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A City of Short Distances: VEIL at the Stringybark Sustainability Festival

Posted in Events by Kate Archdeacon on October 15th, 2009

Stringybark Design_Jessica_Bird_RMITDesign: Jessica Bird, RMIT

Knox City Council’s Stringybark Festival is spread across five acres of the Rowville Community Centre reserve.

Attracting more than 20,000 visitors, the festival is one of the most significant community environmental festivals on the national calendar.  In 1984, Rowville sat on Melbourne’s semi-rural fringe and Stringybark was Australia’s premier conservation- based environmental festival. Today, Knox City Council is at the apex of one of this country’s largest suburban growth corridors and Stringybark now showcases a contemporary sustainability program that more accurately reflects its own current day suburban context both in practical terms and future vision.

“As the suburbs are where most people live, we believe they hold the key to our future.”

The Victorian Eco-Innovation Lab (VEIL) is proud to exhibit a selection of student designs from University of Melbourne, RMIT, Swinburne University and Monash University. The designs are set in the year 2032 and explore how Rowville could become a sustainable community, able to prosper despite peak oil and the inflation of petrol prices to more than $5.00 a litre. The 2009 way-of-living with cars is no longer affordable.

People often use cars because it is the easiest way to get things done. Our suburbs and services have all been created around the notion that we would always be able to use our cars, and have access to cheap petrol. The event of peak oil would change the ways we conducted our everyday lives. Not only would petrol be more expensive but many of life’s necessities, including food, would increase in price. How would life continue? How would we move things around and how could we move around ourselves?

Through the Sustainable Mobility framework, titled the City of Short Distances, VEIL staff, design academics, and design students looked at how the residents of Rowville could have a more localised way of life. From this framework it was proposed that the activities of everyday life should ideally be accessible within the local area (2 – 5 km from home). Students were asked to think about increasing access to local services such as food, health, education and work, and consider how an increase in population (and demand of services) would affect Rowville. The studios also contemplated how people worked, lived and went on holidays.

The City of Short Distances is not about constraining mobility. It’s about providing local options and minimising the number of trips taken by cars everyday. In the City of Short Distances, connections to other places are important, as people will need and want to travel to other places. A connection to fast, efficient and reliable transport systems is essential and must allow people to easily change between different types of transport modes.

The resulting designs explore a range of possibilities for Rowville. What might all the cul-de-sacs be used for, if they weren’t needed for cars? What if your office was across the road from your kids’ school? What if going on holidays (from Rowville to the Great Ocean Road) was an adventure that began at your front door instead of after you finished the long drive?

The Sustainable Mobility Studios ran in Architecture, Industrial Design and Systems & Service Design, at the University of Melbourne, RMIT and Swinburne University, with studios continuing at Monash University in the second half of 2009.

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