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Monday Melbourne: CXXXVII, August 2006
Russell Degnan

The beginning of winter, from its dying days. Taken May 2006

Melbourne 28th August, 2006 10:08:30   [#] [0 comments] 

And with a click of his fingers...
Russell Degnan

... all public transport had fantastic pedestrian access.

2.4 Relationship between Transport Routes and the Surrounding Area

Public transport networks and services should be considered in the context of their surrounding areas, including how pedestrians will access the services. This means that pedestrian design features such as safety, amenity and urban design will be important considerations when planning public transport services.

That, in full, is the Department of Infrastructure's draft guidelines for integrating public transport into the urban landscape. On the one hand, I should be pleased. I am writing my thesis on a related topic, and have already written a (still unreleased *sigh*) report on precisely this problem.

On the other hand, are we so unadvanced in our thinking, that a vague aim can be passed off as a guideline for future development?

I know we are not, but as usual the dog's breakfast that makes up Victorian planning means the people in the know aren't in this department. A developer, or a local council doesn't just need to read these set of guidelines, but [1] also the DSE's Melbourne strategic plan (Melbourne 2030), the DOI's Melbourne transport plan, VicRoads' engineering practise notes, the local council's strategic plan, transport plan, urban design guidelines, and planning scheme, the Department of Health's guidelines for safer and the DoH's guidelines for healthier streets. And others too, some of which may have more than just aims.

While it's ironic that a profession that justifies itself on the basis that many small, albeit well intentioned, decisions can produce negative outcomes embodies the problem so acutely, that is not the fault of the writers of this report.

Two other issues with this report are. The first is a typically inadequate discussion of the implementation of an inherently political problem. Setting forward best-practice guidelines for handling trams and buses in congested road-space would be fine if the other road users (cars/ pedestrians/ bikes/ businesses) didn't have equally valid claims on its use. At the moment, the only guideline on what to do is this:

"the appropriate level of priority will be considered by PTD DOI and VicRoads on a case by case basis"

Which brings me to the second issue. That the guidelines focus on engineering solutions to problems that are commonly design issues. In computer programming terms, designing in and around public transport is a user interface problem, not a structural one. The structure, in the sense of where and when transport runs, is largely complete, the user interface is decidedly poor.

Good user interfaces are notoriously hard to achieve, mostly because they tend to depend on small details that defy generic practice. Good interfaces are a state of mind, taking into account what the user -- the pedestrian -- sees, and is trying to achieve. If decent pedestrian and cycling access is to be achieved, then the guidelines should require the urban designer to enter that state of mind, and produce a plan that shows it. VicRoads asks for considerably more on a traffic plan than a signed statement that they have considered "features such as safety, amenity and urban design".

The guidelines could, and perhaps should, ask a plan that shows primary and secondary pedestrian and cycling routes. Where:

Primary routes are dedicated routes that separate the user from other types of traffic. At intersections they should prioritise the user using appropriate urban design and timed access. Where possible, they should protect the user from unnecessary noise, and the elements. A pleasant natural and urban environment should be provided consisting of trees, seating, toilets, rubbish bins, and regular sign-posting of nearby transport, shops and other public places.

Secondary routes are mixed routes that separate the user from other types of traffic where possible. At intersections appropriate traffic calming should be used to allow safe interaction. A pleasant natural and urban environment should be provided as space permits.

And then require that all public transport, shops and facilities are connected by a direct primary pedestrian and cycling route. And that all residential properties be connected to surrounding primary routes by a direct secondary route.

Despite being basically minimalist, that would be a huge improvement on the current urban environment. Sadly, drawing it for almost any local area would demonstrate just how far from providing decent pedestrian access to services we are.

On the other hand, one paragraph is better than none, right?

[1] I won't provide links to these, but they and their many variants are easily found.

Planning 27th August, 2006 16:10:31   [#] [6 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: CXXXVI, August 2006
Russell Degnan

In the shadows of South Bank.

Melbourne 21st August, 2006 13:05:43   [#] [0 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: CXXXV, August 2006
Russell Degnan

Something different, the moon from my window. Taken August 2006

Melbourne 15th August, 2006 00:10:29   [#] [0 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: CXXXIV, August 2006
Russell Degnan

Old Treasury from Gordon Place. Taken July 2006

Melbourne 8th August, 2006 19:20:17   [#] [2 comments] 

Wanted: A little bit of common sense
Russell Degnan

"It is easy to have a big idea. It is harder to have a vision. Great cities need visionaries. Melbourne needs one, or more, for the Docklands."

So began the introductory article to The Age's latest hobby horse. If you know your urban history you may be scratching your head at the idea of visions. Oh sure, there is Baron Haussman and Sixtus V, and we all admire the layouts of Willam Penn, Colonel William Light, and perhaps even the unrealised vision of Christopher Wren. But mostly, cities are made up of the slow accretion of different parts, each reflecting something of the owner of the part, and the city itself.

Unless we are talking about the Docklands. If it is the Docklands then it is the unloved and unloveable "vision" of a few politicians and developers, each more interested in turning the poor place into a theme park for their own aggrandizement. Instead of focusing on tedious but essential things, like integration into its surroundings, or personalised space or (terrible idea, I know) community services, Docklands wants to be a ... place.

And The Age editors, thinking that they are somewhat more than they actually are, or ever will be, are happy to push their barrow out and over the end of Victoria Pier. If only to feel that they are contributing to a public debate that, if not unnecessary, shouldn't be yet another slice of cultural cringe.

Not that there is much debate. Having already announced in the headline that Docklands, nay Melbourne, needs an "icon", they then claim that

"Today we carry the views and suggestions from leading architects and urban planners who endorse our call for a spirited public debate -- one that should first identify what type of city we want Melbourne to be."

And here I was thinking that Melbourne knew exactly what it wanted to be! It is, now, if not forever more, an elegant, graceful, quiet and unpretentious city, photogenic in a way that Sydney's [1] narrow streets don't allow it to be; a place that hides and often keeps it's secrets, that can be ugly (as can all cities) and in which iconic, recognisable buildings exist, but only as part of the general milieu.

Some people clearly don't think that Melbourne should be as Melbourne is however, preferring instead that it dress itself up in drag and debase itself for the precious tourist dollar. So much so, that The Age even plays its readers for fools:

"In 1969, it launched a competition to find a design for the bomb site at Collins and Swanston streets."

What they mean here is the notoriously, though happily, finally, reasonable City Square. Except it wasn't a bomb site until after a serious of gross council mistakes led them to first, reject the current site of Federation Square as the place for a public space; then second, to buy up and demolish the buildings on the site, except for the Regent Theatre under protest from concerned citizens; meaning that, finally, the "bomb site" did not begin to be made into an obnoxious concrete jungle until 1976. Hardly an endorsement of the paper's urban bona fides.

Leaving aside the incongruity of Melbourne being in need of an icon, it is worth considering whether it might want one regardless. Norman Day is quoted as saying the Victoria Docks would be perfect, claiming that:

"Rarely does there exist a site in Melbourne which is highly visible and obviously suitable for the building of an icon."

Except one would think that there is more to visibility than having a clear view from the Bolte Bridge. People for example, particularly pedestrians, of which there are precious few in Docklands, them having to walk 2km from the actual pedestrian areas of Melbourne, throught he law district, the railyards and Docklands itself. It is not so obviously suitable, because in terms of urban spaces, it is not Times Square, but Battery Point, not Circular Quay, but Mrs Macquarie's Chair; a place for reflection and some nice photographs.

Nor do we have anything to put there: an opera house, a museum of some description, a cultural centre? Melbourne has these, elsewhere. It has no more need of them than it does a statue of a white elephant.

When considering what should be built on the Victoria Docks site it is much better to consider what is really needed, and what a site that is central to the Docklands, but little else really offers. That, for mind, is public amenity. it has been mentioned many times that Docklands lacks community facilities. Parks full of art posing as something useful? Plenty. But a place to play basketball or tennis, a school, a library, a child-care centre, or a bog standard shopping strip? None to speak of.

If Docklands is to be saved from being the dreary, inaccessible tourist district it currently is, then the Victoria Docks should be used for as many random things as can be jammed into it. Take the sheds, split them into as many odd sizes as can be found, and rent them out to any takers. Turn the tip into a park, for sitting, gazing and reflecting.

Spare us from an "icon".

[1] And let's be honest, this is really about the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, no?

Planning 8th August, 2006 19:11:28   [#] [2 comments] 


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