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:

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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.

policy & design

Thought – while writing about gentrification & artists

It seems to me, and has seemed to me for some time, that gentrification is truly less caused by artists moving into areas and doing them up, than by the egregious inability of contemporary developers (mostly large-scale and private) to create desirable environments. Gentrification may be a problem of scarcity more than of class itself. Gentrificatory push on the inner city is generally less pronounced in places that have plenty of interesting environment to go around (unless gentrificatory push is global, by which I mean outsizing the region significantly – say, the tourist-driven gentrification of Italian inner cities).

In any case, the solution would be to invest in urban design and amenity across the metropolitan region, and not try to protect pockets of beauty and amenity; and certainly not to shrug and blame it on the market, the middle classes, or the artists.

how the world works

The problem seems to me to be twofold. The first is that righteousness, which always is dependent on a Manichean division of ethics and politics, stokes the fires of a sectarianism that has blighted radical politics for over two centuries. The historic tragedies and outrages of Left totalitarianism are enough reason for any of us who still identify as socialist to choose inquiry over conviction, to favour the nuances of contradiction and doubt. ‘Political correctness’ is a phrase so over-indulged by conservatives that its very use now seems trite and banal, but twenty years on from the culture wars we need to acknowledge the truth that strident identity politics and postmodernist obsessions over symbols and language led to a straitjacketing of feminist and socialist thought. Against the logic of a war metaphor, I don’t see such an acknowledgement as a retreat but as necessary work. The work is twofold: we need to learn to listen, as much as we need to learn again how to communicate. For we all know that smug people, regardless of their politics, don’t listen.

via The Toxicity of Smugness | Melbourne Review.

The Toxicity of Smugness | Melbourne Review

policy & design

The extremely depressing news today

The Victorian government announces funding for yet another massive road that doesn’t even have a positive benefit to cost, and shelves a rail tunnel project that has been green-lit by every funding and economic assessment body, because we are all hostages to two-party politics in this country, and being asked to participate in one massive culture war, instead of getting anything resembling concern for the public interest.

how the world works, policy & design

The perplexing urban news today…

Huffington Post reports the first report of hospital treatment costs in the USA, released by the Federal Centre for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which reveals that hospitals in vicinity of one another differ by as much as 1,000% in how much they charge for same operations. Say, $7,044 versus $99,690 for the treatment for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. HuffPost discusses the inefficiencies, inequalities, and lack of transparency in the market-driven and unregulated US healthcare system. For anyone not inured to the idea that a health problem might ruin you financially, this is a frightening read.

Twitter, meanwhile, brings me two articles about Adelaide policy concerning food trucks: on May 7, the council met to discuss higher concession prices, and on May 8 to decrease the number of concessions. Both, it seems, in order to protect fixed food businesses, who endure higher costs of operation, and who pay rates that fund the council. This might be systemic irrationality at its finest, punishing a service that is thriving financially precisely because it is agile, flexible, and thus able to be where it’s needed when it’s needed, while minimising loss at other times.

Restaurant offer in Australia, in general, is extremely erratic, and it seems to me that it has a lot to do with high operational costs combined with low footfall of low-density neighbourhoods (most of them). In perfectly functioning residential neighbourhoods I have lived in, it is not unusual to have 50-80% of cafes close by 3pm, and finding an open restaurant after 9pm can be difficult even in relatively central areas – the high cost of operation and wages does not warrant staying open past peak-hour foot traffic. How we’re making better cities by protecting that business model from food vans, oh, I really couldn’t say.

To continue the story of irrational legislation, here is a US-based article about the collateral of bad residential zoning. So, for example, “in Milbridge, Maine, seasonal workers sleep in cars and tents because employers can’t build enough housing for them—courtesy of state standards that needlessly inflate the cost of such housing.”

The article above connects NIMBY-ism to class warfare, which ties in nicely with Catriona Menzies-Pike’s critique in New Matilda of a notion that she calls the ‘cultural elitism of the new middle class’. This would be the way those with money feel not just better-paid, but genuinely BETTER people than those without. And which I discuss, to some extent, in my little piece on Brunetti. Menzies-Pike disagrees, but disagrees mainly with one particular book. The whole thing, seemingly, falls neatly into a culture war instead of rising above. But I digress.

Since today is clearly the day of bashing Adelaide, in this article for Kill Your Darlings, Connor Thomas O’Brien tell how you can kill independent culture by state-creating and state-funding their competition. And this fantastic interview with Dr Ianto Ware details how the creeping changes to the Australian Building Code, planning act, and liquor licensing laws have converged to undermine the Australian live music culture. Oh, we need more of this kind of analysis, and we need more of this kind of analysis actually informing policy. I am currently doing a small research on how temporary use could be helped by changing a couple of small, harmful laws of exactly this kind. There is a lot of legislation we have and don’t really need to have…

But not all is bleak. Here is Urban Catalyst from Berlin, giving a talk about how temporary use of space can be used in urban development.