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Yet another drought crisis
Russell Degnan

"... the Australian historical reaction to drought has been generally to view its onset with indignant surprise. The denigration of the drought hazard has been implicit in official disaster relief which has always assumed drought to be a temporary and short-lived phenomenon and has not sought to reward those who sought to buffer themselves against drought impacts."
R L Heathcote in 'A Drought Walked Through' - Keating, J. 1992

And so it goes.

Drought is coming, drought is always coming, drought is also always leaving, and always present. But farmers want relief regardless. Anybody familiar with Australia's water history -- which farmers should be, some are, although some don't want to admit it -- will know recognise that drought happens. Often.

To look at the climate charts on the Bureau of Meteorology you wouldn't recognise the drought as being serious. Most of Australia has had typical rainfall in the past 18 months. Although some parts have still not recovered from several years ago. In the book quoted above, a larger problem was identified:

"[...] there has been a persistent and enduring reluctance to recognise drought as a permanent feature of Australian life. Records show that for only twenty years out of every hundred is the whole of Australia 'drought-free'"

Guy Rundle's amusing piece and the Age editorial both make the point that welfare for farmers is pointless over the long term. The problem with the implication of Heathcote above is that many farmers are not bad managers as much as they are uninsurable and unsustainable. Even though giving money to farmers to keep them on the land degrades the land further and wastes money, it is a problem that - often - the State and Federal governments created, then reinforced repeatedly.

But if things are going to change, you have to start somewhere. Acknowledging that drought is inevitable and common is an important start.

In the same week comes news that the same message hasn't percolated through to urban water consumers either. This is something I've argued before when questioning the governments claimed water savings. To summarise, there are two things stopping people from using more water: restrictions on use and fines for ignoring them; and enough rain that people's gardens aren't dying. Until people stop expecting a green garden in a drought water use will continue to cycle upwards, the same as it always has.

In response to the last article I wrote about this, Robert pointed out that people would probably be quite happy to pay the costs of de-salinification plants and grey-water systems if it meant keeping their gardens. I think he is right, but this also means the water authorities should start charging for projected infrastructure needs. As it stands they plan to keep the demand within the current supply limitations. An attitude, which while admirable, is going to cause a lot of angst when people realise what it means for their backyards.

It has been called a 'coming crisis'. My quarterly water bill is only $20. If and when it is a crisis it will be a manufactured one. The lesson of the farmers above is an important warning for what is at stake.

Environment 29th May, 2005 03:26:49   [#] [0 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: LXXII, May 2005
Russell Degnan

St. Paul's Cathedral, through the gap down to the City Square. Taken May 2005

Melbourne 28th May, 2005 15:14:13   [#] [0 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: LXXI, May 2005
Russell Degnan

The new wood panelling on Melbourne Central. Taken May 2005

Melbourne 21st May, 2005 21:29:57   [#] [0 comments] 

`How I learned to stop worrying and love the MSS` - Chapter 1
Citizen #381277

Chapter 1 - "If Jason Black can do it..."

After two years of study, a nurse is almost qualified to practise his or her trade. An accountant similarly will understand the major aspects of accountancy while a real estate agent can and probably will start his or her own practice. A planner after two years of study, however, will understand the basic documents relating to urban planning, have a basic grasp of the concepts involved in planning and generally not much else. This is how I felt after my first week of work in the Strategic Planning office. After the initial introduction to Stonnington, I was given a large folder that contained the documents relating to C38 - Minor Amendments to the Stonnington Planning Scheme and told that I was to prepare this amendment to the Stonnington Planning Scheme. I remember I sat there for a good two hours reading over the papers in the folder and wondering 'what the hell is going on here?' More to the point, 'what the hell was going on' had sections due in three days that I was supposed to complete.

The most important thing I learnt in the first week was to ask questions. Ask lots of questions, frequently, and don't be afraid of asking a few more.

Once this epiphany had passed, I settled down to begin work on Amendment C38. It wasn't a particularly difficult task - removing out of date reference documents from sections of the Municipal Strategic Statement - but there was still a very empty part of my mind that was yet to be filled with the knowledge of how to prepare an amendment. Several key thoughts stand out from these early days:

• The biggest hurdle I'm finding (thus far) is with the wording of letters to residents.
• There appears to be a thin (sort of) line between putting the right info into the letter, and making it readable for someone who doesn't have a background in planning.
• compared to my previous labouring job, the hours here go far too slowly for my liking, even though I'm busy with a task most of the time. Bleh.

So, the process of preparing an amendment to a planning scheme was a process that was utterly alien, and I started to enjoy it. Everything, I learnt, has a certain process that must be adhered to. From wording to justification and type, there is a certain way of writing when you work in planning, and I daresay this has rubbed off on a lot of my university assignments. Concise and sharp, you have to be able to say exactly the right thing, otherwise there is a great potential for misinterpretation. This isn't just confined the Strategic Planning, as I will later discuss.

Chapter 2 coming up later. You guys need a break.

Planning 18th May, 2005 20:25:00   [#] [2 comments] 

Work Placement, or `How I learned to stop worrying and love the MSS`
Citizen #381277

With this semester wrapping itself up in a small ball of forgettable tripe, the inevitable submission of final essays is just around the corner. This being so, I've decided to share with you my reflections on my 60 day work placement. It's worth 30% and is supposed to be 2500 words in length, so I'll break it up into sections for you all.


Work Placement, or "How I learned to stop worrying and love the MSS"

Introduction - "Dragged kicking and screaming into the adult world..."

One might argue that working in local government is much akin to working 'at the coal face'. This often-uttered phrase was one of the first sentences I heard when I started at Stonnington City Council, and after 50 days of placement I can safely say that the phrase is correct in almost every sense. Apart from the actually working with coal…well, to a certain extent. Dirty, hard work that was never that much fun, the risk of explosion was an ever-present danger…
My placement at Stonnington City Council was a fortuitous one; I was to be given 30 days working in the Strategic Planning Office, and then 30 days working with the Statutory Planners. Surely, I would experience the entire gamut of planning in Victoria over the course of my 60 days placement.

Stay tuned for Chapter 1, most likely to be posted tomorrow...or late tonight. However you like it, my brothers.

Planning 18th May, 2005 20:20:41   [#] [0 comments] 

Hilton Controversy
Aaron Hewett

Royce Millar in today's Age talks about the Hilton controversy in East Melbourne, and the decision by the then planning minister, Mary Delahunty to override Melbourne City Council.

This is one case, of many, where developers have been able to get the rules bent in their favour by the state government, at the expense of orderly planning and the local residents. The case is currently before the supreme court.

Planning 16th May, 2005 21:29:30   [#] [0 comments] 

Melbourne 2030 - Planning Rhetoric versus Urban Reality
Russell Degnan

Ch. 1 - Looking Back, Looking Forward: Urban Policy for Metropolitan Melbourne

While we had a short discussion of this book when it was released a more in depth look is required. To the extent that Melbourne 2030 is an important document - and that is debatable - this critique is almost the only major analysis of the core assumptions relating to population growth and the changes in dwelling types that the plan would require. For this reason I want to analyse the arguments made properly, chapter by chapter. Some are good, some are bad. Either way, they must be addressed by either the advocates or opponents of Melbourne 2030.

The first chapter has no argument to make. It does, however, lay out the assumptions guiding the book, some explicitly, and others less so. Firstly, the authors identification of Melbourne's liveability as:

"The prevailing streetscape with the predominance of low slung bungalows, dense tree and shrub canopy and resultant green ambience, along with local open space for recreation, gives the city its sense of place and identity"

That is to say, low density is a goal in and of itself, because it makes for better streetscapes.

This informs the second assumption. Namely that infill housing, the type which removes backyards and reduces the overall tree canopy is bad. They are less negative on apartments in activity centres - though no doubt not in their imagined Melbourne - particularly because they see the goal of Melbourne 2030 as directing density into a few areas, and not the suburban streetscape.

Thirdly, that planners have taken on the goals of new urbanism in a way that makes them antagonistic to suburban living:

For many of its proponents, it is a crusade that incorporates into its urban planning objective a social reform agenda which shows little respect for conventional suburban communities"

The problems with these assumptions will tease themselves out in later chapters, but one I want to address now. One of the key arguments put forth in support of the assumption on Melbourne's liveability is that it is a choice by people in suburban areas. Both because of the historical trend towards this type of development, and because of the strong opposition to infill development by residents. Both of these arguments are rubbish. Firstly, because the trend towards infill development, despite the costs to applicants negotiating the planning scheme, is a clear indication of shifting preferences. Secondly because opposition to infill is based on similarly faulty reasoning by existing residents. As we'll see, contrary to the authors arguments, infill, good infill, is not incompatible with good streetscapes. Equating the two is either disingenuous or misguided, and it ignores the myriad of other reasons that people choose to live where they do.

Next: Activity Centres

Book Club 11th May, 2005 01:28:51   [#] [0 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: LXX, May 2005
Russell Degnan

The Royal Melbourne Hospital. Early morning. Taken May 2005

Melbourne 10th May, 2005 00:45:05   [#] [0 comments] 

The Look of Architecture - Witold Rybczynski
Russell Degnan

This is a delightful little book, based on a series of lectures, and devoted to exploring the relationships between style, fashion and the users of buildings. Early on it rebukes modern architects for two things. First, for not acknowledging that style has importance to their profession. It is expressed best in a neat passage that the remainder of the book examines in more detail and with copious examples.

"Style is like a feather in a woman's hat, nothing more," sniffed Le Corbusier. Gabrielle Chanel, who knew something about hats, saw things differently. "Fashion passes," she said, "style remains."

Through the second and third parts the differences are worked through. Style, is expressed as the collection of materials, shapes, forms and ideals that guide an architect in creating a coherent whole. It can be classicism, gothic, beaux arts, international, post-modern, or even combinations of those or others. Fashion is the expression of those styles. It comes as both the desire for new, different forms from what came before, and as the point where the social context of the times is expressed in the architecture. Hence, styles go in and out of fashion, but their buildings remain as part of the built heritage of the city.

The heritage aspect is important, because of the first lecture. Here, Rybczynski administered his second rebuke. Quoting Henry Wotton in 1642, "The end is to build well. Well-building hath three conditions: Commoditie, Firmeness, and Delight.", he claims modern architects foxus on delight at the expense of the other elements, that they don't age well, and that they ignore the important fact that buildings are for people. Buildings, he argues are of their time, and their interiors reflect this in a way that ties people, decor and the fashions of both.

Hence buildings change both their function and their audience over time. He briefly cites the museums of Paris as having changed their functions, the Louvre from a Palace, and the Musee d'Orsay from a railway station. But here too, their new function is significant. Both contain the art of their time. Particularly the Orsay with the Impressionist art playing off the 19th century elegance of the railway building. Not all buildings can be so lucky to find a historical niche.

Heritage ideals have two parts: the preservation of objects of historical importance, and the preservation of the best elements of the built form. On both these, Rybczynski's musings provide interesting insights into what we should or shouldn't regard as heritage and how we should treat it.

Historically, the change in form, and the relevance of our own fashions to the interior of buildings means we should be more careful about the way we try and preserve heritage. Ultimately, buildings must be used, lest we seek to preserve delight at the expense of commodity (and to an extent firmness). Locking a building into a permanent stasis for preservation as a museum may occasionally make sense, but more often will just create an anachronism.

Preservation of the best elements is more problematic. If fashion is driving what we think of buildings then many may not be as bad as we now think them, nor others as good. Do we actually need hundreds, if not thousands of terrace houses that were little better than squatters huts in their heyday? Might careful sympathetic changes be better? Are all those buildings from the 60s actually as bad as we think? Are some truly masterpieces just waiting for a revival of the brutalist style?

I'm not sure. But nor do I think we are doing it well in Australia. There is an undercurrent of myth-making and arch-conservatism in the way it is conceived that works against good long term outcomes; by preserving crap, and by making it harder for buildings to be used in a way that secures their future financially.

Book Club 6th May, 2005 02:24:50   [#] [0 comments] 

Transport Planning

Attn: RMIT 3yr Planning students.
Pls see John T Jackson's e-mail dated 05/05 @1800:

Date - Tuesday 10th May
Time - 12.45pm - 4pm (ish)
Speakers - Paul Mees 1pm-2pm
Agnelo Duarte 2pm-3pm
Karsten Schuette 3pm-4pm
Room - 8.7.06 (the room next to reception)

The day's learning objectives aim to achieve the following:

1 - To learn about transport issues Melbourne currently faces and expects to face.
2 - To learn how such transport issues affect the life of a city and its inhabitants.
3 - To learn how planners can encourage sustainable modes of transports through land use planning.
4 - To learn how the major stakeholders are/are not working together collaboratively on such issues.
5 - To gain a better understanding of transport issues in Melbourne.
6 - To begin thinking about how these issues relate to M2030.
7 - To learn about land use planning which is occurring in Melbourne which promotes sustainable uses of transport?
8 - To begin thinking about what YOU can actually do in your planning careers to assist transport planning in Melbourne and/or abroad.

See you there.

Career/Education 6th May, 2005 00:36:12   [#] [0 comments] 

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