Highlights of the Smart Urban Futures Conference

21 Apr 2017

There was no hiding from the truth at the recent Smart Urban Futures conference.

Proceedings started with acclaimed urbanist Brent Toderian, former Chief Planner of Vancouver, a city that recently reached the target of 50% travel by public transport, walking and cycling 5 years ahead of schedule. He noted that "Melbourne has one of the best downtowns in the World, your suburbs are average at best."

He called out those who argue for a 'balanced' approach to transport supporting cars as well as other travel modes - "balance is code for the status quo. It's just as important what you stop doing, as it is what you start doing. Building bigger roads makes traffic worse."

Mr Toderian observed that there was "a cultural barrier here" against making developers pay for the infrastructure necessary for a growing city.  

He was also clear that walking was central to building a liveable future. "I'm sceptical that you can be considered a liveable city, if you're not a walkable city."

John Bartels and Kathleen Kemp from the City of Port Phillip outlined their Greenlight project, with a revealing insight into the difficulty of crossing some major roads. Observing people crossing at one set of traffic lights, they found that while 70% start crossing legally, less than 1% were able to complete the crossing appropriately in a single move. In other words, it was practically impossible to cross the road legally.

Tim Williams, CEO of the Committee for Sydney, was damning in his assessment of continuing urban sprawl - "building the houses where there is no transport and no jobs."  He also argued that "infrastructure evaluation is broken in Australia," and "we are socialising the costs and privatising the benefits of our government spending."

But is wasn't all bad news. Patricia Fitzsimons from Hobsons Bay City Council argued that good decisions come when we build the capacity of the community to undertstand the trade-offs involved in building a place they actually want to live in.  And the conference ended with examples of design we can be proud of - Ben McHugh explained how one of the main streets in Canberra was transformed into a shared space; Kieran Wong described the model development of White Gum Valley in Fremantle; and the City of Stonnington hosted a 'walkshop' exploring streetscape improvements in Prahran.   

The Smart Urban Futures conferences are a collaboration between the Municipal Association of Victoria and Victoria Walks.

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