Relocating Interstate

February 15, 2012

Hi fellow readers,

As I am moving interstate from Adelaide to Gladstone in Queensland for employment reasons, future updates on this blog will become limited. I am starting a new blog which will highlight issues, challenges and opportunities as well as what life is like in a smaller regional city that is booming and the challenges associated with it which can be found here.

Thank you for reading Urban Rediscovery and I hope you’ll join me on my new blog.

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High Density Emerging in the Suburbs: Woodville West

January 4, 2013

Over the past couple of years, a lot of former housing trust homes around metropolitan Adelaide have been torn down – and in some areas this is still happening. In many instances, these houses have simply been replaced by regular detached housing within the existing streets and infrastructure.

There have been a few cases where things have been taken a bit further. At Woodville West, in Adelaide’s north-western suburbs, the opportunity to leverage the location adjacent to Albert Park train station on the Grange Line is being leveraged and a new development created in the form of The Square. Some of the previous suburb has been rezoned to allow higher density housing – to a limit of a few levels, not high-rise – with adequate public and open space provided and provision for mixed-use and retail development in future stages.

As of January 2013, Stage 1 of The Square has been completed which consists of several townhouse and apartment complexes. I must say, this area now looks quite nice compared to the old tired looking area it used to be – ignoring the fact that it is still a long way from being complete.

The Square

The Square

The Square

The Square

The Square

The Square

 

Photos from Gladstone: Housing Surge

May 13, 2012

Photos from Gladstone: Housing Surge

Don’t ever rely on Google Maps to do research. Those maps are often out of date, and this is particularly true for Gladstone where entire new subdivisions have appeared in a short period of time and can’t be seen from Google Maps.

This is a photo I took in April flying south to Brisbane just after taking off from Gladstone Airport. In the foreground is the growing Glen Eden Estate, looking west along Kirkwood Road (left).

Why South Australia should be reinstating regional rail

January 6, 2012

Few states in any country in the world are as close to being entirely based on one major urban area as South Australia is – the focus being on its capital, Adelaide. More than three quarters of South Australia’s population is based within Greater Adelaide. Everything that seems to happen in South Australia seems to be in Adelaide, at least from a development point of view, and even then Adelaide is one of the slowest growing major cities in Australia.

But this may well be about to change to some degree. With the anticipated mining boom set to begin within the next few years subject to certain approvals, towns such as Port Augusta and Whyalla in the state’s Northern region are set to grow and benefit from the spinoffs to industry that are expected to expand or relocate to these centres. And it’s more than reasonable to expect that the amount of traffic along the Princes Highway between Adelaide and these towns will grow as well.

On another point, there’s a lot of visible investment starting to take place in electrifying, upgrading and expanding the metropolitan rail network around Adelaide, a great thing of course. But look regional, and other than the odd Great Southern Railway service to Perth, Darwin, Sydney and Melbourne there’s no proper regional rail service between Adelaide and South Australia’s other major regional centres.

At one stage several decades ago there was a regional rail network around South Australia with Adelaide at the centre of the network. It has all but disappeared, however and Adelaide Station now only serves suburban rail.

The rail infrastructure between Adelaide and the towns of Port Augusta and Whyalla is almost complete as it is currently. However, a few upgrades to stations along the route are required, and several passing loops instated. At Adelaide Station, standard gauge tracks would need to be installed. A new service, let’s call it the Northerner, would be a daily service in each direction to and from Adelaide with stops at Salisbury, Virginia, Snowtown, Crystal Brook, Port Pirie, Port Augusta and Whyalla.

This rail service, The Northerner, would collectively serve an area with approximately 60,000 people and provide an end to end service taking under five hours while taking some traffic off the highways. It will also assists commuters who are unable to drive to commute to and from Adelaide. Over time this population is expected to grow significantly, particularly around Port Augusta and Whyalla.

It’s time for Adelaideans to realise that not everything in South Australia is about Adelaide.

Speeding up improvements to road safety

December 7, 2011

As a frequent motorist to Adelaide’s roads, I occasionally am confused as to the speed limit on the section of road on which I am driving. It seems to forever be changing – in both distance and time – and as more councils are taking speed limits into their own hands it only looks like becoming more confusing before the situation improves. Unley City Council is a good example of this where local speed limits have been reduced to 40km/h.

Speed limits can be confusing and frustrating for many motorists. (Source: AdelaideNow)

In the urban areas around Adelaide, there are large signs around in yellow notifying drivers that the speed limit is 50km/h unless otherwise sign posted. But if a driver has just turned onto an arterial or connector road from a local street how does a driver tell what the speed limit is, particularly if they aren’t familiar with the area? What happens if one of the 40km/h or 60km/h speed limit signs has been removed, knocked over, or vandalised?

I like the New South Wales approach to posting speed limits. The speed limits are painted on the roadway in addition to the signage. But where there’s no signage, the speed limits are often still painted on the road anyway such as on the entry to a local street. This approach communicates more clearly to drivers the speed limit of the road they are driving on.

But even this, I don’t think, is the be-all end-all solution to sorting out speed limits on Adelaide’s roads. There’s a lack of consistency across much of the metropolitan region. Some councils have local speed limits of 40km/h, others use 50km/h on local streets, whilst others such as the Adelaide City Council have widespread 50km/h speed limits with only a handful of exceptions. And then there’s the odd arterial road that has a speed limit that isn’t 60km/h such as The Parade in Norwood and some outer suburban roads such as Lonsdale Road.

However, are we asking ourselves the right questions when we consider speed limits to improve safety? So much of the media and public discussion in creating safer road and pedestrian environments revolves around speed limits. Purely focusing on this aspect alone ignores the bigger picture. An example of this is currently happening in discussions about Hutt Street and a number of other local streets in central Adelaide.

Hutt Street is a wide four lane road with median strip and dedicated right turn lanes as well as on-street parking. It is lined with a number of restaurants and bars and is a well regarded dining strip in Adelaide. Adelaide City Council proposes reducing the speed limit from 50km/h to 40km/h to “encourage an expansion of alfresco dining and encourage pedestrians to spend more time and money in the city”. No other changes are currently proposed for Hutt Street.

This solution is a bit short-sighted, although I can see how lowering speed limits fits into a bigger scheme as it has successfully been implemented in other cities including Swanston Street in Melbourne, which is now closed off to regular traffic except trams. Yes, lowering speed limits might slow down traffic but it doesn’t do anything to increase the appeal of the street and the street is currently not very pedestrian friendly, which is what Hutt Street needs. Other measures and planning are needed to transform Hutt Street into a place that people want to visit instead of changing a few rules and hoping.

Maybe the authorities and public have forgotten about one traffic calming solution that was implemented on King William Road in Hyde Park in the 1980s to slow traffic through the local shopping street (or high street as the English call them). The street is lined with bricks which causes vehicles to rumble as they drive over them, which encourages traffic to slow down as driving at high speed over them creates large vehicle vibrations.

Of course there’s other measures that could be considered for Hutt Street as well. Zebra crossings which prioritise pedestrian movements could be used at some locations. (For some reason that I can’t explain zebra crossings don’t seem to be in favour in planning across Adelaide.)  The angled parking that currently exists takes up an excessive amount of potential footpath and outdoor dining space and could be redesigned for parallel parking, allowing some of the space to be reallocated for outdoor space. As an aside, the existing City Loop Adelaide Metro bus route could be extended to include Hutt Street instead of Pulteney Street.

In discussions about improving safety in our road environments, we need to start looking at the bigger picture and stop imagining individual actions as be-all end-all solutions. There is no such thing as the perfect solution. However, there is always room for improvement and those safety improvements can take forms other than changing the speed limit.

Wastelands, or just a waste of space?

November 28, 2011

In the short space of a few years, the level of investment in major infrastructure projects into Adelaide’s public transport network has increased several-fold. This includes a $2.6 billion upgrade to Adelaide’s rail network which involves electrification to allow the operation of electric trains, sleeper and track replacement, signalling, station and crossing upgrades.

A number of stations have been rebuilt or upgraded across the network in the past few years – Oaklands has a brand new station and the stations at Blackwood and Hallett Cove have been tidied up and provided with proper shelters. Several more along the Gawler Line are presently in the process of being upgraded or rebuilt.

However, the vast majority of stations have missed out on funding for upgrade and remain little more than deteriorating shelters on platforms that would not even pass as being adequate for a bus stop, let alone a train station.

Understandably, government funding is limited and is usually directed to the most urgent of projects. A single station upgrade can easily cost up into the millions of dollars. But if the SA Government is serious about getting bums on seats – those of trains and buses preferably, not cars – it needs to provide better train stations in addition to the new trains and tracks that already have funding.

If the government can’t and won’t invest in the upgrade of stations, why not provide commercial opportunities and let the private sector invest in them? I can’t say that this is an idea that will work, but I believe that it is worth exploring.

The train stations on any network that are busiest are usually those that are within close proximity to major commercial areas or are major interchanges between different lines or modes of transport. But some stations on the Adelaide rail network serve next to nothing.

Islington Station in Adelaide’s northern suburbs is a great example of this. It is surrounded by empty fields and lands previously part of the Islington railyards that are no more. There is a new industrial park being developed to the north-east, but this by and large has it’s back turned to the train station and the other empty land is unused space begging to be developed.

Islington Station and surrounds - currently there are large empty tracts of land around the station. (Source: Nearmap)

Having just returned from Japan, the country with the mother of all large rail networks, there’s some clear patterns as to why the rail network is so busy and why the stations are as well – the railway companies often own the office, hotel and retail buildings surrounding the stations as well! In other words, the commercial operations surrounding the station draw people into using the system and the stations are true destinations in themselves.

There is a key difference between the Adelaide rail system and those in Japanese cities though. The Japanese systems are owned by their operators, whereas the Adelaide system is in government hands. And I don’t any commercial sense in the Adelaide rail system becoming privately owned.

However, I do believe that are opportunities for developers to be involved in the improvement of the rail system through better stations in the form of public private partnerships (PPP). In exchange for the rights to develop land around and above train stations, developers could also contribute to the upgrading of the train stations to make them safer and more user friendly facilities. The presence of more people using the train station resulting from increased development near stations also provides a form of passive surveillance.

Developing over train stations in this manner isn’t exactly new, it has been done before in both Melbourne and Sydney. At Chatswood in Sydney, the station was redeveloped to accommodate the new Epping to Chatswood rail link (ECRL) and includes a new shopping centre and (yet to be built) apartment towers. It also provided new public spaces in the area around the station.

Proposal for CTI - The new station and shopping centre have been completed, but the apartment towers remain to be built. (Source: InDesign)

The Chatswood example is a very large undertaking and is not of the scale I would imagine currently feasible in Adelaide. There are three proposed apartment buildings up to 42 levels tall at CTI which is excessive for any suburban train station in Adelaide considering that no buildings of this height currently exist even in the centre of Adelaide. It could work for smaller scale undertakings though such as smaller office and residential buildings with ground level retail.

Remember this idea?

November 22, 2011

Readers of this blog may recall a long term vision I imagined for bringing Adelaide’s suburban rail system into the heart of the city in the same way many of the rail systems in other Australian cities do.

Yesterday the SA Government announced investigations to undertake a study into a similar plan to the one I envisioned in linking the northern (Gawler) and southern (Noarlunga) lines of the network and providing a continuous north-south rail corridor across the city.

There are a few differences of course. The route would have new stations under Pulteney Street/Rundle Mall and Victoria Square (east-west) rather than Gawler Place/Grenfell Street, KWS South and Wayville as outlined in my version of this vision. The line would reconnect to the Noarlunga line north of Keswick rather than at Goodwood. Estimates of the cost of building the project are put at between $2 billion and $5 billion.

Also, it is worth noting that this would be a long term project, as it does not make sense in building it while the rest of the system continues to be improved and electrification completed, as it is not feasible to run diesel trains in deep level tunnels such as the ones discussed.

See the video below for more thoughts and details.

Ingenuity and rebuilding from disaster

November 3, 2011

On February 22 this year, Christchurch was hit by one of the closest earthquakes to hit a major city in history. Many of the city’s heritage structures were destroyed or damaged in the disaster, which resulted in the closure of much of the city centre including the City Mall at Cashel Street. The destruction has been widely reported in media, but what hasn’t been talked about is the rebuilding effort.

Amongst the recent rebuilding is an ingenious method of getting business back up and running. The City Mall recently reopened with many businesses set up in temporary structures made from old shipping containers. Here are a few photos from around the web highlighting this ingenious use of materials to get local business back up and running in central Christchurch.

(Photos were taken by the user nzbullet on Flickr)

On the topic of rebuilding efforts of cities from disasters such as earthquakes, I’m off to Japan for the next few weeks including the city of Kobe which itself has recovered from a major earthquake in 1995. I’m not heading north of Tokyo though, as that’s still an area I’ve been told to stay away from. Stay tuned.

A summary of The State of Australian Cities 2011 – part 2

October 28, 2011

One of the biggest challenges facing Australian cities as they continue to grow is ensuring that the infrastructure provided keeps apace with the growth so that productivity continues to improve. Much of the country’s increased productivity since the 1970s has come about from women entering the workforce. But as Australia’s population ages, there is a limit to the contribution to increased productivity that can come from increased participation – of which Australia already has one of the highest rates in the world.

Much of the future improvement in productivity will come from improved efficiencies in our infrastructure, particularly our transport infrastructure which is under strain from increasing use due to population growth and a fast growing freight task.

Productivity

Multi-factor productivity, which measures productivity as a function of labour and capital, has steadily increased since the 1970s and peaked in the early 2000’s. Reasons for this are not discussed in much detail in the report, although it could be speculated that limits to increased participation in workforce, the global financial crisis and increased congestion on Australia’s transport systems have all played a role in the slight decrease in the late 2000’s.

Commute Patterns and Times

Not surprisingly, the longest distance commutes in any major Australian city on average are in Sydney with the average commute at 11.3 km. However, Melbourne and Perth are not far behind at 11.1 km and 10.5 km respectively.

Public transport use as a proportion of total transport use has increased in all major Australian cities, from 9.3% in 2004 to 10.6% in 2008. The fastest growing patronage was seen in Melbourne, where the rail system has seen annual growth in passenger numbers in the range of 10.5% every year over the same period. Both Perth and Brisbane’s rail systems also saw annual growth well above the average for many other major cities, coming off considerably lower bases.

Adelaide’s rail patronage was the only one that was growing by less than its metropolitan population growth rate, although this is expected to change when numerous upgrades and expansions (including electrification) are completed over a number of years.

Transport Infrastructure Investment

Since 2007, the value of investment in transport infrastructure has risen sharply from the long term average. The total annual investment has been running at about double the long term rate at $54 billion versus $28 billion in real terms.

Much of the increase has been driven by the private sector to serve the mining industry, but there has also been large increases in public sector expenditure to improve public roads and public transport infrastructure between and within Australia’s major cities.

Broken down by mode of transport, all modes have seen increased levels of investment. Roads remain the key area of investment with total annual expenditure totalling approximately $5 billion in 2010, compared with rail at $1.9 billion and harbour infrastructure at just over $1 billion.

A summary of The State of Australian Cities 2011 – part 1

October 21, 2011

On October 20, the Major Cities Unit of the Department of Infrastructure and Transport released a report called The State of Australian Cities 2011, which is a follow-on from the report with the same name released in 2010. It highlights some interesting growth and migration trends between Australia’s 18 major cities – defined as urban areas containing over 100000 people.

For those who don’t want to trawl through over 250 pages worth of reading, here are some of the interesting comparisons within the report.

How large are Australia’s biggest cities?

Australia has five major cities with populations of over 1 million people. They are Sydney (4.58 million), Melbourne (4.08 million), Brisbane (2.04 million), Perth (1.7 million) and Adelaide (1.2 million).

Other cities with over half a million people include the Gold Coast region and Newcastle. Australia’s biggest capital city – Sydney – has over 35 times as many people as Australia’s smallest capital city – Darwin.

Which cities are growing fastest?

The answer may surprise a few people. The fastest growing city in Australia in terms of people added is Melbourne, which added over 600000 in the decade to 2010. This compares with 450000 people added in Sydney.

In terms of growth rate, Perth is the fastest growing major city with an annual population growth of 2.2% per year in the same decade. Brisbane is the next fastest growing at 1.9% while Adelaide has a lower growth rate at 1.3%.

The four largest cities in Australia – Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth – accounted for over 60% of the population growth in the decade, which highlights how important the major cities to Australia’s prosperity.

How far people live from the CBDs

Sydney has relatively even proportions of its population living at various distances from its CBD with many people living over 50 km from the heart of Sydney. Melbourne on the other hand has greater proportions of its population living in the more middle distance areas (5-30km away) and fewer living closer or further away. The trend observed in Melbourne is even more pronounced in Perth, where greater proportions live 5-30km from the Perth CBD and very few live more than 50 kilometres away.

Where the growth is occurring within the cities

In most Australian cities, the majority of the population growth has been accommodated on the urban fringes of our cities with greenfield development dominating the numbers in most places – Sydney being the notable exception.

Sydney has a greater proportion of its population accommodated within its existing urban footprint, with 20.5% moving to Sydney’s inner suburbs compared with 12.2% and 13% in Melbourne and Perth respectively. All of Australia’s five major cities have noted significant population growth near their city centres coming off a low base. This is a reversal of a trend that took place in the 1950s and 1960s that saw once high population numbers near the city centres fall as residents moved out into the suburbs – when the Great Australian Dream was well and truly alive.

In each of the three cities mentioned above, the outer suburbs still saw the majority of the population growth, with Melbourne and Perth have higher proportions of population growth in these areas than Sydney. This is reflected in some of the publicly discussed issues in each city, with Sydney media commonly referring to overcrowding in the city while Melbourne media often talk about Melbourne’s out of control urban sprawl.

Migration to and from the cities

Although Sydney is growing, there are more interstate and intrastate departures from Sydney than there are arrivals. Some suspect high property prices and congestion in Australia’s biggest city is driving people away. However, Sydney isn’t the only place with these problems and yet the same pattern of departures and arrivals is not observed in other states.

So how is Sydney growing then? The departures are more than made up by the number of international migrants moving to Sydney, with most international arrivals occurring through Sydney and Melbourne. Between 2001 and 2006, Sydney had 243000 departures with 366000 arrivals.

What’s interesting to note is where many migrants move when they arrive. Many international migrants eventually leave Sydney and Melbourne, bound for the third and fourth biggest cities where there are plentiful employment prospects – Brisbane and Perth.

To be continued