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Bins that talk and park benches that give you wifi

The Internet of Things may not come top of mind with landscaping, but the Future Street installation, opened last week in Sydney, shows how the two can be a natural fit.

The installation includes a solar powered smart bin that says “thank you” to people using it, and it can also detect substances that could be harmful to the public and report them.

It also features a driverless electric shuttle than can transport up to 12 people and park benches that are interactive and enable people to charge devices straight from the bench.

Tim Arnold, Australian Institute of Landscape Architects

A data hub will analyse data from the precinct and people’s interactions within the street. The next generation of edible gardens in the form of vertical gardens and others ways of cultivating vegetables and herbs is also on show.

New chief executive of the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects Tim Arnold says the installation, opened by assistant minister for cities and digital transformation Angus Taylor is an example of how technology and landscaping can be integrated.

The project is a collaboration between AILA, Smart Cities Council Australia and New Zealand and Internet of Things Alliance Australia and is part of AILA’s 2017 International Festival of Landscape Architects.

Arnold told The Fifth Estate that the driver bringing IoT and landscape together is the influence landscape architects have on streets and public spaces – places where people are nowadays connected 24/7.

“We are fortunate to be at the forefront of it,” he says.

Landscape architects have the job of designing places that attract people, bring them in and encourage them to stay.

That means considering technology, digital connectivity and IoT as part of the design process.

“People expect technology in public spaces.”

This requires consideration of infrastructure such as cabling, as much as the traditional considerations around water, soil and hard and soft landscaping features.

It is also about the next evolution of thinking about spaces, such as how they connect to transport.

The Future Street showcases some of the newest technologies that are entering our public domains.

Arnold says government is pushing into the space, as are architects and engineers.

It will also form part of AILA’s education agenda for members and be a way for it to ensure it is bringing the next generation into the profession, Arnold says.

The installation, designed by Place Design Group, involved bringing in one tonne of soil, 30 mature trees and three truckloads of smaller plants to transform a section of Alfred Street in front of Customs House at Circular Quay.

The installation has four distinct zones: the “street of today”, which has cars on it’ the “green street” with tree canopy and lawn, the “complete street” which features spaces for socialising, edible plants and driverless transport; and a “technology street” with a tech hub and virtual reality goggles so viewers can look at the street of the future.

Arnold says that one visiting landscape architect who took a stroll through while the project was being installed commented on how great the trees were, and how she wished her own city would do similar with its public square.

“I hope this [installation] encourages all councils across Australia to add green canopy to public spaces,” Arnold says.

Future Street installation

And then there’s rising temperatures, health and schools

Given the recent ANU research predicting 50 degree days for Melbourne and Sydney in future, landscape architecture has a “fantastic opportunity” to reduce urban heat.

The greening highlights how green infrastructure connects to health infrastructure.

“The health aspect is a tremendous opportunity. Australians are becoming more aware of mental health and physical health, and well designed space with transport and green elements can benefit that.”

While there are many sectors including commercial offices, residential developments and even hospitals that are using greening as a way to improve wellbeing, there’s one sector he says AILA is keen to challenge – the education sector.

Last year’s My Park Rules competition, which saw a school in Canberra transform a concrete space into a greened and active playground showed how much of an impact better spaces have on how children play and interact.

“Australia does seem to have a love affair with concrete,” Arnold says.

This is where AILA aims to step in, by going to individual schools to reach the grassroots key decision-makers.

“Schools are conscious of resourcing – and it is important that the [landscape] industry remains innovative to provide solutions that are cost-effective.”

Initiatives such as getting children growing their own vegetables and undertaking small scale urban agriculture would have a “massive dividend” on investment in a country where around 75 per cent of children are not meeting daily guidelines for being active or are obese, Arnold says.

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