Helen's cover image
Helen

Helen LOCHHEAD

Year of Award: 2010 Award State: New South Wales Environment > Sustainability
Transport And Infrastructure > Urban Planning And Design
The AV Jennings Churchill Fellowship to study recent models of urban regeneration that demonstrate a holistic approach to climate change and sustainability - UK, Denmark, Sweden, USA, Canada
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Helen Lochhead is the Deputy Government Architect and an adjunct professor at Sydney University. Her career has focused on the inception, planning and delivery of complex multidisciplinary projects ranging from urban renewal and waterfront projects to a five-year city improvements program for the City of Sydney.

Helen has been instrumental in shaping major precincts around Sydney Harbour and the transformation of Sydney Olympic Park at Homebush Bay from a sports precinct into a mixed-use community and parklands with environmental credentials that set new benchmarks. She oversaw the Harold Park Master Plan for a new high-density neighbourhood on Rozelle Bay. With over 1,000 new dwellings and 25 per cent affordable housing, the project maintains heritage buildings, has 35 per cent open space, improves the hydrology and biodiversity of this flood prone land and achieves ambitious environmental targets. More recently she led a 30-year plan for the transformation of Sydney Cove and a new vision for Sydney Harbour.

Helen has studied architecture as well as horticulture in Sydney and later completed a Masters degree in urban design at Columbia University, New York and a Loeb Fellowship at Harvard. On her 2010 Churchill Fellowship she investigated recent initiatives in tackling climate change to create more sustainable cities.

She recalled seeing President Obama teaming up with New York’s Mayor Bloomberg in a united vision to improve New York post Hurricane Sandy. They were articulate and passionate about building a more resilient city; out of disaster they shaped hope and the opportunity to build back better than before. ‘This brought people together,’ she said, ‘when people needed to work together and focused on the possibilities, as did Churchill. In Australia we need to have a conversation that focuses more on the possibilities and what we can all do to improve our present and future urban environments.’

Climate change needs to be planned for. Helen said that for every dollar spent on the prevention of catastrophe, society saves between $4 and $5 spent after the event. Building resilient cities is the key. The situation is critical. In the last year, 48 out of America’s 50 states declared a national disaster in their state. In Australia we too have our fair share of collateral damage caused by our changing climate and extreme weather events. The water in Sydney Harbour is predicted to rise one metre by 2050. ‘We need to design for this,’ said Helen, ‘we need to face the reality. We can wait until disaster strikes, or we can be proactive and adapt and change. – We know what Churchill would have done!’

Helen favours of a multidisciplinary approach to solve complex problems. ‘We should get the information and wisdom we need from a variety of places. And communication is vital,’ she said, ‘We must get everyone on board to collaborate, consult and we need to adjust our thinking so we develop integrated solutions.’

In this area, as in so many in life, change happens over time. Helen observes that this is the way things work in practice and she has a fervent passion for working towards a compelling vision of a better, more sustainable Australian cities, albeit step-by-step. ‘Deliver more than you promise’ is a refreshing refrain throughout Helen’s conversation. A solution must have a wider application because infrastructure is so expensive; it must deliver multiple benefits. Helen cites projects that keep on giving back over time, such as regenerating a blighted urban area: when we invest in appropriate infrastructure, business improves, socially it improves and the environment improves.

On her Fellowship she saw many examples of what can be done with a ‘big picture’ vision and the sometimes large but often small steps that taken together add up to more than the sum of their parts. Copenhagen’s vision of being diverse, safe and liveable is exemplified in their city favouring pedestrians and cyclists, with a harbour clean enough to swim in.

Helen went on to talk about many successful programs she witnessed overseas. Stockholm’s large-scale urban regeneration program at Hammarby Sjöstad transformed an industrial waterfront and she saw the benefits there of adopting a holistic approach to social and environmental sustainability, combined with innovative design. New York is morphing from grey to green by reclaiming the public realm to change the balance from a city dominated by traffic to a greener pedestrian and cycle-friendly public realm.

Boston’s Central Artery project where the elevated highway dividing the city from the waterfront has been remade as a tunnel with new parkland above reconnects dislocated neighbourhoods and the city to the harbour. The project demonstrates the power of infrastructure to contribute to sustainable regeneration of the broader scale and deliver the multiple benefits so dear to Helen Lochhead’s heart.

Chicago’s Millenium Park created the largest roof garden in the world. This is another ambitious project that has transformed the vitality and the economy of the city. Coupled with this is the suite of green infrastructure projects being steadily rolled out by the city. Chicago is a climate change leader.

Vancouver’s ambition is to be the greenest city in the world by 2020. Helen cited it as proof that a city can grow, and still be a global leader in addressing climate change.

All in all it was clear from the exemplars Helen visited and in the projects she is doing here in Australia that sustainable resilient cities can be delivered by many players over time. It takes vision and commitment over the long term but the benefits are clear. Socially equitable, environmentally sustainable and economically resilient cities take a team effort and deliver long-lasting rewards.

Excerpt from “Inspiring Australians” written by Penny Hanley (2015)

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