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What are we to do with this then?
Russell Degnan

With first year now nothing but a memory, rapidly diminishing in a fog of alcohol, I thought it would also be a good idea to assess the website. And to tidy up a few things that I should have mentioned (mostly nice people linking to us).

Some personal observations you may want to comment on... I'm not entirely sure what people want to use the site for, and what they want to get out of it. My original intention (and like any design, no website in history has ever quite matched the designers intentions), was to have a public face, and a private face.

On the public side are the groups visible before you login, where we can discuss Planning Urban Design and Environment issues - as an aside though, the Environment students were interested in their own site, so we might combine forces on that front - and other things that are related, or you just feel like adding. Since then, Aaron has added the sadly underused "Tales of the City" and I (just now) added "Book Club" to talk about books you've read that you found interesting and wanted to share. Because this is read by the outside world - and don't decieve yourself, quite a few people read the site from time to time - the public face is (and has been) like any other blog. And I think it has had some good stuff on it as well.

On the private side, after you login - and where I think the site is underused, probably because of time constraints - I intended people to discuss some of the readings, or subject material, perhaps post essay drafts for comments, and coordinate social things. I have also added the Urban Game Group for those interested in getting something going when Uni goes back next year; more info on that will follow.

So, some questions. Is this the best way? Does anyone think it should be more public, or more private? Has anyone been using the assignment, and timetable stuff? Are there any improvements to be made or bugs that need fixing? (I'm sure there are)

One other thing. A couple of people, mentioned at one stage or another that they don't feel confident posting, and writing analysis, or what- have-you. I think you are missing a great opportunity if you feel that way. There is no pressure writing here. You aren't assessed, there are no word limits, or referencing requirements, and you can change things even after you've submitted it. Basically, you can write complete bollocks, and be told you're writing complete bollocks without fear or persecution. And so two things follow from that. One, you can use the web to work out what you want to say elsewhere, more formally, and perhaps, get good advice and comments from other people. It clears the head. And two, if you aren't confident in your writing, the best - nay, only - way to become better is to practise, and this is good practise.

Personally, I am going to try and write one thing a week. So I'd love to see other people do the same. If we had 8 or 10 people doing that we'd have a very busy little site going.

On a different note, if you've been paying attention you'd have noted the steady increase in links to the right-hand side. I am also pleased to note that quite a few of the blogs listed read their referrer logs, and have linked to us in the last few months, which for various reasons I hadn't acknowledged - mostly extreme slackness.

First, was David Sucher at City Comforts. Probably the best urban planning and design blog on the web. His recent post on the Gehry designed Disney Hall in Los Angeles is a good example of the sort of analysis that should be applied to urban spaces (and too often isn't).

Michael Jennings also hello a while ago now (and looks at another famous Gehry building in a post below that one). He was also going to write a post on how container shipping has shaped the structure of cities, but has left us waiting.

More recently, back40 over at Crumb Trail linked to us, and was a contributor to our discussion on renewable energy. If you are interested in the environment, I highly recommend reading this, and his newer blog Muck and Mystery. They take a very realist approach from the human perspective. I particularly liked this highly relevant recent comment:

"If we want to survive it will be useful to gain some understanding of our species, perhaps even come to like it. We need to mature a bit, to overcome puerile fastidiousness and aversion to muck and mystery since that is the human condition. We are animals participating in continuously changing natural systems, coevolving with all of the other members of those systems. Our individual wills to persist and grow, the quickening, are not optional and are not a problem to be solved. We continually evolve new techniques that allow an increase in the scope and productivity of our aggregate efforts. We coevolve with these cultural inventions. But collective intelligence, planning and enduring organizations are the dead end failures of the past. Repeated failures as cultures rise and fall."

And, lastly, just today we were mentioned on butterpaper which has a number of good architecture and planning links. The letter that was written to Mary Delahunty is a must-read!

If anyone has any other useful sites let me know. The more the better.

UPDATE: Okay, I know this post is almost a week old, but it's easier to update. Panchromatica linked to us as well. He has all sorts of interesting stuff here

General 28th October, 2003 22:38:44   [#] [2 comments] 

So, answer this question...
Russell Degnan

Who is responsible for strategic transport planning in the inner northern suburbs?

If you answered any of the following you are right: Department of Infrastructure, Department of Sustainability and Environment, VicRoads, Department of Transport and Regional Services, Melbourne City Council, Yarra City Council.

Can we expect it to be anything but a disaster with six different bodies, at three levels of government doing the planning? Apparently, we can, because the government has released the Northern Central City Corridor Strategy.


The good news is that apparently a lot of the streets are going to be less congested (except the ones that are already congested, they will get worse).

The bad news is they don't really say how (although they are going to close a few streets and wave a magic wand). The so-called "strategy" is mostly goals, and policy, but very little broad minded attempts to structure the system in a more sensible way.

The claim is that there are going to be a lot more walkers and cyclists. And a lot more public transport use. But I don't see that happening, because the document doesn't seem to understand why people might choose to take those options instead.

For public transport, there are several standard responses to improve it (presumably because they came up on a survey).
1. Increase frequency. Never mind that the current buses are empty already, and the private operators are already broke. Or that the trams already run every 6 minutes all day, and are plenty frequent enough.
2. Faster travel times. They don't say how, because that would involve major infrastructure changes to the road system, and they don't like spending money.
3. Route extensions. Now, we are talking about the inner north here. The maximum distance that most people would be willing to travel on a tram (around 10km, or 45 minutes I'd say) has already been reached in that area. If you want people from further out to take public transport you need to transport them more quickly than trams will ever go.
4. Extended evening services. Which would be alright I guess. But the trams (and really, noone takes a bus around here) already run until 1am most nights.

The issue with public transport isn't that the people in the inner north don't take public transport. They do. When they want to go to the CBD. The issue is that it doesn't go anywhere else, and they do. And, vice-versa to non-residents.

For cycling, there are issues with storing bicycles that are slowly being resolved. And there are issues with unsafe and unpleasant routes. Therefore, when the government chose the "Principal Bicycle Network Routes" do you think they chose smaller streets, to integrate a car-free environment, or the major arterial roads? If you guessed the stupid option then you are right.

And finally, my personal grudge: walking. To read this document, walking and cycling are basically the same thing. In fact, they cite the Capital City Trail, as walking loop around the city. Now, if I had a spare four hours to kill and I wasn't going anywhere, I might use the trail. Actually, no I wouldn't, because it runs between a freeway and a concrete channel.

They do want to improve the pedestrian crossings, which is nice, if pointless. But is there any mention of a strategy to improve the quality of routes to common destinations? Or of widening footpaths, planting trees, slowing traffic, or making it easier to cross major roads?

It also proposes to not build a tunnel between the Eastern freeway and CityLink. Which I find disgraceful, because it is the one huge improvement they could make. Including, as it would, a massive reduction in the size of Princes St./Alexandra Pde. to make it easier for trams/cyclists/walkers to cross.

In short, it is a slight change to existing policy, with a prayer that the other public transport policies work attached. There is a public meeting on 15th October 2003 commencing at 7pm and concluding at 9pm at the Collingwood Town Hall, 140 Hoddle Street, Abbotsford. For those interested.

Planning 10th October, 2003 01:35:46   [#] [0 comments] 

Gratuitous State Government bashing
Russell Degnan

From Stateline again this week, there was a report on people moving from Melbourne to country areas.

There are a few interesting things to come out of this. First of all, people are commuting from these country towns (Ballarat, Bendigo, Geelong, Latrobe Valley). They aren't working there, as a rule, although they create employment for people who do. In a sense, the country towns represent the ideal for "activity centre" planning. Small-ish self-contained communities, where you can commute to the major centre if appropriate. If the urban-growth boundary ever becomes a reality (and it's no better than an each-way bet in my opinion), then these satellite rural centres will become even more important, which brings other problems.

Public transport within these centres is terrible (the talking-tram excepted). Meanwhile, their link to the city itself is very slow, and for all the talk of a "fast" train, the government's project to improve it is very half-assed. Since a lot of the people moving there are probably also young families (looking for space), you also need schools, etc. What is the government response?

"The Victorian Government has today launched a campaign to capitalise on that. The $1 million ad campaign is designed to get more people to live and work in provincial Victoria." Now, rapid growth in a city always causes infrastructure problems. So, given that growth to regional centres is quite fast, isn't it rather asinine to spend the money you could use to build infrastructure to increase the speed of that growth? Given that, "an estimate of how many people are there living in Melbourne that if the circumstances were right would seriously think about a move to provincial Victoria, there's more than 500,000 people!", wouldn't it be smarter to plan infrastructure improvements and let people choose for themselves?


Meanwhile, Kenneth Davidson was also writing about the AMRAD site on Swan St. From my viewpoint, there are two issues here.

One, the development is inappropriate in that spot. The site in question is probably not in an activity centre (depending on how you define them), making it perhaps the only place in Richmond that isn't. The railway stations are not very accessible because of the river, roads and railways in the way, although there is a tram stop. But it does have substantial parking, and a freeway offramp, which makes it attractive to developers, even if Swan St is horribly congested at that point. If the plan for centralised, public transport based development has any merit it should be built 2km up the road in either direction.

The second, is that the state government are outright liars. If you recall an earlier article Mary Delahunty claims that "[...] Labor has made big changes, such as increasing power to local councils [...] The Government has also done away with "ad hoc ministerial interventions which were the bane of both residents and councils".".

Whereas I would have said that not telling the council about a devlopment decision you've made and over-riding the required public consultation phase does the exact opposite. You can argue for sensible strategic planning all you want, but if this is the attitude the state government has to their own policy, then Melbourne 2030 is dead on arrival.

Planning 4th October, 2003 14:10:26   [#] [1 comment] 


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