No matter how mundane a city’s origins, urban concentrations can have magical consequences. So says the great urban economist Edward Glaeser.
He points out that the Romans settled on an island in the Seine because it was a good spot to protect themselves against unfriendly Gauls. Two thousand years later we have Paris, one of the greatest centres of cultural and economic innovation on the planet.
Here in Australia, our cities are mere infants compared to Paris but, like cities pretty much everywhere, ours face an immense array of challenges. We are among the most urbanised of nations with three out of every four Australians living in cities. And though we might be good at farming and mining, it is our cities that generate 80 per cent of our wealth.
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There are sweet days for city commuters and they’re called school holidays. Everyone knows them. They are the days when an empty seat welcomes you on the train or bus and the traffic seems to flow more smoothly along our motorways and city streets.
In a perfect world it would be like that all the time. But our cities are growing. There are more and more people depending on our existing transport networks. With our 18 major cities home to three-quarter of all Australians, congestion is becoming one of the greatest problems we face. It drags like an anchor on our national productivity and steals time better spent with our families.
Here are three uncomfortable facts. Firstly, eight of ten commuting trips in Australia today are still undertaken by car.
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Walking around Sydney’s big, gaudy bicentennial showpiece Darling Harbour recently, the place just seemed so sad. The word dowdy doesn’t do it justice. Imagine stepping out in the suit or dress you wore to your Year 12 formal. Now imagine you’d been wearing it every day since.
Just down the way, and soon to be linked by a waterfront walkway, lies the former port area of Barangaroo. All manner of shiny plans for the site have been drawn up, rejected, put forward again, and debated to death – mostly by those who consider any building without a picket fence a monument of brutalist architecture and an affront to humanity.
The latest from Barangaroo is that James Packer wants to build an even bigger tower and casino than originally planned. The plans are bound to bounce back and forth between various planning bodies and perhaps even the courts. But former PM Paul Keating gave it the thumbs up today, and that’s good enough for us.
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Brisbane is the capital city of Queensland, Australia. It’s the third largest city in Australia. You don’t need this Wikipedia history lesson to understand, know, appreciate, or in my case, love Brisbane.
Thomas Brisbane was in NSW when he decided to look north for new digs. My life was much the same: my parents moved our family to Brisbane from Sydney in 1988. It was the year of Expo ’88 and the allure of Stefan’s sky needle, which still resides in South Brisbane, was probably too great to ignore.
My arrival in Brisbane marked the first of several terrific early childhood memories: the warmth of a good shower; an unyielding (and as yet unresolved) infatuation with Freddo Frogs and an obsession with the Fat Controller in Thomas the Tank Engine.
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They don’t play the AFL grand final in Sydney for the very good reason that the code’s sporting soul is located in Melbourne.
Wimbledon happens at Wimbledon, the Super Bowl takes place in various football-mad US cities, and the only reason they shifted the famous Dakar rally from the north African desert (to South America of all places) was that bandits kept terrorising competitors.
No one’s been terrorising anyone in Sydney or Brisbane lately, give or take a few feral bikies. So remind me again, why have we dumped one of the year’s showcase rugby league games on Melbourne for a seventh time?
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News blew in late yesterday that Sydney is the 7th most expensive city in the world. Big deal. We already knew you have to be a criminal or a real estate speculator to afford to live here. Not that there’s much diff.
The real news was that Melbourne made number 8 on the list, ahead of Singapore, which is widely known as an extremely expensive city even for those who don’t habitually spit on the sidewalk.
Melbourne has always prided itself on its title of “World’s Most Liveable City”. Apparently liveability doesn’t have much to do with affordability. And now Melbourne has another claim to fame. It’s a trait which is never, ever brought up in the endless, tedious Sydney vs Melbourne fights. Here goes then…
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Did you feel ripped off this holiday season when you parked your car in the city, at a shopping centre or at the airport when picking up or dropping off loved ones?
If paying inflated petrol prices wasn’t enough, motorists are now also being hit with inflated parking rates when they go shopping or to the airport. Then, of course, there are the CBD parking stations that cost an arm and a leg.
It’s these CBD parking stations that consistently cost motorists dearly as the fees at the CBD parking stations start climbing the moment that boom gate rises to let you in.
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This is the third and final piece by Penbo for the Herald Sun about what Australia really thinks of Victoria.
When Melbourne hosted the Commonwealth Games in 2006 its opening ceremony was hailed as delightfully whimsical in its hometown and ridiculed as laughably provincial elsewhere.
In our coverage in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph we ran a double-page spread of flying trams and Leunig ducks under the deliberately annoying headline “And the winner is…still Sydney”, an obvious reference to Juan Antonio Samaranch’s declaration of the 2000 Olympic host city and its much more majestic and ambitious opening ceremony.
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First came the holidaymakers. Then came the high-rises. Then came the property spivs and assorted shonks. Then came the meter maids and the blue-rinsers from down south.
Then came more holiday makers. Then came schoolies. Then came the theme parks, more families and more blue-rinsers.
Then came the football stars. Then came nightclubs that were bigger and louder than the original Cavill Avenue lot, and then, inevitably, came the drug lords and violence.
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This is the second instalment of Penbo’s series of columns for the Herald-Sun on what Australia really thinks of Victoria.
In his first year as prime minister the rugby league-loving St George Dragons fan John Howard was the unlikely winner of the 1996 parliamentary press gallery AFL footy tipping competition.
The rules required the winner to put a sizeable amount of cash on the parliamentary bar. Before a boozy throng of journos, Howard gave a terrific off-the-cuff speech which belied his league pedigree and offered some thoughtful and charitable insights into the place of Aussie Rules in our national identity.
Even though Howard doesn’t care for the game – he refused to barrack for the Swans in that year’s grand final because he didn’t want to seem a bandwagon-jumper – the PM said Aussie Rules was the only football code in Australia which transcended class and ethnicity.
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Like my fellow South Australians, I’m still upset about the poaching of Stephen Kernahan and John Platten, irritated about the theft of the Grand Prix and annoyed that the only body of water in Australia more fetid than the Yarra is the glorified drainpipe we call the Torrens.
Despite a lifetime of hard-wired antipathy towards the Vics, I’ve been kindly invited by Melbourne’s Herald Sun newspaper to fill its opinion page the next four Mondays. Rather than filing ad hoc pieces on issues of the day, I’ve decided to attempt a themed series about all things Victorian, through an outsider’s eyes.
My equally well-balanced Adelaideans who also have chips on both shoulders might disown me for not entitling the series Why Everyone Hates Victoria. Instead, I’ve stumped for What Australia Really Thinks About Victoria, with four pieces looking at Melbourne’s personality, the nation’s love-hate relationship with the AFL, why Melbourne has won in its rivalry with Sydney, and the 10 things which make Victoria what it is and which all Australians should know.
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Cyclists are the worst. They dress up like extras in an MC Hammer video, then they act like they own the bloody road. They are rude, cliquey, sanctimonious and, very, very ugly. Did we mention that they look incredibly stupid in lycra?
But one day, not all cyclists will be like that. One day, and possibly very soon, scores of ordinary people in ordinary clothes will ride ordinary inexpensive bikes to work. That’s the dream of people like Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore, who is set to announce more cycleways any day now. In an age of rising petrol prices and sedentary workers looking to get fit, it’s a perfectly reasonable dream.
Right now, the cycleway knockers have it much too easy. It’s money for old bike chains when your opponents are hippies, lycra warriors and leftie ideologues like Clover Moore. And don’t the shock jocks know it. They rail against the traffic chaos caused by the narrow green bike lanes as though the green is some kind of toxic ooze.
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In the exciting world of statistics and public policy, one set of findings often begets another diametrically opposed set of findings. For example, there appears to be a direct link between worrying about multiculturalism and living in those parts of Australia untouched by multiculturalism.
Take a trip up the Queensland coast to Caloundra or go to a hinterland town such as Gympie. Aside from lemon chicken at the local Chinese, there is no discernible non-Anglo influence in these communities. Most of their residents wouldn’t know a burqa from a beer mat. Yet these were the same places which elected One Nation MPs in bid to protect their gloriously monocultural lifestyle, despite that lifestyle being under siege from absolutely nothing.
Over the past 12 months there have been three different surveys which have all identified Adelaide as the most liveable city in Australia.
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As friends and family gathered to celebrate my friend Tom Uren’s 90th birthday recently, he had many reasons to be proud of his contribution to Australia. History books abound that record the unique achievements of the Whitlam Government in which Tom was a senior figure. But there’s a big one that is barely remembered – the role the pair played in getting rid of the septic tank.
These famously malodorous mosquito and cockroach breeding pits lay beneath the lawns of suburban homes everywhere, including the then home of Prime Minister Whitlam in western Sydney.
As Tom tells it, by the time he was elected to power Gough had decided enough was enough – a modern Australia deserved a modern sewerage system. So he appointed his Minister for Urban and Regional Development, Tom Uren, to clean up the country by funding new sewerage plants across urban Australia.
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If there is one thing I like about Twitter, it’s hashtags. In case you aren’t part of the Twitterati, hashtags refer to the “#” that allows debate or discussion on particular topics in Twitter between users who would probably otherwise never get in contact with each other.
For example, there is the #AusPol hashtag that discusses Australian politics and the #qanda one that discusses the ABC’s Q&A programme every Monday and a million other hashtags on every topic under the sun. I often use them when I post Independent Australia articles on Twitter to get them out to a wider audience, for instance.
But they can also be on frivolous matters as well — and this is where the fun really starts. Yesterday a hashtag arose called #rejectedbnetourismslogans, which, as the name suggests it is all about creating slogans to poke fun at the city of Brisbane. I’m not sure why or who suggested it, or why, but it has gone viral with thousands of contributions, most of them quite funny:
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Ask any poor wage slave trapped in rush hour traffic or crammed like a sardine into a sweltering carriage on their hour-long daily commute and my guess is you’ll find no shortage of strong opinions on Australia’s less than terrific track record in urban planning.
As our major cities have grown in population over recent decades the unimaginative response of state governments has largely been to drive new housing towards our metropolitan fringes.
But as many of us experience daily, on the whole they’ve done so without putting in place the economic and social infrastructure to accommodate such expansion – public transport, training and employment opportunities and access to essential community services such as childcare.
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This is not an anti-Eddie piece. Nice guy, by all accounts. It’s not an anti-Melbourne piece either. Nice city, by all accounts too. Very liveable and all that.
This isn’t even a piece written in outrage against Eddie McGuire’s cheap, nasty “land of the felafel” slur against people of Arabic origin in Western Sydney, the sharpest rebuke of which was by young freelance blogger Antoun Issa.
Despite that slur, and the national backlash, and Eddie’s embarrassing half-arsed apology, the fact is most people outside of Melbourne couldn’t give a toss about what Eddie says or thinks about anything. That’s what this piece is about.
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Returning home for summer is a continuing novelty for me. This may be explained in part by the fact the Melburnian summer exists only in myth, much like the unicorn or Dennis Lillee.
Compared to the glorious and endless parade of 35-degree days in Perth, the southern capital is a pale and moody slouch. Yes, it may be the cultural, sporting, and nightlife epicentre of the nation, but not even Events Victoria could poach a decent summer.
Rain outside of winter does not make for happy tidings. As Thom Yorke croaked: “everything in its right place”. And that means, Melbourne, keep the damp in July and open up the summer goody bag sometime around December.
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If Melbourne was a person she would have been sent to Trinny and Susannah by now.
It wouldn’t be her idea of course - it’s one of those shows she would sneer at - but her loved ones would have given her that little encouraging nudge.
She’d go and be full of fake bravado, giving as much lip at Catherine Deveny on Logies night, bragging about her coffee, her restaurants, her laneways and festivals.
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Former Prime Minister, Paul Keating, has long been a champion of better architecture and planning. Most recently, he caused a stir by describing our national capital as “a great mistake”.
Keating also lamented the bulldozing of much of Melbourne’s heritage in the 1970s, but even had a shot at some of the Victorian buildings that remained.
“I used to call it Whorehouse Rococo and Bordello Baroque”, he said. And he teased Australia’s “heritage mafia” for making a crust out of pretending that old buildings are of significance.
I grew up in the outer suburbs in a Mcmansion with upwardly mobile Howard-voting parents and garden view to ‘Fountain Lakes’ shopping centre. Boganism is in my gene pool.
The site is run by a group of young men who live in inner-Melbourne, go to music festivals and art galleries. Certainly, the fact many working-class people now have money and live in big houses has been making the intelligentsia uncomfortable for quite some time.
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Cities have personalities, they have a tone to their collective voice, and my former home town of Adelaide has a voice which can generally be described as courteous, civil, thoughtful, prepared to make a point, but also willing to listen.
My adoptive town of the past decade often finds itself at the other end of the register. Sydney is often so boisterous as to be uncouth. It can be pig-headed, abusive and rude. In its political and social discourse, Sydney’s general modus operandi is to start with a full-blown argument and work your way backwards towards civility from there.
But in the NSW school holiday fortnight just gone, which we passed happily back in SA, there was a very different edge to Adelaide’s voice. The normally sedate city sounded depressingly like Sydney at its unthinking and aggressive worst as its leaders and citizens dealt with a genuinely terrifying spate of crimes linked to the so-called Gang of 49.
In Adelaide we worry a lot. A mall, trams, grandstands, hospitals even roundabouts cause hours of debate. However, nothing winds us up more than someone criticising our city. We’re so defensive.
Sometimes I think we get so outraged because secretly we worry that Adelaide may actually be a backwater.
Often the “solution” that is put forward is to build an iconic building such as a tower or a fantastic or unusual museum. These are all great ideas – we should build more unusual and more controversial buildings. Interesting buildings give a city character. I like buildings that have gardens down the side and on the roof. It would be great to see some of them.
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