how the world works, policy & design

In the (local) news today

There is a short article in The Age today about the scheme to revive the Docklands, Melbourne’s notoriously unsuccessful waterfront development, with temporary shops. The scheme is managed by Renew Australia, who founder, Marcus Westbury, has a longish think piece on his blog about the progress so far. Very interesting piece, although with a slight error worth correcting: Docklands isn’t really a testimony to the problems of masterplanning, because there was no masterplan for the Docklands. As even Wikipedia knows, Docklands was developed with the minimum possible coordination between the different developers and their building plans – in fact, only insomuch as to make sure there would be infrastructure, because (in a wonderful summary of what it means when a ‘small government’ doesn’t interfere with citizen freedoms)

It did not take long for the realisation that the lack of government coordination in infrastructure planning would create problems. Developers would not invest into public infrastructure, where benefits would flow on to an adjacent property. This was corrected by allowing developers to negotiate for infrastructure funding with the government. The Docklands Village precinct was planned for a residential and commercial mixed development, but, in late 1996, that plan was scrapped when it was announced a private football stadium would be built on the site.[10] The site was chosen for its easy access to the then Spencer Street Station (now Southern Cross Station), and it was intended to be an anchor for the entire project and provide for a clear signal to the long awaited start of the Docklands project. However, this would create a huge barrier between the City and Docklands.

On one level, it’s hilarious that the Docklands authorities are now employing the power of creative makers to rejuvenate the failed redevelopment. Remember what was there before the redevelopment? Oh, yeah: hugely popular underground dance parties. Wow, maybe that didn’t really need to go…

Meanwhile, Alan Davies reports that the cement truck driver who killed a cyclist in Brisbane in 2011, when he attempted to take over without changing into the right lane has been found not guilty. The cyclist was struck by the rear wheel of the truck. His helmet was shattered, and his body, found 25m down the road, had to be disentangled from his mangled bike. The lane which was asked to contain the cyclist and a cement truck was 3.1-3.6m wide, thus slightly wider than the recommended width of a two-way bike path in Victoria.

However, the Australian society apparently doesn’t think this kind of driving is a problem.

Meanwhile, in The Conversation, emergency doctor argues that helmet protection is absolutely necessary for cyclists. Apparently, studies of cyclists brought into emergency hospitals show that the ones wearing helmets survived more & better than the ones that didn’t. Sure. You could make the same argument for pedestrian armour ®. But no one ever, ever, researches cyclist deaths and injuries in Australia by looking at how many involved collision with a motorised vehicle. Say, a cement truck pushing for space in the same lane.

The idea that motor vehicles might be the really important part of the public health issue here just seems so far from anyone’s agenda. No wonder Australian cyclists often speak in such enraged tone. Different European countries have legislated minimum safe distance that cars need to take from cyclists, as well as automatic assumption of driver guilt, should a car strike a pedestrian or cyclist. The commenters under the helmet article point out that probably saved more lives than any mandatory or non-mandatory helmet. Because I would like to know how many lethal cycling accidents in Australia DO NOT involve a motorised vehicle.


This lovely presentation by Mikael Colville-Andersen for TedxZurich tackles a whole bunch of good concepts and ideas, including:

  • the birth of jaywalking
  • desire lines
  • design thinking
  • how smart cities change to suit how their citizens live
  • the use of temporary projects to test-drive urban design ideas
  • designing for usability, and how breaking the rules is not a legal problem, but a design problem
policy & design

Note: cyclist shaming


A Current Affair, which is an Australian evening news show (according to almost everyone I know, watching it is a sign of mental degeneration: however, it is a prime-time show on the most watched TV station in Australia, so you be the judge), recently ran a clip about a female cyclist. Here is how they announced it:

Footage of an Aussie mum towing her baby daughter behind her bicycle on a busy road has shocked police and road safety experts. They say it is irresponsible and downright dangerous. You be the judge.

I have previously written about cyclist shaming on Australian television. But cyclist shaming is a product of a whole culture, not just of one TV program. In his discussion of the program, Alan Davies notes that the woman in the clip had sought advice after being filmed, worried that her job as a pre-school teacher might be threatened if she’s portrayed as someone who can’t look after her own child. Unless pre-schools collude with Channel Nine, which is unreasonable to assume and we won’t, Australia has a whole-of-culture problem.

Cyclist shaming, like rape victim shaming, is a knee-jerk hostile reaction to the presence of a person who has been hurt, or might have been hurt, or might in the future be hurt, by the status quo. This person ought not to exist. The fact that they do is their fault. In fact, by existing, they are showing disrespect to the entire reality. And while we’re trying to make them un-exist, we are wrapping our violence into a semblance of concern for them. “Being here is not safe for you. In a perfect world, you would face no dangers, but you do, so FUCK OFF.”

It is a bullying approach to governance, which understands democracy as the rule of the mighty, and the art of governing in democracy as one of, basically, damage control. Instead of seeing democracy as a system in which everyone should have equal opportunities to flourish, it sees democracy as a system in which the powerful rule, and the weaker need to be forced out of their way, preferably by enforced laws. It has been applied to everyone at some point, because most of us are a part of some disadvantaged minority, and all of them were, at some point, told to get out of someone else’s way, or else: women, children, darker people, people of other religions, gay and trans people, people with disabilities, elderly people, and so on.


This video comes very close to summarising everything that is wrong with present-day, present-time Australia. From the fact that helmets for such small babies don’t exist, via the casual sexism of mother-shaming, to the very fact that this made it to the TV news.

It is also an excellent example of that insidious, mean streak in the Australian character that blames the weakest and the most vulnerable user of a public asset (in this case, road) whenever the said weakest and the most vulnerable user faces serious danger. It not only enforces uniformity, it also prevents any discussion of how things could be improved. (The same logic of the ‘no excuse zone‘ concept.) I cannot stress this enough: it is not the absence of helmet that injures cyclists, it is car drivers.

But, enough talk. One video is worth a million words, so let’s instead watch some discussion of cycling in Europe, esp re children on board.

I must warn you: the above video contains much distressing footage of children on bikes, many of which without helmets. It is shocking and absolutely outrageous, and all those parents should be fined, their children taken away, and sent to Australia… yeah.