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Housing and Melbourne weather
Russell Degnan

What Melbourne really needs is the odd week or two of sub-zero temperatures. Not many days; they cause a complete shift in the manner you interact with the outside world. Just a few. Enough to make it clear that the way we build houses in large parts of Australia is actually a disgrace.

Right now, where I am in Sweden, it is 24.3 degrees inside, and -11.4 outside. The house is light and airy, the temperature is constant throughout. The difference no drafts, insulation, double glazing and water heaters running slowly but steadily is remarkable.

Except in exceptional circumstances, you shouldn't need to heat homes in Melbourne. The heat from appliances (especially computers) and the fact that it is normally warm enough on even the coldest days to get some warmth should allow them to maintain a near constant temperature. Similarly, summer days are never so hot that you should need an air-conditioner.

However, because we can get away with shoddy contruction and cheap materials, we do, and we suffer for that in the quality of the indoor environment we live in. As nice as laying in a chair wrapped in a doona, listening to rain land on a tin roof. It is not that nice.

Planning 25th November, 2004 03:13:38   [#] [2 comments] 

Odds and Ends
Russell Degnan

A few links before I flee the country at the end of the week and stop posting for a bit (maybe).

Jim Davidson has an excellent article on architectural heritage in The Age. The interesting point I got out of it is the importance of respecting the spiritual function of heritage buildings when redeveloping and renovating them. This is a problem of course, if the building is to serve a new function - such as the post office, or a warehouse apartment - but it makes a certain amount of sense for Victorian terraces. The two I've lived in have both oozed character, reflecting a fascinating history of renovations and occupancy. For all their flaws - and they are many - there is a certain charm that can't be produced without layer upon layer of heritage.

Australian Policy Online has a good summary of the effects of the London Congestion Charge (hat tip: Ben Muse). There are a lot more urban planning articles available there as well. Particularly note the link to the State of Australian Cities Conference.

The expended roster at 2 Blowhards has started talking about the built environment again. Of particular note is an post on Ian Nairn and this summary of other posts of note.

Most of you will have seen this, but the government has released Interim Height Controls as stop-gap while they work out what to do about Melbourne 2030. This issue will be huge if it is not resolved by the next election in November 2006 - expect a serious review of the density aspects of Melbourne 2030 in the next 12 months.

Finaly, while the sleepless, disorganised carnage of the semester just gone is now but a rapidly fading memory, some of us will no doubt get something useful from Tyler Cowen and John Quiggin's time management tips. Including this mostly serious essay on Structured Procrastination.

General 9th November, 2004 21:36:21   [#] [0 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: LII, November 2004
Russell Degnan

This Thursday, November 11th, is Separation Day (and Armistice Day). This is the monument in Flagstaff Gardens. Taken September 2002.

Melbourne 9th November, 2004 20:28:54   [#] [0 comments] 

"Tragedy of the Commons" or "Open Source" - Part I
Russell Degnan

What does the planning system say about us, as citizens?

Underlying it are a lot of assumptions about the way people interact with the public and private realms. The outcomes they wish to reach, the conflicts different goals will cause, and the importance of alleviating those conflicts. Somewhere in there, the planner gets to provide their two cents worth on the best way for a city to grow, and to judge the different goals on their relative merits.

Partly because of our common law system, and partly as a historical artifact of the way planning developed as a profession; the biggest assumption made is that the the primary purpose of the Act is the protection of other people's rights to use their property. It parallels the idea of sustainability by maintaining other person's "rights" - to sunshine, to a quiet road, to a pleasant street - in the future, while allowing developments and uses compatible with those rights today.

The public realm holds a special place at the bottom of the hierarchy in the planning legislation. Every property interfaces with the public realm in some way, and extracts some benefit from it in the process. The public realm is therefore protected from uses which will diminish it. A classic "Tragedy of the Commons" where no person can be trusted to not destroy it - even if they are doing so inadvertently.

Contrast this approach to the public space with that taken to another public realm: open source software, and the Wikipedia. Pedants will tell me - correctly - that they are not really public goods. Like public space they have administrators, who are to some extent owners, who keep the space from imploding on itself. What is different is the underlying assumption on usage. Underpinning open source approaches is the assumption that the developers (and users) of the object will be working to enhance the public good. Control is passed to them to do so, and the results are quite spectacular.

Many questions come from this:
1. Are these approaches incompatible?
2. If so, what are the underlying differences that make them so?
3. And does our own public realm really exist as common tragedy, instead of a open good?

The first two questions are probably best answered as one. I will leave both those and the third to another post so I can ponder them better. What do others think?

Planning 7th November, 2004 21:58:47   [#] [1 comment] 

Monday Melbourne: LI, November 2004
Russell Degnan

I don't have a picture of Flemington. Here is the conservatory in the Fitzroy Gardens instead.

Melbourne 2nd November, 2004 20:13:45   [#] [0 comments] 

Random thoughts on recent subjects
Russell Degnan

The tenders for installing a ticketing system for Melbourne's public transport system have closed. The smart-card may or may not be a good idea. The devil will be in the details whether it is better or worse when it comes to fare collection. What I would like to mention is the consistent description of non-paying customers as 'fare-evaders'. That they are isn't in dispute, however it approaches the problem from the wrong direction. It sees it as a failure by the commuter to pay, instead of a failure by the system operators to collect. Other businesses spend a lot of time and effort ensuring customers pay when they are required, while still making the process efficient and simple.

The user-interface design of the public transport system is neither efficient nor simple. They make up for it by fining customers, making it unfriendly as well. To that end I think we need to rethink how public transport ticketing is operated, starting with some basic principles:

1. Fare collection should be integral to the system operation itself; collecting fares should be the responsibility of the operator whose revenue depends on them (or should).
2. Fines should be abolished. Regardless of whether every other system does it; it is an easy way to avoid making a workable system and an abuse of legal privilege.
3. Payments should be easy to make, the method of doing so, easy to understand, and as with any design, assume no prior knowledge and no particular intelligence on the part of the commuter - who will invariably find a way to break your system no matter how simple it is.

If it is good enough for other businesses, it is good enough for p/t.

Water, we are running out. I've talked about water before, and those two articles give a good summary of proposed developments to alleviate Melbourne's projected water shortage. I will therefore only make a few comments:

1. People who use aggregate statistics or usage trends to describe Melbourne's usage need a good talking to. Although water saving measures have made a marginal difference, the drivers of water usage are the water restrictions being imposed - if any; the number and size of public and private gardens; and the amount of recent rain. Since we can't control the last element, the politically sensitive issues of restrictions and people's gardens will remain the problem.

2. We don't have a major shortage of water, except in the most basic sense. There is a lot of rain - albeit highly variable - that is running straight into the bay, and except for evaporation, used water doesn't disappear, it only gets dirty. Therefore, there are vast untapped resources of water that we are just beginning to look at now the simple dam approach is no longer available. However, water will need to become more expensive to cover these changes and a lot of attention will need to be paid to how local modifications affect their immediate environment.

Apparently someone just noticed that the corner of Springvale and Whitehorse Roads doesn't move very fast. The key quote is this one, courtesy of Peter Batchelor:

"We are not ever going back to that [low traffic road conditions] because there are more cars than ever before, travelling further than ever before."

As discussed ad infinitum here and elsewhere, more roads - and for that matter, more public transport - makes people travel further. Infrastructure provision needs to focus on getting people to places close to them, in the most efficient manner possible. It would be nice if people started keeping that in mind when discussing it.

Planning 2nd November, 2004 19:45:33   [#] [0 comments] 


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