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Urban Infrastructure Strategy: Phased Neighborhood Retrofit
Sky Allen, Student ASLA

School of Architecture, Landscape Architecture and Urban Design, University of Adelaide
Advisors: Gale Fulton

Narrative Summary.

Project Motivation + Approach
"An urban growth boundary has been established to arrest Adelaide's urban sprawl and encourage higher density residential redevelopment closer to the city's center. This is a major policy shift that will require Adelaide to grapple with the notion of denser urban development and its associated environmental, social and economic implications ..." Planning SA 2000.

The project has been strongly influenced by the interconnected theories of Ecology, Urban Ecology and Neighborhood Ecology. The key theoretical ideas driving the approach to, and development of the strategy are a hybrid of these theories. These ideas are:

  • The significance of neighborhoods and suburbs as a key scale in addressing the sustainability of existing urban areas through policy and design strategies.
  • Neighborhood and suburban strategies have the ability to ensure site specific outcomes while being significant enough in scale to have a meaningful impact.
  • The city and neighborhoods within it must be understood and approached as ecological systems.
  • The urban environment, particularly the public domain should be developed as multi-functional, productive and working landscapes that integrate ecology, people and economy.
  • Strategic incremental change is crucial when intervening in existing suburbs. Incremental change is more manageable, feasible and adaptable to local needs and values.

Site selection
The project site is the Bowden Brompton Ovingham Ridleyton neighborhood of the city of Adelaide, South Australia, Australia.
This area of 2.24 square kilometers was Adelaide’s first suburb and was selected for the following key reasons: It is a mixed use suburb of industrial, commercial, retail and residential uses. It is bounded by major transport spines from the north western suburbs into the city and crossed by two rail lines. The combination of the site’s diverse activity, location and history has created a fascinating physical and social character. There is significant vacant, derelict and under-utilized land with several typical urban renewal projects currently underway. These elements provided a topical and challenging area to explore the issues outlined in the motivation and approach.

Site data and analysis methods
Compilation and analysis of historical, physical, existing planning and demographical data on the site informed the planning strategy. Historical timelines were developed to illustrate and understand influences on the emergence of the site in its current form. Detailed graphical studies of the existing planning, physical form and systems of the site where undertaken. These studies focused on the role of the site in its broader context, zoning, land use, built area percentage, form, color and materiality, open areas of public space and vacant land, streetscape character, existing vegetation, infrastructure, traffic and circulation. The analysis summary diagrams illustrate the following key points: The site’s form and character is a reflection of its long, rich and complex history as an inner industrial suburb. Existing zoning does not reflect the reality of the current complex mixed land use of the site. The shadow of a pending government freeway through the site in the 60’s and 70’s and the resulting stagnation in development and decline in population has produced significant areas of vacant, derelict or underused sites. Despite this there is very little space allocated for public recreational use. Traffic circulation is a critical issue; several major local roads cross the site, also indiscriminate movement of heavier commercial vehicles dominates the majority of streets. The two rail lines intersecting the site create another layer of movement. Detailed analysis of census demographics information for the neighborhood was summarized to illustrate key social patterns characterizing the community. Key points in comparing the site to the city of Adelaide as a whole are that: the 25-49 age group is dominant. There is a higher percentage of migrants (English, Greek, Italian and Vietnamese ethnic groups) and people who speak a language other than English at home. Higher than average percentage of low income households. Recently there has been an increase in the percentage of high income households. 40% of households are a single person. Also there are more couples without kids. There is a higher percentage of renters, but with buyers on the increase.

As part of the analysis of the site a conceptual ecosystem model diagram of the existing site was developed to illustrate the components that make up its ecosystem. While simplified, the diagram draws attention to the systems inputs, outputs, flows and interactions providing an illustration of the relationships within the system and interaction with the broader city system.

The existing site diagram shows clearly the high amounts of both inputs and outputs needed to maintain the current system.

This diagram was analyzed to determine feasible areas of intervention. This resulted in the development of a proposed ecosystem model diagram. Through the introduction of an internal multifunctional infrastructure unnecessary or negative flows can be reduced or removed and other positive contributing flows increased. This potential ecosystem model translates onto the site as the Urban Infrastructure Strategy and its key components.

Planning Strategy
The strategy aims to develop, through the phased retrofit of the existing site, a vibrant and sustainable mixed use urban neighborhood. This will be achieved through the evolution of the public domain into a dynamic and productive multi-functional infrastructure. The public domain network will be cross-programmed with traffic and pedestrian circulation, hydraulic purification and reuse, retail and institutional activity, recreation opportunities and an innovative community Urban Permaculture Enterprise (UPE). The UPE would be affiliated with council, including direct community involvement and would assume responsibility for integrating commercial permaculture crops with other uses creating a unique and dynamic public domain and generating revenue for the community. As part of the evolution of this new public domain the two rail corridors that cross through the site would be widened to allow this linear space to accommodate these multiple functions. Phased policy and design would combine to strengthen and build on the positive elements of the existing mixed use neighborhood and reduce current conflicts. This would include new mixed use developments incorporating the UPE operations, a diverse range of housing options, a redeveloped rail station and key elements of the multi-functional public domain. A restructured street network that maintains commercial vehicle access while improving pedestrian and cycle networks and residential street life would link the entire site into these precincts creating an activated multi dimensional environment of residential, retail, commercial and recreational activity supported by and integrated with the infrastructure that sustains it.

An integral element of the Urban Infrastructure Strategy is the phasing of its implementation over fifty years. The emphasis placed on phasing is developed from the project approach and an understanding of economic realities and timeframes for the establishment of processes involving significant institutional and social change and the development of organic systems such as wetlands. The phasing diagram illustrates the progressive activity in the key streams of the strategy’s development and the interconnections between them; land acquisition, hydraulic system, circulation network, land use and building activity, and permaculture plantings. The visible collation between the different streams within a phase and across phases depicts the coordinated and interdependent development required to successfully retrofit the strategy into the existing site. For example the phasing diagram explains how land must be bioremediated of contaminants before productive crops can be planted; how purifying wetlands must be established if new residential developments are to receive recycled water; and how improved streetscapes can increase retail activity and help fund the next phase. Key economic generators in the phasing of the strategy are depicted in simplified terms to demonstrate the consideration of this important factor in its realization.

5 Key Phasing Streams

  • The Land Acquisition stream indicates the areas of the site which are actively transformed by the strategy. Areas of the site selected for acquisition over time and for bioremediation of contaminants are shown.
  • The Hydraulic System stream shows the sites of the constructed wetlands and retention ponds as they are implemented over time and the development of the bioswale system for transporting water to the wetlands as part of the retrofit of the existing streets.
  • The Circulation Network stream displays the incremental restructuring of the existing streets within a hierarchy of circulation needs.
  • The Land Use and Building Activity stream covers the key areas of land use policy focus and shows the timing and sites of new building development. It also broadly defines the areas of increased activity that will result from this and have influence on future phases.
  • The Permaculture Plantings stream charts the planting of the layers of the permaculture landscape on specific sites and their maturation to productive crops.

The planning strategy, its implementation and design elements are presented as a flexible, evolving framework for the future of the site. The strategy elements are conceptual, procedural and technological tools that will be monitored, evaluated, developed and will respond over time to the changing needs and resources of the community allowing it to emerge as an innovative, dynamic and sustainable urban community.

The phased implementation of the Urban Infrastructure Strategy is an acknowledgement of the importance of economic feasibility for the realization of the overall concept. Key elements of the economic development of the strategy include:
Initial redirection and coordination of funding from existing council and government budgets for storm water and sewer management, road maintenance, public landscaping, local business incentive programs, unemployment initiatives and other similar isolated programs. Major initial injection of funding from the State or Commonwealth Government to begin the acquisition and bioremediation process and establish the UPE. In the long term the site will become far less reliant on both Government funding directly and also on its broad scale infrastructure. Major building developments will be undertaken by private developers in close partnership with council and community to ensure strategy aims are meet. A percentage of profits from sale and rental income of redeveloped and new retail and residential properties will be directed to the next phase of development. Increased activity in the area increases profits of businesses who can contribute financially to the strategy. Sale of purified water to residences and industry funds ongoing maintenance and expansion of the hydraulic system. Revenue from the sale of permaculture plants and harvests is reinvested into the next phase of plantings.

Urban Permaculture Enterprise
The Urban Permaculture Enterprise (UPE) is a concept for both a new approach to our urban public space and the relationship between local government, the community and commercial activity. Currently council is responsible for providing and maintaining public spaces such as streets and recreational open space. The restructuring of council organization and redirection of funds would see the establishment of an affiliated commercial enterprise with direct council and community involvement. The enterprise would assume responsibility for the landscaping of public space as a productive permaculture landscape. The UPE would develop as a commercial company with its physical operations based in retrofitted former industrial buildings as part of the mixed use development adjacent to the rail station. The UPE and the landscape developed and maintained by it, would evolve into a dynamic, active, productive, educative and unique public domain for the local community and which would draw people from surrounding areas increasing social and economic activity. The UPE would activate the council and the community focusing energy and skills within the community into a positive enterprise with multiple benefits; a sense of ownership and pride in a quality public space and locally generated resources, skills, revenue, education and employment.

Key Concept Plan: Rail Station Precinct
The key concept plan acts as an example of the localized planning and design through which the strategy would be realized on the ground. The Rail Station Precinct would include areas of new residential development, the public domain network incorporating constructed wetlands and recreational spaces, redevelopment of the rail station and adjacent commercial and retail premises. It highlights key existing buildings that will be retrofitted as part of the Urban Permaculture Enterprises’ retail and education center.

Connected to the phasing diagram and concept plan are Prototypes, which outline key specific technologies and processes that are instrumental in the implementation of the strategy. The prototypes are not intended to present a conclusive palette of urban design details but rather illustrate the key functional or technical information that would guide their further development and importantly support the feasibility of the strategy.

The key prototypes included in the strategy are:

  • Bioremediation: technologies for the removal of soil contaminants using plants and micro organisms.
  • Sewer Mining: a localized system for redirecting and recycling black water from existing sewers
  • Hydraulic System: elements for the purification of storm and gray water via bioswales and constructed wetlands for reuse
  • Street Hierarchy: typical designs for restructuring streets for improved pedestrian + bicycle circulation, infrastructure and amenity
  • Permaculture Planting: typical design of permaculture crop layering, species selection and planting to harvest timeframes

The Urban Infrastructure Strategy aims to challenge conventional frameworks, assumptions and priorities in urban planning and design, specifically the function of the urban public domain. The strategy presents possibilities for the integration of ecology, community and economy at both the policy and organizational level and in the physical landscape. The potential is a phased retrofit which evolves the site into a dynamic sustainable urban system activated by a multi-functional biophysical, productive and social public domain infrastructure achieved through innovative policy, organizational, technical, financial and ecological programmes and processes.



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