The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'urban planning'
There's a piece in BBC News' Magazine section about the bizarre upside-down world of the Netherlands, where the bicycle is king and cars are grudgingly tolerated; where bike lanes and bike parking are ubiquitous, cycling safety is a compulsory school subject, cyclists have priority at roundabouts and roads are labelled “fietsstraat: auto te gaast” (“bike street: cars are guests”). Consequently, near everybody cycles, and nobody wears a helmet or lycra like some kind of extreme-sports nut whilst doing so:
Cycling is so common that I have been rebuked for asking people whether they are cyclists or not. "We aren't cyclists, we're just Dutch," comes the response.Meanwhile, on the other side of the world (both geographically and culturally), there is gradual movement in Australia towards the acceptance of cycling as a normal activity, with infrastructure being slowly provided for cyclists. However, not all are happy with this; after the Melbourne City Council opened a bike lane on the Princes Bridge, right-wing shock jocks and the Murdoch press have launched a campaign against bike lanes, arguing that they take away the motoring majority's roads to pander for a tiny fringe of (radical/politically correct/trendy) inner-city hipsters in lycra.
Indeed, the limits of how bike-friendly Australia can become may be fairly low, as long as motoring is the default (and, in most places, the only practical) means of transport (one could, indeed, reverse the Dutch formula to “we aren't motorists, we're just Aussies”), and elections are decided by car-dependant marginal seats. They don't want large numbers of cyclists getting in their way and slowing them down when they drive to the supermarket, and certainly don't want some politically-correct latte-sipper lecturing them that they should leave the 4WD at home and cycle to the shopping centre, and they decide elections, so policy is designed partly around the goal of suppressing the rise of cycling as a non-fringe phenomenon. Take, for example, Australia's near-universal and strictly enforced mandatory bike helmet laws, which serve the purpose of raising the economic and psychological barrier to entry from cycling, marking it out as a moderately dangerous extreme sport that requires special safety equipment, and is only for the hardcore.
British architect Lord Norman Foster has just posited plans for a huge new airport and transport development on an artificial island in the Thames Estuary. The development, to be named the Thames Hub, will include the aforementioned airport, high-speed and standard-speed rail links to London, the Channel Tunnel and the North, a container port, an industrial zone and a new Thames flood barrier and tidal energy generator.
Foster (who, among other commissions, worked on Hong Kong's decade-old airport, which is also built on an artificial island), chided Britain for having lost its taste for ambitious projects:
"We need to recapture the foresight and political courage of our 19th-century forebears, " said Foster on Wednesday, "if we are to establish a modern transport and energy infrastructure in Britain for this century and beyond."The plan has won a number of high-profile backers: industrial designer Sir James Dyson, of vacuum-cleaner fame, has backed it, and Boris Johnson (who proposed an island airport in the Thames to replace Heathrow) is in favour. However, not everyone is convinced; there are concerns that the Isle of Grain, which is to be subsumed beneath the artificial island, is both a fragile bird habitat (which would be annihilated by the airport), and a huge natural gas depot (which would pose a hazard), with additional threats posed by a sunken US warship, laden with high explosives. Also, while plans for a new airport are partly motivated by London's airports being close to capacity, some are saying that this can be better mitigated by replacing short-haul flights with high-speed rail; if there aren't all those flights departing from Heathrow for Manchester or Amsterdam, there'll be plenty of capacity for places like New York and Hong Kong. (Of course, high-speed rail suffers from all the Anglo-Saxon aversion to big projects even more than an airport would, given that one would have to placate or defeat the NIMBYs at every step of the way.)
China is planning to create the world's largest city, by amalgamating nine cities in the Pearl River Delta (i.e., just inland from Hong Kong), including Guanzhou and the manufacturing hub of Shenzhen into a conurbation twice the size of Wales and home to 42 million people (i.e., about twice as many as Australia). The new megalopolis has not yet been named.
Or maybe it isn't; a Communist Party spokesman has denied any such plans existed.
An article looks at the question of why the poorer parts of cities in the northern hemisphere tend to be in the east:
The reason for this is that in much of the northern hemisphere, the prevailing winds are westerlies – blowing from west to east. The massive, unchecked pollution from these early industries would therefore drift eastward, making the air quality much lower in the east end of cities, lowering the desirability (and price) of the housing. Middle classes preferred the cleaner west ends.
In many cities, this will have been compounded – or confused – by the direction of the main river in the environment, which would have been relied on for many uses, including sewerage. London, as an example, displays a massive east/west divide, caused in large part by both early industry and the west-to-east flow of the River Thames.Of course, as polluting industries are moved out of affluent countries to eastern Europe, China and the developing world, the old industrial areas, positioned close to the centres of cities as they were before widespread car ownership, are being cleaned up and gentrified, and the rich/poor divide is turning into a boring-rich/exciting-rich divide.
In Australia (well, at least in Melbourne and Sydney), the relationship is reversed, with the western suburbs being poorer and more industrial, and the eastern suburbs being more affluent. One would imagine that this would suggest that the prevailing winds in Australia are easterlies, but the wind map linked seems to contradict this; if anything, Melbourne seems in the path of westerlies, and northeasterlies don't start until somewhere around the Tropic of Capricorn.
(via Boing Boing)
The latest city to get a bike-sharing programme is San Francisco. A scheme is being rolled out both within San Francisco and technological/research hubs like Mountain View and Palo Alto along the west side of the bay. The scheme will be fairly limited compared to London or Paris; the bikes in San Francisco will initially only be in the business centre around Market St., and won't cover areas like the Haight, Golden Gate Park or the Mission District, and there are no plans to extend the scheme to the east bay (Berkeley/Oakland and such).
I'm half surprised that Google, Facebook or some startup haven't rolled out their own bike-sharing system first, with intelligently mesh-networked, location-enhanced bikes which may or may not interact with the rider's advertising profile and/or online identity.
In China's Shangdong province, life imitates art. More precisely, the operators of a public park there, faced with overcrowding, installed coin-operated park benches with retractable anti-sitting spikes, inspired by an artistic installation critiquing the user-pays ethos:
"He thought he was exaggerating. He didn't foresee that a very practical country like China might actually use them for real," said one critic.
After making the documentaries Helvetica (about the aesthetics and politics of design in the 20th century seen through the ubiquitous sans-serif typeface; previously) and Objectified (about industrial design, and featuring luminaries such as Dieter Rams and Jonathan Ive), design-minded filmmaker Gary Hustwit's next project is a film about urban design and planning, titled Urbanized:
The third documentary in this trilogy is about the design of cities. Urbanized looks at the issues and strategies behind urban design, featuring some of the world's foremost architects, planners, policymakers, builders, and thinkers. Over half the world's population now lives in an urban area, and 75% will call a city home by 2050. But while some cities are experiencing explosive growth, others are shrinking. The challenges of balancing housing, mobility, public space, civic engagement, economic development, and environmental policy are fast becoming universal concerns. Yet much of the dialogue on these issues is disconnected from the public domain.Urbanized is due out in 2011.
Pay & Sit is a user-pays park bench. The bench contains metal spikes embedded in the sitting surface, which are retracted when the user inserts 0.50€ into a coin box; the bench beeps when the sitting time is about to expire.
Pay & Sit is not an actual product, however, but the work of an artist named Fabian Brunsing, commenting on the logical extremes of user-pays culture and/or the privatisation of public space. There is no guarantee, however, that some local authority (or some firm contracted to manage (privatised, ad-funded) public parks by one) won't try something like that at some point.
A few quick links to things recently seen:
- A visual study guide to cognitive biases
- Sydney is considering closing George St. to traffic, building a light rail (pronounced "tram") line. Interestingly enough, this plan, like Melbourne's original laneway-driven regeneration and "Copenhagen lanes", was suggested by a Danish urban-planning consultant.
- Google have developed facial recognition technology, capable of identifying individuals in photographs. Given the privacy implications (that plus Google Goggles would be the ultimate stalker tool), they're wisely being very careful about what, if anything, they do with it.
- Spoonflower is a web-based company that will print your designs onto fabric and send it to you. Now if only we could get them talking to Blank Label (a web-based service that lets you design custom shirts, though currently only from a somewhat conservative range of fabrics), then that would be awesome.
- Some music videos: The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, Higher Than The Stars (warning: features furries), Rainbow Arabia, Holiday In Congo (warning: not actually filmed in Congo but Brazil; features massed Michael Jackson impersonators)
- Nifty trompe l'oeil paste-up on the sides of a fence in Berlin:
The next miniaturised replica of a foreign city to be built in China could be based on Melbourne. Well, not an entire mini-Melbourne, but a residential development near Tianjin, about a square kilometre in size, whose centrepiece will be a "Melbourne-style shopping and cafés hub based on Acland, Brunswick and Lygon Street", with a tramway network running through it. So no live rock venues then; they could probably throw in a wan, censored replica of PolyEster Books for local colour. I wonder if they'll put in laneways full of authentically Melburnian (albeit, of course, apolitical) stencil art.
Star Wars Modern has another excellent post, this time about the history of cities and urbanism as seen through superhero comics, or more specifically, Superman and Batman.
That Depression Era mash of eugenics, nationalism, and progress/self-improvement, when introduced into the settings of the already popular crime pulps, gave birth to two enduring strains of superheroes: those that are inhumanly-super, like Superman; and those that are merely humanly-super, like Batman. Each has a place, an urban setting. More than childhood trauma or costume choices, it is these negative spaces that surround the heroes that make them what they are.While both embody the idea of the übermensch, leavened by Depression-era anxieties, they represent different outlooks in the 20th-century debate on the condition of living in cities; Superman embodies the modernist utopianism of slum clearances and gleaming high-rise tower blocs à la Le Corbusier (in one early story, he demolishes a slum teeming with criminality, forcing the authorities to hastily erect modern tower blocs). Batman, however, represents a more Hobbesian pessimistic world-view, of the urban condition as irredemably producing vice and evil, of urban dwellers as rats, their depravity justifying Batman's brutal methods. (Or, as John Powers writes, "In Batman's Gotham, human-nature makes the city a bad place. In Superman's Metropolis, exactly like More's Utopia, it is the city that makes people bad, and it needs to be physically reordered".) Both, however, were founded in the same prevalent assumption that the urban condition breeds vice, and that a more wholesome life is to be found in small towns, villages or the newly erected Levittown-style suburbs.
A lot of the anti-urbanist arguments cited a 1962 psychology paper titled Population Density and Social Pathology, by John B. Calhoun, in which the researchers cram increasing numbers of rats into a small space and notice that they start attacking and cannibalising one another, and then infer that rat psychology applies equally to humans, and city-like population densities trigger acts of depravity in human populations. To this day you hear the "rats in a cage" argument trotted out as folklore, because it's a vivid, lurid image. The problem is, the experiment doesn't hold; humans in a city aren't rats in a cage, and cities, even densely-packed slum-like ones, left to their own devices, evolve remarkable (if not always aesthetically pleasing) mechanisms of community and cooperation; in fact, the sprawling shanty-town is the ur-city:
Like Jacobs in 1961, who was opposed to Modernist slum clearance and saw density as a positive quality invisible to her contemporaries, Brand sees the high density of slums of contemporary South America, Asia and Africa as the model for future city life. While Jacobs pointed to so-called slums as healthy, but underserved neighborhoods in Boston and New York, and argued that they were positive examples to be emulated by planners, Brand points to vast squatter cities that house billions of people globally as feral urbanism that needs to be legitimized and fostered. The favelas and katchi abadi are thousands of times larger then the neighborhoods Jacobs wrote about, but Brand points out that San Francisco started out as a shanty town, and while he is quick to admit that "new squatter cities look like human cesspools and often smell like them," these are still neighborhoods, they are a legitimate form of urban development. These are not the "breeding ground for suffering and injustice" that Nolan has cast them as. In Brand's description squatter cities are vibrant:
Some recent random posts related to urbanism, urban planning, architecture, transport, infrastructure and such:
- The World's Strangest Housing Communities. Includes Chinese replicas of American suburbia, sadly derelict futuristic pod cities in Taiwan (alas, now destroyed), and rumours of midget villages in rural America. Not to mention Alphaville, the chain of high-security gated cities in which Brazil's professional élites live behind electrified fences, guarded by a private army and entering and leaving only by helicopter (and which inspired a Jean-Luc Godard film of the same name),
- A Berlin-based street artist calling themself EVOL uses photographic prints to convert utility boxes and planters into miniature replicas of decaying tower blocks:
- A piece on hand-drawn maps, and the situations in which they are particularly useful, when subjective psychogeographic experience is more important than objective accuracy.
- A piece in The Economist about Portland, Oregon, a city which "looks to Amsterdam, Helsinki and Stockholm for ideas" and is touted by some as a model for a more sustainable America (though also mocked for being the cultural epicentre for hipsters and White People.
- Another possible alternative for living: Inhabited balloon cities perched atop high-altitude wind systems.
Australian architects and urban planners are pondering the challenges of adapting to population growth and climate change
Australia survived the global financial crisis, due largely to China buying its resources, and while resource exports will continue to bolster its economy for decades, future prosperity may be threatened by a growing, ageing population, according to an Australian government report released in February.
Australia's post-World War Two sprawling suburbia is under strain due to inadequate transport and public facilities. "We're at risk of seeing increasingly dysfunctional cities ... we're starting to see sort of fragmentation and breakdown of the transport systems and increasing frustration for the residents of those cities trying to get around," said Jago Dodson, urban researcher at Griffth University.A number of problems loom on the horizon: Australia's urban planning uniformly follows the post-WW2 American model, with sprawling cities of quarter-acre blocks, large "McMansion"-style houses, near-universal car ownership and a neglected public transport system half-heartedly run as welfare for the carless poor (though, to its credit, without the sort of neo-Calvinist contempt America manages for its have-nots). Most of Australia's land mass is desert, and its arable land, being geologically older than other continents, is less fertile, needing more fertiliser (typically petrochemical-based). Fresh water supplies are scarce; farmers are affected by drought and cities hit with water restrictions. The bulk of Australia's population is located around the coasts, with the country's largest cities being coastal. If global warming results in rising sea levels, this could result in flooding of populated areas. Moving inland is, for obvious reasons, not an easy solution.
With the population set to rise, some key assumptions about life in the Lucky Country are being reconsidered, from the ideal of owning a huge house on a quarter-acre block in suburbia to the right to drive anywhere in your own car. However, as in the US, there is considerable resistance to a change in these values.
Demographer Salt questions whether Australians will give up the "Neighbours" dream, citing the worldwide TV hit about life in a suburban Australian street. "Neighbours...is absolutely integral to the Australian psyche," said Salt, a partner at KPMG.
"Despite concern about climate change, road use in our cities is predicted to grow significantly in the next 20 to 30 years," said Transurban in a 2009 sustainability report. "New road projects will increasingly be part of integrated transport solutions for entire cities or transport corridors."Despite this resistance, demographers are predicting Australia's cherished sprawl being replaced with higher-density urban planning (some are even talking about "Manhattanization"), and there are already proposals for European-style mass transit projects (such as an underground rail network for Sydney). Whether the kinds of multi-billion-dollar sums get spent on subways, high-speed trains and other infrastructure that routinely happen in Europe remains to be seen; until now, public transport has been the red-headed stepchild of state governments, with billions spent on freeways (which, after all, serve the outer-suburban motorists whose votes swing elections) and public transport getting mostly empty promises, with the occasional bus service being extended from 6:30pm to 7:00pm on weekdays. (In Melbourne, there doesn't seem to be enough money to keep the existing service, as patchy as it is, from falling apart.)
In what appears to be a periodic ritual as formalised as a Japanese noh play, an academic has called for Melbourne to radically change its transport policies, scrapping freeway building programmes and instead divert billions of dollars to public transport:
''Please, we need a moratorium on all freeway building, until we have an adequate transport and land-use plan for Melbourne,'' Professor Low said yesterday.
Instead, the Government must commit to better managing the public transport system, via a metropolitan planning authority, Professor Low will tell the Melbourne @ 5 Million transport conference at Melbourne University today.Professor Nicholas Low, head of Melbourne University's transport research centre, called for Melbourne to have a cohesive citywide authority, much as London and Paris do, and also called for radical and distinctly un-Australian measures (albeit ones commonly found in Europe) such as restricting heavily cars from the CBD and suburban shopping strips (i.e., playing funny buggers with Aussie battlers' God-given right to drive; I'm sure there was a question about it on John Howard's citizenship test, right next to Don Bradman's batting average).
He compared Melbourne's expected population of 5 million people by 2026 to London's inner boroughs, which he said had a population of just over 7 million. ''Imagine London without the Underground,'' he said, ''because that is what Melbourne will be like at 5 million, unless we start building an efficient, integrated public transport system for this city.''Good Luck to Professor Low and his plans, though in all honesty, the chances of them ever seeing the light of day are, as they say, somewhere between Buckley's and none. Most Melburnians have long since given up on public transport or never used it, and having their right to drive restricted in favour of an unknown quantity they only see horror stories about in the Age will be hard to sell. The Melbourne railway system is a case in point. In the 1990s, an unsympathetic Tory government decided to privatise it, and so brought in the British Tory advisers responsible for butchering British Rail and challenged them to outdo their previous accomplishment, which they did. The result is a dysfunctional system unable to cope with the increases in patronage caused by rising oil prices, and those unable to afford the petrol to drive in comfort having to endure sardine-can commutes, when the system doesn't break down, that is. (Which is not to say the operators aren't doing anything about it; they've now started pulling the seats out of carriages, turning them into more efficient cattle cars.) And then there are the trams, with their helpful conductors replaced by thuggish "revenue officers". The whole system bespeaks a contempt for those sufficiently lowly to not be able to drive.
Of course, there are the pie-in-the-sky plans, often floated before an election, of gleaming new subway lines across the city, which, were they to actually be built, would soak up the public transport budget for a generation. (There simply isn't enough money coursing through the Australian economy to build a London-style Underground or Paris-style Metro.) Meanwhile, the "swinging voters" who decide elections live in outer suburbs, have one car per adult member of each household and want freeways to drive along. The quarter-acre suburban block is still the ideal, and any proposals to increase housing density are dismissed as absurd and somewhat distasteful. It will take severe increases in oil prices—ones severe enough to cause hardship, if not unrest—to bring about a change of policy. (And maybe not even that; I can imagine that it may be more politically plausible to see Melburnians driving cars fuelled by liquified coal, poisoning themselves with carcinogenic pollutants but keeping the sacred suburban lifestyle, than to see the expense and upheaval required for an effective public transport system.)
The Independent has an article about what Copenhagen can teach the world about sustainable urban planning, in particular the promotion of cycling:
Forty years ago, London and Copenhagen had similar ratios of car to bicycle use, and both faced an exodus of workers moving out of the centre and into the suburbs. But after ' the energy crises of the 1970s, the two cities diverged. Danes were restricted in how much they could use their cars and commuters began to campaign for a better infrastructure for cyclists. Today, there are almost 200 miles of bicycle lanes in the city, and 40 per cent of its 5.5 million inhabitants cycle to work. The city has evolved cyclist-friendly policies, such as the Green Wave – a sequence of favourable traffic signals for cyclists at rush hour.
Melbourne is one of Gehl's most significant successes. From 1994 to 2004, he studied the city and, working with Professor Rob Adams at the city government, introduced major changes to the city's public spaces. Gehl recommended promoting the city's café culture, improving the waterfront area, opening up the historic laneways to pedestrians and adding more urban plazas. After a decade of work, there were 275 per cent more cafés and 71 per cent more people-oriented spaces. Wider, lighter walkways, lined with 3,000 more trees, enticed 39 per cent more daytime pedestrian traffic and 98 per cent more at night. Of course, the city expanded during this time, but more people also returned to live in the inner city (to almost 10 times more apartments). Once a classic doughnut-shaped modern city, in which the centre empties at night as workers return to the suburbs, Melbourne is now regularly rated one of the most liveable cities in the world.One point that comes up is that, while in the Anglosphere, cycling is a purer-than-thou subculture with its own uniforms and ideological machismo, in Denmark, it is completely mainstream and without pretention:
In Britain we have been conditioned to believe that cycling is something that can be done only in special places while wearing specialist safety equipment and clothing. Yet here were men, women and children cycling to work or school, looking stylish and feeling safe. It was cycling as transport, not sport.
He's no fan of the culture of hardcore cyclists that has evolved in the UK. "Once you get past the cycle subculture and make it mainstream, when you have grandmothers picking up their grandchildren from school on bikes, the aggressive riders become less noticeable. You still get people running red lights here but you just don't notice them." And he believes Critical Mass-style activism is counter-productive: "Is this selling cycling to drivers? No."
Getting around Copenhagen has been simplified over the past 30 years, from insurance (stolen bikes are registered by the police and cheques are sent out within a week) to gear. "There are a lot of companies selling 'cycling clothes' in the UK. Is it overcomplicating it, as the sports industry has for 40 years? I think it might be. Open your closet, it's full of cycling clothes. Anything you can walk in, you can cycle in. Let's move on."Of course, the "your closet is full of cycling clothes" line only works when you have Copenhagen-style cycle paths separated from motor traffic. In Britain, where cyclists have to contend with cars, especially in the winter when it gets dark early, high-visibility clothing is a must.
Wikipedia link of the day: Spite houses, or where malice and architecture intersect:
A spite house is a building (generally found in an urban environment) which was constructed or modified because the builder felt wronged by someone who did not want it there. Typically built to annoy someone, in most cases a neighbor, these buildings serve primarily as obstructions, blocking out light or access to neighboring buildings, or as flamboyant symbols of defiance. Because actually inhabiting such structures is usually a secondary goal at most, they often have strange and impractical layouts.
Blog discovery of the day: The Infrastructurist, which focuses on issues such as transport and urban planning, from a largely, though not entirely, US-centric point of view, and has some interesting stories. Such as a LA Times piece on the Dubai model of urbanism, an Economist piece on the Obama administration's US$500bn transport bill (which includes 50 billion for high-speed rail), a Google Maps gallery of six intriguingly shaped communities, a piece on what to do when neo-Nazis decide to sponsor a US highway (the answer: rename it after a civil rights leader), and a gallery of grand railway stations in America, all now long-since demolished.
In the US, President Obama has announced plans to build high-speed railway systems. It won't be one national high-speed railway, but rather a pot of money and a series of proposed high-speed rail corridors (some of which already have planned projects, such as the Californian system which passed the ballot in the last election). There is only $8Bn to spend, and the "high speed" trains are cited at running at up to 240km/h (i.e., somewhat faster than a British Rail InterCity 125 on a straight stretch of track, but not quite up there with the Shinkansen), but it is a start.
His strategy envisions a network of short-haul and long-haul corridors of up to 600 miles, with trains capable of speeds of up to 150mph (240km/h).
He said: "Our highways are clogged with traffic, costing us $80 billion a year in lost productivity and wasted fuel.
"Our airports are choked with increased loads. We're at the mercy of fluctuating gas prices all too often," he said.The corridors proposed include one in the Pacific Northwest (running from Oregon to Seattle, and possibly into Canada; I hope that they put passport control in the stations, as on the Eurostar, rather than stopping it for an hour or so at the border to process everyone onboard), a Chicago-centric system stretching to Minneapolis, Detroit, Kentucky and Ohio, and corridors potentially running from Texas, through New Orleans, Atlanta and the Carolinas, and into Washington. The full text of the speech is here.
In Britain, the government is making plans to let artists and community groups take over shops hollowed out by the recession, to sow the seeds of Berlin-style regeneration (which, for all its lack of respect for the sanctity of property rights, is a lot nicer than the alternative, urban wasteland):
Planning rules will be relaxed to allow changes of use which go against local guidelines. For example, a disused clothes shop could become an art gallery or an empty Woolworths an NHS drop-in centre.
Temporary lease agreements will enable owners who want to retain a vacant property in the long term to make it available for community or creative use during the recession. Councils will be urged to take control of empty properties until the recession ends.
"Empty shops can be eyesores or crime magnets," Blears said. "Our ideas for reviving town centres will give communities the knowhow to temporarily transform vacant premises into something innovative for the community - a social enterprise, a showroom for local artists or an information centre - and stop the high street being boarded up.Of course, as always, the devil is in the details. What exactly "relaxation of planning rules" involves is uncertain. As long as the shopfronts are used for community centres or art spaces and not, say, cut-rate toxic-waste processing facilities or something, that's a good idea.
Not all artists and activists are waiting for Her Majesty's Government to hand them the keys to a disused Woolworths, though; some have taken matters into their own hands:
The slack space movement has echoes in previous slumps when many now successful architects, magazine publishers and artists moved into vacant premises. There is certainly room for creativity again. One in six shops will be vacant by the end of the year, according to the data company Experian. It predicts that 72,000 retail outlets could close during 2009, more than doubling the number of empty units to 135,000 in the UK.Of course, some artists still haven't shaken off the language of Thatcherism-Blairism, and talk not of "community spaces" but of "business development". Art, you see, is a means to an economic end, and, even immediately after the recessionary shock, in Anglocapitalist cultures, there is the assumption that artists and squatters' role is merely that of the microbes in the soil of commerce, to prepare the ground for the next wave of aspirational consumerism, and hopefully make a few quid at the end of it:
"Rather than letting lots of pound shops appear, we are encouraging people to start up businesses," said Firmin. "We know recessions are awful but can be a good time for artists as creative ideas start appearing while otherwise redundant people are sitting at home fiddling and doing creative stuff."And here is a profile of various groups of artist-squatters, including the Da! Collective, notorious for outraging the tabloids by having the temerity to move into a disused mansion, rather than a warehouse or something more appropriate; not to mention a chronology of the history of squatting in Britain (and Europe).
Via Momus, who's, understandably, over the moon about this, hailing it as a triumph for the Berlin model (which, for a while, looked like it was going to be ground under the wheels of yuppification):
Since it's a global recession, I also like to think Berlin has now become a sort of template for cities all over the world. Whereas we might once have looked like a museum of crusty subcultures past their sell-by date, this city now looks like the future of Tokyo, the future of London, and the future of New York. We're your best-case scenario, guys, your optimal recessionary outcome. Everything else is dystopia, Escape-From-New-York stuff.
If the major cities of the world all become "Berlins", though, I can't guarantee I'd stay in the actual Berlin, the black flagship, the Big Squat itself. If Tokyo, for instance, got as cheap and cheerfully creative as Berlin -- if it became the kind of city you could simply occupy without having to scuttle around pointlessly making rent -- I'd be there in a flash. Secretly, what I'm doing here in Berlin is waiting for Tokyo to Berlinify.
The city of Detroit has seen more than its share of misfortune; hollowed out by the slow decline of the US car industry, it has already been synonymous with post-industrial urban decline, even before the oil crunch and the Great Recession. Now, however, the economically depressed conditions are apparently bringing in artists, drawn to Detroit by the rock-bottom real-estate prices (think $100 houses, albeit in need of work), faded grandeur of near-mythical proportions and potential for experimentation and regeneration:
Buying that first house had a snowball effect. Almost immediately, Mitch and Gina bought two adjacent lots for even less and, with the help of friends and local youngsters, dug in a garden. Then they bought the house next door for $500, reselling it to a pair of local artists for a $50 profit. When they heard about the $100 place down the street, they called their friends Jon and Sarah.
Admittedly, the $100 home needed some work, a hole patched, some windows replaced. But Mitch plans to connect their home to his mini-green grid and a neighborhood is slowly coming together.
But the city offers a much greater attraction for artists than $100 houses. Detroit right now is just this vast, enormous canvas where anything imaginable can be accomplished. From Tyree Guyton’s Heidelberg Project (think of a neighborhood covered in shoes and stuffed animals and you’re close) to Matthew Barney’s “Ancient Evenings” project (think Egyptian gods reincarnated as Ford Mustangs and you’re kind of close), local and international artists are already leveraging Detroit’s complex textures and landscapes to their own surreal ends.It'll be interesting to see what happens; will Detroit's new artist-settlers find their dreams foundering, turn tail and run, or will they succeed? Will Detroit become a new East Berlin, attracting artists and then scenesters, then showing up in boutique tourist guidebooks as the new hip destination, until eventually the process is completed and the well-off and aspirational move in, most of the artists are priced out of it and move on in search of another locus?
(via Boing Boing)
San Francisco could soon be the first US city to adopt a London-style congestion charge on cars in central areas. Not sure which areas they mean (I suspect the central grid north of Market St., with its numerous Muni and BART lines, is a likely candidate), but it makes sense (SF proper is compact and easily navigable by foot or public transport, is on a peninsula linked with neighbouring areas only by bridges and tunnels, and has a strong green/progressive culture which could counterbalance the stereotypical American idea of car-as-extension-to-self). Of course, the congestion charge is still on the drawing board, and faces opposition.
More news has emerged about the remake of the TV series The Prisoner. It's being made by ITV, not Sky One (for whatever that's worth), and promises to "reflect 21st century concerns and anxieties such as liberty, security and surveillance", rather than merely being a vehicle for trashy celebrity sexploitation as was rumoured. Sir Ian McKellen will play Number 2, with Jim "Christ" Caveziel being Number 6. It is not clear whether any of it will be filmed in Portmeirion.
On a tangent: an architect claims that Portmeirion appears three times larger than it actually is, due to its complexity, being what he calls a "fractal town":
"Distances will therefore seem smaller in places where people look at their feet and there is lots of traffic. We can use this to make space from nothing. It would seem that vastly more information is absorbed during a walk in Portmeirion than it is in Manchester."
He said previous studies in the US had indicated that our vision expects the world to be fractal. "This may explain why non-fractal environments such as car parks feel oppressive," he said.
A nursing home in Düsseldolf has come up with a novel way of dealing with stray Alzheimer's patients; they set up a fake bus stop outside the home:
“It sounds funny,” said Old Lions Chairman Franz-Josef Goebel, “but it helps. Our members are 84 years-old on average. Their short-term memory hardly works at all, but the long-term memory is still active. They know the green and yellow bus sign and remember that waiting there means they will go home.” The result is that errant patients now wait for their trip home at the bus stop, before quickly forgetting why they were there in the first place.
(via Boing Boing)
An Australian human-interface innovation I hadn't heard of until now: the Marshalite, an early analogue traffic signal developed in the 1930s. Unlike modern pedestrian crossings (with the exception of those in some US cities), it not only displayed whether crossing the road was permitted, but gave an indication of how much time pedestrians had to cross, in the form of a clock face. The downside of the Marshalite was that, being mechanical, it was not adjustable, and worked on the assumption that traffic lights had a fixed duration. (And changing the speed of the moving hands is not an option; people would make assumptions about what the hand at a specific position would mean, and could not be expected to look at it long enough to gauge the speed.) At some point, they started adjusting the lengths of traffic lights to better manage traffic, and the Marshalites were all replaced by the now ubiquitous red/green man.
(via Boing Boing Gadgets)
Apparently the UK and Scottish governments are in discussion on building a high-speed railway line from Scotland to England. The details of the line aren't known, though it'd be built to Eurostar specifications, and would connect London to Glasgow. It would take a decade or so to build, and
prices costs start at £9bn.
Where in London it would terminate is another question; one high-speed rail proposal involves making Heathrow the national high-speed rail hub, with Eurostar trains and trains going elsewhere in Britain terminating there. Which sends the message that, if you're travelling from, say, Glasgow to the continent, you're going to be changing at Heathrow anyway, so you may as well fly; not exactly encouraging environmental responsibility. (Of course, this is assuming that flying remains affordable; if not, then siting a major rail terminus at a site with an airport and not much else is just stupid planning.)
The mediæval Italian hilltop town of Perugia has inaugurated a new, incongruously futuristic, transport system: a light railway of pilotless, podlike cars, running from the valley to the centre of the old town:
Dubbed the "Mini Metro", the rail line, which starts from the valley floor, climbs for 3km, wiggles around ancient constructions and monuments, and drops visitors off in the historic centre where an unobstructed view of Assisi and the rolling countryside gleams in the distance. Total travel time? 11 minutes.
At first look, the sight of pilot-less metallic pods shuttling people up and down the hillside on an elevated track seems, to put it mildly, anachronistic. Call it Tron-meets-Dante in the Umbrian hills.If the Mini Metro is successful, the Perugian municipal authorities plan to ban cars from the old town's narrow streets altogether.
Good news: Britain is arguably entering the new age of the train, with more journeys having been made on the railways last year than in any year since 1946. Not so good news: Britain's railways are still barely adequate; John Major's ideologically-driven privatisation of British Railways has led to a situation where more taxpayers' money is being pumped into the railways than even in the bad old days of that Inefficient Socialist Monopoly, though fewer pounds actually making it through to improving the service (but rather going to the profits of various private enterprises at various levels and/or falling through the cracks of the various inefficiencies of the present arrangement, which in some ways looks to be cobbled together with duct tape and string). Meanwhile, passengers are paying more for their tickets than anywhere in continental Europe, whilst putting up with slower trains and often a lack of seats. Not surprisingly, most of the record-breaking rail journeys were fairly short ones, with people choosing to fly between cities (like, say, London and Manchester), in a way that they just don't do in France or Germany:
The problem is that Britain's railways are a public utility run as a profit-making enterprise, and thus a rather inefficient conduit for channelling taxpayers' funds into the coffers of private industry. It seems that there are two possible ways out of the current mess:
- Continue regarding the railways as a public utility and undo a lot of privatisation. Either nationalise rail operators or have them provide a service to a non-profit rail company, under carefully controlled terms. All state subsidies (for keeping socially- and economically-useful though unprofitable services running) will go to the non-profit (let's call it British Rail 2.0), or:
- Run the railways consistently as a profit-making enterprise, and restructure them to run at a profit. That would mean a new round of Beeching-style cuts, with most smaller lines being scrapped, and the service ultimately being cut down to something like American-style commuter rail, consisting largely of profitable shuttles between dormitory areas and economic centres, running mostly at commuting hours. This is the approach The Economist recommended last year.
Ken Livingstone has promised, should he be reelected, to ban all traffic from Oxford Street and replace it with a tram line, turning the shopping thoroughfare into something like Melbourne's Bourke Street, presumably paved in red bricks and containing tramp-proof public seating and such. Unlike Bourke Street, the traffic ban will be absolute, with no exemption for taxis.
A pedestrianised Oxford St. could be a good thing, turning a congested thoroughfare into a genuine public space. On the other hand, bus routes which go through it would either be rerouted through adjacent streets (which are already quite busy) or chopped in two.
Meanwhile, Tory clown prince Boris Johnson has vowed that, should he be elected, he will allow motorbikes to use bus lanes, just as cyclists do. Finally the petrolheads have a candidate they can rely on, since Jeremy Clarkson (who proposed abolishing the congestion charge for cars but imposing a £500/day congestion charge on bicycles, on the grounds that they are a nuisance to decent motorists everywhere and the smug, politically-correct Guardian-reading vegan types who cycle are annoying) declined to run.
Alas, if Livingstone (who has done an OK job, when he's not being George Galloway Lite) doesn't get reelected, it looks like Johnson will get up, as the other candidates (Brian Paddick and Sian Berry) do not look like having a chance. And, if Johnson becomes Mayor of London, I wonder how long it'll take until the fun-loving buffoonery gives way to hardline tory policies.
Such as the following: 1) simulate how a crowd flees from a burning car toward a single evacuation point; 2) test out how a pathogen might be transmitted through a mobile pedestrian over a short period of time; 3) see how the existing urban grid facilitate or does not facilitate mass evacuation prior to a hurricane landfall or in the event of dirty bomb detonation; 4) design a mall which can compel customers to shop to the point of bankruptcy, to walk obliviously for miles and miles and miles, endlessly to the point of physical exhaustion and even death; 5) identify, if possible, the tell-tale signs of a peaceful crowd about to metamorphosize into a hellish mob; 6) determine how various urban typologies, such as plazas, parks, major arterial streets and banlieues, can be reconfigured in situ into a neutralizing force when crowds do become riotous; and 7) conversely, figure out how one could, through spatial manipulation, inflame a crowd, even a very small one, to set in motion a series of events that culminates into a full scale Revolution or just your average everyday Southeast Asian coup d'état -- regime change through landscape architecture.
Or you quadruple the population of Chicago. How about 200 million? And into its historic Emerald Necklace system of parks, you drop an al-Qaeda sleeper cell, a pedophile, an Ebola patient, an illegal migrant worker, a swarm of zombies, and Paris Hilton. Then grab a cold one, sit back and watch the landscape descend into chaos. It'll be better than any megablockbuster movie you'll see this summer.And here are emotional maps of various urban areas, including parts of London and San Francisco, created by having volunteers walk around them with GPS units and galvanic skin response meters.
(via schneier, mind hacks)
The world appears to be experiencing a subway building boom, with cities across the world building new underground urban railways, to alleviate traffic congestion or merely as a status symbol. Cities across the Middle East such as Dubai are investing in subways (in Dubai's case with both gender-segregated carriages and VIP carriages), provincial cities across Europe are putting them in, and even seemingly unlikely places such as Santo Domingo (of the Dominican Republic) and Mallorca (in the Balearic Islands) are putting them in. And, of course, China and India are going wild on subway building. Though, apparently, the United States is over subways:
Sure, Los Angeles and New York are adding modest extensions to their systems. And Phoenix is considering a subway. But Chicago's system is nearing collapse--still with no long-term consensus about how to save it. Cincinnati is fighting over what to do with deteriorating tunnels built in the 1920s, but abandoned for expressways. And subways aren't even a controversy in most American cities because they're a political nonstarter. Bonds, which need to float costs approaching $1 billion a mile, are simply off the table. And federal funds have slowed to a trickle. Besides, libertarians believe subways distort a city's natrual growth and gentrification. You need only look at what cars and expressways do to a city's "natural" growth and gentrification to give subways a second look. Yes, they're expensive. And they're usually worth it.Australia seems to be mostly following the US model, though there was talk about new undergound heavy-rail lines under Melbourne (connected to the normal broad-gauge rail network), though there's always pie-in-the-sky crazy talk about spectacularly expanding public transport, and little if anything ever comes of it. On the other hand, public transport doesn't have quite the stigma in Australia that it has in the US.
(via Wired News)
The Age has an article about how, thanks to some two decades of thoughtful urban planning, Melbourne has advanced ahead of Sydney in terms of creative culture:
Melburnians had gained more public open space and access to waterfront lost for decades and, since 1991, thousands had been to encouraged to live in the "central activities district", creating demand for bars, restaurants and footpath cafes. Melbourne's laneways had been protected through height regulations and, between 1983 and 2004, active arcade frontage had increased from 300 metres to 3 kilometres, Adams said. And only bluestone paving is now allowed in the city.
The City of Melbourne had also invested in public art to improve the public domain, determined by an independent artists' panel.
The Sydney envy at hearing of Melbourne's leadership in city planning, architecture and art spilled into newsprint. Sydney University adjunct associate professor of architecture Elizabeth Farrelly lamented Sydney's developers had erased a plethora of laneways and back streets with skyscrapers, while much of Sydney's character had been "Botoxed away".
Farrelly declared that the biggest difference between the two cities is Sydney's "sheer cultural timidity - from fashion to cafes and from public art to architecture - compared with Melbourne's cultural courage".A big part of the difference is in affordability, with Sydney's property prices, cost of living (Sydney is the fifth most "severely unaffordable" city in the affluent English-speaking countries, while Melbourne is the 23rd) and hypercompetitive, status-obsessed culture choking local creativity, putting pressure on artists to get a real job to keep up or otherwise leave for somewhere less sharky.
Of course, affluenza is hitting Melbourne as well; property prices are skyrocketing, and the young creative people who filled up the inner cities are being displaced further and further out, making room for moneyed yuppies with a taste for boutique lifestyles. Perhaps one of these days we will find that Springvale or Sunshine has become Melbourne's Neukölln, sufficiently populated with thrifty creatives and bohemians to have a vibrant local culture but insufficiently "funkified" (in the words of estate agents) to have attracted the yuppies?
Property developers in China have created an artificial English town. Located on the outskirts of Shanghai, "Thames Town" contains such quintessentially English essentials as Georgian- and Victorian-style terrace houses, a pub and fish and chip shop and a statue of Winston Churchill. The owner of the original fish and chip shop, in Lyme Regis, meanwhile, is quite annoyed with her business having been copied lock, stock and barrel without permission.
Of course, unless the high street is comprised entirely of chain stores, it's not a real English town but a vaguely Disneylandish (or perhaps Portmeirionesque) idealised one. In any case, it will soon be joined by other European-style developments, with an Italian and German town being planned. And apparently the entire town of Dorchester is being reconstructed in Chengdu, under the name "British Town".
In the 1930s, Henry Ford built two planned towns in Brazil, to support rubber plantations; the towns were modelled on Michigan, all white picket fences and neat, American-style suburban sidewalks (in fact, they looked not unlike some place in Queensland). As well as harnessing Brazil's rubber resources, the project attempted to instill Anglo-American/Fordian values in their residents; in return for better pay, the residents had to work US-style hours, eat American-style food in self-service cafeterias (the last point causing a riot at one stage) and attend compulsory square-dancing social events.
Fenced in by jungle, Fordlandia was transformed into a modern suburb with rows of snug bungalows fed by power lines running to a diesel generator. The main street was paved and its residents collected well water from spigots in front of their homes--except for the U.S. staff and white-collar Brazilians, who had running water in their homes. The North Americans splashed in their outdoor swimming pool and the Brazilians escaped the sun by sliding into another pool designated for their use.
Generally, the company-imposed routine met hit-and-miss compliance. Children wore uniforms to school and workers responded favorably to suggestions they grow their own vegetables. But most ignored Ford's no liquor rule and, on paydays, boats filled with potent cachaca--the local sugar-can brew--pulled up at the dock. Poetry readings, weekend dances and English sing-alongs were among the disputed cultural activities.
Former Kalamazoo sheriff Curtis Pringle, a manager at Belterra, boosted labor relations when he eased off the Dearborn-style routine and deferred to local customs, especially when it came to meals and entertainment. Under Pringle, Belterra buildings did not contain the glass that made the powerhouse at Fordlandia unbearably hot, and weekend square dancing was optional. Alexander said Henry Ford balked at building a Catholic church at Fordlandia--even though Catholicism was the predominant Christian religion in Brazil. The Catholic chapel was erected right away at Belterra.The project was unsuccessful; humidity and malaria made life there unpleasant, rubber yields were low, and for some reason, the locals didn't see the inherent superiority of Anglo-American culture and stubbornly stuck to their customs, in defiance of the local authorities' best efforts. Ultimately, the project was sold to the Brazilian government, which has been stuck with the burden of keeping it from falling down ever since, and struggled to find uses for a transplanted piece of Michigan on the Amazon.
(via Boing Boing)
Momus makes a few points about car-centric urban design:
It's always seemed to me that a society's respect for humanity might be better measured by the length of its pedestrian crossing signals than by any number of abstract declarations of support for "universal human rights". Cars are the closest thing we have in our society to predators, capable of picking off the weak; they're malevolent steel sharks or pumas, cruising our cities, hogging the head of the food chain.
Car signals stay green up to ten times longer than foot traffic signals do. Pedestrians sometimes only get a cross signal when they "apply" for it by pressing a request button. It just seems that car traffic is seen as "economically rational" and "necessary", whereas foot traffic is somewhat dilettante, an afterthought, unimportant.
Often, in studies, only the motorist's convenience is taken into account. Manhattan traffic police admitted, for instance, that a barrier scheme to prevent pedestrians crossing 6th Avenue by forcing them to walk up the block to the next crossing point was deemed a success because it reduced traffic wait times. The extra time added to the pedestrian's journey wasn't even measured, though, and this despite the fact that 6 or 7 times more people were crossing town on foot at these locations than in cars.
The Victorian state government is set to announce plans to expand Melbourne's struggling public transport service, including extending the Epping line to
Ongar South Morang and extending suburban bus services to run in the evenings and on Sundays. A more cynical soul than Your Humble Narrator would speculate that there's an election coming up, and that, after having served their electoral purpose, much of the plans are going to disappear to the same graveyard of abandoned public transport policies as the Doncaster railway line, the Monash University/Rowville rail link, and real crackpot pie-in-the-sky ideas such as the underground line linking St Kilda to Brunswick St. or wherever that was.
What's that? There is an election coming up? You don't say...
If, by some miracle, it does actually happen. it'll be a decent start, though no substitute for sustained investment in public transport. Bringing Melbourne's system (outside of the very centre) up to scratch would require Ken Livingstone-esque levels of spending.
The Melbourne City Council is planning to discourage the use of cars in the CBD. It's not quite a London-style congestion charge, but will involve lowering speed limits, reclaiming street space for pedestrians and cyclists, giving cheaper public transport fares to residents who give up parking permits and, umm, resisting moves to ease the flow of traffic into the city centre. It also will only cover the 2 square kilometres that comprise the central business district, and depends on the state government increasing public transport funding, which it has shown no signs of doing.
So, if this plan goes ahead, two things could happen:
- People abandon driving into the city centre in favour of public transport; as pressure on the city's trams and City Loop increase, the government increases funding and expands the system to cope
- People abandon driving into the city centre. Overcrowded trams and trains struggle to cope. Public transport operators rip out seats, creating a standing-only transport system to accommodate the crowds. The government hems and haws over the question of increasing funding, eventually doing little or nothing. After mass public dissatisfaction, the city council reverses the plan, removes bike/bus lanes, restores parking spaces and the car resumes its place as Melbourne's rightful king, and motorists can once more sit down in their oversized Toorak tractors as they nip down to David Jones.
To help alleviate Melbourne's transport woes, an academic specialist in public transport has called for a Melbourne "tube" line. The line would bypass the already congested above-ground transport infrastructure and would cut under the centre of Melbourne, from South Yarra in the south to Melbourne University in the inner north.
So, in short, what we currently have looks like:
Were Professor Currie's proposal to be implemented, it'd look something like:
Though why not stop there? There was, a while ago, a proposal to build an underground line from North Melbourne, across the inner north (including Melbourne University), through to the Eastern Freeway and along the centre of that to Doncaster and the suburbs. Were that to be resurrected and combined with this plan, it would start to look like:
Of course, the chances of seeing anything of this sort happen are not good.
A new report shows that Melbourne's public transport system is close to catastrophic collapse, due to underfunding and neglect in favour of cars. With the greatest length of roads per capita in Australia, the third lowest public transport patronage of fourteen cities surveyed, the lowest relative cost of driving to catching public transport, and the Bracks government's record spending on freeway building, Melbourne is changing from the most livable city to the most drivable city, a venerable Houston-under-the-Southern-Cross.
The man behind the new report and one of the world's top transport academics, Professor Peter Newman, warns the Government it will lose next year's election if it does not commit to a wide-ranging series of public transport projects.I thought the problem was precisely the opposite: that winning a state election depended on marginal outer-suburban electorates, where voters don't use public transport, have already invested in cars (one per household member of driving age, typically) and want good roads to take them where they need to go, rather than seeing their taxes squandered on trains and trams for a tiny elite of latte-sipping inner-city types.
Of course, from my experience, a big part of it is the fact that public transport in Melbourne is run to a beggars-can't-be-choosers philosophy. It is assumed that those who want a comfortable ride, rather than standing all the way nose-to-armpit with other strangers, have invested in cars and parking space, and so public transport is organised as the cheapest possible way of getting the poor wretches who can't afford cars from their housing commission flats to the dole office or call centre. Which is the only way that pulling the seats out of trams to make more standing room could make sense. And why those who can afford to avoid public transport do so, further exacerbating the vicious circle.
The privatisation programmes are also a problem, with a big chunk of public transport money being paid to the new owners of the system to keep them from packing up and leaving. Of course, being publicly-traded corporations, they have a duty to their shareholders to squeeze the most profit from the least investment.
There is more detail here about the present state of affairs; and here is a map of what Melbourne's train network could (and should) look like to meet demand. It includes all the old favourites (lines to Rowville via Monash University and to Doncaster down the Eastern Freeway), as well as two new branches from the Epping line. Mind you, adding all those branches to the various lines would probably necessitate either adding another layer to the City Loop or having trains stop frustratingly short of the loop. The idea floated in a previous report, of having a second line encircling the inner north, going from North Melbourne, via Fitzroy, to the Eastern Freeway and Doncaster, could be better.
Melbourne's love affair with the car is on the rocks; as the price of petrol continues to rise, more and more Melburnians are taking to public transport. Unfortunately for them, the underdeveloped public transport system is having problems coping:
"Trains are overloaded, trams overloaded and stuck in traffic," said Graham Currie, chairman of public transport at Monash University. "We have a skeleton bus service with no service at all in some areas and times of day. How can people use public transport when there isn't any available?"
By the time the train pulled into Caulfield station there was barely room to squeeze another person on board. "People are practically sitting on each other some days," said one traveller.Experts have weighed in on what would be needed to get Melbourne's public transport up to scratch; suggestions range from the relatively mundane (i.e., ensuring that buses run until late and on weekends) to things like extending railway lines to car-dependent outer suburbs, extending trams (and adjusting the system so that they spend most of their time moving, rather than waiting picturesquely in traffic), a moratorium on freeways (which, if the age of cheap, abundant oil is coming to an end, makes sense) and even a London-style congestion charge (which I can't see happening any time soon; given the present lack of alternatives to cars, there'd be a massive electoral backlash).
Meanwhile, the state government's A$10bn super-tunnel project has been scrapped over criticism of the road tunnel/tollway portion of it. Hopefully the rail extension part will be resurrected in some form.
And the first cracks appear in the Melbourne road-and-rail tunnel, with its creator saying that a tunnel would be a bad idea, and he only put it in because a town hall officer demanded it. It also emerges that such a tunnel would have to be funded by private investors, who would recoup funding through tolls, and, as such, would be unlikely to include public transport. So, if it goes ahead, it looks like being an expensive road-only tunnel to appease key outer-suburban voters until cheap oil runs out and we're all screwed.
It looks like Melbourne may finally get a public transport overhaul; a new A$10bn plan will put a road and rail tunnel between Doncaster and Deer Park, provide a road link between the Eastern Freeway and Western Ring Road, and build the long-awaited Doncaster train line, running from North Melbourne, via Melbourne University, and down the under-utilised middle of the Eastern Freeway.
Taken at face value, it's a good start; the north-eastern suburbs of Melbourne are a public-transport vacuum, and the railway line is overdue; a rail link between North Melbourne, Carlton, Fitzroy and Abbotsford could also be handy. Hopefully, they'd provide an interchange between this and the Clifton Hill-bound lines. Then, perhaps, they can build over long-overdue urban rail lines, such as the one going to Rowville, with the link to Monash University that was promised in the 1960s when the site was selected.
I bet you, though, that when push comes to shove, the rail parts will be scrapped as "impractical", possibly to be replaced with half a dozen bus routes and a mobile-phone-based car-pooling registry or something, and only the road parts will get built. After all, the crucial swinging voters in the outer-suburban two-car households don't actually use public transport and don't want their tax money being wasted on such when it could be used to make their drive quicker and smoother.
The controversial redevelopment of Camden Town station, which would have replaced the station buildings, as well as the Buck St. Market (that's the Doc-Martens-and-T-shirts one) and the Electric Ballroom (considered a sacred site by many who were teens in the 1980s) with a wedge of glass and chrome containing shops and offices, has been scrapped, after the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, rejected the plans. Opposition to the plans attracted prominent supporters, including Dame Judi Dench, Bob Geldof and Nick Cave, who described the Electric Ballroom as "part of the lifeblood of Camden Town".
Antanas Mockus, the Colombian academic who became mayor of the lawless city of Bogotá, has used his post to stage a city-wide social experiment in changing the mindset and behaviour of Bogotá's inhabitants. Mockus' policies, referencing Douglass North's theory of formal and informal rules and postmodernist Jürgen Habermas, have included voluntary women-only nights in the streets, giving people thumbs-up and thumbs-down cards to comment on others' behaviour, and employing over 400 municipal mimes to mock those flouting traffic rules, as well as other inspired policies.
Another Mockus inspiration was to ask people to call his office if they found a kind and honest taxi driver; 150 people called and the mayor organized a meeting with all those good taxi drivers, who advised him about how to improve the behavior of mean taxi drivers. The good taxi drivers were named "Knights of the Zebra," a club supported by the mayor's office.
(via bOING bOING)
A Member of the Scottish Parliament is calling into an inquiry into allegations at traffic light controllers in Edinburgh and Glasgow are deliberately creating traffic mayhem to encourage people to use public transport, undoubtedly motivated by some extremist green agenda. There have been rumours of this sort of thing happening in London too; could Loony Left Red Ken be behind it?
A new generation of road designers are taking a radical tack to making roads safer and more usable: getting rid of traffic signals, stop signs, lines, and even barriers between cars and pedestrians. Paradoxically, these anarchic, lawless spaces are said to be safer than heavily-regulated roads in more traditional engineering regimes:
"The more you post the evidence of legislative control, such as traffic signs, the less the driver is trying to use his or her own senses," says Hamilton-Baillie, noting he has a habit of walking randomly across roads -- much to his wife's consternation. "So the less you can advertise the presence of the state in terms of authority, the more effective this approach can be."
Contrast this approach with that of the United Kingdom and the United States, where education campaigns from the 1960s onward were based on maintaining a clear separation between the highway and the rest of the public realm. Children were trained to modify their behavior and, under pain of death, to stay out of the street. "But as soon as you emphasize separation of functions, you have a more dangerous environment," says Hamilton-Baillie. "Because then the driver sees that he or she has priority. And the child who forgets for a moment and chases a ball across the street is a child in the wrong place."
The new school of traffic engineering also draws on conclusions from evolutionary biology and psychology:
Subvert, don't attack, the dominant paradigm. Or, as David Engwicht, a shared-spaces proponent in Brisbane, Australia, has written: "Implicit in the whole notion of second-generation traffic calming is the idea that significant social change only happens when we amplify the paradoxical 'submerged voice' as opposed to tearing down the 'dominant voice.' Engwicht, a plenary speaker at the Walk 21 Cities for People Conference in Copenhagen this June, argues that controlling a driver's natural propensity for speed is futile. A more effective approach is to engage the driver by emphasizing "uncertainty and intrigue" in the street environment -- for example, planting a tree in the middle of the street instead of putting up a stop sign.
Safety analysts have known for several decades that the maximum vehicle speed at which pedestrians can escape severe injury upon impact is just under 20 miles per hour. Research also suggests that an individual's ability to interact and retain eye contact with other human beings diminishes rapidly at speeds greater than 20 miles per hour. One theory behind this magic bullet, says Hamilton-Baillie, is that 20 mph is the "maximum theoretical running speed" for human beings. (Evolutionary biologist E.O. Wilson has drawn similar conclusions.) "This is of interest," he says, "because it suggests that our physiology and psychology has evolved based around the potential maximum impact on the speed of human beings." The ramifications go beyond safety, says Hamilton-Baillie, to bear directly on the interplay between speed, traffic controls and vehicle capacity. Evidence from countries and cities that have introduced a design speed of 30 kilometers per hour (about 18.5 mph) -- as many of the European Union nations are doing -- shows that slower speeds improve traffic flow and reduce congestion.
New studies from the U.S. show that suburbia makes you fat. The studies show that the residents of sprawling counties in the U.S. tend to weigh six pounds more than their counterparts in more compact areas, which is caused by the lack of safe pedestrian areas which encourages a sedentary lifestyle. Of course, this wouldn't wash with Libertarians, who would argue that obesity is strictly a personal failing on behalf of the deficient individuals who lacked the willpower to drive to the gym, hand over their credit card and work off the pounds piled on through the Miracle of Progress (i.e., the lack of archaic facilities such as footpaths in their neighbourhoods).
While land prices keep rising and the cost of building skyscrapers increase, recent improvements in tunnelling technology are making building underground an increasingly attractive option. Can we look forward to a future of subterranean cities and high-speed intercontinental subways?
If they are large enough, caverns will feel like the outdoors; they might even be plumbed for "rain" and specially vented to create "wind." Artificial weather will keep the air crisp, while artificial light sources - from vast LED arrays, fiber pipes carrying light from the surface, genetically engineered extra-phosphorescent lichen - will infuse this superspace in an eternal dawn. Sunbathers, though, will need to call for the elevator.
And, as always, artists are the shock troops of gentrification:
If history is any guide, artists will be the first to actually move underground full-time. They have a knack for converting industrial and commercial spaces into highly desirable residential real estate. Looking at their airy studios, we'll decide underground space isn't so dreary after all.
<SPECULATION> I wonder how the economics will work; will above-ground real estate become a highly-prized status symbol for the ultra-rich? Or perhaps pollution, ozone depletion or other catastrophes (nuclear fallout perhaps?) will make "up top" into a slum inhabited only by outlaws and untouchables; and as the mole people tuck their children into their beds belowground, they'll tell them blood-curdling tales about the monsters and fiends who live on the surface (much as have been told throughout the aeons about any desolate wastelands outlaws take refuge in). </SPECULATION>
The election is nigh upon us, and it looks like Labor is going to get back in easily. No great surprise, as the Liberals have been doing their best headless-chicken impression for some time. The other party to watch is the Greens. If they poll well, they could capture one or two formerly safe Labor heartland seats; if this happens, Labor will have to stop taking the inner cities for granted, giving outer suburbanites (in marginal seats, or so the theory goes) their Los Angeles-style freeways whilst not spending 1/10 of that on public transport.
Victoria has appalling public transport compared to other places. Unless you live in the inner city or on a railway line, it is virtually unusable, leading to US-style car dependency, with all the problems that causes (from obesity to pollution to dependency on oil). And given that the marginal seats (which decided who governed) were in the outer suburbs where public transport is a pipe dream at best, the answer is always Build More Freeways.
Well, with any luck this will change this election; if the government would pony up a fraction of the billions earmarked for freeways (many of dubious economic value) on reducing car dependency (and not by just sitting back and saying that they expect that public transport use will grow; building railway line extensions and expanding bus services to run outside of peak times would be a good start), we wouldn't be on course to becoming the Los Angeles of the southern hemisphere as we are now.
How am I voting? Most probably Public Transport First, with preferences to the Greens. PTFirst don't stand a chance of winning a seat, but if they make a strong showing, it will send a message to policymakers; the Greens do stand a chance, and hopefully will do well. It may be optimistic to expect them to win lower-house seats, but who knows?
A Grauniad piece looking at the explosion of obesity in America, and the factors that caused it (mostly bad design and unintended consequences).
For a start, in some parts of the country, Americans have eliminated not merely the need to walk, but even the possibility of it. "I'd love to be able to walk to the store, pick up some milk and come home again, but our towns don't really allow that," laments Mary Gilmore, a dietician in Meridian. The distances are too great, the pavements non-existent. In the sprawling suburbs and small towns, public transport is often as rare as in an English village. In any case, it is almost impossible to carry the milk: it usually comes in gallon containers (a US gallon is four-fifths of a UK gallon). In a country where the cost of packaging exceeds the cost of the food, buying any other way is far more expensive.
If you think public transport in Melbourne is poor, it's apparently much worse in Adelaide. They're still using diesel trains on their (poorly patronised) suburban rail network, it seems. (via The Fix)
They're now talking about electrifying the Melbourne-Geelong railway, with a view to integrating Geelong into the Melbourne suburban railway network. Sounds like a good idea (something like what they have in NSW, with electric commuter trains running all the way to Newcastle and Wollongong, would be good.)
Lengthy public transport diatribe: The Victorian government is looking at public transport options for Outer Eastern Melbourne, to supplement the $1bn freeway to be built. The possibilities look moderately promising (new railway lines, a tram extension, &c), though I suspect they'll settle for half a dozen new bus services, running six days a week to 7pm, or some token "solution" like an automated phone-based car-pooling registry, chosen because it is inexpensive and innovative, even if thoroughly useless. (This is, after all, the government which banned public transport advocacy groups from the consultative process.)
I think that more should be done to improve public transport in the outer suburbs. (I lived in Ferntree Gully for 15 years, and hence know how poor it is. I was one of the luckier ones, though, living within 10 minutes of a railway station.) Expecially now that gentrification is forcing low-income earners into the outer suburbs, where surviving without access to a car is difficult, a public transport system would be much needed.
<SPECULATION TYPE="CRACKPOT"> For one, Melbourne's commuter rail system has the fatal disadvantage of running only radially; i.e., in and out of the city. There are no lines circling the city, and to travel from one outer suburb to another, one has to go into the city centre and back out. The spur line from Huntingdale to Rowville could be a step in the right direction, being not far from the Belgrave line. Additionally, it could service Monash University, which has the distinction of being (a) Melbourne's largest university, and (b) in the middle of suburbia, half an hour's walk from the nearest railway station and wholly dependent on cars and bus services.
Secondly, extending the tram line to Knox City is an OK idea, though it is, once again, radial; a journey into the city by tram would take 2 hours or so. It could be extended into an outer-eastern tram network, with a tram going from Knox City to, say, Bayswater (and to the Rowville rail terminus in the other direction, if need be), linking two railway lines. And more lines could be added, running along the wide roads, and making the outer east more hospitable to the carless. </SPECULATION>
The Victorian state government unveils plans for a "green" suburb. Situated north of Epping (on the Northern fringe of Melbourne), it will feature water recycling, energy efficiency and reduced dependence on automobiles. Mind you, they have not promised to extend the Epping railway line (which should be easy to do, as there is a dismantled railway line running north for quite a bit that they could rebuild), and so if they decide to do the typical thing and cut costs by having a 6-days-a-week bus service which stops at 7pm, everyone will just drive everywhere like they do in all the other outer dormitory suburbs. (This is also the government which recently banned the PTUA from a forum on plans to extend a freeway through the inner city, for what it's worth.)
Researchers at the U.S. Center for Disease Control have determined the primary cause of the U.S.'s skyrocketing rates of obesity. It's not calorie consumption (which has not increased as rapidly) or fat content in the diet (which has declined over the past 20 years); it's urban sprawl and automobile dependence. Modern American suburbs (and their Australian equivalents; have a look at Glen Waverley or Rowville sometime) are modelled around the automobile, with no high-street shops and often no footpaths; hence, those who live there have to drive to go anywhere, with exercise being a special activity strictly for the fitness enthusiasts with gym memberships.
Few suburbs now have footpaths, so pedestrians are forced on to the road. Police and private security patrols view with suspicion anyone on a suburban estate without a car: either they have run out of petrol and are in distress, or they are poor and up to no good.
An investigation into walking habits in Seattle found a direct correlation between physical activity and the year a house was built. Residents in streets built before 1947 walked or cycled at least three times every two days. Those in more modern houses used cars almost exclusively.
Which makes me feel a bit better for being one of the povo scum who rely on walking and public transport. Though one thing I have noticed is that, when I had a car, I read fewer books than when I did not (as my commute was not usable as reading time). I wonder whether a correlation can be drawn between car dependence and ignorance or mental atrophy...
The Los Angelesization of Melbourne (an ongoing series): The Federal Government is set to throw hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayers' funds on a freeway in outer Melbourne, which just happens to run through several marginal seats Howard's mob need to stay in power. The benefits of the freeway are doubtful, and public transport in the outer suburbs is woeful (buses typically don't run after 7pm or on Sundays), and doesn't look likely to get any better.
Bad things are happening in Melbourne, with the Labor government having done a back-flip and having put all the former Kennett government's freeway projects back on the agenda, whilst continuing to neglect public transport. The local inner-city rag Metro News says that this is largely due to the voter demographics shifting to the outer suburbs; the ALP needs the votes of SUV-driving outer suburbanites who don't use public transport and for whom the inner city is just some place to get through as quickly as possible, and thus the more of it is paved over, the better. And what are the vegetarian bicyclists of the inner city going to do about it: vote Liberal? (Anyway, among non-dreadlocked circles, the prevailing wisdom is that public transport is a discredited ideology, much like Marxism-Leninism.)
Slouching towards Los Angeles: Much to the chagrin of public-transport advocates, vegetarian bicyclists and miscellaneous dreadlocked people who don't bathe, the Victorian government has brought back the Scoresby Freeway, which it scrapped after winning office. It doesn't look like there'll be any major public transport enhancements for the sprawling, car-dependent outer east of Melbourne; a few extra bus routes perhaps, but nothing of the scope of the railway line extension called for by public transport groups. Then again, everyone in the outer east has a car and drives everywhere anyway, and there is more demand for freeways than for public transport, which is mostly an inner-city thing, like fancy cafés and voting Democrat. The only people who use public transport there are kids too young to drive who can't get Mum to give them a lift in the minivan.
Of course, such a reinforcing of the Los Angelisation of Melbourne's transport infrastructure will take its toll on pollution and health problems, and will make fixing the problem much more expensive in future.
Sydney now has a new railway line to its airport -- an idea whose time has come? (Though not seemingly in public-transport-deficient Melbourne.)