Final Wrap Up Review from AWIC 2016: Day 5 – The Old and The New.

Day 5 – The Old and The New, By Chris Isles

“The last day of a long week of traversing China had arrived, and today was a day of learning and research to take back to Springfield and a number of my other active projects.

China’s five year plan, which was spoken about yesterday not only works to achieve some massive urbanisation goals, but it also features a lofty target of facilitating an increase to the average life expectancy of Chinese by one year over the next five years. How and what that means, only time will tell. And the Chinese, just like Australians have a significant, aging population – but a much larger one at that.

Whilst Chinese culture typically sees parents looked after by children in their older years, this isn’t – and won’t always – be the case. Young Chinese are currently more liberal and western thinking, and are actively pushing back on this way of life, seeking alternative housing options for their parents signalling a generational sentiment, ‘I don’t want you living with me later!’.

So our first project for the day is actually presented to us by the Australian company and client AVEO. These guys have seen real opportunity in the aging Chinese population, and have come to China.

Here, AVEO have put their extensive experience within the Australian retirement sector to brilliant use, with their first Chinese, high-rise retirement project… and it’s big. With independent living units, serviced apartments, nursing home and an onsite private hospital, there are 1200 dwellings in total, and in typical Chinese fashion they have built the entire project in one straight go, before anyone has even moved in.

This project is a significant highlight for me, as we are lucky enough to be working on AVEO’s first, true, high rise retirement project in Australia at Springfield, which will be comprised of 2,500 aged care dwellings across a 10 hectare site. AVEO themselves are using this project here in Shanghai as an active example to pioneer thinking, design and technology which will then be brought across to their Springfield project, so it was a fortunate and valuable opportunity for us to visit here and receive the grand tour.

And what an incredible project! It really demonstrated to me, that the AVEO model will work perfectly in Australia, and that a retirement project should be so much more than just the physicality of the village. It is about the dignity and functionality for its residents and this project demonstrated a deep understanding of these issues. Rooms here have been designed for singles, couples and even sisters, and all rooms are anything but institutional and sterile. From the amazing communal spaces with all of the recreation and exercise equipment known, through to the incredible grounds and gardens – this project has left nothing to the wayside.

Perhaps my favourite area of this project is the tech space. The grounds are all wired with a comprehensive Wi-Fi network, and it is planned that each resident will carry a single, card-style ‘pass’ with them that features it’s very own, built-in assistance button. No matter where residents are – be it inside the buildings or outside on the grounds, staff will be able to instantly pick up their signal and find them upon a single press of their assistance button. This also serves as a valuable tool, for a larger segment of dementia patients. Carers can use this GPS feature as a passive tracking device, when and where required.

Whilst some would consider assistance technology as dime a dozen, this custom built technology by AVEO offers a unique combination of features to create a brilliant, smart technology point of difference for the project.

The resident’s ‘pass’ has multiple functions including it’s ability to open all doors and act as the resident’s key to the village. Independently, this feature has been done before, but it is the unique combination of purpose coupled with the context in which this technology is being used that is impressive. Why? The card also works to store all of a resident’s medical history, so any staff member or doctor in the village can instantly scan their ‘pass’ and understand their medical situation and background. Lastly, the card acts as a cash passport, and residents can use it to buy anything from any of the shops and health care providers in the village.

So, a single card, carrying vital information and providing a simple but effective tool for residents enables them to get around much easier; to go cash-less; yet remain safe within the AVEO village.

I genuinely look forward to seeing this brilliant, leading edge thinking making it across the world soon, for the very first Australian opportunity at Springfield’s AVEO village.

The next item of note I fond particularly interesting was the sheer scale of the project, which actually allowed for the creation of a small ‘high street’ shopping precinct, built to look like a shopping precinct that residents could encounter in any city for familiarity sake.

Beyond the typical convenience-style shops here they also have small outlets that sell furniture and homewares to assist residents in establishing themselves as conveniently as possible. An interesting thought – here you can buy beds and lounges and even curtains affording residents a greater opportunity to foster an increased sense of place, identity and independence. These small, yet defining elements for AVEO’s design again demonstrate an overwhelming commitment to make the re-homing and relocation process of its future residents as simple and dignified as possible – and I believe this to be a truly great idea.

The last learning for me here, was the pivotal role that children continue to have in inter-generational china.

The AVEO project had a range of significant playground and play equipment specifically for visiting grandchildren. And far from being tokenistic and tucked into a corner, each cluster had their own play centre. The village had a childcare centre built-in for permanent use, and also boasted a larger pool and play facilities within the central recreation centre. It was great to again see that AVEO understands the complex requirements in catering for more than just the residents, and places importance on how they want to live – an important element being having their grandchildren visit.

We could have spent all day here at this project, and I was disappointed to leave, but we were en route to make it to the opposite side of Shanghai to visit a project I have been following for a while as a best practice project example of knowledge, innovation and education.

The Knowledge and Innovation Community or KIC as they call it is now completed and is home to a global technology businesses, the Fudan University and a series of large incubator/accelerator and start up clusters targeting innovation and research – all set within a residential precinct, delivering a similar ‘live, work, create’ outcome – exactly what we are chasing relative to the ‘IDEA City’ project planned for Greater Springfield.

Whilst we couldn’t get into many of the buildings to see the innovation and businesses, we could see how the innovation master plan had been created to deliver an environment for creativity and interaction. The project had an amazing central common area which I likened to a sunken courtyard. This brought the whole project below street level, and created a relative, peaceful sanctuary away from the surrounding traffic and noise of Shanghai.

Superior architecture, large planned communal gathering spaces and activity areas, as well as peaceful, reflective landscape elements were all linked in with vibrant cafes, restaurants and child care offerings. The project has so many of the design elements we have independently built into our IDEA City project at Springfield, so it was very reassuring to see that we are definitely on the right track based on this current functioning version.

Just as we have seen here, it has been affirmed that we absolutely can create a single precinct at Springfield, with a unifying view which will attract global innovation companies, alongside Universities who want to collocate, and locate within a precinct that facilitates a true, creative working environment. Critically, it also has the ability to include housing, child care and recreation offerings, all in the same place.

Overall, the takeaway for the Springfield project here? Recognising that standalone business and technology parks are now officially outdated (so very 1980’s…), and that the ‘new’ innovation parks are working as effective and proven, ‘live, work, create’ environments.

The Wrap up – Signing off from Shanghai

So in signing off on this incredible trip from Shanghai after an amazing week here in China, I can honestly say I have a new appreciation for the place.

This is not my first trip here, yet I am seeing China differently for the first time through a new, ‘Smart Cities’ lens. And whilst china still shocks me in regard to the sheer scale and size of it all, I feel as though a new understanding about this awfully complex country has washed over me this time around.

When you peel the layers back, and see a little deeper into the way in which things are done over here, I can absolutely attest to the fact that China are doing some really incredible ‘smarty city’ work with and within their cities – work that is far better than anything else I have seen anywhere in the world.

Admittedly, there are also some things that they are doing that is not so great by world standards, but for an ancient country, with mind blowing size and population growth rate, it can almost be forgiven.

And that is exactly the point. The population. Comparatively speaking, population is the single biggest sticking point between varying ‘Smart Cities’ successes in Australia and China.

This sheer growth in population is the exact reason why China has an impressive ability to produce so much in such record times – and why I now question that we in Australia could ever replicate it in the same way. I question our ability to do the equivalent of building our own light rail system in just four years, due to the fact that I doubt our population could sustain such an undertaking.

The fast train development I experienced here is yet another example. This is questionably achievable for me in the same way, for the same reasons. And so, when we do look at the planning and development of such infrastructure and transport in Australia’s near future, it is critical that we draw on international influence, but not make the mistake of replication, and instead carefully plan to make it our own in line with our need and abilities.

Regardless, there is plenty of food for thought for those back home embarking on large sacle, city-wide and regional planning exercise.

And so I leave China feeling like I have only just scrapped the tip of the trade mission iceberg, knowing there is just so much here that we can learn and draw from. But for now, I look forward to bringing these learnings home to Australia and preparing a full report in finer detail on how these understandings can bring greater value now to our clients; our design and planning practice; and our own ongoing mission to create truly great places for people via Smart City best practice”.

NB. Chris Isles, Is Australia’s leading Planner and Executive Planning Director for Place Design Group. Chris attended AWIC2016 from 11-15 April, representing the best of Australian Planning and Urban Design at Austrade’s International Smart Cities Forum.Stay tuned for his post-mission report for more.