Streets Without Cars

20140331 drummond street

What is it?

An unsolicited project our architecture practice, Mihaly Slocombe, recently completed. We redesigned a segment of Drummond Street in Carlton North, the street where we live and practice.

The project began with conversations with around two thirds of our neighbours, who helped us understand the cross section of the community for whom we were designing, as well as providing specific project briefing requirements. We published (and continue to maintain) a blog that tracked our research and design activities, and facilitated ongoing feedback to the community. The blog can be viewed here.

Our essential agenda for Streets Without Cars is best summed up by the opening remarks on the project blog:

Around 50% of all developed land in Melbourne is consumed by space for vehicles, most of which is streets.[1] The characteristics of a street, its dimensions, footpaths and traffic volume, all contribute to the wellbeing and happiness of the people who live along it. Drummond Street boasts a generous green median strip, but of its 28m width, 14m is reserved for car traffic and car parking. For the 130m between Curtain and Fenwick Streets, that’s a total of 1,820sqm, or around 15 typical Carlton North terraces. Also consider how little of the time this space is in use: on average, people are either entering, exiting or driving their vehicles for only 14 minutes in every hour.[2] So not only does Drummond Street dedicate a lot of its valuable space to the car, this space is left unused most of the time.

Imagine if there were no cars: no need for car parking or wide moats of asphalt reserved for car traffic. What could we do with the space and how might we foster new ways of living together as a community?

Once we began work on the project, it became clear that while removing all cars was a romantic proposition, it was not viable. We elected instead to explore a shared or living street philosophy. This is an idea that requires a street to be designed for walking first, cycling second and driving third. It slows down bicycle and car traffic; removes the traditionally separate zones for people, bicycles and cars; replaces asphalt with materials typically associated with parks and plazas; and encourages communal engagement between all streets users. We discussed aspects of this idea here.

20140331 aerial day

20140331 aerial night

What did we design?

We have just published our full design proposal to the Streets Without Cars blog, which can be viewed here. An animated flythrough of the project can be viewed on our Vimeo page.

We also presented the project at Volume 22 of the Pecha Kucha Melbourne series earlier this month. The 20 slides x 20 seconds format of Pecha Kucha offered the productive opportunity to distil the project down to its essential aims and qualities. Also relevant was the theme of the event, Members Only. It asked presenters to consider the value of clubs, their members, why and how we gain access, and what we do once we’re in. We titled our presentation, Getting Back into the Players Club.

The visual and spoken content of our presentation was as follows:

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Good evening. I’m Warwick Mihaly, a principal architect of Mihaly Slocombe. Every year we like to work on a speculative project that engages in questions of urban design. I’m going to present our 2014 project to you tonight via my presentation, Getting Back into The Players Club.

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Who are the current members of the Players Club? They’re the people and corporations shaping the future fabric of our cities. Once upon a time they used to be architects and urban designers, but this is less and less the case. These days, they’re mostly project managers, developers, even bankers.

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There are now whole cities springing up from the desert sands whose core focus is not livability but investment opportunity.

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Recent approvals for very large towers in the city, coupled with the poor urban outcome of the Docklands and dubious planning strategy for Fishermen’s Bend, shows that this is happening in Melbourne also. Do we really want our city to be corrupted by money?

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The traditional procurement model looks like the top line. A big investment company commissions a building design, then markets it to smaller investors who aim to lease out individual apartments. How the inhabitants are involved in this process is not clear. What we’d like to do is explore the bottom line, where design and community consultation drive the development process.

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Which brings me to our project, Streets Without Cars. The premise of the project is this: we wanted to redesign the street where we live and practice as a shared space, with pedestrians as its highest priority. We also wanted to engage our local community, so we spoke with as many of our neighbours as we could to understand how they would like the street to work.

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This is the site. It’s a 120m long section of Drummond Street in Carlton North, running between Curtain and Fenwick Streets. It’s 28m wide, 14m of which is currently covered in asphalt to provide room for north- and southbound car lanes. It has a central grass strip that is already reasonably well utilised.

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We were able to interview 22 of our 39 neighbours within the site zone and received rich feedback containing both concrete and aspirational design direction. One of our neighbours, James, gave us the phrase that ended up guiding our entire design process, “Like a big backyard for everyone.”

 

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We discovered a lot about the demographics of our neighbours. We now know there are 2.6 bicycles per household, that around 72% of our street works within a 5km radius, and most households have limited access to private open space. We were also able to collate the many briefing comments into groups of activities to design for: living, eating, socialising and play.

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So we came up with a design that removed the southbound car lane and used the space for a 17m wide strip of activity space bordered by a narrower strip of paving to be shared by bicycles, cars and pedestrians. A series of small pavilions runs down the length of the site, providing shelter and gathering.

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Our material palette is robust and urban. We used Bluestone paving on the ground, steel structure for the pavilion roofs, hit and miss brickwork and timber battening for the pavilions themselves. The four mature trees on site were retained and added to.

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At the heart of the site are the living and dining rooms, terraced spaces that can be used for just about anything. Gentle slopes in the terraced platforms allow us to catch pools of water for play and cooling. The roof over the dining room kicks up to support a solar panel array. All roofs collect water for irrigation.

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The dining room is loosely divided into four sub-spaces, some of which are undercover and others in the open. They are bordered by an open weave of brickwork that permits air movement, and down the track, trained vines.

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Running the full length of the site is a community vegetable patch. There’s also a fruit orchard embedded into the side of one of the pavilions. Our hope is that these would become activity centres to strengthen the local community. It would be pretty handy to harvest a few extra apples and a sprig of coriander too.

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A big part of our design thinking revolved around transport. We decided to retain around 80% of the existing carparking, then added a couple of carshare spaces and 96 bicycle parking spaces within secure storage sheds. These anchor the ends of the site, free up valuable space within peoples’ homes, and encourage more integrated use of the street.

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The kitchen is a small cafeteria located adjacent to the dining and living rooms. Its operator would also act as caretaker for the vegetable patch and orchard, to keep them from getting unruly and providing an opportunity for the enjoyment of local produce.

20140331 pecha kucha 18 20140331 pecha kucha 19We met with the sustainable transport group at the City of Yarra today to present the project. They didn’t exactly front up a few million cash to build it, but they were very enthusiastic about the community consultation and radical, for Melbourne, urban design strategy. Our vision is that this sort of project could be rolled out across an entire municipality, small insertions designed to decrease our reliance on the automobile and increase our shared use of our streets. They could be spaced out so every resident has access to one within walking distance: another, finer layer of public parkland.

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That’s a 20-slide tip of the iceberg. We’ve been engaging with our neighbours via a dedicated project blog. If you’d like to find out a bit more about us, you can look us up on our website, design blog or twitter feed. Thank you.

Where to from here?

Our design may be finished, but the project is far from over. As mentioned above, we are now embarking on consultation with the local council to investigate ways we might implement this project. With some considerable determination and a bit of luck, future funding earmarked for the Carlton North area as part of the City of Yarra’s Local Area Traffic Management scheme might very well find its way towards Drummond Street and Streets Without Cars.[3]


Footnotes:

[1] At least a third of all developed land in cities is consumed by space for vehicles. In the especially car-focussed cities of the United States and Australia, the average rises to around half. In Los Angeles, an estimated two-thirds of urban land is primarily for vehicles. Michael Southworth and Eran Ben-Joseph; Streets and the Shaping of Towns and Cities; Island Press; Washington; 2003
[2] See our Drummond Street traffic research conducted in October of last year. Mihaly Slocombe; Traffic Conclusions; Streets Without Cars; Melbourne; 2013
[3] See a brief introductory page on the scheme at the City of Yarra website. Local Area Traffic Management; City of Yarra; Melbourne; 2014

Image credits:

  1. Drummond Street. Author’s own image.
  2. Aerial by day. Author’s own image.
  3. Aerial by night. Author’s own image.
  4. Pecha Kucha slide 1. Author’s own image.
  5. Pecha Kucha slide 2. Author’s own image.
  6. Pecha Kucha slide 3. Author’s own image.
  7. Pecha Kucha slide 4. Author’s own image.
  8. Pecha Kucha slide 5. Author’s own image.
  9. Pecha Kucha slide 6. Author’s own image.
  10. Pecha Kucha slide 7. Author’s own image.
  11. Pecha Kucha slide 8. Author’s own image.
  12. Pecha Kucha slide 9. Author’s own image.
  13. Pecha Kucha slide 10. Author’s own image.
  14. Pecha Kucha slide 11. Author’s own image.
  15. Pecha Kucha slide 12. Author’s own image.
  16. Pecha Kucha slide 13. Author’s own image.
  17. Pecha Kucha slide 14. Author’s own image.
  18. Pecha Kucha slide 15. Author’s own image.
  19. Pecha Kucha slide 16. Author’s own image.
  20. Pecha Kucha slide 17. Author’s own image.
  21. Pecha Kucha slide 18. Author’s own image.
  22. Pecha Kucha slide 19. Author’s own image.
  23. Pecha Kucha slide 20. Author’s own image.