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Living cities

Cite Magazine
Issue 25 - Winter 2015

I grew up in Pemberton, a forestry town in southwest Western Australia. As kids we wandered through thousands of hectares of forest. Sometimes we wouldn’t see our parents from morning until night. I was lucky to grow up in such an environment where ecology and natural systems were present in my everyday life.

Andy Sharp

Andy Sharp, Director of Properties, Facilities and Development

With this background I was naturally drawn to the study of landscape architecture. Instead of focusing on one piece of a system (such as a building), landscape architecture takes an entire space or city and, through good design, tries to balance all its inputs and outputs. A city should ideally function like a forest ecosystem – every living and non-living component working in unison to support life. Landscape architects and urban designers use a similar ‘whole-systems’ approach to create sustainable, livable cities and spaces.

The systems approach is more important than ever as populations continue to amass in cities. Some cities are coping with the pressures of population growth better than others. For example, Singapore has limited space and a high-density population, yet it’s developed very cohesive and efficient transportation, water and education systems. It aspires to become the greenest city in Asia, and you can see this in the actual physical greening of the environment. Everywhere you go in Singapore you find tree-lined streets, green walls, veggie plots and rooftop gardens. Studies show people are healthier and happier the more connected they are to nature and community. I think Singapore really understands the integrated way that people live and operate.

Perth is ranked as one of the most livable cities for our beaches, blue skies and high-quality parks. These natural assets are wonderful, however, we are not necessarily an integrated city. Perth is very spread out. Our sprawling suburbs need kilometers of asphalt to service them and are expensive to connect with public transport. Our love affair with cars and big blocks doesn’t help things, either! Unfortunately, if we don’t start stepping out of our cars, we might never get other, greener modes of transport in place. Melbourne is a good example of a city that has a compact urban area with pedestrian-friendly streets and effective public transport. I think this is possible for Perth, but we need to be proactive and demonstrate that we’re willing to change.

Universities are uniquely positioned to be leaders in the change towards sustainability. Curtin University in Bentley is well on its way to becoming a fully integrated campus. Bentley Campus was recently the first university site in Australia to achieve the Building Council of Australia’s 5-Star Green Star – Communities rating, but there is much more we can do. Greater Curtin aims to integrate Bentley’s buildings, transport, natural ecosystems and campus life for the long-term benefit of the whole Curtin community and its surroundings.

The place activation activities you see around Bentley Campus are the first step towards making Curtin ‘greater’. The Danish architect Jan Gehl founded his placemaking practice, the Gehl Architects, on the idea of putting people first, buildings later. People want to spend time in places that give them something – an experience, a memory, or a sense of excitement. Thanks to our place activation officer, Hillary Lambert, Bentley is now buzzing with roaming performers, food trucks, public art, markets and more. Students, staff and visitors alike are engaged with the campus, staying longer than ever before in this dynamic learning environment.

These kind of physical interactions are so important as we spend more of our time in the digital world. While online learning tools provide incredibly valuable opportunities for students, there is still no substitute for hands-on learning. Universities are perfect places for like-minded people to get together and collaborate face-to-face. With its outstanding facilities and stimulating atmosphere, I believe the University has a bright future as a place that attracts people from all walks of life, making tomorrow better for all Western Australians.

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