MADAboutMADA S1 01

HL (Hayden Lavigne): Welcome to MadAboutMADA. I’m Hayden.

HM (Hannah Mawhirt): I’m Hannah.

C (Chee-Song Chuah): And I’m Chee-Song. We’ll be your hosts today for our episode about 20-minute cities. We’ll be interviewing Markus Jung, who is a practising architect, critic and researcher in urban design and housing in Monash. A large part of his research has been in co-authoring a book, Building Mixity.

HM: They investigate urban strategies for site responsive and inclusive urban densification of Cremorne, an inner-city industrial suburb of Melbourne. In this plan, he discusses the industrial suburb transformation of Cremorne, through bottom-up and top-down tactics.

HL: So what is a 20-minute neighbourhood or city?

M (Markus Jung): Okay. So [the] 20-minute neighbourhood or city seems to be a very popular theme at the moment here in Melbourne. It's actually not so new in other parts of the world. And basically, it's talking about the mobility mode in a sustainable way by metro, bicycle, walking and it's talking about the accessibility to public services, jobs, shops, restaurants, parks within that distance in 20 minutes.

HM: So the next question being, what urban planning principles is it based off and are there any particular precedents that you can think of?

M: The 20-minute city is actually an expansion of the 5-minute city, which is related to neighbourhood accessibility. Commonly, we speak about, you know, a school, a public square, but also shops and, you know, basic amenities in the neighbourhood. And the 20-minute expands that by rethinking neighbourhoods on a metropolitan scale. So that's the [idea]. It combines these two concepts. All the five minutes is contained within.

And two renowned ones which have been publicly advertised— one is in Copenhagen, Nordhavn, which is actually a project by COBE Architects or Urbanists. And it's about the post-industrial transformation of a former industrial port of Copenhagen envisioned as a new sustainable precinct for Copenhagen. They combine different modes of mobility, sustainable mobility modes. So prioritizing the rail, cycling and then walking, of course, they prioritize in contrast to the car. So that's one interesting precedent.

Another one by BIG Architects, also for Copenhagen, which re-envisioned the urban planning, which came out of the fif[ties] or forties—the so-called five-finger plan. So that was really the expansion and growth, addressing the growth of Copenhagen in finger modes with the hand palm being the old core city and the fingers then, the future urban development. And the project by BIG, which is called Loop is overlaying that and connecting those fingers via the rail and creating these important nodes for densification, relying on transport—rail transport.

HL: So it's a bit like the suburban loop that we're talking about.

M: Exactly, exactly. So that's, this is really the suburban loop, which hopefully will come. I mean, it looks as this will be developed and it’s really necessary, we need that in Melbourne. And the rest of the super loop—Melbourne's super loop, is at a bigger scale compared to Copenhagen, of course, and will have an important impact in terms of mobility but also, economically speaking, these nodes will be developed in an interesting way, hopefully.

HM: And a big difference with Copenhagen is that the main use of transport is cycling in itself. So how do you think that Melbourne will differ because cycling isn’t as big as it is in Copenhagen?

M: Well, personally, I think Melbourne has developed cycling in the recent years and in a very good and interesting way. So I've arrived in Melbourne, as you probably know, only in 2011. And at that time, there were the first cycling paths being introduced to the CBD. So that was a real[ly] new thing.

And then there's the blue Melbourne bike that was offered to the public, I think a year later. And there are these bike trails which are, you know, they are in all important documents by the government. So I think that's really great. And it takes time. And the cycling in Copenhagen or in other parts of Europe has a longer history, tradition. Also, because we are talking about a different city type now, which is more the organically grown, European, the old city, grown from the medieval times. So that's a different city type. But Melbourne is doing extremely well, I think.

C: So what would you say are the differences between what people would consider a ‘city’ and [a] 20-minute city? Is there a big difference between that? Or are people more [sic], moving towards the idea that the ‘city’ should be a 20-minute city? Yeah.

M: We have got all sorts of different cities, not one generic city. I mean, there is one which I mentioned already,—

C: Yep.

M: —which is more the,—

C: Organic. 

M: —you could say the organically grown city, which at its core was holding you know, was holding old medieval villages with representative buildings of public-ness, et cetera. And then there is the colonial city, the gridded city which we have here in Australia or in South America or North America, which developed particularly from [those] in the United States, was then really celebrating the car industry. And this is related to the development of suburbia, you know? Et cetera.

So the 20-minute city, if we relate that to the gridded city now, is bringing something very important and something new and it's really challenging the transporta— the personal, private transportation systems of the car, actually. So that's the major difference.

However, these nodes in the future, in order to be successful, we will need a critical mass of people. First of all, is infrastructures are very important to implement. So it needs a critical mass of population. So the growth at the moment is, or since we've arrived, is at 2.2% per year. So if that keeps going, then that might help, yeah?

And then next to the critical mass, I believe it's important that there is, these nodes they have some sort of historical value, a character or a history or a community already existent where these places can tap in these intersections.

HL: So what do you think the constraints of a 20-minute cities[y] are? So you mentioned the—

M: Critical mass,—

HL: —the critical mass.

M: —population, because these, normally in urban planning, urban design, these infrastructures are the first thing to be planned and built.

HL: Mm-hmm.

M: But it really needs then, on the second hierarchy, needs supporting infrastructures. So we are talking about simple things. It could be community centres, swimming pool [sic], a library, doctors and other public facilities. And so without that critical mass, there is no investment in these secondary layer [sic] of infrastructures.

So I think that's the main constraint in terms of workplace. I mean, work is being reorganised and so we are not so more [sic] dependent as, maybe 50 years ago, to live around the factories, so to speak. Because we are, we live in the technologicalised [sic] age and so we can do work from everywhere, anywhere with our laptops or iPads. So this dependency is not anymore so relevant, the spatial proximity.

C: But how does that tie in with like, people realising the effect of automobiles and their own personal transportation? Like, so, would people necessarily have to commute using cars? Or is that, is that a thing where they— 

M: Well the whole idea of a 20-minute city concept is relying on—

C: Less of cars?

M: —Of course. Yeah. It's really relying on the rail, you know?

C: Yeah. 

M: So if you look at cities in Japan or in China—in the area which I know very well is the Yangtze River Delta and within that area, you've got 15 to 20 cities which are connected by high-speed train. So there's a population of 150 million–160 million people living and they operate as 20-minute cities to each other and rely on that high-speed train, everyone takes the high-speed train—or think about Tokyo, for example. And this could be a vision for Melbourne in the future, I mean, on a smaller scale and this is what's happening. That the area in the inner suburbs already, and it becomes more dense, dense, dense, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

HM: Okay, so the next phase of the questions will focus more on the specifics of the project that you’ve been working for through your studio and the book that you created with Cremorne. So, what makes Cremorne a good, potential 20-minute city? Why have you chosen Cremorne as a suburb?

M: Why we chose Cremorne?

HM: Yeah.

M: Well Cremor— well it has, the story to this research has two components. The one is actually related to our personal life or decision we made to live there actually when we arrived from Europe.

We've done a [sic] research, “Where do we want to live?” and “Why?” And that was geostrategic considerations [sic] which played a role for us to decide to live there. And these are all related to the 20-minute city, in actual fact, without thinking directly to this label.

But Cremorne is, sits on a node, a transport node, important transport node, first of all. So the Richmond station is the highest frequented station after the Flinders Street and Southern Cross. And it connects to the beach, to the south, it has the lines into the employment corridor here—Caulfield, Clayton, Dandenong, as well as the Belgrave-Lilydale lines. So it's ideal [sic] located if we talk about the metro now. That was one decision, the proximity to my workplace, to my office, so in 20 minutes, door to door, it's exactly that.

And on the level of everyday life, I mean, Cremorne was very different. It has changed a lot, dramatically since we've arrived. But we saw the potential or we could recognise that. And Swan Street was relatively rundown, but there was already, as for, signs of change. There was a growing community, an old community which we could feel and could sense as urbanists. And it had this interesting post-industrial fabric, interesting buildings, which we liked. And it had the proximity to the river, to the gardens—botanic gardens, to Olympic Boulevard. And it was 50-minutes walk to the city so that was the ideal location without knowing Melbourne. So we investigated that. So that's how it how this research started. So it starts from very personal interest and living. It was our living lab as well. We lived in our research.

C: So now being in Melbourne and knowing more about the suburbs around and, like you mentioned before, some of the conditions that make Cremorne a good 20-minute city was like, the existing transport network. So why not, let's say, a suburb like Caulfield? Because Caulfield also has quite a central railway station that you, also links to, like the south and the eastern employment corridor. [Is it] possible that other centres and suburbs around Melbourne could possibly have the same effect if they were slotted [sic] to be a 20-minute city?

M: Yes, of course. I strongly believe in that. I mean, I explained why Cremorne was so interesting for us on many, many different levels. But there is a limitation. We were talking about this in the book. We are setting Cremorne in the context of other post-industrial sites. These are, this network related, also, to the Burgess model. So how cities—colonial cities, developed in a concentric way in rings, organised in rings from the CBD outwards. And this is all functionally defined in the planning. And this is why most post-industrial sites are the older ones. They sit within that, or at the edge of that first ring around—

HL: Hmm. 

M: —Melbourne, yeah.

At the time, there was, the debate was different, it has shifted since that time in these seven, eight years now. At the time [sic], it was really important to demonstrate, for us in our research, the potentials of post-industrial sizing related, in relation of [sic] population growth. So that was not a theme at the time. The focus was mainly on beachside development, et cetera, et cetera. So this is why that was very important in seeing that in conjunction with other post-industrial sites, why they can cater for population growth.

The disadvantage in [sic] development in, let's say, outer suburbs is maybe a lack of history or interesting grain or communities and fabrics. So it needs to be created ex—[unintelligeble 15:27] often. So that's that. That might be more challenging and less attractive for, at least for a certain segment of society.

But in relation of [sic] transport services, knowledge production, jobs—that could work, that will work very, very well and it will be necessary, actually, to develop areas like Caulfield and Clayton. Clayton is a project I'm working on at the moment—research project—it's called the Industrial Revolution, where we are starting from the learnings of Building Mixity. We are starting, investigating these questions on a metropolitan scale, whereas this is more on a precinct scale.

C: So the outer suburb development would come later to the more, first ring of the CBD, kind of. So it would continue on, possibly?

M: Yeah, well if the population growth will continue at a 2% rate per year, then that will become necessary at some point. But as I said, we are more, we are advocating in the first instance, to really, to exploit or being [sic] creative and opportunistic about densifying within the existing built fabric, because that's what it would be, in our point of view, it's a much more sustainable way in using existing buildings, extending them, intensifying them, using those, reusing those materials, et cetera.

HL: So you've mentioned how important public transport is to a 20-minute city in regards to Cremorne Station. How did you come up with this idea and why do you think that it was important to Cremorne considering its proximity to Richmond?

M: Totally banal actually. That comes out of our historical research. And Cremorne used to have a station doing, exactly in that point. So the idea was to reactivate, in exactly that same spot, that station. And so that was, so there is a history, firstly.

And secondly, it's related to really trying to envision Cremorne as a 5-minute neighbourhood. So Cremorne, so the two stations will be apart like, around 700 metres or 500 metres, walking distance is 400 metres walk. So it's almost these two radius [sic] within five minutes walking distance, you could almost cover the whole of Cremorne to these stations. That's the reason.

HL: Yeah.

HM: So you have mentioned that—the use of high-speed trains but can you rely on other transport methods such as buses and trams instead of a train?

M: In Copenhagen, the Loop project combines all, and in Nordhavn as well, actually, they combine light rail, so that is a tram, basically. I think we would need to look at this case by case. It depends if the tram caters for these essential public services. So if we are talking about a hospital, for example, if it's supplied by a tram within these 20 minutes, that helps, of course. If it's about workplaces, as I mentioned that as well already, not necessarily we are dependent being in that physical realm. That's, that's, depends also about what kind of professions we are working at.

But if we, these 20-minute nodes, they should bring it to at least a node which is connected, then, for example, to a major densification centre, to an airport, to a ferry system, et cetera. So, yeah, it's important, having them.

C: So, working within a studio with students—how did that sort of change the dynamic and the direction of your research? Did they bring any interesting points of view into your ongoing research and like, how do you like, work with them to create this kind of idea?

M: So this is quite interesting, the way how, more than myself work as academics, researchers. The design studios, which are research, they have a very strong research component, these studios. The design studios and our students—they play an important and crucial role.

So these studios are being, really, used as ideas [sic] factories and the students they test in these studios, particular ideas. They are framed, of course. So, for example, in the Cremorne studios, important [sic] was to investigate hybrid types of, or hybrid typologies. By hybrid, in this case, there was one constant program which was housing. Because the question of where to accommodate a population, that was what the research initially was about, or our thinking to demonstrate how to bring population into that area and to cater for a different market segment of apartments. In contrast to the one, two, three-bedroom, to cater for families, et cetera. So this was an important component which was tested by the students.

Or what is a private partnership, no, private-public partnership? What could that mean in Melbourne? So these concepts were then discussed in these studios and students were responding to that in a creative way through design proposals. So in the book, we've got, let's say like this, we had two design studios, I think in 2012, 2011, 2012, that's kind of where that started. And the other thing important in that we engage with the students was the students have been really instrumental in and they drove that process in advocating these ideas which were generated in sort of, in these studios, which was much more blue-sky thinking and advocating them with public realm. So the students drove events in a parking lot, which we occupied together for a weekend and we're connected to a party but showcasing the works. That was one event. And then there was a second event which the students drove, which was then happening in a gallery. This gallery doesn't exist anymore—Blockprojects Gallery, where the students installed an inflatable space, et cetera.

So this is very important, no? But the actual, so the actual research started, it's kicked off by this—by the studios. But the actual research, processing, developing typologies, representing, calculate, all these things, embedding it in an economic context, that started after those studios.

HL: So having published your book, Building Mixity, a few years ago, is there anything that you would change about it or is there something that you've learned post-publication that you think that you might like to include?

M: Things have shifted now. The contents in urban planning, urban design has shifted, so the densification of the inner suburbs, that's acknowledged, that's happening everywhere, almost everywhere in the inner suburbs.

So this theme, we could really, you know, we could support this very much with that research period, there have been a number of publications, conference presentations, it was at the Venice Biennale. So, this was a long process over a period of time of six years. Now the themes, they, the theme, which we’ll address much, much strongly [sic] now, is really about finding the integrated position of built form and urban ecology. So the quite the, so the integration of blue and green infrastructures would play a bigger role in the continuation of that research.

So, for example, these long laneways, historically, that's created the urban fabric in Cremorne. They were used to cater [sic] water from the river and to irrigate the fields. So initially, there was farming, historically. And these laneways they could be envisioned, you know, as becoming cool lines, so cool lines in the sense of, that's the research we're working on at the moment, which is really catering for this pedestrian movement in a cool way.

Because from climate change, we know already by 2050 we will have an average mean [of] 1.4° more [sic] higher temperatures. The hottest day will be around [40°] in January. And so that's an important issue. You know? So whereas the initial—not the initial—the research here is really about acknowledging built form, talking about how to transform and use, reuse them in an interesting way and to offer housing as a mixity. The typologies now, they would also need to address these issues of climate change and green infrastructures. This would be something which would play an important role, as well as to integrate water as a factor of cooling buildings so that this would be the progression of this in relation of these—five-minutes walkability because in the future if it goes on like this, we can't be outside anymore. So how do we respond to that in relation of public space?

HM: Are there any key points that you've researched that we haven't touched upon? And is there anything left to learn? Do you think that we can learn from 20-minute cities and further investigate them as well? 

M: I think it’s not so, the question is, is for me, it's not so much about “what can we learn about it?” I mean, the [sic] Cremorne is a blueprint for, we believe, a great 20-minute city, and it's operating as such and it works perfectly well.

And it's more about what we can achieve in academia as researchers, what can we do with our students? And then so that, the important thing, so I hinted that before is really this advocacy, which is really relevant. So contributing to the discussion of the city we are living in and academia is this is I think it's a great platform on many levels. And the book is evidence that you can, we can contribute in a very productive way.

There has been policy changes which were positively informed. The Commercial Zone 3—I don't know if you heard about this—the Commercial Zone 3 is actually using the word, not mixity, but mix, yeah? So, it's introduced, it's allowing in, that policy came out last year, it's allowing local governments to embed housing in post-industrial zones, for example. So that's one very important thing. We had a number of meetings with the mayor as well. It was debated on conferences, international conferences, as I said already.

These types of research, they give the students as well, the opportunity to connect with the real world, you know? Related to these events, so they were really exposed through these events to the community, to local governmental bodies, to stakeholders, people of interest who came and exchanged with the studio in and around these exhibitions, events, et cetera. And so I think that's the, for me it’s rather, you know, it's, 20-minutes is one, there's so many other concepts within that book. This is only one of many others. It's rather about what type of research it can contribute to discussion on our particular city and possibly, to inform or be transposable into other contexts. So that's the learning, actually, I believe.

HL: We’d like to thank Markus for giving up his time to answer our questions, and you, for listening.