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liveable cities + economic crisis « Previous | |Next »
March 24, 2009

Despite cities being critical to Australia's future development there is no central urban body advising commonwealth and state governments. Current roles in urban governance are still divided amongst various portfolios, despite arguments for some organised approach for urban policy. We have gone backward since the Whitlam government of the1970s whilst the focus has been on global cities, such as Sydney, on the grounds that these are connected to the global economy.

My argument that one way to deal with the global economic crisis is to reinvent cities to make them more liveable and sustainable is also argued for by Barack Obama. There are differences in that the CBD of American cities are in a bad way: they are boarded, marked by high crime and deep neglect, poverty and peopled by blacks, Hispanics and an underclass. The white middle class has fled to the green, monoracial suburbs with their shopping malls and gated communities.

According to Edward Blakely in the Australian Financial Review Obama's argument is that the central cities can be the new hub for entrepreneurship, culture and environmentally sustainable economy:

first, central cities are underused space that can be reused to cheaper and more efficiently than sprawling suburbs; second, young energetic immigrants and college students are choosing central cities as the places to start up businesses; and third, rebuilding cities will generate a set of green industries that will reshape the 21st century global economy.

According to Edward Blakely, an internationally renowned urban development strategist, the argument is for federal strategy and resources to leverage improvements in inner-city areas as liveable, sustainable and competitive economic incubators. The official rhetoric is that it’s time to stop seeing our cities as the problem and start seeing them as the solution.

Vibrant cities spawn innovation, economic growth, and cultural enrichment; the policy needs to focus on investments and development in urban areas that will create employment and housing opportunities and make the country more competitive, prosperous, and strong.

Unlike the hub-and-spoke city-suburban model of yesteryear, today’s metro regions encompass broad swaths of multiple center cities, downtowns, suburbs and exurbs. The challenges of energy scarcity and climate change require closely aligned approaches in land use, transportation and location of housing. This in turn implies the co-ordination of federal-state urban policies across all departments.

What can we take from Blakely's account of urban policy to inform and enable urban redevelopment and regeneration in Australia? The following suggestions are useful:

* funding for city community development so cities can deliver vital housing, and become walkable and bikeable with clustered housing developments and other services critical to attracting and retaining 21st century educated workforce that will transform the regional economy.

*supporting regional innovation and economic development to build new jobs through a range of small businesses and innovation supports for emerging industries.

*increased public transport to reduce car-orientated development

*creating clean -industry businesses and jobs within the uderused spaces of urban areas

*making cities and urban regions energy efficient and making these technologies into competitive exports

*reducing poverty by lifting the quantity and quality of education

* improving quality housing in inner city areas/neighbourhoods to make them attractive places where people can and will work from home or near home.

As the "Low Carbon Industrial Strategy: A vision by the Department of Energy and Climate Change and Department of Energy and Climate Change states the transition to a low carbon world will transform our whole economy, changing our industrial landscape, our supply chain, and the way in which we all work and consume.

Nicholas' Stern’s landmark Review in 2006 set out the economic case for action on climate change and for investment in a low carbon economy. For as well as being an environmental and economic imperative, the shift to a low carbon economy is also an economic opportunity over the decades to come. The shift to a low carbon economy could help to drive renewed growth that will lift us out of the economic downturn. It will be key to the UK’s long term industrial future.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 7:55 AM | | Comments (11)


making our cities and urban regions more energy efficient and then making these technologies globally competitive is a good idea

What happens to all those suburban houses Americans have abandoned? What happens to those areas? Are they left for nature to reclaim?

From an Australian point of view the sight of entire suburbs of abandoned living space is extraordinary, let alone the prices they're selling for.

In this article in Online Opinion Blakely argues that the central focus of plans and planning is on people and not just land.

Land remains important in this new focus but a new planning vocabulary is emerging that places human intelligence and creativity as the central ingredient in plan making. It is in this context that the role of the university is transformed as a new and critical engine of the new economy and not merely the developer of talent for existing firms or the custodian of the past. Universities will increasingly play important direct roles in the revitalisation of the regions' economy.

He argues that these new roles transform the university into a multi-versity. That is an organisation that includes not only the development and transmission of new knowledge but taking a direct hand in the revitalisation of urban communities across the greater metropolitan region.

There is some talk of that type going on in my neck of the woods.

More graduates are opting to stay, rather than move elsewhere for work as they have done in the past. Their staying establishes links that haven't existed before.

Nothing to get excited about, but it looks like an early emerging (hopefully) trend.

I've read that some people are buying the houses at fire sale prices. Others maybe bulldozed.

the UK’s Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform report concludes:

Once seen as having limited economic importance, low carbon and renewable energy technologies provide sustainable job creation and high levels of market value for the UK. The … sector has positive forecast growth levels over the next eight years and can make an important contribution to the UK economy in a time of financial and economic uncertainty.

The same could be said of Australia. It is the coal energy companies and intensive energy companies that are blocking any movement with their delay delay delay tactics. So Australia dawdles,

maybe the graduates that are staying can begin to understand that the price of carbon is being factored in to many investment decisions and will soon be in most, if not all, and at all levels of a company’s business.

That is where people’s focus needs to be given the vulnerability of the Gold Coast economy.

I find the idea that a house can be bought for a couple of dollars astounding, even if they have been vandalised. That houses could be demolished when homelessness is on the rise is gobsmacking. Why are there no riots?

I imagine that young people here are as concerned with climate change as young people anywhere else. Which is to say, more concerned than older generations.

We've had a fairly drastic demographic shift recently as the retired population is shrinking (natural attrition as it's politely called) and the younger one is growing, partly because more younger people of all education levels are staying around.

This is pure speculation, but I think that this region is well prepared for its green responsibilities after meeting its water responsibilities.

I keep banging on about it, but people's attitudes towards water usage changed overnight to the point where neighbours were monitoring one another's car washing schedules. We have an opportunity to build on that with energy consumption, which is already a big deal here at the household level, and extend it to business and industry.

That's what happened with water - the mindset of households went upwards and outwards, rather than the other way around. That's very local though. We don't have coal mines around here.

How is the Bligh Government helping the shift to a more sustainable economy you describe above?

Not as enthusiastically as they did on water. They made a bulk purchase of solar hot water systems, so people can buy them from govt at a cheaper price. Apparently the systems aren't made in Qld.

Big investments in public transport, but bigger investments in roads.

That's it as far as I know. Les might know more.

Jim Kunstler has a fair bit to say on this subject, in an American context, and not all of it particularly optimistic.