Category Archives: Health and Happiness

Jobs of the Future: Urban Farmer

Position Description; Urban Farmer sought for Smith Street Community. Must have extensive knowledge in horticulture, aquaponics and bee keeping. The role includes providing support and teaching to the community who wish to increase their food security, enhance community resilience and mutual reliance, and re-connect their families and children with organic, seasonal and healthy food.

The majority of homes and street verges are under-productive and require the establishment of new street orchards, planted verges and diverse seasonal produce crops on individual Lots, with the intention to swap produce through a weekly urban orchard program. An additional pilot program underway in conjunction with local Council includes returning sections of street parking to vegetated and edible rain gardens.


what would an urban farmer post be without Michael Mobbs?


The Forester must have a strong understanding of organic horticulture, natural soil production and local climatic conditions. Understanding of local soil conditions an advantage. Strong engagement skills and familiarity with working with local Councils is desirable, and the Forester will be collaborating with the local Council in managing the assignment of their annual Community Resilience funding.

Ability to craft hand-made beer will be considered an added advantage by the community’s enthusiastic annual home brewing contestants.

Remuneration will be subject to performance, diversity and quality of product, and community feedback. Payment sources shall be the following;

  • Nominal part cash payment comprised of monthly contributions from the community;
  • Part payment from Council Community Resilience program funding;
  • Part payment from Community members’ health insurance providers [for providing healthy organic food and supporting community involvement];
  • Part payment from the State Health Department [for reducing demand on healthcare provision through providing healthy food and enhanced social capital];
  • Part payment as share of produce.

If you don’t mind a little hard work, a lot of socialising and garden chats, herding ducks and farming fish, dodging children’s toys, teaching adults and children, mucking with compost, stealing from bees and chickens, and beer tasting, then give us a call – we’d love to hear from you.

… We already get health insurer subsidies for gym membership and physiotherapy, and it’s only a matter of time before we get the same for consuming healthier food, joining community groups and for making our neighbourhoods more resilient. This job would be a great gig.





Green Wave for Cyclists – Would it Work in Your City?

Does it  make your blood boil when you’re driving and you see cyclists running red lights? This topic is a terrific conversation starter and friendship-ender and not many people sit on the fence.

Whilst I can see things from both points of view, the issue of ‘safety’ makes it a bit of a no-brainer – running red lights in any mode just isn’t safe. But having to stop at up to a dozen or more red lights when cycling through the city also defeats the purpose somewhat. So, what’s the solution? [because there always is one]

The Danes, being such a suave and design-focussed lot, have come up with a way to get rid of red lights for cyclists. And it hardly cost them a cent. They simply re-programmed the traffic lights to create a ‘green wave’ during peak periods.


If cyclists are happy to cruise along at 20km/hr they’ll get a continuous run of green lights all the way into town. Throw in a bit of signage, road markings and driver awareness communications, and you’ve got an elegant solution to an inflammatory problem. Check out the official Danish web site for other cool stuff they’re doing in the ‘World’s first Bike City’. Also fun to watch this video from someone riding into Copenhagen – astounding to see how many people cycle!

copenhagen cycling 01

So right now  you’re probably saying ‘but that’s too slow for cars!’… well, the average driving speed in metropolitan Sydney [i.e. all of Sydney, not just the CBD] is around 32km/hr during peak periods. I couldn’t find CBD-specific data but from experience it’s even less than this.

Amsterdam has them. San Diego has followed suit. New York City is working on it for Prince St. Perhaps even major urban developments could be brokering this re-programming as part of improving the value  of their project?

Do you think Green Waves would work in your city?

Explore Melbourne’s Urban Forest

One of if not the best way to tackle urban heat island effect is to go nuts with trees… and not just nut trees; fruit trees, natives, exotics, you name it – the menu needs to be as broad and diverse as possible.

The term ‘urban forest’ seems to be used fairly loosely – sometimes it refers to comprehensive ecological pockets within cities, other times it means streetscape planting or even ‘orchards on the commons’. Lots of interesting concepts around this but the one I wanted to share this time is Melbourne City Council’s ‘Urban Forest’ web site.

melb urban forest

Have a surf through this site (which I highly recommend – heaps of good ideas to ‘borrow’ : ) and something new jumps out relatively quickly – Melbourne City Council are treating their urban forest as a city asset, not only for its heat island mitigation benefits, but also as city amenity, stormwater filter etc. In fact they value their current 70,000 street trees at $650M!

urban forest infographic

The Council, through their Urban Forest Strategy 2012-2032, are aiming for a 40% tree canopy by 2032.

“The City of Melbourne’s urban forest will be resilient, healthy and diverse. It will contribute to the health and wellbeing of the community and to the creation of a liveable city.”

melb urban forest strategy

You may also have come across ‘1 million trees’ programs in now many of the world’s major cities – NYC, London, Sydney etc. Well, Melbourne is aiming for 1.5 million in the metropolitan area plus another half a million regionally. Beat that.

If we were to overlay this urban forest agenda with our ‘hot suburbs’ maps from the previous post, we’d generate some pretty interesting opportunities for urban forestry and green streets upgrades. Take the time to explore this web site – a great read and clearly the result of some very smart and collaborative work.



Will Your Health Insurance Rise Because Your Neighbourhood is Hot?

Picture a not-too-distant future where your health insurer pegs your premium to how well your neighbourhood has prepared itself for the impacts of climate change, in particular increased heat events.

Don’t think it will happen? Well, we’ve already seen the introduction of telematics into the motoring industry; at present you are able to opt to have a driver-monitoring device installed in your car, and your insurer can then decide what premium to charge you based on the data it collects about how you drive… wouldn’t bother me personally as long as I don’t get penalised for my language.

We now have data linking increased death rates during heat events to specific urban environmental conditions. Whilst there are other indicators such as isolation, age, population density and so forth, the stand-out neighbourhood design factors are those around ‘heat island’.

paris heat island

Paris heat island effect – the air temperature around Paris.

Heat island is a term used to describe how urban environments get hotter than their natural surrounds due to high levels of hard surfaces such as concrete and bitumen, and lower amounts of shaded and landscaped areas.

A 2013 study my Monash University has mapped the statistical rises in heat-related death rates during heat events for Australia’s main cities, suburb by suburb. This is pretty gruesome stuff but the evidence all points to urban heat island being a major part of the problem. The report is definitely worth a read, particularly to understand the various factors that all combine to make your suburb potentially vulnerable to heat events.

heat vulnerability study monash

The Monash Uni study. Click image for source.

So now we have this data, meaning your health insurer does too, and they can gain an understanding of your suburb’s ‘Vulnerability Index’… just sayin’…

sydney heat map

Sydney’s increased heat-related deaths. Lifted from the Monash study. click.

By focussing our efforts on refurbishing our existing neighbourhoods and making them more resilient (and cooler : ) we stand a good chance of heading off this sad story. Stay tuned for some awesome things we can do to tackle this… all multiple-benefit value-adds for our communities.

What is Collaboration, Really?

I was 16 when I had my first taste of the power of collaboration, and to this day I wonder if that experience set me on my career path and even in part defined who I’ve become.

I was fortunate enough as a kid to go to a school that had a rowing program, and in hindsight it was probably the only sport available that had the ability to physically tire out teenage boys. Every year we’d go on a summer rowing camp in preparation for the start of the season.

rowing 2

(not me of course. we were 4. and boys. and there were cliffs)

In 1996 we held the camp on the River Murray on one of the lazy sections running through rural South Australia. We started our days early, and on this particular day we were presented with the perfect conditions – no wind, flat water, cool air. The sun just edging over the horizon and setting the sandstone cliffs on fire. The cockatoos perched in the trees but for a rare moment – quiet.

Our coach accompanied us in a small ‘tinny’ with an outboard motor, and our coxswain (yeah, he’s the little guy) sat astern and kept watch over us. The boat was a racing shell, very narrow and tippy, hard to balance. We were a crew of four, all mates but not best mates, and we’d been rowing for about an hour when we hit that Zen moment.

We were rowing about half strength, ‘long and strong’ (to this day I’ve translated even that mantra into ‘make every movement count, or don’t move’), and we got the command ‘eyes closed’. Nothing unusual – did it all the time, it’s a good way to focus us in on our timing. Eyes closed. Hearing becomes the dominant sense. We can hear the tinny’s motor, the occasional word from our coach or the cox, the noises of our boat.

Keep going.

The cox stops his count. Silent.

Keep going. Timing well, oar blades all in and all out together.

The coach turns off his motor. Silent.

Then, it was just us, rowing in perfect unison, perfect timing. Eyes closed. I could no longer hear 4 blades dipping into the water, I could hear only one. Ours. Up the slide, catch the water, pull, the boat urges forward. Swish. Swish. Not even a wobble, not even a splash. It was difficult enough to stay dead level and in perfect unison with our eyes open, and this was something special.

It’s a rare moment in life when the world disappears around you and all your senses lock in on the moment, but this felt like such a moment.  I can feel the tingles just writing about it. It’s almost like I could still see the sandstone cliffs all afire through my eyelids, like I was connected with everything all at once, yet I was totally immersed in our common purpose.

I now have the benefit of another nearly-three decades to be able to see the value in that very moment. It was the perfect example of how powerful collaboration can be;

  • Purpose: with a shared goal we could put all of our energy into moving forward. No distractions;
  • Coordination: without the perfect timing the Zen moment would never have happened, our team would never have excelled;
  • Trust: we had to rely on and trust each other, and when we did, we were 100% efficient;
  • Awareness: only through using all of our senses and people-craft can we effectively collaborate. We need to listen to each other using all our senses.

In that moment we could have beaten anyone.

I’ve since had the benefit of having similar experiences on green development projects. Maybe not quite a ‘Zen moment’ but something akin to everyone being in tune, in unison, with common purpose.

If we can all just pull in the same direction we can overcome anything.

“Imagine immensities, don’t compromise, and don’t waste time.”

A beautiful piece around the psychology of hope…

It’s easy at present to succumb to the temptation of criticising the intentions of Australia’s government – they want to repeal our carbon pricing scheme, lower our emissions reduction targets and generally commit to being a bench-warmer in global affairs.

But if you’ve read this blog you’ll likely know that Newton is a mate of mine, and I often refer to his Third Law – the one about ‘equal and opposite reactions’. So for all the head-in-the-sand hyperbole that we’re seeing at the moment, there must be (by definition) an equal measure of positivity and vision and hope out there somewhere.

And I know where it is.

It’s you.

Hope is that feathered thing perched on your soul (Emily Dickinson)

When doing some reading about place-making I came across this short but intense piece about the psychology of hope, about ordinary dreamers dreaming big and acting on that lump in the throat or tear in the eye… about acting now.


Shared on Brain Pickings by Maria Popova

This is a moving piece about the decisions we make in life, about living with compromises and their long term effects, and about course corrections. I have a lot of friends who are around the 20-year mark in their careers, and I know at least some who might be feeling exactly this way right now.

If you do want a prosperous future, if you do want a clean future for us and our kids, if you do want to be an Aussie and keep punching above your weight in the global ring, then let that feathered thing take flight. Dare to ‘imagine immensities’ and set about making them come true… you are surrounded by like minds, those who are creating the equal but opposite force.

Have a read of this short piece about hope, then get to work. Now.

Designing with Intent – Leaving Your Fingerprints Behind

I was lucky enough this past weekend to have a tour of the new Sustainable Buildings Research Centre (SBRC) at the University of Wollongong, just south of Sydney. The project is targeting a Living Building Challenge certification, and is the result of a design interrogation that has gone into extraordinary depth.

As I was hearing about how the design unfolded, about the investigations that had to take place for every potential material, the careful balancing of systems and services, and the richness of the detailing, I was struck by how much care had been taken in creating this building.


We are under constant pressure to get things done quickly and to meet budget, and at times it can be easier to fall back on what we’ve always done. It’s easier. The SBRC has a poetic logic about everything – it’s hard to imagine why anything would have been done differently – but to get there required the entire team to be aware at every moment, and to not fall back on ‘easy’.

And this is my Monday Motivation for the week; it was clear to me that this project was full of what I think of as ‘fingerprints’ – the thought and care and intent of the client and design team in every design outcome and every detail. Nothing had been left to chance or to ‘easy’. The result is an environment that feels so much more human and comfortable and calm, and it gently vibrates with the energy that has been invested in the built outcome – it has fingerprints.

As we go about our business this week, let’s be aware of when we fall back on ‘easy’ and aim to put forward ‘better’ options whenever we can. Let’s see how many fingerprints we can leave behind in our work.