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Forecaz helps students gain practical experience

Sizztech and Unitywater have helped University of the Sunshine Coast town planning and engineering students gain practical experience by providing data, software and real-life infrastructure scenarios as part of their course work.

photo of Nicholas Patorniti, Bradley Rasmussen and Chris Teitzel.

Students undertaking ENP336 Strategic Infrastructure Planning have been able to merge their studies with industry-specific information and solve problems using a simplified version of Unitywater’s demand forecasting models.

The software, developed by Sizztech, has been used at Unitywater for three years and models where future population and employment growth will occur, when it will occur and by how much. It helps town planners and utilities providers know what infrastructure to provide, and when.

Unitywater Executive Manager Infrastructure Planning and Capital Delivery Simon Taylor said collaborating with the university was beneficial for both parties.

“These students may very well be planning our region’s future and we are happy to help support their learning,” he said.

“We have been able to provide local council planning and population data as well as guidance on demand forecasting methodology.”

USC Town Planning Program Coordinator Nicholas Stevens said the software, course mentoring by Unitywater Planner Chris Teitzel and delivery by Nicholas Patorniti had been invaluable.

“Using the software during their studies means students have an early introduction to real-life programs used in this industry and real issues that may arise,” he said.

“Working with a large business like Unitywater is hugely valuable for our students and establishing these types of infrastructure and technology industry relationships is what makes our Planning Program unique.”

Sizztech Managing Director Bradley Rasmussen said the company was delighted to collaborate with Unitywater and the university.

“The Forecaz Modeller software is a revolutionary tool and it’s pleasing to see USC take an innovative approach to exposing the students to these new technologies and processes as part of this course,” he said.

“Industry will welcome USC’s addition of this course to its curriculum, providing graduates with core competencies in strategic infrastructure planning.”

The recipe for urban decay has flopped
Inner City Slums

New Geography published an article: Australia’s Recipe For Urban Decay written by Clinton Stiles-Schmidt. This article is critical of Australia’s urban planning policy to establish high-density urban living in our cities. The article speculates this strategy will result in neighbourhoods that have slum-like conditions, social tension, and perpetual poverty for their residents.

The article projects property investors having a speculative investment strategy, willing to neglect their investments by not performing ongoing maintenance. This results in deterioration of their properties and the surrounding neighbourhood. This will be most prevalent in areas with high-density housing, as investors are predominatly the buyers, paying higher prices to buy units/apartments.  This forces owner occupiers and first home buyers out of that market and further erodes housing quality because investors will not perform the necessary upkeep of their properties. We disagree.

There are several things wrong with the article’s assertions.  We feel Clinton has assumed some of the characteristics that occur in the US property market also apply to the Australian market and this is not the case.

Property Investors are not speculative nor neglectful

Property data shows at 2011 there were about 1.28 million property investors. Most of these are “Mums and Dads” investors with 72.8% owning just one property. Only 18.9% of investors owned 2 properties while just 0.9% of investors owned 6 or more.  The data also shows that residential property owners are holding onto their homes for longer.  At the end of 2012, the average length of ownership for properties sold in that year was 9.3 years for houses and 8.2 years for units. Ten years ago, the average hold period for a house was 6.8 years and for a unit it was 5.9 years.

Average hold period of houses and units nationally

This data does not support Clinton’s claim that property Investors are speculative. If this was the case you would expect more investors to own two or more properties.  Also, the holding time between reselling homes would be decreasing, not increasing, especially for units. Instead, the data shows investors view property as a long-term investment.

Clinton fails to account for Australia’s rental market being heavy regulated by the various State Governments. There are significant penalties for landlords who fail to provide a habitable and well-maintained dwelling for their tenants.  Given this regulatory requirement and long-term investment strategy, why would an investor spend hundreds of thousands of dollars purchasing an investment property, then not maintain it?

The article states this of investors: “They are seeking rental income from tenants as well as appreciation in the value of both the property and the underlying land.”  Keeping a well maintained the property allows them to meet their long-term goal of value appreciation and of attracting and holding quality tenants.

Housing affordability remains steady

The article presents a number of graphs comparing monthly rent and mortgage payments from 2001 to 2011. However, this data hasn’t been adjusted for CPI (Consumer Price Index) when comparing these 10-year intervals. This makes the figures seem worse than they actually are. The article implies the increase in rents and mortgage payments over this time is creating a housing affordability issue. This is true only for the Sydney market and to a lesser extent Melbourne, but not any other Australian city.  Moody’s Australian Housing Affordability Measure released April 2015, has determined overall Australia’s housing affordability has remained steady and is at the same levels it was 10 years ago. In cities such as Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth, affordability has improved over what it was 10 years ago.

Housing Affordability Mar 2015

No white flight

Many large US cities, such as Chicago and Detroit, introduced schemes to create high-density inner city housing. This resulted in middle-class minorities moving into these inner suburbs. It also resulted in the mostly white affluent residents in those areas moving further away to outer suburbs. A phenomenon known has white flight.

The city loses the tax base provided by these white residents leaving it with falling tax revenues, a struggling economy, and no resources to spend on services.  Over time, low-income residents move into these areas causing urban decay and slum-like conditions. Clinton is speculating the same will occur in our cities. We disagree. We are not seeing the white flight phenomenon in Australia.

In Australia, much of the high-density development is occurring in and around the city centres or suburban transport/shopping hubs.  In many of these inner city areas re-gentrification is also taken place.  This, in turn, is making these areas highly desirable to live in. Residents are attracted to the walkability of these locations, given proximity to cafés, restaurants, shopping and public transport.`

Negative Gearing results in long-term neglect

The article suggests: “Investors, looking primarily at tax advantages, are less likely to improve the properties or even maintain existing structures.”  Clinton has provided no evidence to support this assertion. There is no relationship between an investor getting a negative gearing tax deduction and them not maintaining their investment property. Also, any maintenance costs are tax deductible.

Strata-titling results in neglect

The article acknowledges strata/community titles have been in place for over forty years, commencing in 1961. This property management structure has successfully allowed owners to buy and maintain apartments/units in multiple dwelling complexes. Strata-title provides for the formation of a body corporate/strata manager. These entities are legally responsible for maintaining the building’s common areas and external structure, ensuring they are safe and functional.

The statement in the article: “strata titling’s lack of consideration for common areas poses a serious issue in the long run for the maintenance of high-rise buildings and their surrounding neighbourhoods” is false.  The body corporate is responsible for this. There are issues with some sinking funds are held by body corporate managers and used to finance maintenance of the building’s common areas. However, this does not release the body corporate from their legal obligations and strategies to address this issue must be found (i.e. introduce a special levy).

This is not the situation in the US. Multi-dwelling buildings consisting of two or more units, known as multi-family housing, are normally owned by a single investor/corporation. In many US states, building complexes of 5 units or less are “unregulated” giving the landlord enormous power over their tenants in terms of what rent they can charge and what facilities they will provide and maintain. In this environment, there is little incentive and no regulatory requirement for the landlord to maintain their properties to a high standard and many landlords neglect building maintenance. This leads to a degradation of the building and its neighbourhood.

Poverty is moving to the urban fringe

This article is advocating for more urban sprawl.  Recent data for Sydney is showing the outer western suburbs of Sydney are becoming enclaves for the working poor. Much of the housing stock is in an increasingly dilapidated state, creating urban slums and undermining property values. Residents in these outer suburbs are getting poorer while former inner-city areas have transformed into exclusive enclaves of wealth and opportunity.

Commuting also divides inner-city and outer-city residents. Bureau of Statistics data shows nearly 60 percent of workers living close to Sydney’s CBD gets to work on public transport, by bicycle or by foot. In Blacktown, the proportion was just 7 percent (80 percent used a private vehicle).

It is a phenomenon being seen around the world.  A recent paper by Allen Berube showed from 2000 to 2012, poverty in America rose much more rapidly in suburbs. The number of poor individuals living in big cities in the 100 largest metropolitan areas rose by 29 % over that period, compared to 65% in communities outside of the cities. In London, there are now more people living in poverty in outer London (1.22 million) than in the centre of the city (1.02 million). Something that wasn’t the case 10 years ago.

Urban planners understand these issues and are using high-density development and urban renewal to transform our inner cities.  Clinton advocates more urban sprawl that will condemn owner occupiers and first time home owners into outer suburbs. Suburbs that are poorly support by infrastructure, far from employment hubs and over time have every possibility of deteriorating into neighbourhoods of working poor.

Policies of greater urban density have been in effect now for over 20 years and we haven’t seen the “urban decay” predicted by this article. We have to go “up” not “out”.

Employment density projections
Group of Workers

A key metric produced from an urban growth model is the future projections of employment/jobs for the region being model. These employment projections normally inform the region’s strategic plan and are often quoted by elected officials.  It is important these employment projections are realistic and the employment density assumptions utilised by the model are well documented.

What determines employment projections is the Workspace Ratios (WSR) for various land uses supported by the model. The Workspace Ratio measures the amount of floor space per Employee/Worker. There are wide disparities in these land use Workspace Ratios. It varies from industry to industry, city regions (i.e. CBD vs outer suburbs), even county to county.

A study of Office Use in Australia by The University of New South Wales found employment densities in commercial offices varied from less than 10m2 per employee to greater than 50m2 per employee. This variance is over 500%. The average being 20.6m2 per employee. While this study was restricted to commercial office space, the same large variances exist with other non-residential land uses such as industrial and retail spaces.

Given these large variances it is important to ensure the urban growth model is configured with Workspace Ratios that represent the average for the region being modelled. In some cases, studies may need to be conducted to find the appropriate land use WSRs for the region.

To assist with this task we have taken the various studies from Australia, the United Kingdom and USA and summarised the Workspace Ratios from these studies in the tables below.

If there are other employment densities studies that you think should be included in this list, please leave a comment with the link to the study/report and we will include it in this post.

The City of Sydney, NSW Australia

City of Sydney Floor Space and Employment Survey 2012

The City of Sydney undertakes a comprehensive Floor Space and Employment Survey (FES) every five years to coincide with the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ Census of Population and Housing. The FES collects data on all businesses, floor space uses and employment numbers for every building or property within the City of Sydney local government area.  It provides a snapshot of the built form, land uses and economic activity of the City every five years.  A summary of the Workspace Ratios from the report is provided below.

City-Based Industry SectorSq mtr per Employee
Community70
Creative Industries39
Finance and Financial Services18
Food and Drink22
Government36
Health40
Higher Education and Research47
ICT28
Life Science (Bio-tech)33
Manufacturing61
Motor Vehicle104
Natural Resource-Based Industries23
Professional and Business Services21
Property Development and Operation30
Retail and Personal Services44
Social Capital53
Tourist, Cultural and Leisure105
Transport and Logistics111
Utilities62

City of Perth, WA Australia

The Evolving City December 2009

An atlas of change in the city of Perth 1990-2007

This is the fourth publication in an ongoing series that monitors and analyses significant patterns and emerging trends in land use and employment in the city of Perth since 1990. The Evolving City is fundamentally a statistical publication accompanied by an objective technical analysis of changes over time. The following Workspace Ratios combines the floorspace and employment totals from the four precinct areas described in the report.

Planning Land Use CategorySq mtr per Employee
Manufacturing/Processing/Fabrication31
Storage/Distribution145
Service Industry44
Shop/Retail29
Other Retail77
Office/Business24
Health/Welfare/Community Services34
Entertainment/Recreation/Culture56
Residential161
Utilities/Communications54

The report also included a sector-wide analysis of activity types present in the city. The Workspace Ratios for these activities are summarised below.

CategoryActivity TypeSq mtr per Employee
Mining Services
Iron Ore41
Energy46
Other Mining28
Computing and Communication
Computing Services22
Information Services28
Telecommunications28
Legal Services
Legal44
Education
Primary and Secondary51
Tertiary104
Specialist Training Schools36
Health
Hospitals29
Medical Practices25
Ancillary Health Care24
Medical Equipment19
Protective, Community and Welfare Services
Protective Services19
Community Services30
Welfare Services17
Culture
Performing Arts/Schools/Venues94
Libraries/Museums/Galleries32
Churches and Halls37
Other Places of Assembly and Exhibition87
Recreation / Entertainment
Passive0
Active26
Entertainment52
Fashion
Clothing, Footwear and Accessories – Retail44
Clothing, Footwear and Accessories – Wholesale64
Clothing, Footwear and Accessories – Manufacturing35
Hotels and Backpackers
Hotels181
Backpackers82
Other Lodgings108
Manufacturing
Printing and Publishing40
Jewellery Manufacturing19
Other Miscellaneous Manufacturing51

Town of Claremont, WA Australia

Claremont North-East Precinct Economic Review August 2008

The economic review of floor space, employment and expenditure within the Town of Claremont. The Town of Claremont commissioned Pracsys to produce this report.  A summary of the Workspace Ratios from the review is provided below.

Industry SectorSq mtr per Employee
Primary Industries/Rural200
Manufacturing/Processing/Fabrication59
Storage/Distribution174
Service Industry74
Shop Retail and Other Retail36
Office/Business27
Health/Welfare/Community Services36
Entertainment/Recreation/Culture85
Residential279
Utilities/Communications62

Homes & Communities Agency, UK Government

Employment Densities Guide (2nd Edition) 2010

The purpose of this guide is to assist appraisers with employment generated by property development based on ‘employment density’ ratios. The guide is intended to be used in planning, appraising and evaluating of economic development and regeneration programmes and projects. The indicative employment density figures in the guide incorporate broad assumptions. Users should read the supporting narrative to understand how to apply the ratios. When development-specific information is available it should be used in preference to the indicative figures in this guide.

Category Use TypeSq mtr per Employee
Industrial
General36
Light Industry (Business Park)47
Warehouse & Distribution
General70
Large Scale and High Bay Warehousing80
Office
General Office12
Call Centres8
IT/ Data Centres47
Business Park10
Serviced Office10
Retail
Town/City Centre19
Food Superstores17
Other Superstores/ Retail Warehouses90
Financial & Professional Services16
Restaurants & Cafes18
Leisure & Visitor Attractions
Budget Hotels1 employee per 3 bedrooms
General Hotels (3 star)1 employee per 2 bedrooms
4/ 5 Star Hotels1 employee per 1.25 bedrooms
Cultural Attractions36
Cinemas90
Amusement & Entertainment Centres70
Sports centres and Private Clubs65

London Borough of Waltham Forest, United Kingdom

Employment Densities 2001

This report gives guidance and references to assist the appraisal, monitoring and evaluation of employment densities for various types of property developments. It has been produced by Arup Economics and Planning for English Partnerships and has been supported by English Partnerships and Regional Development Agencies Best Practice Group. The Workspace Ratios from this report is provided in the following table.

CategoryUse TypeSq mtr per Employee
Industrial
General34
Small business units32
High tech / R&D (non-Science Park)29
Science Park32
Warehouse & Distribution
General Warehousing50
Large Scale and High Bay Warehousing80
Office
General (purpose built) Offices19
Headquarters22
Serviced Business Centre20
City of London20
Business Park16
Call Centres12.8
Retail
Town/City Centre20
Food Superstores19
Other Superstores/ Retail Warehouses90
Leisure & Visitor Attractions
Budget Hotels1 employee per 2 bedrooms
General Hotels (3 star)1 employee per 3 bedrooms
4/ 5 Star Hotels1 employee per 0.8 bedrooms
Restaurants13
Cultural Attractions36
Cinemas90
Amusement & Entertainment Centres40
Sports Centres90
Private Clubs55

Southern California Association of Governments, USA

Employment Density Study Summary Report  – October 2001

The objective of this study was to derive employment density factors for use in the Small Area Allocation Model (SAAM) developed by the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG).  SCAG members are: Los Angeles, Orange County, Ventura County, Riverside County, San Bernardino County and Imperial County.    The study has estimated employment densities for ten major land use categories. The acres per employee metrics in the study have been converted to Sq mtr per employee for inclusion in the tables below. The following displays the average employment densities across the region for each land use category.

Land Use CategorySq mtr per Employee
Regional Retail5
Other Retail/Services12
Low-Rise Office14
High-Rise Office13
Hotel/Motel4
R & D/Flex Space12
Light Manufacturing9
Heavy Manufacturing
Warehouse5
Government Offices16

The following table contains the employment densities of land uses that were consolidated into the above land use categories. It is important to recognise that these factors are drawn from a much smaller sample of parcel records and therefore do not provide the same “level of confidence” as provided by the regional land use categories.

Land UseSq mtr per Employee
Trailer Parks and Mobile Home Courts, High Density3317
Trailer Parks and Mobile Home Courts, Low Density9635
Low to Medium Rise major Office Use92
High-Rise Major Office Use20
Skyscrapers6
Regional Shopping Centre237
Retail Centres (Non-Strip with off-street parking)235
Modern Strip Development215
Older Strip Development130
Commercial Storage495
Commercial Recreation415
Hotels and Motels127
Attended Pay Public Parking Facilities59
Government Offices76
Police and Sheriff Stations81
Fire Stations119
Major Medical Health Care Facilities104
Religious Facilities351
Other Public Facilities198
Non-Attended Public Parking Facilities108
Correctional Facilities593
Special Care Facilities272
Other Special Use Facilities255
Pre-Schools/Day Care Centres231
Elementary Schools546
Junior High Schools789
Senior High Schools922
Colleges and Universities586
Trade Schools258
Base (Built-Up Area)621
Manufacturing, Assembly, and Industrial Services248
Motion Picture and Television Studio Lots115
Packing Houses and Grain Elevators667
Research and Development307
Manufacturing131
Petroleum Refining and Processing2312
Open Storage833
Major Metal Processing10117
Chemical Processing222
Mineral Extraction – Other Than Oil and Gas3264
Mineral Extraction – Oil and Gas4305
Wholesaling and Warehousing362
Airports1143
Rail-roads1065
Free-ways and Major Roads1194
Park and Ride Lots75
Bus Terminals and Yards249
Truck Terminals251
Harbour Facilities1420
Communication Facilities166
Electrical Power Facilities3113
Sold Waste Disposal Facilities2453
Liquid Waste Disposal Facilities1848
Water Storage Facilities843
Natural Gas and Petroleum Facilities697
Water Transfer Facilities10117
Improved Flood Waterways and Structures2870
Mixed Wind Energy Generation and Percolation Basin1760
Maintenance Yards307
Mixed Transportation574
Mixed Transportation and Utility8431
Mixed Commercial and Industrial159
Mixed Urban236
Golf Courses3401
Local Parks and Recreation618
Regional Parks and Recreation2734
Cemeteries3430
Wildlife Preserves and Sanctuaries7494
Specimen Gardens and Arboretum3613
Beach Parks7636
Other Open Space and Recreation489
Irrigated Cropland and Improved Pasture Land31130
Non-Irrigated Cropland and Improved Pasture Land31130
Orchards and Vineyards26979
Nurseries1936
Dairy and Intensive Livestock And Associated Facilities14453
Poultry Operations2594
Other Agriculture1900
Horse Ranches2753
Marina Water Facilities571

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Time for urban farming in cities to reduce obesity
Urban Farming

In 2005 over 40 % of the Earth’s land was given over to agriculture. This is an area of roughly 4.6 billion hectares, about the size of South America.  A further 3.2 to 3.6 billion hectares is being used to raise livestock. By 2050 up to 80% of the earth’s population will live in urban centres. If food is to be produced and consumed in the same inefficient way as is today, we will need further arable farm land the size of Brazil to support this population.

The best farming lands are already cultivated. Further increasing the agricultural land area will come with great environmental consequences, such as: destroying valuable natural ecosystems; water pollution from nutrient run-off; and soil erosion. New agricultural models are required. These models need to use new technology to improve cropping productivity while reducing the use of water and the application of fertilizer and other potentially harmful chemicals.

The evolving urban agriculture model

Urban Agriculture is one such model being developed around the world. In Chicago, the world’s largest rooftop farm is being built on top of a new manufacturing plant.  Gotham Greens, which runs three commercial greenhouses in the New York area, will own and operate this rooftop greenhouse. It will grow 15 types of leafy greens and produce about 45 tons of food a year. That is a lot of edible greens.

Plantagon
Plantagon being built in Linköping, Sweden

Plantagon being built in Linköping, Sweden

The first Plantagon urban vertical farm greenhouse is being constructed in Linköping, Sweden. According to Plantagon, the farm “will dramatically change the way we produce organic and functional food. It allows us to produce ecological [resources] with clean air and water inside urban environments, even major cities, cutting costs and environmental damage by eliminating transportation and deliver directly to consumers.”

Urban farming is safer, more local and with less or no input of unnatural pesticides.  Growing crops in a controlled environment has benefits such as: no animals to transfer diseases to plants through untreated waste; no massive crop failures as a result of weather-related disasters; less likelihood of genetically modified “rogue” strains entering nature. Urban farming helps urban areas make use of abandoned lots and buildings.

We need to start incorporating the production of food into the way we plan and organise the places we live. To date, governments at all levels have paid little systemic attention to this. Governments create land use plans that allow development to take place on prime farmland. They regulate access to water for food growers. They enforce antiquated zoning regulations that dictate where farming and food businesses can operate.  They do it all with little or no understanding of their impacts on communities’ food resources.

Cities make us fat

There is rising concern around the world the urban lifestyle is making us fat and sick. The rising rates of obesity in countries such as South Africa mirror similar trends around the world. In the past, the medical community blamed the individual for eating badly and not exercising. But there has been a change in attitude regarding this. The medical journal, The Lancet, in its special report on obesity in 2011, says rising obesity is the normal response of normal people to an abnormal environment.

In the United States hunger and obesity often go hand in hand. More than 17 million US households struggle to put food on the table, and when they do, it’s often highly processed and energy dense and is high in sugar and refined carbohydrates.  Healthy options are scarce in low-income neighbourhoods.  The Food Trust found a shortage of healthy food resources in lower-income areas across the state of Michigan has creating a public health crisis.

To fix the problem, we need to look at the way the city, our food and its inhabitants relate to one another. Yes, the individual has to be responsible for his or her lifestyle and food choices, but as the UK Local Government Association’s  Tackling the Causes and Effects of Obesity Report stated: “We are living in an `obesogenic environment’, one in which energy-dense rich foods are plentiful and sweets, sugary drinks and fast food are affordable, easily available and widely advertised to all ages. If we also consider how many short journeys are now taken by car, the numbers of people who work seated at computers or other sedentary occupations and reduced requirements for physical effort in the home and at work, it is hardly surprising that rates of obesity and overweight continue to rise at every stage in the life-course.”

Officials focused on food

Governments ensure public safety; they regulate economic activity; they have departments that deliver water, sewerage, education, transportation, open space (parks) and social services. Yet, governments pay little attention to the one resource most essential for our well-being, food.

We need officials in government who are dedicated full-time to addressing the problem.  The food system is complicated. It includes physical components such as land/areas for farming; facilities for storage, processing and retail; and transportation networks for distributing food. It also includes natural resources such as soil, water, sunshine and pollinators, and human resources like entrepreneurs and a trained workforce of farmers, farm workers and processors.

These officials will make sure land use and transportation plans protect assets such as farmland neighbourhoods. They will rewrite outdated zoning codes.  They will help bring amenities to cities like farmers’ markets and community gardens. They will assist in creating stronger regional supply chains of farmers, processors, distributors and consumers.

In the USA, Baltimore and Seattle are cities where thoughtful urban agriculture planning is already taking place. Both these cities have staff focused on developing purposeful food policy. Both also have food policy councils, advisory groups of committed volunteer residents who advocate for improvements.

In Australia the policy development has been more piecemeal.  The focus has been on urban gardens open to the community to grow food for their personal use.  Detailed policies still need to be developed that encourage large-scale commercial urban farming projects like those being undertaken in the USA or Sweden.

There are some encouraging signs that State and Local Government planning strategies have begun to incorporate more agriculturally ‘sensitive’ urban development. Melbourne’s latest planning strategy, Plan Melbourne (2014), emphasises the need to use undeveloped urban land for food production. Queensland State Government’s South East Queensland Regional Plan 2009-2031 has provisions that support ‘initiatives’ to increase access to fresh food in urban environments.

Modelling the food network

Governments need to invest in long term planning, delivery and maintenance of infrastructure networks such as: water, sewerage and roads. This planning strategy should extend to our food networks. When we are modelling the effect urban growth has on these infrastructure networks. We should also model the effect urban growth has on community’s access to healthy food resources.  If productive farming land is turned into urban development, then urban gardens or rooftop glass houses should be provided to offset this loss of that food production.

Forecaz Modeller makes it is very easy to add a ‘Food Network’. When the modeller generates urban growth models it can also forecast the demand for food resources to service the urban population. This demand for food resources can inform food network models to ensure the supply chains of farmers, processors and distributors can provide feed resources locally to the community.

Quoting Dr. Dickson Despommier, a professor of environmental sciences and microbiology at Columbia University. “Cities already have density and infrastructure needed to support vertical farms, and super-green skyscrapers could supply not just food but energy, creating a truly self-sustaining environment.”

Hopefully in the future our urban models will determine the area required for urban agriculture and urban planners will ensure this area is incorporated into the city’s strategic development plan.

Is the postcode dead?

what3words sydney opera houseLondon-based start-up what3words (w3w) has devised a new addressing system.  The system divides the entire world into a grid of 3m by 3m squares — 57 trillion of them in total. Each square has been labelled with a three word sequence. Although GPS services can already accurately pinpoint any location on earth, the w3w system provides a three-word code that makes it easier to remember and communicate with people over using complicated latitude and longitude coördinates.

Standing on the steps of the Sydney Opera House? You are at “maple.help.blows”. Want to direct someone to the table you are sitting at in the Brisbane City Botanical Gardens? Tell them to proceed to “preoccupied.horn.onions”. Climb to the top of Mount Everest. That is “ablaze.newsstand.unattactive”

The system provides a more accurate alternative to the current postcode, street and street number combination. With some publications questioning if it is the end of the post code. While the w3w system can overcome small location problems in western countries, such a directing a courier to a back door down an obscure lane, the ideal application is in those countries with inadequate addressing systems.

w3w claim “Around 75% of the world (135 countries) suffers from inconsistent, complicated or inadequate addressing systems. This means that around 4 billion people are invisible; unable to report crime; unable to get deliveries or receive aid; and unable to exercise many of their rights as citizens because they simply have no way to communicate where they live.”

“For example, it means that in remote locations water facilities can’t be found, monitored and fixed; and schools, refugee camps and informal settlements remain unaddressed.”

The system provides everyone and everywhere with an easy to remember three word address. These three words can be in their native language.

In western countries, we cannot see the w3w system gaining large popularity or acceptance for a number of reasons.

Postcode is ubiquitous

The current address system of postcode, street and street number combination is used everywhere to identify your location. A person’s details held on file and in IT systems expect the address to be in this format. These systems normally expect you to have a single residential address. Under the w3w system you could have 20, 30, 40… valid addresses depending on the size of your home and surrounding land.

Enhancing these systems and processes to include additional fields to hold the w3w three word address would be a significant undertaking.

No hierarchy

Humans naturally want to group and categorise things. It is how we simplify and understand complexity. The w3w system provides no hierarchy in their naming convention. It is just random word combinations assigned to each 3m by 3m square. We think this is a great detractor to the w3w system. The system could have easily provided a hierarchy to the words used to identify a square.

For example:

The 3m by 3m squares, call these Level 3 squares, could have been grouped into squares of 100 by 100 (300m by 300m).  Call these Level 2 squares.

The Level 2 squares could be grouped into squares of 10 by 10 (3km by 3km). Call these Level 1 squares.

Each of these levels would then be assigned a word to give a 3 level hierarchy. Such as:

Level 1 Level 2 Level 3
part vibe sand
react
radar
recator start
scandal
custom
violin legend
bind
plot

If a courier had a delivery to w3w addresses: “part.vibe.sand”  and “scam.fims.starts”. The courier has no idea if those locations are on the same street (they are), or the same suburb or even the same country.  They would have to use the w3w app to determine this.

However, if the proposed hierarchy was in place and the courier had a delivery to “part.vibe.sand” and “part.vibe.radar”, they would know these addresses are within 300m of each other.

When you are dealing with spatially models, much of the time is spent examining areas (i.e. planning zones).  Typically you are not interested in a specific building/location. It is more likely you want to look at what type of buildings are in an area or locate the community facilities in a neighbourhood. Suburbs (postcode) and streets gives this hierarchy to categorise and search on.  The w3w address does not.

No addressing guidelines

w3w has provided no guidelines or standards to determine which 3m x 3m square that covers your residence should be used for your address.  Is it the square that contains your letterbox? The square that contains your front door? The square that best fits the centre of your property?

While it may not be such an issue for a single home on an individual property, it does complicate the residential addresses of people residing in buildings containing multiple apartments/units.   You could have one person living on the northern side of an apartment complex that determine their address is “Unit 502, Level 5, reach.wished.clues”. Another person living on the southern side of the building determines their address is “Unit 605, Level 6, doing.lion.spin”. Again looking at these addresses, unless you used the w3w app, you would not be able to determine they are in the same building. If there was a guideline stating the three word address is the square that contains the front door of the building, then these people would have nominated the addresses of:  “Unit 502, Level 5, wage.brush.lofts” and “Unit 605, Level 6, wage.brush.lofts”.  Now it is obvious those two people are residing in the same building.

API dependence

Finding the geolocation for an address is a core function in most spatial systems.  To provide this function for three word addresses requires interfacing with the w3w Application Programming Interface (API). This requirement makes these spatial systems dependent on the w3w IT infrastructure.

Should a cyber-criminal decide to target w3w or there is a catastrophic failure of one or more components of w3w infrastructure, the API could not be available for hours, or even days. The geolocation function would stop working during this time. With some systems, such a failure would severely impact on the use of the system. This could cause financial loss and damage to the reputations of those organisations using these systems.

End of the postcode?

Certainly the w3w addressing system has applications in the courier/transport industry. We cannot see much appeal for individuals to use the w3w address to provide their location to other people. All mapping applications (such as google maps) allow you to share your location removing the need to for you to work out latitude and longitude coordinates.

Given the above reasons, in western countries, we do not think three word addresses will be generally accepted as an alternative to the postcode, street and street number address combination, despite the limitations in using this address.

The take-up of the w3w addressing system will come from countries with inadequate addressing systems. These countries don’t have universal postcode coverage to start with.

Is it the end of the postcode? Not yet.

Will Sizztech enhance Forecaz Modeller to support w3w addressing? There are no plans to because of the reasons given above.

High density without occupancy

High density apartmentsThe article High density housing’s biggest myth by Ross Elliott published on The Pulse, suggests many high-rise apartments recently constructed or being constructed contain numerous apartments that are vacant or not occupied, particularly in the inner city areas. We have observed this trend with high density residential properties when developing urban growth models.  This trend imposes the requirement for urban models to provide for properties in some locations not being fully occupied. In some cases this can be as low as 20% occupancy. These low percentages are normally seen in holiday areas such as the Gold Coast or Sunshine Coast.

With the apartments in these high-rise buildings, Ross suggests “many are vacant: simply locked up and not used by their owners (often overseas buyers)”. Whilst this will be true for some apartments, other apartments are being utilised for short-term accommodation. These apartments are available as serviced apartments or short-term rentals and this type of land use should be accounted for in your urban growth modelling.

Forecaz Modeller provides the ability to specify a Non-Resident Population Ratio that can be applied to land uses and planning zones. This ratio specifies what portion of a building’s population is not a permanent resident (also called transient population). When comparing population totals from our urban growth models to official population projections, the non-resident population is excluded.  A good method for confirming these Non-Resident Population Ratios is to compare your baseline population from your model against the official population figures provided by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

We do agree with Ross.  Owner occupiers are not swapping backyards for balconies, despite what the many in the media and property commentators would have you believe. There is credible research such as Cities: Better for the Great Suburbanization or Suburbs: The Geography That Won’t Die that shows owner occupiers want to live in the suburbs.  Our blog article Growing cities become less dense also supports this view point.

Owner occupiers still desire a backyard. Although, their houses will probably be bigger and the backyard smaller when compared to their parent’s homes.

Beware the faults

Tilted HouseThe Digital Cadastral DataBase (DCDB) can be utilised to give you the number of units in building covered by group title. The cadastre can identify the common property, normally “Lot 0”, and each individual unit in the building, including the unit area and external shape. This is very useful when you have multiple floors in a building and the aerial photography or satellite view make it very difficult to identify the number of floors and number of units per floor in that building.

This method is not always reliable. We have found faults in the DCDB, when a group title property contains more than one building, that you need to be aware of. In locations were there are two or more buildings, we have seen instances of every unit “lot” within the property being assigned across multiple buildings. Let me give you an example to explain this.

Wrong by a factor of 10

Let us imagine there is a resort that is composed of group title units. There are 10 buildings in this resort. Each building has 8 floors, with 2 units per floor. Thus, we would expect the DCDB to contain 160 (10 x 8 x 2) spatial representations of the units at that location, together with the common property.  The spatial representations of units 1-16, you would expect to be located in Building 1. The spatial representations of units 17-32, you would expect to be located in Building 2, and so on.

Multidwelling exampleNot so. We have come across properties where each building contains spatial representations of all 160 units, giving 1600 units (10 x 160) and 1600 separate records in the DCDB. Identifying the location of a specific unit in the DCDB will show it being located in every building. Should you count these 1600 records in your urban growth model, you will be out by a factor of 10 at that location. The worst example we have come across so far is the DCDB showing 1789 units located at one group title property, when there are only 112.

The other observation we have made is properties with this issue tend to be located in the same area. This is due to the planning zone supporting this type of development. If you were not aware of this issue and utilised the DCDB to provide with the number of multiple dwellings on a site, your urban growth model would greatly exaggerate the existing development in that area. This would have a significant impact the model’s projections and final results.

To overcome this issue, we group the spatial representations of the units by their unique identifier. With the cadastre we work with this is the attribute “Lotplan”.  By grouping by this identifier, ensures only the unique attributes are processed within the urban growth model.

Other faults

Other issues we have found are inaccurate attributes assigned to the spatial geometry. We have discovered instances of the common propriety having a parish name that is different to the multiple units located inside that common property.  These minor issues tend not to affect a model, unless you are grouping and aggregating on these attributes.

There are mechanisms to give feedback on Cadastral data accuracy. In Queensland, where we are located, you can send an email to CadastralAdminDataHelp@dnrm.qld.gov.au.  All government authorities normally provide a method to give feedback on the cadastre they are responsible for.

3D city planning

3D Modelling

Now with the latest geospatial technology and the increased processing power of computer hardware, 3D modelling is feasible and requires much less time and effort. Directions Magazine has an article that explores a 3D modelling approach: Three-dimensional City Planning Using Photogrammetry and GIS. The article describes how photogrammetric data and GIS software tools are used to produce 3D city models.

These models enable the study of complex urban environment and find solutions for various threats and challenges involved with urbanisation. Especially in Asia, where issues such has: exponential population growth and in-migration of poor people, industrial growth, inefficient and inadequate traffic corridors, lack of services and amenities and solid waste generation, are having adverse impacts on human life in city environments.   3D modelling and visualisation systems support the decision making process allowing quick evaluation and communication of ideas, leading to better urban planning and administration outcomes.

Closer to home, Brisbane City Council has developed a spatially accurate and interactive 3D model of Brisbane City’s CBD and inner 5 kilometres.  The 3D model is known as Virtual Brisbane.  It is an important strategic planning, development assessment and community engagement tool that is use by the Council.

The challenge in generating these 3D models are:

  1. Sourcing the data required for the model.
  2. Having sourced the data, maintaining the data and keeping it up-to-date.

The 3D modelling approach described in Directions Magazine requires CAD layers for features such as roads, railways, pipelines, poles and buildings. These CAD layers may be relatively easy to acquire in Asia with centralised governments and government departments responsible for such infrastructure. It can present a quite challenge here in Australia to acquire this information.  There can be up to 3 levels of government that are responsible for this infrastructure being: State Government, Local Government Authorities and Government Owned Corporations (i.e. Water Utilities, Energy Utilities). Each one has to be approached and negotiated with to obtain the CAD layers.

Consideration needs to be given when you are developing your models on how you will maintain them into the future.  When negotiating with stakeholders to acquire the data for your model, you should make sure a process can be established that will allow access to ongoing updates of that data.  I have witnessed people neglecting to do this and having to start again from the beginning when they come to update a model. This includes re-negotiating with stakeholders to access the updated data.

Growing cities become less dense

Cities become less denseThere is a misbelief among those in the press and some urban analysts that as cities become larger they become more densely populated. The article World Megacities: Densities fall as they become larger published by newgeography indicates the opposite is true.

newgeography builds on the groundbreaking work (such as in Planet of Cities) performed by New York University geographer, Professor Shlomo Angel. newgeography concluded population densities were falling in each of the 34 mega cities analysed.  One example was London. Even though urban sprawl is heavily constrained by greenbelts created following World War II, “London’s density is estimated to have dropped by two-thirds”.

This trend extends even to the lowest income cities, such as Addis Abeba (Ethiopia), where the population has increased more than 250 percent since the middle 1970s, while the urban population density has declined more than 70 percent. The rapidly growing cities of China exhibit the same tendency.  According to newgeography, with the newly classified megacity of Tianjin, “approximately 85 percent of Tianjin’s recent growth has been outside the core districts”.

A factor in Australia that will cause lower densities is the changing makeup of households in the future. The Household and Family Projections, Australia, 2011 to 2036 release by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, show the number of people living alone is projected to increase.  In 2011 this household population was 2.1 million and is projected to increase by between 61% and 65% over the projection period to between 3.3 and 3.4 million in 2036.  Just over half of people living alone are females and this reflects the higher life expectancy of women.

Forecaz Modeller provides for changing occupancy rates over future projection years, both for attached dwellings (units/townhouses) and detached dwellings (houses).  This feature allows the population densities in the urban growth models to decrease over time, whilst the overall population continues to increase.

Even though the urban planning strategy in many areas has been “up not out”, urban planners must accommodate development growth occurring near to or at the urban fringe.  As cities expand, they should ensure they secure the necessary land for roads, infrastructure networks, and public open spaces in advance of development.

50,000 new dwellings along Parramatta Road

New Parramatta Rd Urban RenewalThe NSW Government has released the Draft Parramatta Road Urban Renewal Strategy. The Government is aiming for 50,000 new dwellings and 50,000 jobs in the Parramatta Road corridor by 2050. With eight suburbs/precincts targeted for development and jobs growth.

I am always a bit sceptical about claims made by government when comes to population and employment projections. The high level assumptions these claims are based on tend to be very optimistic.  When you start to apply them on the ground there are constraints (such as easements, property frontages and network infrastructure capacity) that apply at a property level and restrict what growth will be achieved.

We often encounter this when generating urban growth models, especially when it comes to employment. Typically there is not the physical land with the necessary non-residential land uses (i.e. Retail, Commercial, and Industrial) available to produce the projected employment.

The advantage of using Forecaz Modeller is you can build an initial model based on the assumptions of the urban renewal strategy. You can refine the model by changing the zone development densities and zoning geographical areas.  Then generate a new model to determine what realistic future projections can be achieved.

I noted the strategy focused on transport infrastructure, but was silent on the other two networks required to support this growth, water supply and sewerage. I would be confident in saying these networks do not have existing capacity to sustain this growth and some major network upgrades are going to be required. The sequencing of these upgrades is going to influence what future growth can be achieved.