Urban Security Planners – Meet Urban Designers… Take charge of the atmospherics…


With the ‘urbanisation’ trend in full swing globally, security and defence professionals are noting that this may mean less time in jungles and deserts, and more time in ‘urban terrain’. There are many implications of this: interface with civic agencies; how to protect the population; types of tactics and so forth. In understanding how to operate in cities, it could be helpful for security planners to have a peak at what the ‘City Experts’ – the best Urban Designers in the business do.  Urban Designers manage the ‘atmospherics’ and ‘practical functioning’ of a city through a variety of careful planned and inter-linked interventions. Knowing how these function and why will help military planners consider how to protect them, and perhaps to help repair and enhance such features for cities which may have been damaged.

The City of Melbourne is sometimes mocked for its grey, cold and rainy winters – particularly in comparison to its arch-rival, Sydney, which is fortuitously located in a warmer climate. Yet Melbourne has still won World’s Most Liveable City for 3 years in a row from 2011-2013 and is consistently in the World’s Top 10.  This has much to do with the tremendous team of urban designers that work at the City Of Melbourne Local Council.


Urban Designers have “Taken Charge of the Atmospherics” of the city in a spectacular way. This includes fantastic street art; an amazing array of entertainment and events; building Australia’s first 6-Star green building CH2; a bike share scheme ; magnificent landscaping, parks and open spaces such as Birrarung Marr and Federation Square; a spectacular sporting precinct; and many other innovative projects.

Flower boxes

Another great initiative is the ‘Urban Forest Strategy’, with its very cool interactive webpage: Urban Forest Visual. Despite the difficulty of planning for a future city forest where there is less rainfall, the program has still bewildered people with its success:

“You can’t plant a tree in that narrow concrete footpath! It’s a dark lane-way between skyscrapers, there is little light!!’

“Just watch us”

The trees have many positive benefits: they provide shade for heatwave protection; absorb pollution; reduce storm water run-off and hence the risk of flooding; provide habitat for birds; recreational spaces; and reduce the ‘urban heat island’ effect. This is typical of the great philosophy, strategy, science, clever brains and consultation behind every move the Council makes.

Melb laneways


new trees in laneways




Getting back to the issue of ‘security’ and military operations in urban terrain; ‘taking charge of the atmospherics’ does impact the security environment in subtle ways. This is through affecting the ‘vibe’ of the place; which impacts ‘who’ enters those places. For example, parks attract families. Bookshops attract certain ‘types’ of people the same way that nightclubs or bottle shops attract another ‘type’ of people in another ‘type’ of mood. Hence the strategic positioning of certain venues can help ‘mix’ and diversify the ‘types’ of people on the street, thereby affecting atmospherics.

The way a street is designed will impact who will walk down it and if they will linger. Super wide pathways, (like those on Swanston Street, pictured below) create more ‘walking space’ which allows a more comfortable stroll, plus space for park benches, trees, planter boxes, street art, or buskers. Pleasant seated areas allow groups to gather and eat lunch; elderly can rest; people can talk on their phone or read a book. Encouraging side walk cafés brings more ‘voices’ and a greater ‘happy human’ presence to the street scape.

wide paths

Beauty and ‘aesthetics’ also impact mood – and small thoughtful considerations subtly affect this. For example, a decision was made to ensure all footpaths, previously made of a patchwork of materials, were all made from the same type of bluestone throughout the CDB.  This is far more pleasant visually.  Fountains, street art, a neat and straight ‘stop sign’ etc all have the same effect. This also helps establish a sense of civic pride.


The City of Melbourne has particularly used side-walk flower and fruit stalls to great effect in this way. Not only do they look beautiful and brighten up the street scape; but on a dark evening, they add a friendly ‘presence’ to a potentially grim area. This helps people feel safer and actually be safer, as there are subtle ‘witnesses’ about. This can be pro-actively managed through the rental agreement terms with florists and fruit sellers, for example, ensuring that they are provided a rental fee that allows them to make a liveable income so that they stay there. Plus there is the potential for the Council to set requirements within the rental terms – such as minimum opening hours, a requirement to trade until a certain time on particular nights of the week and even include the precondition that such stalls always display beautiful flowers etc.


Ian Dryden, the “Team Leader Industrial Design” within the City of Melbourne’s “City Design” Team explains it this way:

“Street Activity provides colour and movement to a busy footpath that has no activity. Keeping the Street Activity stalls open into the early evening hours provides a well presented good quality environment. Good street traders, with good display, clean well-presented environment and skill improve the safety and amenity in an area and attract more pedestrians to an area because there is activity.

The knock on effect is that the street activity shows off the potential of an area, which in turn spikes the interest of building owners and developers who start to see the potential for the vacant buildings in the area. Street Activity has to be carefully managed to deliver the right result with the hope that becomes, “I will meet you at the Flower Stall outside the Town Hall”, because everyone knows about the flower stall outside the Town Hall.”

Overall, there is some very sophisticated thinking that goes on behind the scenes to create what appears to be an effortlessly beautiful, vibrant and happy city.



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