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.

how the world works

Urban news

Richard Watts at ArtsHub announces a new arts precinct planned in the former Collingwood TAFE. Australia loves ‘precincts’, which seem to be largely understood as a single-use mini-neighbourhood (and which I would argue is a quintessentially suburban concept of how a city works). Besides, Collingwood TAFE is essentially a single building; why not call it a hub?, or a centre? However, it’s a very large site, occupying almost an entire city block, and any provision of land at sub-market rates currently does good for diversity in the uber-expensive Australian cities, so precinct away.

The Atlantic Cities has a wonderful article on the pedestrian staircases linking up Cincinnati. The stairways have, apparently, become hubs of crime and many have been closed, while neighbourhood groups have sprung up to restore them. The photos warmed my heart enormously, because my hometown is full of staircases like these, just as narrow and steep, and one of the favourite things I do with my expatriated friends when we’re back in Rijeka is literally run up and down them (up is for stamina, down is just pure joy). It is interesting how social problems in Cincinnati have caused this slightly extreme urban landscape to be so quickly declared off-limits and unsafe. It made me wonder if social inequality has some kind of inverse correlation to landscape beauty: the more you have of the former, the less allowance can be made for the latter.

In the corner where we fight for children’s independent mobility, the British National Trust publishes a cute little list of things to do before you’re 11 3/4. It’s a sad thing that this needs to be stressed, but heck: children need independent exploration. It’s important for their intellectual, physical and psychological development.

Meanwhile, Chinese scientists create the influenza virus in the lab. The pressure is mounting on the US to close Guantanamo Bay as the total hunger strike of the inmates continues. The US also rejects the idea that the pesticides, banned yesterday by the EU, have caused the collapse of bee populations globally and suggest it’s better not to do anything until we’re sure. The collapse of the garment factory in Bangladesh, which has claimed 429 lives as of this morning, has sparked a pressure campaign on fashion multinationals to force their subcontractors to treat their workers better, through better pay and more control. Very interesting, as fast fashion has become a global industrial force, and created entire landscapes of mass labour, production and accommodation in near-slave conditions. The images of this landscape are likely to remain a mark of our time the way industrial slums defined the 19th century.

In the ‘cool new things happenin’ corner, here’s an article on iFixit, a company that teaches adults and kids how to fix electronics, in order to boost science education in the US (they say kids are even more interested than adults). Improv Everywhere design a performance/reality theatre service in which they help texters walk on the street while they text. Global Press Institute is an organisation trying to replace clueless foreign correspondents with local women reporters, on the grounds that they simply know more, and should be given a voice. As a literate woman who once dated an aspiring foreign reporter dude, who told me he wanted to write about my country (of which he knew nothing) in order to give me and my people a voice, I say: go Global Press.

Here is also a little essay on Berlin’s Stumbling Blocks, the best public sculpture and also memorial I have ever experienced.

Meanwhile, on the more trivial side of things, IBM makes a nano-animation with atoms, which is very cute. And Warren Buffett opens an account on Twitter.

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.

CITIES, how the world works, poetics of life

The Hunger Artists of St Petersburg

Writes Dmitry Vilensky on the global arts newswire:


On May 15, the young contemporary artist Artem Loskutov was arrested
in his native Novisibirsk and charged with possession of a narcotic
substance (marijuana) by the local branch of the Interior Ministry’s
notorious Center for Extremism Prevention (Center “E”). Loskutov and
his supporters claim that the police planted the marijuana in his bag
in order to incriminate him. As one of the organizers of the annual
“Monstration” — a flash mob street party in which young people march
with absurdist, non-political slogans — Loskutov had long been an
objection of the Center’s attentions. At a pre-trial custody hearing
on May 20, it was revealed that the Center had been tapping the phones
of Loskutov and his friends for the past six months. In April and on
May Day itself, Loskutov had been summoned to the Center for
“discussions,” and his parents had been called and told that their son
was a member of a dangerous sect. The circumstances of the case and
the way that he was arrested thus point to a campaign of intimidation
directed both at Loskutov and his fellow “monstrators” in Novosibirsk.

The Loskutov case has sparked a massive outcry in Russia’s activist
and art communities. In the past three weeks, artists, activists, and
ordinary concerned citizens all over Russia have carried out a series
of pickets, protests, and actions in Loskutov’s defense. The most
inspiring of these actions has been a “plein air” hunger strike
organized by several young artists in Petersburg, now in its second
week. The artists encamped themselves in a park next to city hall and
began producing paintings and drawings whose central theme is the
increasingly brutal police repression of social activists and
left-wing artists in Russia. The hunger strikers have issued three
demands. First, they want a criminal investigation of the mass arrests
by riot police of a group of young anarchists on May Day in Petersburg
despite their having obtained official written permission to march
with the other columns of demonstrators. Second, they call for the
creation of a public commission to monitor the work of Center “E.”
Finally, they ask that all charges against Artem Loskutov be dropped
and that he be released.

Although the Loskutov case and the Petersburg hunger strike have
become one of the hottest topics in the Russian blogosphere, there has
been a near-total blackout in the mainstream Russian press, especially
television. That is why we ask you to read the article linked below
and learn how you can join our campaign of solidarity with Artem and
his artist comrades in Petersburg. We have called an international day
of solidarity actions for June 9, a day before Artem’s next hearing in
the Novosibirsk Regional Court.

An injury to one is an injury to all. Free Artem Loskutov!
Artists hunger strike drags on as international economic forum looms


Follow on the Chto delat? blog. Thought I’d mention.