Category Archives: News

Haptic pathways: co-designing inclusive, civil and sensorial moments in the city

by Freya Thomas

A few members of ICON Science recently collaborated with Dr Zoe Myers from the Australian Urban Design Research Centre in the School of Design at the University of Western Australia by entering a design challenge set by The City of Melbourne.

Our design was titled:

Haptic pathways: co-designing inclusive, civil and sensorial moments in the city

Our winning design sought to create a design for new and improved opportunities for immersive nature experiences that focus on the use of native vegetation to provide a sensory connection to nature in cities. Our design specifically focused on producing diverse sensory experiences, including previously under-emphasised and under-explored facets of sensory connection, such as touch and smell.

Our Haptic Pathway imagined urban greening along an inner-city residential street in Melbourne that was:

  • Inclusive – space and pathways to empower all residents, although particularly those who struggle to move through standard urban spaces and have reduced capacity to engage through sight and sound, to feel comfortable moving through a public space through everyday routines and through all seasons.
  • Civic – a design on a ‘regular’ urban street to invite people of all abilities, perceptions and ages to engage with biodiversity through incidental experiences.
  • Sensorial – a space with diverse and layered multi-sensory natural elements. A design that actively works with senses of touch and smell instead of just sight.
  • Ecological – we incorporated indigenous and native plants to provide sensorial experience but also biodiversity benefits by encouraging ecological interactions with birds and insects, highlighting the local ecology of the area.

Design elements we incorporated into Haptic Pathways include:

  • Colour blocking in central road verges specifically aimed at being striking to visually impaired people. The ecological value of this intervention is through mass plantings of floral resources for pollinators. Plants such as Wahlengergia species could be used which provide resources for native bees, butterflies and hoverflies.
  • Small aromatic, colour and sound blocks along footpath verges were designed particularly to smell and touch on rainy days. Aromatic plant species chosen, like Prostanthera species, also provide habitat for bird species.
  • Accessible sensory spaces designed to be used by wheelchairs, walking frames and prams, where people would be surrounded by colourful, textual and aromatic plants such as Chocolate lillies and fluffy Ptilotus species flowers.
  • Braille graffiti walls highlighting amazing local biodiversity where the ecological information about species is written in braille at an accessible height.

We included a comprehensive plant list of indigenous and Australian species using categories such as colour, trees and shrubs for rainy days, other aromatic species, small shrubs and ground cover textual plants to touch, plant for aural experiences, plants for temporally changing plantings.

Screen Shot 2020-04-29 at 3.04.07 pm

Image: Zoe Myers

It was an excellent collaborative and creative experience and we hope our design will inspire creative, accessible and ecologically minded plantings in urban areas.

Turning suburbs into mini office hubs as an opportunity to cut commute times post-COVID

Cities around the world are planning for more people to be walking and cycling to work instead of catching public transport, once lockdown restrictions are lifted. Measures that are being implemented in cities like New York, Paris and Milan include closing streets to cars and putting more bike lanes in their streets.

Thami Croeser (ICON Science) suggests another alternative for widely spread cities like Melbourne, where people travel longer distances to get to their workplaces. His idea is to turn suburbs into mini office hubs, with vacant offices and shopfronts used as co-working spaces or satellite offices for large companies. This approach would allow more people to walk or cycle to work while cutting long commute times and continuing to practice social distancing if needed.

Image: Mat Connolley / CC BY-SA

In an analysis using census and Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning data, Thami mapped the areas where potential office hubs could be located and identified homes in a 5-minute walking distance from those places. He found that up to 97 per cent Melburnians live within walking or cycling distance of a shopping strip and potential office hub.

The analysis and potential benefits of Thami’s suggestion are discussed this week at Domain.

Reflections on the 1st Congress of the Society for Urban Ecology, Berlin

The 1st Congress of the Society for Urban Ecology took place in Berlin, Germany, from 25th-28th July 2013.  Urban ecology researchers and students from all five continents came together to share their research and ideas through presentations, symposia and valuable discussions. It was evident from the academic and professional breadth of delegates and the topics discussed that urban ecology has a vital role to play in meeting the sustainability challenges of the future.


Mark McDonnell, Tanja Straka and Chris Ives

Chris Ives met up in Berlin with Mark McDonnell, the Director of the Australian Research Centre for Urban Ecology (ARCUE) and Tanja Straka, PhD student at ARCUE, to attend this conference. In the symposium on urban biodiversity, management and governance, Chris, gave a presentation entitled ‘Bio-amenity: The convergence of biodiversity conservation and amenity provision in urban landscapes’. He outlined that the traditional focus of city planners on the provision of amenity oftentimes conflicts with the more recent goal of conserving biodiversity. The central message of the presentation was that overlaps between amenity and biodiversity need to be identified and promoted in the cities of the future.

Tanja Straka spoke in the Symposium of Young Researchers about her social research on attitudes towards urban wetlands and the evidence of biased processing of ecological information. Her presentation entitled ‘Urban Wetlands for Wildlife and People’ was awarded the Best Oral Presentation Award.

Renowned urban ecologists gave keynote lectures which provided inspiration to the audience on the past and future of urban ecology. Prof. Ingo Kowarik (pictured to the left, with Mark McDonnell), from the Technische Universität Berlin, Germany, started the Congress with an overview of the early days of urban ecology in Berlin until today and reminded the delegates of the importance of rigorous science and experimental methods in answering important questions on urban ecology.

Prof. Karen Seto, from Yale University, USA, followed on the second day and encouraged the audience to think about new paradigms and the necessity to transfer knowledge to planners.  Prof. Wei-Ning Xiang, from the East China Normal University, Shanghai, China (and co-editor of Landscape and Urban Planning) motivated the listeners to develop ‘ecological wisdom’ by turning towards historical examples for inspiration on how to work with nature to find solutions to tomorrow’s problems – such as of that of Li Bing (3rd century BC governor in China, creator of a major irrigation system that prevented devastating floods but allowed continued flow of water and fish, an ecological engineering feat and still in use today) and the landscape architect Prof. Ian McHarg (renowned early contributor to the field of ecological planning and to the early development of what was to become Geographical Information Systems, GIS). Prof. Xiang argued that bringing together the creativity of as yet validated ideas and principles, whether from the East or West, from ancient times or contemporary, is beneficial to inform the research and practice of urban sustainability planning. In his summary of the conference proceedings, Dr. Steward T.A. Pickett from the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, New York, USA and Director of the Baltimore Ecosystem Study encouraged urban ecologists to be mindful of how individual research projects might fit within broader theoretical frameworks. Dr Pickett proposed a new ‘continuum of urbanity’ theory, which is grounded in four essential components of human-ecological systems: livelihood, lifestyle, linkages, and the role of place. This framework provides a useful and realistic context for urban ecological research in the future.

All in all, it was an encouraging Congress which showed that although there are still many unanswered questions in the research field of urban ecology, many distinguished researchers and enthusiastic young researchers worldwide are taking up the challenge to address both basic and applied questions about the structure and function of urban ecosystems. It was evident that the discipline of urban ecology is broad and heterogeneous and requires interdisciplinary studies. The mixture of social and biophysical research, along with more applied aspects such as policy analysis and practical know-how, makes it a unique and exciting field of study. However, in this context, we were struck by the pressing need to ground this work in strong theory and to conduct high-quality science. This approach is necessary to ensure that urban ecology has the strength and depth of understanding to address some of the most pressing challenges facing the planet in the coming decades.

Elsevier has bought Mendeley!

Elsevier has bought Mendeley! Just when Menedely had ironed out most bugs and was getting really useful. This is possibly sad news. See their blog entry here and the public reaction in the comments!

There is more info in this blog post

I’m going to be investigating moving to Zotero as my main reference manager. It’s open source and unlikely to ever be purchased by a large multi-national. I’ve also heard good things about it.