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Adelaide Festival of Ideas: 2009 « Previous | |Next »
July 1, 2009

The Adelaide Festival of Ideas says that it aims to be a sort of ‘over the horizon’ radar for public discussion. The object is to discern the ideas that will shape the coming decades, not just the coming months.


The context in Australia is not just the collapse of the economic boom, the global financial crisis, the global recession; it is also the effects of climate change and the need to shift to a more sustainable society and a low carbon economy because of natural limits.

The shift here is one of economic growth being decoupled from environmental harm, moving beyond constructing environmental issues as ‘jobs versus the environment’, and policies which accept that the switch to renewal energy is necessary to long term security and sustainability.

Interestingly, the 2009 Adelaide Festival of Ideas is about limits. The blurb says that:

On the one hand there is pushing the limits to each new ideas, experiences, products and plans.On the other hand, the limits push back. For example, the Murray Darling Basin and world financial markets have been pushed too far and the consequences are serious. And in public policy, the limits of tolerance are always a matter of passionate debate.

What is offered on the website is minimal: a programme and a biography of speakers, but, as in previous years, there is no material online about the sessions or links to online background material to the issues under discussion. As the format is still the traditional one of citizens going along to hear the experts inform them about the issues, and then asking a few questions at the end, we bloggers need to do our own research.

My own interest this year is in the shift to sustainable cities in the context of climate change. This is a moving beyond the ‘urban good, suburban bad’ (or vice versa) polarity that has marked Australia’s urban debates in the context of the culture wars, urban consolidation and growth-obsessed State Governments ever anxious to keep the building industry going. We need to look at our evolving cites from an more eco-urban system perspective-- the city embedded within its ecology--and the need to steer change and mould it to ensure urban sustainability and resilience.

There is a session on Friday entitled Limits of Cities with Ruth Fincher, Professor of Geography, and Interim Director of the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, Brendan Gleeson and Khalid Koser, Director of the New Issues in Security Course at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy.

This session appears to about the social aspects of cities (diversity, inequity, migrants). Only Gleeson, the Director of the Urban Research programme at Griffith University, has a background in both the sustainablity of cities and in ecological modernization, which refers back to the 1980s idea of sustainable development.

This is important since Australia has a big problem with ecological modernization. It has a poor record of technological innovation outside of the agricultural and mining sectors. A large part of its production and export earnings come from the extractive industries that mine and refine non-renewable resources, particularly coal, gold, alumina, and iron ore and ecologically modernising the Australian economy necessitates the creation of economic incentives to reduce the nation’s dependence on these commodities. As Gleeson says Australia does need to address:

by good design and planning the vulnerability of cities to resource shortages, notably water, coal [sic] and oil. The ambition is part mitigative – to slow the inevitable decline of key resources – and part adaptive, to heighten the resilience of urban landscapes in a context of rising resource finitude. In the fight against global warming, planning’s prime contribution is adaptation in search of climate resilient cities. This means the creation of urban environments that will withstand the vagaries of a harmed climate and rising resource shortages.

Neo-liberalism's ‘growth fetish’ needs to be replaced by an urban effort compelled by the immediate ecological and social imperatives facing Australia’s climate threatened cities.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:13 AM | | Comments (6)


I checked out the sustainablity of cities link---it is a paper entitled The Endangered State of Australian Cities Climate Threat and Urban Response by Bernard Gleeson. He says:

The most pressing environmental imperatives facing contemporary metropolitan Australia include the increasing difficulty and danger of further outward extension of the suburban frontier, which now approaches catchments and valuable recreation space, and the speed and the scale of the climate change threat. The growing vulnerability and expense of oil supplies also underlines the risks inherent in further urban extension. This suggests that some form of compaction is inevitable, unless population growth rates fall and/or alternative settlement policies emerge, notably broad scale decentralisation.

The problem here is that the overwhelming majority of urban citizens reside in some form of suburban setting and there is a significant wealth divide between lower density suburbia and the inner urban higher density domains.

So the task of adaptation means suburban renovation with an emphasis on equity.

Do they have any bloggers at this years Festival? They did last time didn't they? I didn't see any reference to blogging on the official programme. What I did see was this:

The taking of photographs and the use of any recording device (audio or video) at any 2009 Adelaide Festival of Ideas session is strictly forbidden.

So bloggers, if they attend, are to take notes at the sessions, if they want to comment about what was said straight after the event?

I'm not sure about the blogging aspect of the Festival. They did it last time--I was one---as an experiment, but it appears to have been dropped this time around. Thus:

The Adelaide Festival of Ideas is being recorded by Radio Adelaide 101.5FM through the support of The Barr Smith Library, University of Adelaide, University of South Australia Library and Flinders University Library, so many more people can participate in this important exchange of ideas through radio broadcasts, podcasts and online library archives. Broadcasts begin the Monday after the Festival on Radio Adelaide 101.5FM and via streaming audio at

Blogging isn't seen as an integral part of the important exchange of ideas.

Gleeson's paper The Endangered State of Australian Cities Climate Threat and Urban Response gives useful background material. He says:

Most urban green advocacy has concerned non-urban realms, including river systems, forests and wilderness areas. The thin, if growing, stream of green urban critique that has emerged in recent years has been marked by analytical weakness, revealed as physical determinism and aesthetic complaint...planning, unlike much of the policy mainstream, opened itself to sustainability critique from the earliest possible times. ...

He adds that:
Posterity must consider how this bright wave of environmental enthusiasm succumbed to the noir of anti-suburbanism in the 1990s... The suburban gothic tale has helped to engender a misleading, and perhaps elitist, view of the suburbs as the root and trunk of the sustainability crisis. This view, strongly entrenched in green, and increasingly mainstream, urban criticism is contradicted by mounting scientific evidence which points to the consumptive neo-liberal lifestyle not the nature of one’s dwelling as the root of our environmental woes.

Gleeson's 'noir of anti-suburbanism in the 1990s" refers to:
suburban melodrama’ described earlier has tended to transfix and delimit planning debate and practice. From central casting have emerged the villainous ‘beast of suburbia’ and the heroic ideal of compaction. Sprawl was show trialled. Planning, teary eyed, accepted the errors of its earlier modus, suburban ‘sprawl’, in favour of a new urban(ist) script.

That's the culture wars stuff. We have moved on from that eg water shortages, energy efficient homes, desalinisation plants and solar panels on rooftops. Lack of water has been the driving imperative in Adelaide, water the key link to climate change.

The Adelaide Festival organisers may well agree with News Limited chief executive John Hartigan view of bloggers. In a speech to the National Press Club yesterday he said that they are:

of limited intellectual value as to be barely discernible from massive ignorance. Like (Paul) Keating's famous 'all tip and no iceberg', it could be said that the blogosphere is all eyeballs and no insight ... blogs often gave a platform for "radical sweeping statements unsubstantiated with evidence.

So bloggers are worse than useless.

Hartigan, in his attack on the blogosphere and "citizen journalism" in his Press Club speech claimed that:

bloggers lacked the resources, training, skills and contacts to produce reliable news. Blogs and a large number of comment sites specialise in political extremism and personal vilification... Amateur journalism trivialises and corrupts serious debate.

Maybe the Adelaide Festival crowd reckon that the Australian will provide all the online commentary and conversation needed about the ideas being tossed around at the Adelaide Festival of ideas.