Getting away from 'cookie cutter' development
Hong Kong-based transport architect Diane Legge Kemp is a self-confessed train nerd, who travels the rails on the weekends out to the New Territories.
“I get off at every station and think what could make this better,” Ms Legge Kemp says.
Pushed to comment on Australia’s urban transport systems, the Chicago-raised Legge Kemp diplomatically won’t comment – until she has ridden every line and checked out every station.
“The fact that you have mass transport is a plus, I wouldn’t want to jinx it,” she says.
Legge Kemp is vice-president of CallisonRTKL, a design consultancy of architecture firm Arcadis, which specialises in designing new transport hubs. A recent project is the $11 billion Malaysia-Singapore high-speed rail project expected to be completed in 2022.
With big ticket infrastructure projects high on state government agendas – both Melbourne and Sydney are poised to spend $11 billion on new metro train systems – Ms Legge Kemp is in the country talking to governments, transit authorities and developers about transport hub developments.
Her team, drawn from professionals around the globe, has created a benchmarking system, called MODe – mobility oriented development – that helps appraise the likely success of developments around transport hubs. The emphasis on mobility, rather than just transport, deliberately includes walking and cycling to the mix of car, bus, tram and train modes.
“MODe really shifts the focus from purely transport to much broader social, economic and geographic factors,” she says.
The MODex benchmark uses scores against four major aspects of urban development – transit accessibility and comfort, urban design, social place-making and economic development – to create an index of the most successful urban transport hubs.
New York City’s Grand Central Station tops the list, Sydney’s Chatswood Station comes in at No.16 and tops the urban design quartile, based on the “vibrant and engaging social” mix created by the high density developments in the area.
The MODex scores can also be used as a “diagnostic tool” to analyse what has failed to work around major stations.
Ms Legge Kemp warns that developments must respond to their specific environments and that most fail because they are not thoroughly enough planned and designed.
“In theory, there’s a catalyst effect, but it’s not really true. Often there’s no development at all.”
“Cookie cutter designs don’t work. You can have a kit of parts but it has to be responsive to locale,” she says.
“That’s where community groups are important. They say, ‘this is a special place’ and demand to see what plans look like. Community groups really do make a difference,” she says.
Legge Kemp, who is also a landscape architect with a special interest in disabled access, says one of the big changes in the past 40 years has been the attitude of developers.
“Developers realise the value in being near transit. That’s a big change. It used to be that the views from a car were important but now they want to be near transit.”
MODe can be used to prove to governments and developers that spending on mass transit has broad and deep economic benefits.
“They cost a lot of money. But it’s got to a point where you can’t afford not to do it.”