how the world works

Urban matters in the news

The Age reports that the $680 million dollar plan to redevelop the back of Federation Square (in the centre of Melbourne) into a unified design (a park with a conference centre, assembly hall, hotel, school, and underground car park) is under threat. The Napthine State government will instead on Tuesday release a “request for industry submissions”, a signal the site could be opened up to a range of private developers, instead of the State Government commissioning LAB studio (the company behind Federation Square). It is not entirely clear from the article if the reason is in the lack of funding (at $680 million, the entire development costs about a third of what Myki did). However, the comments below the article raise fears of yet another Docklands fiasco.

To remind the short-memoried and inform the non-Victorians: the redevelopment of the former docklands of Melbourne into a waterfront precinct was conducted without top-down planning as we know it. State Government sold the land, often below market prices, to private developers and gave them free hand with the design. The resulting space, although expensively put together and supplied with public transport quickly and well, has been so universally unloved and unsuccessful in attracting people that it has been given over to Renew Australia for a revitalisation through temporary use barely a decade since completion. Federation Square, on the other hand, has become the symbol of the city.

Meanwhile, Tony Abbott, the leader of the Opposition and the man some think will become Australia’s new Prime Minister in September, has asserted that his government will not fund any urban rail projects, saying that Australia has no tradition of federal funding for urban rail, only roads. Abbott has vouched support for an urban road project in Victoria, however, despite it costing more, being a significantly unprepared, and having flow-on benefits estimated at only half of the costs (as opposed to the 1.3 benefit-to-cost for the Melbourne Metro rail tunnel Abbott is promising to shelve). He is taken to task for policy lunacy by a number of analysts, most comprehensively in The Conversation.

The Age reports that much of Australia’s coal reserves may be prohibited from burning, given the global climate change policy constraints, and the increasing likelihood of limiting the rights of energy companies to mine their known fossil reserves (the same issue was discussed in great detail in Rolling Stone in July 2012). This would mean an effective write-off of large assets for energy companies, and a serious shake-up of the Australian economy. But then, as the Rolling Stone article notes, it is in the nature of markets that companies have their value tied up in unmarketable assets like polaroid cameras or typewriters, all the time. Simultaneously, The Conversation reports that the global demand for coal is dropping.

EU is debating a biopiracy law which would force pharmaceutical companies to compensate indigenous people for using their traditional knowledge in creating new medicines. This comes days after EU introduced a limited ban on neonicotinoids in order to protect its bee population. For those of you who don’t know, bee populations have been collapsing around the world, causing huge concerns for our food safety. The ban is limited, and there are other threats to bees, but this is a step in the right direction. (As an aside, EU has been encouraging urban beekeeping for years to counter this same beenocide. Bees thrive in urban conditions, and many small and large users have put beehives on their roofs – most notably the Paris Opera.) Chief Science Adviser to the UK government, meanwhile, thinks it’s a mistake.

The Conversation proposes that Australia change its current model of healthcare funding (per patient visit) to the one employed in the UK, and most of Europe, which is based ongoing care provided per patient per year. Inadvertently, it explains to me why the primary medical care in Australia is so poor compared to what I was used to in Croatia, why no doctor keeps your full medical record, and why it is so hard to get a GP to listen to you: there is huge systemic incentive for “six-minute medicine.”

In Croatia, however youth unemployment hits 51%, making me very sad. Slavko Linić, the Minister of Finance, however, meanwhile claims it will take 10 years for the country to recover from the crisis.

Cyprus parliament accepts a hugely controversial €10bn EU-IMF bailout, which brings a levy on bank customers, fierce austerity measures, and effectively destroys the country’s economic model.Paul Farmer at GOOD has an interesting personal story of treating people with asthma in Haiti, Eric Garland reports on the dismal condition of towns along the iconic Route 66 in the US, The Morning News tries to explain a whole bunch of global cities in New York terms in order to explain to New Yorkers where they might want to live should they move there. A solar plane flies over San Francisco. And Eric Garland explains when you should and shouldn’t work for free.

And this is what happens when you wring a washcloth in zero gravity. Video straight from outer space.

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