Newcastle’s Problems – The Series

Downtown Newcastle is about halfway between a seedy late-night no-go zone and a hip vibrant small downtown core. At the seventh largest city in Australia, Newcastle commands great beaches, a great lifestyle and affordable living, but downtown is a mess. This series aims to expose several issues that need to be addressed to make this a world class city.

I’m in the process of writing these posts, with the move to Canada and all, these posts could be a bit spaced out.


This page will be updated as the posts roll out. Stay tuned…

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Sydney’s Suicide Towers Now Recognized as a Safe Community

Housing Commission estates have long been regarded as the worst of the worst, places where community has no chance of forming, crime rates are high, drugs are freely available, most of us wouldn’t dare to walk through one after dark. Sydney now has a model of how to turn an estate around…

The high-rise Northcott estate in Surry Hills was plagued by drug addiction, crime and mental health problems, leading the media to dub it “Suicide Towers”. Now it has become the first public housing estate in the world to achieve World Health Organisation (WHO) recognition as a “safe community”.

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Water Sensitive Urban Design

Well, that’s what we call it in Australia anyway, rain water tanks, rain gardens, biofiltration swales, wetlands, sand filters, gross pollutant traps are all critical parts of residential and urban stormwater management.

Planetizen points to a recent article in the Urban Land magazine, (usually subscription only, but follow the link below for this article).

Vogel believes that Seattle and Portland have come closest to designing natural stormwater management for an urban density that would please urbanists of all stripes. “Portland’s 12th Avenue is a model for fitting nature-based stormwater management into the traditional street network in moderate- to high-density areas. In bringing even more of nature’s functions into such areas, Seattle’s “Swale on Yale” and Taylor 28 move further in the direction of…high-performance infrastructure.

Source: Does Runoff Have To Run Off? | Planetizen

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Innovative Playground Design


Growing up, I don’t remember playgrounds near our house, we had “the bush”. This tract of nature reserve, nestled in the leafy suburbs of North Shore Sydney, was the destination for all our neighborhood adventures.

Who needed a cubby house? We had secret hideouts hidden behind impenetrable thorny bushes.
Who needed a bike park? We had the walking trails with steps carved out of the native sandstone.
Who needed climbing structures? We had the 3 and more meter high rocky “cliffs” that we used to rappel down.

Not everyone has access to this, not while living in a city or the suburbs, but shouldn’t we design and build play structures that offer at least some of these activities and excitement?

If you can’t tell, playgrounds interest me. Maybe its because I’ve got two kids and they always want to go to a park or playground, but from a structural, civil, urban design perspective, (which, if you’re wondering, that really is the general level of though that my mind holds to), playgrounds are a unique element in the built environment, and one that is generally done poorly. Metropolis Magazine recently stated in an article on innovative playgrounds…

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Cowtown – The Sprawling City

My family likes Calgary. We lived there for two years and loved it, enjoying it’s proximity to the mountains, a fantastic river corridor through the city and it’s vibrant, sometimes alternative communities. But Calgary is a sprawling city, ever increasing it’s city limits like a belt on it’s last hole, it barely contains the bulging waistline of a growing population.

I recently returned from a quick trip to Calgary, visiting friends who live in a cute modest house in the suburbs, on a quiet street where the kids can play on their bikes or with hockey sticks without fear of high speed traffic.  They know their neighbors names, and all the kids on the street. Its a little community looking out for each other. Sounds ideal doesn’t it?  The American Dream, replayed in a city nestled against the Canadian Rockies. I loved their home and their community, and if it were a bit more affordable, we would consider moving there ourselves.

The reality of the image is a little darker, with long commutes to work, high mortgages on expensive house and land packages, double digit economic growth forcing potential home buyers to look further and further afield for their dream home. Parts of downtown are rough, in a recent article, Lisa Rochon of The Globe and Mail stated…

Suburbs are not only unsustainable, they suck the life out of the downtown.

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WorldChanging the Book

I’ve recently discussed with the editors of this book and website to be included/invited on the list of Canadian blog authors on, (in light of our upcoming move to Canada), and once again, I’d like to give a shout-out to their recently release book, (#18 on today!)…

Bill McKibben calls it “the Whole Earth Catalog retooled for the iPod generation.”

BusinessWeek says the book “reads like a smart, hip mini-encyclopedia of what’s new and what’s next in green technologies and earth-conscious ideas.”

Climate champion Laurie David calls it “The seminal resource guide for anyone concerned about today and the future.”

Earth Day founder Denis Hayes says, “Worldchanging might well be the most complete, compelling articulation of the possible look and feel and actual operation of a sustainable society ever written.”

New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert says “Read it: it may change your life.”

Grist says “Buy a few copies and give them as gifts. Buy one for your local coffee shop or cafe to leave out for public perusal. Buy one and send it to Sen. James Inhofe. But be sure to buy it.”

Source: WorldChanging: Tools, Models and Ideas for Building a Bright Green Future: Help Make Worldchanging a Bestseller – 5 Things You Can Do Today

Check out the reviews on – Worldchanging: A User’s Guide for the 21st Century – 5 stars!

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Cyclists Can (and Should) Hold Their Ground

Cyclists generally stand up for their rights, many don’t do a good job of appearing beyond reproach themselves, riding through intersections on red lights and riding on the sidewalk whenever it’s convenient, but in general cyclists are a pretty good bunch.

This cyclist stood up for her right to be in the bike lane without cars:

At around 8:50am on October 20, 2006, on the road from the Zhaoyang East bridge towards the Blue Island Building, a funny episode occurred: a foreigner acted as traffic police and made a small sedan which had gone into the bicycle lane move back out into the car lane.

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