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Developers not the only heritage threat
Russell Degnan

Who'd be a public transport operator?

Saddled with an unrealistic contract, a dodgy system, (even more) heavily subsidised competition, and a government that gives only token support for infrastructure improvements, the only thing keeping Connex here is a prop in the form of a giant cheque.

Meanwhile, Flinders St. station is falling around their ears. The opposition claims that four years ago they were asking too much for rent. So much in fact that apparently it is better business to keep it empty for that long. The government insists that "Connex are obliged to maintain Flinders Street Station under the agreement they signed with the Kennett government."; still toeing the line long after "The Guilty Party" should have been put to rest. Whereas the Connex boss insists that "he would hand over the space rent-free to a suitable tenant". Given the ballroom has been closed for 25 years and the roof (apparently) leaks, we can translate the last statement as saying that it is unusable without a large investment. An investment that the impoverished operator is unable to make.

There is a larger issue here. Melbourne has hundreds, if not thousands of heritage buildings. Most of them are privately owned, and many are in a state of disrepair. It is all very well saying that we should look after our heritage, and we should; but it is unrealistic to expect private owners to be able to provide the necessary capital for these improvements, because they won't all have it. Particularly if it means forgoing a more profitable venture, like tearing it down and building a 40-storey apartment block.

If we are to keep our heritage buildings it has to be cheaper to keep our heritage than new buildings - and by keep, I mean "own and rent" not just keep it standing. Which means, ultimately, that if the people of Victoria want heritage buildings, the people of Victoria have to subsidise the owners of heritage buildings. However they plan to do it. But it has to be done now, because a lot of them are now 150 years old. And it shows.

Planning 30th December, 2003 14:52:30   [#] [1 comment] 

Monday Melbourne: IX, Dec 2003
Russell Degnan

Boxing Day. Melbourne Cricket Ground.

Melbourne 30th December, 2003 13:16:08   [#] [2 comments] 

Two streets, two cities
Russell Degnan

A while ago I was browsing through my pictures from when I was overseas two years ago and stumbled across this one. It is from Strasbourg, France, near the German border, looking alognm the avenue de la Paix towards the center of the city and the cathedral. I took it because it struck me as an amazingly attractive street, despite being transport orientated, rather than pedestrian orientated.

Having determined that I should compare and contrast it with Melbourne's own transport orientated shopping strips, I originally thought to use Sydney Rd. in Brunswick, being near my house. But, this wouldn't be a fair comparison, Sydney Rd. is both a major arterial, and not as wide, so I will leave my thoughts on it for another time. Instead, I will look at Errol St. in North Melbourne, looking north from Victoria St.

They are remarkably similar, both have on-street parking, one lane each- way of traffic, attractive low buildings (Errol St. is lower), and light-rail in the center separate from the traffic (a rarity in Melbourne's inner suburbs). Errol St. is by no means unattractive, it has a mix of cafes, an assortment of speciality shops, and is relatively pedestrian friendly. But four or five little things make such a difference.

The street in Strasbourg seems more intimate - partly this may be the taller buildings, but on the other hand, the footpaths are probably wider. The first difference is the presence of trees along the street, not shrubs on the footpath, as is normal in Melbourne (and probably here), but spaced between every few car spaces is a broad tall tree. For a slight loss in parking amenity - maybe every fourth or fifth space - they've achieved a tree-lined street; giving both shade and life.

This closeness affects the traffic as well. It is widely acknowledged that drivers will travel at the speed they deem safe, which is dependent on the space they feel they have (and hence, the margin for error). Compare the two streets above, which would you drive faster on? The centre of the road also achieves this effect. Errol St. appears to be a wide two lane road, only a yellow line says otherwise. By contrast, the concrete blocks assert the limits to the road, confining cars to a bare minimum of the street.

For pedestrians. The tram-stop in Strasbourg is infinitely better, it looks inviting. Melbourne has seen the introduction of these super-stops recently. I'm a bit ambivalent about them, because I think they are superficial gestures on top of a rickety system. But I won't deny they are better, and friendlier for pedestrians. There is a jay-walker in Errol St., looking alone in the wide street. Strasbourg has smaller blocks; hence more crossings and less jay-walkers. As a general rule, like the natural pathways I mentioned once before, where you have substantial numbers of jay-walkers, there is a crossing point in the road, even if it isn't acknowledged. For safety, one should be installed.

Finally, the tramlines. Grass, blessed, green, grass, instead of concrete. It may provide some benefits in terms of stormwater run-off, although the extra water usage would be an issue in Melbourne; but it looks so much better; it says "park", when our streets say "road". And they don't need to say "road".

UPDATE: Gary at Junk for Code comments in reference to Adelaide's sweltering summers.

Also, I don't mean to imply that all Melbourne's streets are bad - they certainly aren't - nor that all Strasbourg's streets are great - though it probbaly has fewer that are terrible. Nor do I think we should embark on a grand public works project to fix everything. The difference between a nice street and a terrible can be subtle; Europe has had the benefit of time to tease them out. What we need are people to try and do the same here.

Urban Design 30th December, 2003 13:06:06   [#] [4 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: VIII, Dec 2003
Russell Degnan

David Jones toy soldiers: standing erect, above the hustle and bustle of the shopping crowds and the seemingly endless line to see the Myer Christmas windows. December 8th 2003.

Melbourne 22nd December, 2003 22:26:40   [#] [0 comments] 

Wednesday Eyesore: A triumph of stupidity
Citizen #381277

Ok, I took this on Friday afternoon at Dandenong Station. Quite frankly, watching an old man attempt to ride his bicycle down this, this, this affront to sensible design just goes to show that we are surrounded by idiots. Bring on the eugenics program I say!! It would seem that the design company felt that anyone who doesn't have a car should be punished by having to negotiate this monstrosity seeing as the carpark gives excellent accessability to the station. It also reminded me of this. What the hell is it with white railings and public structures?!?!
Thus ends Wednesday's rant. Just be thankful I didn't take any pictures of the station itself...

Urban Design 17th December, 2003 08:41:28   [#] [0 comments] 

Bangalore, clean and green?
Jess Buckley

Will hopes of an environmental revolution in India disappoint like their unfulfilled promise of a 'western style' toilet? (sorry, I know I have issues)

It seems that the Bangalore Government is keen to shake its image of urban India as polluted. Everywhere on the streets is environmental propoganda claiming that 'Bangalore is clean and beautiful. Please keep it that way'. Quite the contrary, but I guess they are trying, right? And it is slightly funny to see painted on the backs of Rickshaws (the main mode of transport, infamous for their clouds of black exhaust ) 'please don't pollute the air'.

But to be fair, the Bangalore Government does deserve some praise. Their most recent proposal is efforts to switch to renewable energy sources, in the form of small domestic generators using a combination of solar and wind energy atop the roofs of houses. This energy is intended for lighting, TV, but not heating. However, there are many worries that Bangalore does not have strong enough wind to support the energy required. The Government will be providing subsidies and claims that the investment (for the generator) will be recovered in 6-8 years. This is an important consideration for many Bangalorians (?) as generally they are in difficult economic situations. It will be interesting to see how successful this initiative is since there is little incentive for these people to be environmentally sustainable. Does there need to be an incentive to protect the environment?

Are the attempts made by the Bangalore Government at environmentally sustainablility genuine or is it just a new fad to be quickly tossed aside? But I don't know whether the city's fads are anything to go by as mullets are still really cool!

Environment 17th December, 2003 06:55:12   [#] [1 comment] 

Monday Melbourne: VII, Dec 2003
Russell Degnan

Another highpoint on the Melbourne events calendar: the Moonlight Cinema at the Botanic Gardens started last week. This picture, January 5th 2003.

Melbourne 15th December, 2003 20:15:54   [#] [0 comments] 

A Blended House - Ray Wright
Russell Degnan

The Legislative Council of Victoria 1851-1856

I've mentioned this book before, but as I have recently finished it I thought I'd provide a proper review. The Blended House refers to the method of government: two thirds elected members (albeit with quite strict property qualifications for voting) and one third nominees, appointed by the Lieutenant Governor - originally Charles La Trobe. Some of these nominees held offices, some of whom were also on the Executive Council (effectively the cabinet); the most important of which was Colonial Secretary. The first of whom was a reluctant William Lonsdale.

This confusing collection of partially independent bodies came about - as all do - because of prevailing political conditions. Prior to seperation, Victoria - formerly the Colony of Port Phillip - had some representation in the Legislative Council of New South Wales; but, "the cost and time of travelling to and from Sydney, under representation on the Council ensuring that debate never favoured Port Phillip, the reluctance of the Sydney-based administration to support infrastructure works in the district, and the use of revenue raised in Port Phillip elsewhere in the colony soured local settlers. In July 1848, a cynical electorate in Melbourne voted Earl Grey, Secretary of State for the Colonies and a world away in London, as their local representative." La Trobe, as Superintendent, was constrained by orders from both Sydney and London; orders which could take several months to reach the colony. Needless to say, when news of separation broke on November 11th 1850, there were joyous celebrations - however, expectations were, perhaps, higher than the new government could meet.

The blended house has been widely criticised for its inexperience, ineptitude and irresponsibility. This can be blamed - at least in part - on the system itself. The Executive Council was responsible to the Governor, who was in turn responsible to his London superiors. The Governor had the ability to initiate, modify or veto any legislation, and was therefore, in some sense, autocratic. It also left the unenviable task of justifying the Governor's policies to his offical nominees, some of whom may have disagreed at the Executive Council level.

The book takes as each chapter, the five sessions of council sittings, starting in 1851-52. In the days before parties, there were mostly local interests - all of which, in the absence of local government except Melbourne and Geelong before 1854 were handled by the central government - and rough coalitions consisting of the squatters, the urban businessmen, and the government appointees. There was another group though - without representation - that would cause the greatest grief for the council. In the last half of 1851 gold was discovered across Victoria. The population, just 77,000 in November 1851, was 168,000 by December 1852, by 1855 it was nearer 350,000. Large numbers of diggers had arrived - almost all male - and they inhabited goldfields containing violence, drunkenness and a simmering resentment of the monthly license fee.

The tipping point came during the period 1854-55. La Trobe had retired, and returned to England. The new governor, Charles Hotham was "direct, authoritarian and not the least bit consultative" and carrying a grudge - having been overlooked for service in the Crimean war - against the backward colony of Victoria saying, "It is a vile hole, and I shall never like it". The years before Hotham's arrival had produced quite a few enduring pieces of legislation, including: the foundation of the supreme and county courts, local government, and a new constitution. However, the public works required to support the rapidly expanding population had resulted in a large budget deficit. Hotham responded by cutting public service, without consulting the council or his executive. His manner isolated him from both the public and the council, and the necessary reform of the miners license never occured. On December 3rd police attacked 150 rebel miners behind a stockade on Bakery Hill. Thirty were killed, and 120 arrested.

The action was widely criticised, and a royal commission recommended a general amnesty; but Hotham pressed forward with trial of 13 prisoners for sedition. Amidst protests and before sympathetic juries, all 13 were acquitted. The fallout resulted in a gold export duty and miner representation in the council. Politically, Hotham became completely isolated, resigned in November 1855, then, unexpectedly died of a "cerebral abscess as a complication of pneumonia" on 31st December 1855. Colonial Secretary John Foster - long an advocate of goldfields reform, but held responsible for the events - resigned under public pressure.

The 1855-56 session started with the news that the constitution had been accepted by the Queen. The "blended house" would shortly be no more, to be replaced by the Legislative Assembly and Legislative Council, and Governor with no legislative responsibilities. Wright attempts to find a balance between the "instances of misjudgment and mismanagement" and the enduring legacy of the council under trying circumstances. He succeeds, and it is worth reading to see the political side of the five most important years in the shaping of Victoria.

Book Club 12th December, 2003 08:45:35   [#] [0 comments] 

Something of a test-case
Russell Degnan

The Age reports today that the mutant concrete jungle that is Chadstone Shopping Centre wants to expand again amindst many resident complaints. In theory, a substantial retail development should, under Melbourne 2030, have to be contained within an activity centre, which of course this is. (Do you think the government considered what a boon it is to certain private developers to grant retail expansion to a limited number of large shopping districts?)

However, it also requires a few other things of activity centres, in particular:
- Broaden the mix of uses appropriate to the type of centre and the needs of the population served.
- Improve access by walking, cycling and public transport to services and facilities for local and regional populations.

The current plan: to widen Middle Rd. to allow easier access to vehicular traffic, and to expand the retail space (possibly at the expense of existing low-density housing), meets neither of those two criteria.

Taking one point at a time. Firstly, the expansion of retail space should also have to include high-density housing, office-space and businesses that open in the evening, such as restaurants. The latter is a major issue for potential residents as Chadstone is as dead as the CBD was in the 1970s after the shops close.

Secondly, the expansion of Middle Rd. to eight lanes will be about as friendly to walkers, cyclists and the local residents who'll be doing the walking and cycling as directing the Monash Freeway over the top of their house would be. Which is pretty much what is being proposed. It should be rejected outright.

There are parts of Melbourne 2030 that are quite easy to implement (technically, if not politically). The gradual improvement of activity centres is one of them. Make the rules, and stick with them, come hell or high-water. That none of the articles on this issue mention the strategic planning document that should be referred to is worrying.

Planning 11th December, 2003 18:07:04   [#] [1 comment] 

Monday Melbourne: VI, Dec 2003
Russell Degnan

Waterwalls and all. The National Gallery of Victoria: International reopened last week after extensive renovations. This was how it looked this evening - Monday 8th December 2003

Melbourne 8th December, 2003 23:32:51   [#] [0 comments] 

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