne architectural firm Sean Godsell Architects has developed the concept for a make-shift homeless shelter which acts as a public picnic table during the day. The rationale behind their design is:

'Each year millions of dollars are spent on urban infrastructure projects in cities around the world. Bus shelters, tram stops, park benches and picnic tables, playgrounds, train and tube stations, waste and recycling bins, bicycle paths and parking are all commissioned and designed to improve our civic amenity and day to day existence. That is unless of course you are unfortunate enough to find yourself living on the streets.

Without exception every piece of urban infrastructure designed across the globe has, as a key part of its brief – ‘make sure that homeless people can’t use it.’ Moulded plastic seats, closely spaced armrests, steel studs on benches all make it impossible to lie down and are deliberate design decisions. Constructed shelters such as bus and tram stops remain brightly lit well after public transport has stopped for the night to deter homeless people from having a few hours sleep under cover.

The Picnic Table House could be an exception. The table top folds down and is supported on the bench seats to make a roof. A woven stainless steel mattress and protective frame is supported between the legs of the table. Survival kits, packed remotely by volunteer workers or emergency relief agencies can be locked into position under the bench seats either side of the mattress. The survival kits would contain separately food, bedding, hot drinks, a light and a first aid kid. Once emptied a survival pack becomes secure stowage while sleeping'.

While I think the concept is great (as there is so much public infrastructure out there, and even more homeless people), the reality of this type of design could be a brick wall. Physical issues such as the cleanliness of the table, seats and floor might take a battering after it provides accommodation throughout the night, the safety of the homeless sleeping out in a park at night is minimal, as well as the possible conflicts that could arise between homeless people to procure and retain picnic tables for the night could all create more trouble than the concept is worth. Not to mention the psychological impacts of such a concept... sleeping under the table might seem a bit degrading.
But are our current shelters and associated services in Brisbane doing enough? Can we, as designers within our cities combat homelessness in a effective, proactive, and safe way? How can we cater to the needs of the homeless to allow and encourage them to rebuild their lives and self-confidence?

New Technology to Help Design More Efficient Cities

Following one of our previous blog entries about 'reactive design' in cities, a new approach to learning about, and monitoring traffic movement within cities has been developed in Zurich, Switzerland. Software designers have created a program which aims to map the spatial and temporal patterns that characterise the various road users.

ETH researchers Daniel K├╝ttel and Michael Breitenstein teamed up with professors Luc Van Gool and Vittorio Ferrari from the Institute of Image Processing to create a new software program that can learn from watching moving objects, analyzing things like street scenes and figuring out patterns and habits of things like moving vehicles. The new technology allows the computer to recognize things like the movements of normal traffic flow and any changes in that "normal" situation.
The software still needs to find a home in traffic coordination, but the potential is there for everything from analyzing traffic and improving flows in congested areas or after an accident, or running traffic lights to make intersections safer.
Not only would this type of project create solutions to traffic and movement issues, it would allow us to implement interventions to make the city a more efficient and safer place. We can assess pedestrian and vehicular routes and create focal points such as median strips and roundabouts or 'islands' to give identity and place-making qualities to an otherwise grey, urban environment.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Concept of Liveability Gaining Traction Internationally

THG's resident economist, Richard Katter, sent this around the office today:

This extract from the Wall Street Journal illustrates how, like THG, the French President Nicolas Sarkozy is aware of the importance of liveability.

"French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Monday that the global slump shows gross domestic product is an obsolete way of measuring well-being, and called on countries the world over to adopt recommendations from a report he commissioned by Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz.

The Stiglitz report recommends that economic indicators should stress well-being instead of production, and for non-market activities, such as domestic and charity work, to be taken into account. Indexes should integrate complex realities, such as crime, the environment and the efficiency of the health system, as well as income inequality. The report brings examples, such as traffic jams, to show that more production doesn’t necessarily correspond with greater well-being.
“We’re living in one of those epochs where certitudes have vanished… we have to reinvent, to reconstruct everything,” Sarkozy told a press conference at Sorbonne university. “The central issue is [to pick] the way of development, the model of society, the civilization we want to live in.”

Sarkozy commissioned the report at the start of 2008 from a 22-member commission headed by Stiglitz and including Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen, as well as the then-head statistician of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, Enrico Giovannini.

In the Guardian (U.K.) on Sunday, ahead of Sarkozy’s remarks, Stiglitz explained:
The big question concerns whether GDP provides a good measure of living standards. In many cases, GDP statistics seem to suggest that the economy is doing far better than most citizens’ own perceptions. Moreover, the focus on GDP creates conflicts: political leaders are told to maximise it, but citizens also demand that attention be paid to enhancing security, reducing air, water, and noise pollution, and so forth – all of which might lower GDP growth. The fact that GDP may be a poor measure of well-being, or even of market activity, has, of course, long been recognized. But changes in society and the economy may have heightened the problems, at the same time that advances in economics and statistical techniques may have provided opportunities to improve our metrics."

It's not only the French who are thinking this way. Another article outlines President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2011 budget which is taking steps towards improving one of the key components of liveability - transport - containing $1 billion in programs and grants.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Interesting facts you pick up from surveyors...

Mal, THG's resident Survey Manager, sent around this interesting tidbit this morning:
"Sunday, the 21/6/2010 is the date of the Winter Solstice.
This is the shortest day of the year in the southern hemisphere for daylight hours.
For the technically minded this means that the axis of the earth is at its maximum tilt away from the sun."
So now you know.

Where Are Australia's Greenest Cities?

From Treehugger:

Australia maybe the world's sixth largest country, but over 80% of its 23 million people live within 100 kilometres of the coast. This makes it one of the most urbanised nations in the world.

So the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) set out to investigate which of the country's 20 largest cities is the greenest.
The results are contained within their just released Sustainable Cities Index, which ranks Australia's metropolises "with the aim of encouraging healthy competition, stimulating discussion and suggesting new ways of thinking about how our cities can be sustainable".

The winner for 2010 came as bit of a surprise to most people. At first glance you might have considered it close to the city that came last. 15 performance indicators across three aspects of sustainability were considered and ranked equally. These were:

Environmental Performance indicators
Air Quality, Biodiversity, Ecological Footprint, Green Building and Water.
Resilience indicators
Climate Change, Education, Food Production, Household Repayments and Public Participation
Quality of Life indicators
Density, Employment, Health, Subjective Wellbeing and Transport

Crunching the numbers yielded by such indicators gave a final ranking of:

1. Darwin
Darwin Aerial
2. Sunshine Coast
3. Brisbane
4. Townsville
5. Canberra-Queanbeyan
6. Hobart
7. Melbourne
8. Gold Coast-Tweed
9. Cairns
10. Bendigo
11. Toowoomba
12, Sydney
13. Launceston
14. Adelaide (equal 14th)
14. Ballarat (equal 14th)
15. Albury-WodongaWollongong
16. Wollongong
17. Newcastle
18. Geelong
19. Perth

To understand how this was developed, there is a simple visual
Comparative Table (PDF) or the more detailed Sustainable Cities Index Report (PDF).

Would you have picked the ranking?

Copenhagen Adopts a Mandatory Green Roof Policy

Copenhagen is the first city in Scandinavia to have a manditory green roof policy. The new policy makes vegetation and soil a mandatory obligation in planning. The policy covers all roofs with less than a 30 degree pitch and also covers refurbishment of older roofs. However such roofs will get some public financial.

The green roof policy is part of a wider ambition the City has to be carbon neutral by the year 2025.

Copenhagen presently has 20,000 square meters (over 215,000 square feet) of flat roofs. It is hoped that as much as 5,000 square meters of new development each year will be covered with vegetation.

Vegetated roofs, or green roofs, provide several benefits for buildings and their surroundings. They can absorb as much as 80% of rainfall, helping to reduce stress on stormwater systems. They help reduce urban temperatures, and they protect roof membranes from the sun’s UV rays and the greatest temperature swings, such that roof membrane life is extended as much as double that of an unprotected membrane.

Solar Powered Windows? Why not.

Putting solar panels on the roof of your house will evidently help keep your energy bill at a reasonable level (if you want to fork out the expensive initial cost of course), but won't necessarily help any other aspect of your house. If you install a fleet of solar windows, however, you could also have more natural light filtered throughout your house, creating additional environmentally sustainable qualities.

Hua Qin has developed these window panes, which were unveiled at Taipei’s International Optoelectronics Week, which double to block out the elements and create energy for your home. The windows can come in slightly hazy to really hazy opacities – the more opaque the window, the more energy it produces and can replace both home or commercial windows. This means you can cater your window locations on your floor plan to where the most amount of sunlight can be adsorbed - and also where you want to reduce unwelcome views into your house.

This great green invention could open up the door to all kinds of renewable energy production for all kinds of environments. With solar panels, it is neccessary to put aside a surface for solar production that will serve no other purpose other than to produce power. With these solar windows one could generate electricity not on the roof of an electric car, but through the sun roof or the window pane. This solar glass would be perfect for greenhouses, capturing light from panes of glass that already magnify the sun.

The opportunities with solar glass are endless, let’s hope Hua Qin sets to work manufacturing them soon.

Printer Cartidges Recycled into Northern Territory Bike Path

Australia’s National Park Service recently unveiled a new bike path in the West MacDonnell National Park that includes a bridge made out of recycled printer cartridges. The 17 km bike path connects Alice Springs to Simpsons Gap and hopes to encourage more visitors to the park. In keeping with the government’s commitment to sustainable development, they chose low-maintenance, durable and environmentally friendly materials made from recycled plastic.

The new bike path upgrades cost $330,000 and includes 17 km of bike path and a viewing platform at Ormiston Gorge. The new bridge is made out of recycled plastics made by Repeat Plastics Australia. Replas uses recycled plastics from the domestic and commercial waste streams, specifically recycled printer cartridges.

Parks and Wildlife Minister Karl Hampton said, “Every year more than 120,000 people visit the magnificent West MacDonnell National Park, and by investing in our parks we are able to ensure visitors have a unique experience while we protect our environment… Here at Simpsons Gap repairs and upgrades to the Bike Path Bridge are now complete, leaving us a safer bridge for riders and a great natural aesthetic… In keeping with our government’s commitment to sustainable development, the bridge is made from recycled plastic decking or Replas, saving landfill, trees and ensuring a longer life with less maintenance.”

Shanghai. The Pop-up City.

Did you visit Shanghai in 20 or more years ago? If so, the city is not how you would remember it. The images below are taken from the same view looking towards the city centre, 20 years apart (1990 - 2010). Its hard to believe its the same city!

The entire city essentially popped up in just 2 decades - you can see that basically no exisitng fabric was maintained; the buildings in the foreground are all different as well as the overhaul of green space in the centre of the top image.

Questions which come to mind... Could Brisbane look like this in 20 years time? Why doesn't it look like that now? Is our current city plan (and associated documentation) facilitating what we envisage Brisbane to become? Do we want our city to look like Shanghai or would we want to retain Brisbane's current physical / cultural condition? Would the generational change in 20 years allow for different design outcomes to be achieved or desired? Are we trying to protect something we don't really need to protect?

Floating Cities: Solution to Incontestable Environmental Concerns?

Our ability to create urban communities and designs for our cities is currently tangled up in an intricate web of environmental concerns; koala and other habitat retention, important remnant vegetation, the possibility of sea level rise and flooding, as well as steep sloping land with the potential of erosion just to name a few!
Bearing this in mind, should we be looking towards finding alternative solutions to land based development which exclude any potential environmental obstacles? Sounds simple... but how could this happen?

Japanese building company Shimizu Corporation may have found the answer.

Did you know that just over 70% of the Earth's surface is covered in water? Shimizu Corporation has embraced this fact and developed a alternative to developing on land.
From Inhabitat: Shimizu Corporation has unveiled plans for a completely self sufficient floating ecotopia that is covered in vegetation, generates its own power, grows food, manages waste, and provides clean water. This futuristic floating city seeks to provide a solution to many of our environmental problems, like rising sea levels, increasing temperatures and dwindling resources.

Shimizu Corporation has been hard at work coming up with some pretty crazy concepts lately, and Green Float, the Environmental Island is one of them. Designed for the equatorial pacific, presumably near Japan, Green Float is a concept for a series of floating islands with eco skyscraper cities, where people live, work and can easily get to gardens, open space, the beach and even “forests”. Islands are connected together to form modules and a number of modules grouped together form a “country” of roughly 1 million people.

A 1,000m tower in the center of the island acts as both a vertical farm as well as a skyscraper with residential, commercial and office space. The green space, the beach, and the water terminal on the flat plane of the island are all within walking distance. Energy for the islands would be generated from renewable sources like solar, wind, and ocean thermal, and they also propose to collect solar energy from space, presumably from their own crazy idea to install a solar belt on the moon.

So is this the future of city design? If we all want to prepare for a future which is sustainable and sensitive to our existing environment, are these self-sufficient floating cities the answer?