Urbanism
March 31, 2020

Normality in Melbourne: How They Took a Coffee Break

In a lane of course.  It’s a Melbournesque scene, and you have to know where to find it.  Apparently the knowledge workers who serve tech, law and business in the nearby towers don’t really care whether there’s seating.  (Click above for image.)

Takeaway coffee is sold from a window that was possibly cut into the concrete, or maybe provided light to the rear of a commercial building.  What once might have been storage is now high-performance retail.

The menu is limited, but the choice isn’t.  The coffee experience at ‘The Patricia’ is distinctly curated; the staff are knowledge friendly.

It’s very good.

 

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Gord Price will be in Australia for the next month.  Follow his coverage here and on Instagram (gordonpriceyvr).

More evidence from the Sydney Morning Herald on how deeply unserious some decision-makers can be, even after declaring a climate emergency and living through a national trauma that validates the urgency.  It is the gap between lack of action and the desire for strategic change that makes this story extraordinary.

The world’s largest coal port wants to transition away from coal – but because of government policy, can’t do it.

 

The world’s largest coal port State deal blocking world’s largest coal port from fossil fuel exit

The head of the world’s largest coal port says it must transition away from the fossil fuel and diversify Newcastle’s economy before it’s too late, but controversial NSW government policy is stopping it.

As the government worked to improve its climate policy following a summer of drought and bushfires, Port of Newcastle chief executive Craig Carmody said $2 billion of private investment was waiting for the green light to develop a container terminal and move the Hunter away from coal.

However, a once-secret facet of the Baird government’s 2013-14 port privatisation deal – which would force Newcastle to compensate its competitors if it transported more than 30,000 containers a year – could keep the local economy tethered to coal for decades.

Mr Carmody said the port had about 15 years to transition away from the resource, which makes up more than 95 per cent of its exports. He added that a changing climate and struggling regional sector compounded the situation.

 

Here’s the kicker:

“It doesn’t really matter what governments in Australia want to believe, the money we need to do what we need to do have already made their decisions,” Mr Carmody told the Herald.

“There is a reason why businesses, particularly in the energy space in Australia, are saying, ‘Well, if the government won’t provide a policy direction, then we’re going to go off and do it ourselves’.”

 

 

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Gord Price will be in Australia for the next month, Instagramming and podcasting his way across the country.  Follow his coverage here and on Instagram (gordonpriceyvr), as well as PriceTalks podcast when interviews are occasionally posted.

Evidence from the Sydney Morning Herald on how deeply unserious some decision-makers can be after they approve motions and plans to respond to a housing crisis.

Slowdown in pace of housing developments unevenly spread across Sydney

Amid concerns about the scale of development, the government’s latest forecast shows 5700 fewer homes are set to be built over the next five years than was predicted two years ago. …

New dwellings at Ryde are forecast to fall by 10 per cent to 8550 over the next five years, compared with that forecast two years ago. The pullback comes after campaigning by Liberal Minister Victor Dominello against the scale of development in his electorate.

“I’m not against development – I’m against over development,” he said.

“If you start multiple villas and multiple terraces in suburbia, where are they going to park on streets? …”

The forecasts show 10 times as many homes are expected to be built at Blacktown (lower socioeconomic-economic status) over the next five years than the northern beaches (higher).

The 1950 new dwellings predicted for the northern beaches represent a 26 per cent fall on the government’s target for the area in 2017. In contrast, Liverpool in the south-west is forecast to have 12,750 dwellings built over the next five years, a 72 per cent rise on that predicted two years ago. …

Bill Randolph, the director of the University of NSW’s City Futures, said the change in forecasts for new homes likely reflected a slowdown in the apartment market, adding that it would still be a “big ask” to deliver about 41,000 dwellings annually in Sydney over the next five years.

Professor Randolph said a reduction in large industrial sites meant it would become harder to develop high-density areas in inner and middle suburbs of Sydney.

“It’s getting harder now to win the local political battle in getting urban renewal through now that we are running out of the big old industrial sites,” he said.

 

 

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Gord Price will be in Australia for the next month, Instagramming and podcasting his way across the country.  Follow his coverage here and on Instagram (gordonpriceyvr), as well as PriceTalks podcast when interviews are occasionally posted.

 

I’ve been following the news through the Sydney Morning Herald prior to the trip, and thought this was a particularly revealing item:

A conservative activist group – which bills itself as the right-wing version of GetUp – will target primary school children with a series of new resources designed to counter the “climate alarmist narrative” it says is being pushed in classrooms and the media.

Advance Australia’s national director Liz Storer said the resource packs being developed will be sent to schools, parents and grandparents, and could be used in the classroom or at home. The resources will say human-induced climate change “isn’t true” and “there’s a lot more to the story”.

It’s not so much that this initiative is new or unexpected.  The ‘counter-narrative’ strategy has been remarkably effective at seeding sufficient doubt to establish ‘both-sides-ism’ in media coverage and, importantly, delay any unequivocal action by government to address climate change.  Like the Harper Strategy described below, it doesn’t require outright denial, and hence doesn’t seem overly wingnut to those looking for the ‘moderate’ response to the issue.  Including those who decide what should be taught in schools.

Hence the response to this proposal by Advance Australia is what makes the story important:

But the New South Wales and Victorian governments have already indicated the materials in question would very likely be banned in public schools as they “would not be deemed objective”. …

The NSW Department of Education said Advance Australia’s resources would not be allowed in the state’s public schools because they would fall foul of the government’s policies and guidelines.

“This includes the Controversial Issues in Schools policy which says that schools are neutral places for rational discourse and objective study, and discussions should not advance the interest of any particular group,” a department spokesman said.

“Under the Controversial Issues in Schools policy these materials from Advance Australia would not be deemed objective and therefore not permitted to be used in NSW public schools.”

Likewise, the politicians in government feel comfortable in outright rejection:

Victoria’s Labor Education Minister James Merlino said he believed most principals in his state “will put this rubbish where it belongs – in the bin”.

“This organisation is a front for a group of ill-informed climate change deniers,” he said. “Our schools should not be used as a tool for a group like this to peddle their political agenda.”

A Labor minister of course.  But my guess is that the Liberals and even the Nationals will not run to Advance’s cause, much less say they would put their material in the schools.

And here’s why: doubt and denial can be planted and nourished when climate change is not catastrophic and unfolds slowly.  When catastrophic events do occur – fires, floods, droughts, hurricanes – and go beyond one-off extremes of weather, when the frequency of them becomes a pattern, and the pattern is consistent with prediction, denialists become irrelevant.  They have nothing to say in response to the reality of an existential threat – because that reality wasn’t supposed to happen.

The public and decision-makers then turn to those who have something to say about reality, and look to those who have a strategy of response.

That is where Australia is now, I believe.  And Ill be looking to see how it is playing out in real time with those engaged in “the reality that doesn’t go away.”

 

 

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When Prime Minister Harper visited the Arctic on one of his several trips – once for 16 days – the words “climate change” never passed his lips.  In the Arctic – where the manifestations of climate change are more evident and fast-changing than most places on the planet.

That was a very deliberate strategy: ‘Never deny climate change, just don’t recognize it as a priority.  Sign on to policies and protocols so long as the deadlines are decades hence.  And send a message: Government will not do anything disruptive, particularly with respect to the economy, especially the resource industries, like carbon taxes or game-changing regulations.’

That message was targeted to other leaders and decision-makers, public and private, as well as his own base.  In short: ‘I don’t believe climate change is a priority worthy of immediate or drastic action.  So you don’t have to either.’

The strategy assumes two conditions: (1) The public believes you’re doing enough to take climate change seriously (but not crazily).  That you are still taking care of us.  And (2) Nature does nothing too disruptive.

It worked for Harper.  Unfortunately, it’s not working for the Prime Minister of Australia and his coalition party.

Nature did not hold up its end of the bargain.  And so the public isn’t either.

 

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For the next month, I’ll be in Australia, returning to the island continent for the 11th time, and to the four cities in which I have spoken over the last two decades – Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and Perth.

In the past I’ve talked mainly about Vancouver, particularly about urban design and how we accommodate growth.  (Our Commonwealth cousins love exchanging views and advice on our similar cities.)

But this time, I’m there to ask the people I meet one particular question: How is Australia changing now that climate change is your new reality?  How are Australians changing?

I’m not the only outsider to be asking questions like that.

 From Damien Cave, the Australian bureau chief for the New York Times:

“We have seen …the unfolding wings of climate change,” said Lynette Wallworth, an Australian filmmaker … in Davos, Switzerland, last month.

Like the fires, it’s a metaphor that lingers. What many of us have witnessed this fire season does feel alive, like a monstrous gathering force threatening to devour what we hold most dear on a continent that will grow only hotter, drier and more flammable as global temperatures rise. …

In interviews all over the fire zone since September, it’s been clear that Australians are reconsidering far more than energy and emissions. They are stumbling toward new ways of living: Housing, holiday travel, work, leisure, food and water are all being reconsidered. …

Climate change threatens heavy pillars of Australian identity: a life lived outdoors, an international role where the country “punches above its weight,” and an emphasis on egalitarianism that, according to some historians, is rooted in Australia’s settlement by convicts. …

Since the fires started, tens of millions of acres have been incinerated in areas that are deeply connected to the national psyche. If you’re American, imagine Cape Cod, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the Sierra Nevadas and California’s Pacific Coast, all rolled into one — and burned.

It’s “a place of childhood vacations and dreams,” as one of Australia’s great novelists, Thomas Keneally, recently wrote.

Tourists in Lake Conjola, a popular vacation destination, took refuge on a beach on New Year’s Eve.

Mike Cannon-Brookes, Australia’s most famous tech billionaire, called it part of a broader awakening.

Mr. Cannon-Brookes said Australia could seize the moment and become a leader in climate innovation. Ms. Wallworth, the filmmaker, echoed that sentiment: What if the country’s leaders did not run from the problem of climate change, but instead harnessed the country’s desire to act?

“If only our leaders would call on us and say, ‘Look, this is a turning point moment for us; the natural world in Australia, that’s our cathedral, and it’s burning — our land and the animals we love are being killed,’” she said. …

Near a bus stop, I met Bob Gallagher, 71, a retired state employee with thick white hair. He felt strongly that the criticism of Mr. Morrison for not doing enough about climate change was unfair.

“The first thing the government needs to do is run the economy,” Mr. Gallagher said. “I just don’t understand what these climate change people want.”

I asked him to imagine a version of Ms. Wallworth’s dream — an Australia with a prime minister who shouted to the world: “What we all love, this unique country, is being destroyed by inaction. We’ll punch above our weight, but we can’t do it alone. We need your help.”

Mr. Gallagher listened without interrupting. “I hadn’t thought of that,” he said. “I could support that.”

Full article here.

 

For the next month, I’ll be Instagramming my way across Aus (pricetags) and sending interviews back to be posted on PriceTalks and the blog.

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Time has run out for the Harper Strategy on climate change.

I like to give Stephen Harper credit for this strategy because, in his trips to the Arctic, he so well exemplified it.  (I wrote about it in 2014, and again here🙂

If the goal is to keep climate change off the public agenda, the most effective strategy is not the ‘hard denialist’ strategy of rejection but the soft strategy of omission: saying as little as possible, preferably nothing, to keep the topic off the agenda.

As previously noted, that was the brilliance of Prime Minister Harper’s ninth Arctic trip in August, as observed by Jeffrey Simpson in The Globe:

“Nowhere in Canada is the impact of climate change more increasingly evident than the North. And yet, the words ‘climate change’ are never heard from Mr. Harper in the North, as if the idea they connote are so distasteful that he cannot bring himself to utter them.”

No denial, just no recognition.  And hence a standard for others in power to follow, whether politicians, business people or editors: serious people don’t have serious public concerns about climate change, so that decisions today need not take into account tomorrow’s probable reality.

The strategy works only so long as nothing too serious happens too frequently.  That results in fear, and then anger, and then bad things politically.  And then you have to say something.  If you have nothing substantial to say about climate change – because the whole strategy was never to do anything substantial – then you’re in trouble.  As George Bush quickly discovered in his indifferent response to Hurricane Katrina.

And as Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison just found out.

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Amidst the Australian bushfires – an image too sad to seem real:  a firefigher and a koala, watching their forests burn next to a vineyard.

Apparently it is all too real. From a Guardian blog:

… the photo was taken at Lobethal on Friday while protecting homes. Two koalas wandered out of the bush seeking assistance.

“Up behind us there were a couple of houses under threat so we were working to protect them from ember attack and the firefront and they stepped out of the bush seeking help,” he said.

Adams said it was common for koalas to seek help from firefighters in these situations. The koalas were given water and moved to a safer location. Firefighters lost track of them and they were eventually forced to pull out of the property.

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