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Monday Melbourne: CXLI, September 2006
Russell Degnan

Bridges along the Yarra. Taken January 2006

Melbourne 25th September, 2006 13:23:10   [#] [1 comment] 

Heritage controls fail us once again
Aaron Hewett

This development has been discussed in the recent issue of Architecture Review Australia (ar 97) and in this month's edition of Planning News (Vic). It warrants further discussion about the usefulness of heritage zones in protecting our built cultural heritage.

Basically, the flushed glazed facade of the new dwelling features a picture of the former building before it was demolished. More from the architect's website...

"This project is in response to the difficulty of making architecture in heritage zones. It attempts to elevate the difficulties of the planning process into a sublime and ironic gesture which may generate debate about the problem itself. In a sense it is both a critique of the process and a surreal architectural solution that is evocative of the site's memory and historical context."

The subject site is in Heritage Overlay HO332 which covers the Richmond Hill Precinct... [More]

Planning 24th September, 2006 18:45:10   [#] [0 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: CXL, September 2006
Russell Degnan

A seat for waiting... I'll be inside and blogging lightly for the next couple of months. Taken March 2003

Melbourne 19th September, 2006 13:24:38   [#] [0 comments] 

Planning for Food Health?
Russell Degnan

There have been a couple of interesting articles in the Age in the last few days. On first reading, both this comparison of Vancouver and Melbourne transport planning, and this discussion on the role of planning in healthy eating are interesting demonstrations of the broader role of planning in shaping the city.

On a second reading they are tendentious nonsense. A cobbling together of correlations without an underlying causal mechanism. A probable misrepresentation of plausible academic research. And a series of barrows being shouldered forward by the weight of a prejudical shoulder carrying a chip on it.

I will return to the Vancouver article at a later date; it is broadly correct, if politically and culturally naive, and deserves a proper treatment. The article on health deserves no such praise.

In essence, it tries to claim that planning is responsible for the unhealthy eating of residents in outer suburbs. For a number of reasons this is a very large claim to make. Let's break them down one by one:

"experts are concerned many families who don't have cars have difficulty getting to their local supermarket to buy fruit and vegetables because public transport is poor."

A total non sequitur. Getting transport to the supermarket can be very problematic. Getting money to buy fruit and vegetables can be probematic. However, people need to eat something. A claim that they are eating takeaway instead of going to the supermarket because of accessibility needs to show that takeaway food is vastly more accessible than a supermarket. I highly doubt that is the case. Local pizza, fish and chip shops and milk bars can be closer, when they still exist, but are still largely inaccessible without a car.

"on average, there is one fast-food shop in the highest-income areas, compared with three or four in low and middle-income areas."

No doubt true, but again, a non sequitur. As I just noted, the supermarket is no more inaccessible than take-away outlets. People eating takeaway food do it for different reasons: time, culture, or choice (even if the choice is poor, one should not be surprised if people are stupid). There are probably many more than three times as many restaurants in high income areas, many of which would serve rich and fattening food. The difference in type is one of income and again, the culture of an inner urban region.

"up to 50,000 Victorians go without food at least once a month and once a year the dinner plate is empty for about 1 in 20 adult Victorians, simply because they cannot afford it."

And then a complete change of tack. How this relates to obesity in poor areas is beyond me. I can only assume people without food are not obese, and if they are, then the issue is budgeting, not food accessibility. The reasoning however, leads the author to this:

"Calorie for calorie, foods that are high in energy and low in nutrients are much cheaper.

The bottom line is, if you have a minimum amount of money and kids to feed, you are going to buy a packet of biscuits for $1.50, you aren't going to buy a kilo of apples for $4."

Since when has a $1.50 packet of biscuits had a comparable caloric level to a kilogram of apples? Even at their cheapest, $4 of biscuits is only 500g. Furthermore, take-away food -- a few paragraphs earlier the cause of health problems -- is more expensive than fruit and vegetables. As any student can tell you, the cheapest food is rice, dried pasta, potatoes, tomatoes and basic greens. You can even grow some of them [1], thus saving those transport hassles.

The reality is people could buy better food, and they don't. It may be ignorance or it may be for much the same reasons that Orwell cited in The Road to Wigan Pier:

"Would it not be better if they spent more money on wholesome things like oranges and wholemeal bread or if they even, like the writer of the letter to the New Statesman, saved on fuel and ate their carrots raw? Yes, it would, but the point is that no ordinary human being is ever going to do such a thing. The ordinary human being would sooner starve than live on brown bread and raw carrots. And the peculiar evil is this, that the less money you have, the less inclined you feel to spend it on wholesome food. A millionaire may enjoy breakfasting off orange juice and Ryvita biscuits; an unemployed man doesn't. Here the tendency of which I spoke at the end of the last chapter comes into play. When you are unemployed, which is to say when you are underfed, harassed, bored, and miserable, you don't want to eat dull wholesome food. You want something a little bit 'tasty'. There is always some cheaply pleasant thing to tempt you. Let's have three pennorth of chips! Run out and buy us a twopenny ice-cream! Put the kettle on and we'll all have a nice cup of tea! That is how your mind works when you are at the P.A.C. level. White bread-and-marg and sugared tea don't nourish you to any extent, but they are nicer (at least most people think so) than brown bread-and-dripping and cold water. Unemployment is an endless misery that has got to be constantly palliated, and especially with tea, the English-man's opium. A cup of tea or even an aspirin is much better as a temporary stimulant than a crust of brown bread."

Conditions aren't so bad in Melbourne as that, except for the unlucky few. But the attitude remains the same. A fair number of people -- particularly young people -- eat unhealthily because eating unhealthily tastes better.

None of this has anything to do with planning. Outer suburbs can be bad for health: by dint of being practically unwalkable and unrideable, despite the relative proximity [2] of many services, and because basic and regular exercise is the first and best way to avoid health issues. But not because there is some bizarre lack of decent food in the suburban hinterland. To the extent that there is, it is because the residents don't eat it, and won't eat it. There isn't much a planner can do about that.

[1] I had spinach from the garden tonight. I am terrible proud. It cost a dollar for seeds and takes up about 0.5sq.m.
[2] Proximate despite what people claim, most of whom obviously don't realise how short a distance 2km (the average car trip) is, nor how refreshing a walk it can be in the right circumstances

Planning 12th September, 2006 04:40:52   [#] [4 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: CXXXIX, September 2006
Russell Degnan

September. And in the absence of football, a walk in the park. Taken January 2004

Melbourne 11th September, 2006 15:27:56   [#] [3 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: CXXXVIII, September 2006
Russell Degnan

September. Finals time. Not that Essendon would know anything about that. Taken August 2002

Melbourne 4th September, 2006 11:55:53   [#] [2 comments] 


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