Category Archives: Culture and Heritage

A City Resilience (Liveability) Survey

We regularly hear about some city that has just been awarded the ‘world’s most livable city’ award, of some description. Even my home town of Adelaide got into a No.1 spot last year [Lonely Planet ‘best in travel’… must be the wine?]… and I’ve always wondered how these conclusions are reached (and I’ll leave Adelaide alone… they have enough to contend with ; )

After a bit of digging it’s apparent that these ‘surveys’ are of course biased towards the audience of whoever has sponsored the survey, e.g. an automobile association might survey its members and conclude that a car-centric city is superior to one that has a focus on walkability.

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one of the many surveys

Even when searching for a globally fair ‘livability’ index it’s apparent that it will never be completely objective or fair, unless the survey takes into account how the people of that city or community actually feel about where they live.

My search led me to a really handy ‘city resilience’ survey. The principle here is that ‘livability’ is so nebulous that it’s difficult to even brief for and design to – it means different things to different people, however when we place more focus on the living community it becomes more of a discussion about community and city resilience.

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image from ‘City Resilient’ by Partners for Livable Communities

This city resilience survey – or ‘Community Scorecard’, by Partners for Livable Communities provides a well written plain-language survey that is tailored specifically for community engagement. The survey assesses 5 qualities that comprise ‘resilience’;

  1. Economy – jobs, innovation, talent attraction, economic base
  2. Environment – resource efficiency, consumption, air and water quality, access to the outdoors
  3. Education – high quality public education access, learning programs
  4. Health & Safety – physical and mental health
  5. Quality of Life – community care, interaction, open-ness to ideas

If you’re in a role where ‘livability’ is part of the challenge, or if you simply want to gain a better understanding of what makes a strong and resilient community, the web site and the survey are a good read and easy to digest.

And here’s the challenge – you need to get a total score of at least 110 in order for your community to be considered ‘resilient’… see how you go.

Resilience Through Placemaking

A common thread found in Resilience theory is that of community strength. A community’s ability to survive and even thrive during tough times is largely decided both in the way that community builds itself around its physical places and also in the way people work and band together to create those spaces.

The art of place-making is arguably the best demonstration of community resilience at work. By definition placemaking involves the residents of a community – it’s not the product of an architect’s pen but rather the result of a community-designer-builder collaboration over time.

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image from the Quicker, Lighter, Cheaper post

The Project for Public Spaces is a great placemaking blog with a recent post titled The 7 Psychological Functions of the Art of Placemaking. An interesting take on one of Alain de Botton’s latest works and worth a read. You’ll need to hit the link to get the discussion behind each of the functions.

The 7 Functions are;

  1. Remembering
  2. Hope
  3. Sorrow
  4. Re-Balancing
  5. Self-Understanding
  6. Growth
  7. Appreciation

While the place is important, the “making” builds connections, creates civic engagement, and empowers citizens—in short, it builds social capital. As architect Mark Lakeman of Portland’s City Repair organization puts it, “the physical projects are just an excuse for people to meet their neighbors.” … The relationships that grow out of the “making” are equal to, if not more important than, the places that result. (MIT’s recently-released white paper Places in the Making)

Grass roots resilience – no need for funding or white papers or green papers or drawn out consultancies. It’s just people like you and I getting on with realising great ideas in the spirit of placemaking start-ups.

SITES – Could it Fill The Gap Between Our Rating Tools?

If you’re familiar with the mainstream ‘green building’ rating tools you’ll know that landscape is often captured within one or two credits amongst the entire tool, and there is generally nothing that rewards good place making.

There’s a case for putting more emphasis on the landscape for the following two reasons;

  1. The landscape we create externally to the building often has the potential for ecological good that far outweighs what the building is doing, and
  2. It’s the landscape (and building edges) that creates our public space – indeed the spaces external to our green buildings are the canvas for our experiences of the city.

The Sustainable Sites Initiative from the American Society of Landscape Architects is a terrific ‘public spaces’ and landscape guide and certification tool. It addresses the full bottle of landscape opportunities and includes a ‘Site Design – Human Health and Wellbeing’ category which gets right into the detail of place making.

SITES

Check out the site during some me-time on your Friday. The rating tool guide and supporting Case for Sustainable Landscapes are written in clear language and include great overviews of landscape and ecological principles.

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At risk of introducing another rating tool, SITES seems to fit nicely between our current suite of green building and green infrastructure certification schemes. Even if you don’t follow the certification pathway there is some great intel in this one.

Monday Motivation – Rising Above ‘Akrasia’

How often have you proceeded with something despite the gut feeling that you should be doing otherwise? Let’s put the question into closer context; the latest IPCC report has basically told us that massive climate change is on the way because we have failed to act on the evidence. As a global society we have been armed with relevant facts for many years now, but why have we have failed to act?

‘Akrasia’ translates as ‘lacking command (over oneself)’, or ‘acting against one’s better judgement’.

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So let’s look to the future. The gauntlet has been thrown down. The challenge is set. We have all the facts we need in order to acknowledge that accelerated climate change is our doing. And warmer summers will be the least of our worries.

What are we going to do about it from this point onwards? One thing is for sure: we can ill afford to keep going on ignoring our better judgement. If we know path B (a clean and prosperous future) is superior to path A (keep doing what we’ve done), then why not choose it?

This story won’t be ending with a hero riding in on a white steed to save us. It will be an all-in scrapping mucking sweating brawling saga in which we all play a role. There won’t be a half time pep talk and there won’t be oranges.

If you find yourself cornered into doing something that’s part of plan A rather than plan B and you don’t know how to avoid it then reach out for help. There are some amazing people around us who are acting on their better judgement and making the differences we need. Otherwise, it’s time to muck in.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting about some of the heroes out there who are already getting on with things, without subsidies or grants or votes. They’re simply charging down Path B with a great big dirty grin on their faces.

Weekend Warrior: Must Sustainable Buildings be Beautiful?

I’ve had several discussions with industry friends lately about ‘beauty’ in the built environment… how important is it? What does it mean to different viewers? How is it experienced? And how might we even measure it?

I’ve done some silly things in my life (I’m human), but I won’t be adding ‘trying to put metrics to beauty’ to the list. But today during an image search beauty jumped out of the screen and grabbed me. I literally missed a breath and a beat, because what I saw on the screen had something about it that just resonated with who I am.

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VENNESLA LIBRARY AND CULTURE CENTER BY HELEN & HARD, Norway. Image by Attaly Erieta.

This might not be to everyone’s taste, but for me this particular project has ‘beauty’ at so many levels; extensive use of un-tarnished timber, organic structure done cleverly, soft natural lines, rhythm, light and shadow, and just clever design and detailing. And it’s got books!

I don’t know anything about the energy footprint or services or cost of this particular project, but I’d quickly call it ‘sustainable’ simply because to me it’s beautiful and will connect its users with place. The extensive use of timber is just a carbon-capturing bonus.

To paraphrase from the Living Building Challenge 2.1;

“… mandating beauty is, by definition, an impossible task… we do not begin to assume we can judge beauty… but we do want to understand people’s objectives and know that an effort was made to enrich people’s lives…”

Tick

So the challenge for this weekend is simple; seek a building or visit a place that you feel might qualify as ‘beautiful’. Soak it up, and try if you can to put some descriptors to what it is about the place that makes you feel some emotion. (and the MCG this weekend doesn’t count!)

If as a client you’re a little nervous about using this soft word – that’s cool – there are plenty of others; cherished, enduring, resilient, long lasting, popular.

Feel free to share your favourite in the comments.

[and for those of you who’ve been wondering where I’ve been? Mr. 2.y.0ld decided he wanted to try alternative sleeping arrangements. ’nuff said?]

Is This The Dithering or The Accelerando?

With every month that goes by I get a stronger sense that we might be at a turning point in human history. It’s a strange feeling – something like optimism coated in fear, or vice versa.

Wherever we look we see evidence of seismic shifts in what we once held as ‘normal’; rapid urbanisation around the globe, carrying with it what might be our salvation or our end; commitment to enormous renewable energy projects, each one larger than the next, and the internet enabling global movements and social connectivity.

And if I’ve learnt one thing since starting this blog, it’s that no matter where you look you will find signs of success, stories of triumph over the odds, tales of people enacting the change they want to see. People are making a difference. Every person does count. Even when you can’t change your immediate environment you are still making ripples. And good ripples have a funny way of coming back.

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I’ve been reading a book called ‘2312’ by Kim Stanley Robinson. Within the story we are led through the eras of our [future] history. Sadly, the time we are in right now is referred to as ‘The Dithering’, where even when armed with facts about our impacts on our climate and despite having all the necessary tools at our finger tips to do something, we failed to act in time.

Following the Dithering came the Accelerando [‘with a gradual increase of speed’], where we finally got off our butts and started to act, where the impacts of a changing climate brought us a little closer together in a unified effort. And this era was defined by human determination, commitment, exploration, invention, advancement and ingenuity on a global scale.

So rather than accepting business-as-usual, rather than tolerating mediocrity and timid decision-making, let’s make this era, our era, the Accelerando. The quickening towards a clean and limitless future… it’s right there for the taking.

Let’s Put The Grrrr Back Into ‘Green’

Words can make or break our messaging, so getting it right when trying to turn the tide towards a greener and more prosperous future is one of the most important skills we can have.

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My vocabulary is far from Shakespearian and I use my fair share of colourful language at times [I use other people’s shares too]… but I’d like to critique some of our more popular ‘green’ words used in the property industry:

  1. Eco – maybe this was once short for ‘ecological’? Often pronounced ‘echo’ [at which point I stop and listen for one]. Now used as a prefix to almost anything that is being flogged under the guise of being ‘environmentally friendly’. Even our Trade Practices Act isn’t doing very well in controlling this one. My vote? Drop it.
  2. Environmentally Friendly – big in the 90s and noughties, now out of favour and generally viewed as embarrassingly unsophisticated… at least by anyone who doesn’t work for the mainstream media. My vote? Use only when trying to get people to stop saying ‘echo’.
  3. Green – well I’m not going to sledge this one because I’ve used it to name my blog. My vote; let’s put the Grrr back into Green.
  4. Sustainability – Originating from economics, well accepted as implying something to do with improving our relationship with the environment, and still broad enough that it’s starting to be used to address issues around people, health, community and society. My vote? Keep it, and don’t let the green-washers tarnish it.
  5. Resilience – an emerging favourite. Like a good red from Cape Town or McClaren Vale, this word has been suitably aged, has built on a history of sustainability language, and is classy enough to put ‘sustainability’ into a human and time-based context. In my mind resilience simultaneously suggests ‘urgency, strength and hope’. It’s edgy. My vote? Use it, but use it wisely. Get to understand it first.
  6. Prosperity – let’s be frank; the only way the sustainability agenda is ever going to succeed is when we realise that it is leading us to a healthier, wealthier and more prosperous future. For everyone. Prosperity is a big feel-good word and maybe we’re a bit scared to use it. So get some grrr and believe in it. Who wouldn’t want to think of themselves as a ‘prosperity planner’? My vote? Learn it, use it, bank it.

So there are a few words to play with. From zero to hero. The real fun starts when you try to mix’n’match.

You can also have a bit of fun using this Wordcount web site; it ranks the popularity of 86,800 English words based on usage. See where the above words rank. It even includes swear words [apparently], but clearly they didn’t survey me.

wordcount