This is one of the projects that we are currently managing at my work – we are increasingly interested in directing research funding towards demonstration projects – creative enterprises in which solutions are prototyped, developed, tested and assessed – rather than pure research, which merely maps issues.

I find it all very beautiful.

I am, of course, against the notion of pedestrians waiting for cars – we know that this curtailment of the citizen right to public space was never voted on, and was implemented stealthily in most cities during the early 20th century, largely to protect the (wealthier) car owners from legal culpability.

But I am also a huge fan of dancing in public, so it evens out.

This short film introduces Berlin as one of the European cities aligned with the URBES – Urban Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services project. The URBES project is funded as part of the EU’s 7th Framework Programme for Research by BiodivERsA, which is a network of 21 research-funding agencies across 15 European countries promoting pan-European research that generates new knowledge for the conservation and sustainable management of biodiversity.

What I really love about this video is that, as our technological abilities increase, and every research project can make its own movies (soon, if not now), we become better able to explain the hidden poetics of things, even dull things, like policy.

Of course, dull things are only dull if you don’t understand them. The strange, two-dimensional emptiness of architectural plans only exists for those who cannot read them in three dimensions. And there is deceit in a rendered image, just like in there is deceit in all images. But movies of this sort, they genuinely show the beautiful part of what I do, the way I see it, the way not everybody necessarily sees it. It is good.

Such an interesting feel, this city. At times I think, it seems to have picked up the most lovely aspects of Latin and of Northern Europe; of Catholicism and Protestantism. It has the elegance, charm and that slightly creative chaos of France, and then also the simple, humble practicality of Flanders or Germany. But it is so much more beautiful than Germany, because Germany is rarely ever truly beautiful.

But here it is, in no particular order: a particular combination of light blue and light brown; a particular combination of dark blue and dark red; straight lines (sometimes); floral curves (at other times); rectangles that are almost squares, but aren’t; eclectic combinations of texture and material; and every so often, an unusual and unexpected touch of Tokyo.

spatial poetics, travel notes

The poetics of a city: Brussels style.


“This is incredible! She looks like a normal woman!” said Robin, who comes from Belgium.
“What do you mean, normal?” I asked.
“She wears no make-up and her clothes are normal!” Robin was very surprised. “Do men in Australia have no problem with having women on TV who look like that?”

I showed it to her trying to explain something about the feel of the city, though, of inner-city Melbourne.


The most extraordinary thing happened this weekend. Around 3am, we left the club to get some food. On the way back, in front of Alan’s Music Store on Bourke St, we came across a group of girls dancing in front of a busker. We sat nearby, to have a smoke, when three guys walked past and joined in. They seemed nice, and the song was good, so we joined in, too. As other people were walking by, the guys started motioning them to join. After a while, it became an organised move: someone would point and say: “Get them!” Or point outwards, saying: “Get more! Get more!”

At the height of it all, there were around 50 people, strangers to one another, dancing on the street, clapping their hands in the air, and singing along. There was a group of Middle Eastern men, some guys with medals on their chests, many girls in very high heels, two Frenchmen, some older people. The busker (Tony) played RHCP, Wonderwall, The Beatles, Australian hits I don’t know, and anything by request. We never returned to our club. We stayed there, dancing.

What almost spoiled it was that this is enforceably illegal in Australia, because any group behaviour on the street here can be classified by the police as one of many kinds of nuisance that the police has the right to intervene in. And there was a palpable sense of potential illegality in the crowd. But, although there were 6 police vans just a block away (there had been a fight), and although two police cars passed by very slowly, strangely, miraculously, they ignored us.

It was the first time I saw a crowd of Australians self-regulate, especially on a Saturday night, and I was amazed at how good-natured it remained, how lovely. Even when the (inevitable) rowdy men went past screaming or shouting, they were neutralised quickly by people smiling, waving at them and shouting: “Join us!”

It was very beautiful, and extremely moving. It made me think of Europe, particularly of Berlin, where such incidents are relatively commonplace. It made me realise that, were there less regulatory intwrvention into every aspect of life, miraculously beautiful things would happen in Australia all the time, because people here clearly have every ability to self-organise, self-regulate.

The party lasted about 2 hours, beginning to end. Tony played Under the Bridge and Wonderwall twice. (Towards the end, a man walked past shouting: “Chilli Peppers!” The crowd shouted bqck: “Duh! Where have you BEEN?”

In the end, Tony played Here Comes The Sun, and Norwegian Wood. We all said goodbye, and went home, talking all the way about how this was the best party ever, still amazed at how the police never came.

poetics of life

The most extraordinary thing.

travel notes

Croatia & Slovenia, June-July 2011.

policy & design

Vale Paul Mees

Paul Mees, distinguished transport scholar, and one of Australia’s most important living academics, died at the unfairly early age of 52, following battle with cancer.

This is a terrible loss for Australian urbanism and urbanist scholarship. Paul was a tireless, absolutely tireless advocate for public transport, and fought using impeccable logic, world-class research, and brilliant rhetoric. Only shortly before passing away, he recorded this address to the Trains Not Toll Roads campaign launch:

Continue reading “Vale Paul Mees” »

how the world works

Video: The Gift of Fear

Watch The Gift of Fear on PBS. See more from The Open Mind.

If I could give a single gift to American women, it would be to lift from them the idea that they are required to be polite, that they are required to engage in conversations with strangers, that someone who offers them help is a ‘good person’ or a ‘nice man’. I talk a lot in the book about the words ‘nice’ and ‘charming’. ‘Charm’ is a verb. It’s not an adjective. A person doesn’t have charm, they use charm, to compel by allure. So a single gift that I could give, and that I try to, is to teach young women – I would have a high-school class, to answer your question very directly – that teaches young men to hear ‘no’, and that teaches young women that it’s alright to speak it explicitly. You know, when you and I say no, it’s the end of the discussion. When a woman says no, it’s the beginning of a negotiation.

Safety expert, and non-radical-feminist Gavin de Becker.