Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Some cool quotes about cities III

Welcome to the third edition of some cool quotes about cities.
First up is Lorne Daniel:

"Diversity makes a neighbourhood both functional and interesting for people on foot. Density drives that diversity because population density ensures there is a market for diverse retail, social, educational and other options...Our neighbourhood features a number of small boutique shops – one just carrying designer rain wear (we do live on the edge of a rainforest) – serving a niche market. The city needs enough population density to support those niche retailers. Of course, the more such unique stores can thrive, the more they in turn create the ambience that people want. The street becomes diverse and interesting – a destination – for more and more people."
Lorne's quote is from an article in which he chews the fat about what a walkable city really is. The article makes for a great read - pour yourself a nice cooling homemade iced tea and enjoy. I did.

Next up is Marcus Westbury:

"The most basic point at which cities, towns, communities and streets that are failing is often that they fail to fail enough. They become immune to experimentation and innovation and instead get stuck in a binary distinction between 'the big solution' and 'the status quo.'"
I don my cap to Marcus after that ripper of a quote. I took this quote from a blog post in which Marcus outlines his ideas about iterative urbanism. It is well worth reading.

Last but not least is a passage from 'Notes from a Small Island' by Bill Bryson:

"Calais is an interesting place that exists solely for the purpose of giving English people in shell suits somewhere to go for the day. Because it was heavily bombed in the war, it fell into the hands of post-war planners and in consequence looks like something left over from a 1957 Exposition du Cement. An alarming number of structures in the centre, particularly around the cheerless Place d'Armes, seem to have been modelled on supermarket packaging, primarily packets of Jacob's Cream Crackers. A few structures are even built across roads - always a sign of 1950s planners smitten with the novel possibilities of concrete."
I'm working on a theory that Bryson is one of our great philosophers on the subject of citites. I always enjoy reading about his insights into the urban world. In this quote Bryson describes an era of development that should be studied so as to ensure that we don't go down a similar path again. Let's start issuing his books to architects, town planners, urban designers and developers post haste!

That's it for this edition of some cool quotes about cities.
I've added Marcus' blog and Lorne's website "Rethink Urban" to my list of links as well. They're both valuable resources for the town planning and placemaking nerd.
Click here for the first edition and here for the second edition to check out some more cool quotes about cities.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Valentine's Day special: Lovers in public places

Joe Ravi is the author of this post. He is passionate about cities, placemaking and  public participation and believes in innovative and creative responses to urban planning issues. He is a guest contributor to the Fremantle Doctor Blog.

I’ve been a long time supporter of the Fremantle Doctor and as fellow Perth planning/placemaking geek when the good doctor asked me to contribute to his blog I was of course happy to oblige. We met at one of his favourite Fremantle hangouts to discuss the logistics of my contribution and decided that mid-February would be a good time for my first post. Valentines Day! Perfect, cue cheesy lovers in public places post.

As a younger planning student I kept my supply of two minute noodles and beer intact by moonlighting as a bartender at various establishments around town. The bars I tended were by no means romantic or trendy places and as staff we really had to put a lot of thought into setting the right ambience for the evening.

Over many nights working in these bars I began to observe social interactions and how we as staff could make contributions to encourage further interaction. I discovered, amongst many things, that by playing certain music and setting lights at the right level often we could make our patrons feel more comfortable interacting with one another. When delving deeper into what was happening I started to see more people approaching strangers and prospective future partners, more people were exchanging phone numbers and more people leaving the bar with a person they did not arrive with. We were curating the place and people were responding.

Those people who were successful in meeting a new friend and potential future partners on these nights often returned to the bars and would continue to do so if the right ambience was set. I mean it doesn’t really take a placemaking genius to work out that if you were to meet the love of your life somewhere, then that place would then be considered special for the two of you and you would be likely to return. Even if that love were only for one night you may be more inclined to return again to find if not that same love, then another.

When transitioned into the world of planning these same principles apply. Placemaking legend Holly Whyte noted in his studies of New York's public spaces that in great places, lovers are found and Project for Public Spaces Fred Kent has also stated:

“You know that you are in a really good place if you see lots of affection, you see lots of kissing in good places.’’

So this has got me thinking, did I have it right as a student? Could I have skipped all those years of study and just applied those same principles I learnt in bars, that all people really want in great place is a place, is to meet and spend time with a lover. Perhaps I guess, but that’s the beauty of hindsight and, as a planner, I don’t know how qualified I am to play cupid. So although my role as a matchmaker may be unclear, what is clear is that lovers and great places go hand in hand.

I hope readers enjoy my first contribution and I look forward to writing future posts.

Jane Jacobs quote for Valentine's Day

And my wife said that placemaking had nothing to do with Valentine's Day...

"Neighbourhood is a word that has come to sound like a Valentine. As a sentimental concept, 'neighbourhood' is harmful to city planning. It leads to attempts at warping city life into imitations of town or suburban life. Sentimentality plays with sweet intentions in place of good sense."

- Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities

I reckon that if Jacobs was writing today she'd swap "neighbourhood" with "sense of community".

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Bureauscopes: February 2013

Back by popular demand is the second edition of bureauscopes for February:


Mercury moves forward in your creative zone after being out of phase for the past month, so it's an ideal time for you to tackle those jobs jobs that require a bit of 'out-of-the-box' thinking: filling in your time sheets, getting past the blocks on websites like facebook and twitter, and explaining to your manager about that unfortunate gazetting mix up. It could have happened to anyone.


A major cosmic shift this month signals the beginning of a long, challenging project, so be prepared for a tumultuous start to the new elite AFL fantasy competition. The key question to ask yourself isn't what policy needs reviewing, but who is training the house down over the preseason?


While it's been a fun ride, Venus finally departs and settles into your too-many-long-lunches zone, where she is sure to bring your attention to all those feasts you've been enjoying - and if she doesn't, your better half sure will. Try to avoid horizontal stripes until the pace of work picks up again after the Christmas lull (round April) and forces a cutback in midday leisure time.


Bask in the glow that is Jupiter spending the next month in your sign. Reports completed: tick. Boss away on a conference: tick. Underlings suitably distracted with customer service enquiries: Boom tick! Just be wary of becoming complacent in the midst of all this good fortune, and make sure you don't post status updates on Facebook during working hours.


Commonsense guru Mercury moves into focus this month. In the wake of the 'hysterical resident incident' that you so brilliantly side-stepped, know that silence is the best and only option - although there's nothing wrong with slipping their address on the list for the location of the speed trailer for a week or two. Parking it in school zones was getting predictable anyway.


Make hay while the sun shines and book another couple of days leave while the boss is away and you can fool the acting manager into signing off on it. Use the money that you saved from not chipping in to that leaving present for a couple of tasty and longish lunches.


With Mercury, the planet of communication, driving you this month, it's time to punch out as many bland and lifeless media releases as you can. Set yourself a challenge and see if you can crack triple figures on the word count before using the words 'enhance' or 'community' (obviously quotes from the Mayor are exempt).


It's been a while since the long lunch-sick day-late start triple combo, and this is the month to rectify it! With Mars finally switching gear, it's the perfect time to relax and treat yourself to the odd extended 'site visit' or two.


If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why you have yet to achieve your full potential in the Fantasy Football league, that word would be 'meetings'. Plan ahead and schedule as many as you can for 31st April to prevent your ranking from serious slippage.


When faced with redefining the success of a failed project, never, ever forget that procedure is everything.


Awkward misunderstandings from the Christmas Party and a silly tiff arising from an inopportune office prank are cleared up without too much fuss mid-month with the direct movement of Saturn into your relationship zone. With the work experience student due to start, don't be shy about getting him to take the lead on attending to customer service enquiries.


I still don't know any bureaucrats who are Pisces. They're all enablers.

Friday, 8 February 2013

Placemaking power salute: More greenery in the West End

It's been a little while since my last placemaking power salute, so I thought it was about time another one was issued.

As per usual I've been a little slow on the uptake and have taken for granted the introduction of some more greenery onto High Street:

It just goes to show what some well placed greenery can do to soften and improve the worst kind of street frontage. A couple weeks ago as we walked to Breaks in search of some breakfast, even Byron, my five year old nephew who was fixated on getting some ice cream, stopped to admire this little oasis of greenery. Pretty cool.

So without further ado: [placemaking power salute]

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Confessions of a traffic engineer: Is the need for speed killing us?

Dean Cracknell is the author of this post. He is a Freo devotee interested in creating diverse places for people. He is a guest contributor to The Fremantle Doctor blog. Dean can be followed on Twitter by checking out: @city_pragmatist

I'll cut to the chase. Placemaking champion, Fred Kent, from the Project for Public
Spaces, says it far better than I could ever do:

"If you plan cities for cars and traffic, you get cars and traffic. If you plan for people and places, you get people and places."  

"It is not true that more traffic and road capacity are the inevitable results of growth. They are in fact the products of very deliberate choices that have been made to shape our communities to accommodate the private automobile. We have the ability to make different choices — starting with the decision to design our streets as
comfortable and safe places — for people on foot, not people in cars."

This post is about priorities and the choices we make. Our priorities say a lot about who we are as individuals and as a society. Fred Kent highlights in flashing lights the choice we have all made (whether we know or not) to design our cities around cars.

Charles Marohn, a self-confessed recovering traffic engineer (love that description), reveals the priorities of his former profession on his Strongtowns blog (click here). Charles reckons that engineers have a very unhealthy need for speed. His insights make for interesting and powerful reading and I thought that I’d share some of his confessions with Freo Doctor readers.

(I’ve italicised quotes from the article below.)

The Priorities of a Traffic Engineer

“An engineer designing a street or road prioritizes the world in this way, no matter how they are instructed:

1.         Traffic speed;
2.         Traffic volume;
3.         Safety;
4.         Cost.

The rest of the world generally would prioritize things differently, as follows:

1.         Safety;
2.         Cost;
3.         Traffic volume;
4.         Traffic speed.

In other words, the engineer first assumes that all traffic must travel at speed. Given that speed, all roads and streets are then designed to handle a projected volume. Once those parameters are set, only then does an engineer look at mitigating for safety and, finally, how to reduce the overall cost (which at that point is nearly always ridiculously expensive).

We go to enormous expense to save ourselves small increments of driving time.”

Jeez, talk about misplaced priorities. In another article (click here), Marohn explains that a 40 second reduction in his typical commute time costs his community $107,000!

I value my time, but for me safety is more of a priority. I reckon that our schools, hospitals and community services would be more than grateful to receive an increase in funding at the expense of saving a few minutes of commuting time.

Blame It On The Romans

Where does this need for speed come from?  Looks like it has something to do with the Ancient Romans:

“Some of our craft descends from Roman engineers who did all of this a couple of millennia ago. How could I be wrong with literally thousands of years of professional practice on my side? Of course the people who wrote the standards knew better than we did. That is why they wrote the standard.

When people would tell me that they did not want a wider street, I would tell them that they had to have it for safety reasons.

When they answered that a wider street would make people drive faster and that would be seem to be less safe, especially in front of their house where their kids were playing, I would confidently tell them that the wider road was more safe, especially when combined with the other safety enhancements the standards called for.

When people objected to those other "enhancements", like removing all of the trees near the road, I told them that for safety reasons we needed to improve the sight distances and ensure that the recovery zone was free of obstacles.

In retrospect I understand that this was utter insanity. Wider, faster, treeless roads not only ruin our public places, they kill people. Taking highway standards and applying them to urban and suburban streets, and even county roads, costs us thousands of lives every year. There is no earthly reason why an engineer would ever design a fourteen foot lane for a city block, yet we do it continuously. Why? The answer is utterly shameful: Because that is the standard.”

The need for speed could be killing us! Serious stuff.

What Does This All Mean for Perth?

With Charles’ confessions in mind, let’s check out some streets in Perth and ask ourselves which one a motorist is more likely to speed along.

Case study 1

Photo A

Photo B
Photo A is the obvious culprit. As a wide, treeless road, it has been designed with little other than speed in mind. Our collective priorities are clearly evident to anyone who wants to notice them.

On the other hand I wouldn’t be speeding (if I were to hypothetically do such a thing ...) along the more intimate, little street shown in Photo B. Why? For me, it’s the uncertainty. The street isn’t wide and the parked cars have the effect of making it even less open. If I’m uncertain, I wouldn't throw caution to the wind and put my foot down. It could be dangerous.

Case study 2

Photo A

Photo B
This case study compares different views of the same place - Scarborough Beach Road in Mount Hawthorn. The photos have been taken about 100 metres apart looking in different directions.

As in the first case study, Photo A is the obvious culprit for encouraging motorists to speed. Wide lanes. No trees. No people. Driving along this part of the road, it’s difficult for any motorists to do anything but speed.

Photo B presents differently. The road is not as wide. There is definitely more going on that could make a motorist feel uncertain. Speeding on this part of Scarborough Beach Road is not only less likely, but something I never witnessed on dozens of visits as a nearby resident.


Thinking about Scarborough Beach Road with Charles Marohn’s and Fred Kent’s words in mind, I’m convinced that they’re onto something. Speed must not be the priority when we design our roads and, if we plan for cars, then traffic is what we’ll get (and what we'll deserve).

Hugh Newell Jacobsen said it brilliantly way back in 1929 - “When you look at a city, it’s like reading the hopes, aspirations and pride of everyone who built it”. In other words, it's our collective priorities that we see before us every day.

If I was to take Hugh Newell Jacobsen for a stroll along Scarborough Beach Road, I would ask him what he would read into our hopes, aspirations and pride of our city. I’d also ask him what he thought our community valued most. People or cars?

I don’t think I’d be surprised by his answers. I think it’s time to change our priorities.
Before I go, I'll leave Freo Doctor Blog readers with some sobering stats:

- Australian road toll in 2012: 1,300 people. (Click here to go to the document.)

- Australia has one of the highest urban speed limits in the world. A reduction of 10 km/h in travel speed would prevent 50% of all pedestrian fatalities and 21% of all collisions. (Click here to go to the document.)