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city boom, sprawl and bust? « Previous | |Next »
August 6, 2012

Whilst working on my Adelaide book I started noticing how shallow the commentary on cities and urban life in the mainstream media is. An example is this editorial in The Australian Financial Review and it is yet another example of the downward trend in the quality of mainstream journalism.

The editorial refers to James Packer’s Crown Group spending $568 million in Perth to build a “six-star” hotel near the Burswood casino and convention centre, with that centre also to undergo a $750 million revamp; Lend Lease investing $6 billion in the Barangaroo waterfront project in Sydney that will include a trio of office towers; and In Brisbane, the $700 million One One One project in Eagle Street, Brisbane, which is now the city’s largest office tower. It comments that these:

and several other projects, such as the new 45-storey office tower in Perth that houses 3000 BHP Billiton employees, and Melbourne’s Docklands developments now under construction, are reshaping our cities.A great deal of national wealth comes from this continual remaking of our cities, as developers react to market forces, including the resources boom, and the need to renew ageing office building stock.

The AFR's argument is that the capitol cities in Australia are being reshaped in line with the resources-boom-led remaking of our economy. It's all about corporations and profit, not about the people living in the cities or how they envision a more liveable city. It is not obvious how Packer's “six-star” hotel near the Burswood casino and convention centre with its increased tourism and gambling will make Perth a more liveable city for its inhabitants.

What is even more astonishing is the silence about improving city cores, containing sprawl, and reinforcing transport spines. There was nothing about the sustainability of urban life and changing weather patterns, or the possibility that an entire city framework is threatened when climate change alters rain, heat, and sea levels. Yet cities around the world have grown and retreated as climatic conditions changed.

The AFR only sees the boom, not the suburban sprawl. They have no awareness of the bust---eg., New Orleans---the history of cities going bust, or the implications of the earth warming on Australian cities.

As city expansion increases with wealth, this leads to greater suburbanization in the form of continuous outward development. Car dependency increases with new outer suburban residential developments. There is a correlation between extensive low-density suburbanization and subsequent metropolitan collapse. The reason is that our cities are built to survive in the most benign weather regimes.

Our cites are premised on the expansion of low-rise land use patterns require continued expansion of roads, water, and energy resources. The roads, sewers and the other infrastructure of the modern suburb are based on an assumption of mild weather and cheap energy. If the weather becomes more extreme--eg., system failure in Brisbane---or the energy becomes more expensive, then the infrastructure cannot cope.

Our cities ought to reshaped during boom times to make them more sustainable so they can cope with the changing weather patterns more effectively.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:41 AM | | Comments (14)
Comments

Comments

The world of Big Business in Australia doesn't see the connect between climate change, a warming earth, or the sustainability of cities. All they see is the great big tax damaging the economy and their profits.

Isn't Perth drying up from lack of water due to a steady decline of rainfall.

No doubt they will start talking again about towing Antarctic icebergs to moor off the coast near Fremantle! Or building 3000--4000 kilometre water canals to utilise the vast water resources of the Kimberley for Perth.

Gary
I like your Adelaide photos, only a quick glance cos of the download factor, but found the tone to be ... depressing, pessimistic, despairing?
Comment?

fred,
is it the tone of the text or the tone of the photos that you find to be depressing, pessimistic, despairing? Or both?

Mainly the photos Gary.
Not individually but as a group they seem to be reflecting a rectangular sameness of form amid the photos of decay.
Just an overall impression which coupled with the text above made me wonder if you are unhappy with the way our urban landscape is being developed.

fred,
I guess it is a resistance to the corporate form of urban renewal because it downgrades a people-orientated city. Hence the tone of melancholy---the future is being written in the redevelopment of the present.

Well, that's the first time I've seen a criticism of extensive urban design based on the weather!

Look, let's not forget that all the hype for higher-density city living is going to lead to reduced quality of life for the poor. There will not, repeat not, be adequate infrastructure by way of parks, recreational facilities, public facilities (like health centres, libraries etc.) in these dreamworlds of the "progressive" urban planner.

You will end up with something much closer to the vertical ghettos of the 1950s and 1960s. The wealthier will still live in detached houses with yards.

gordon
"that's the first time I've seen a criticism of extensive urban design based on the weather!"

NASA climatologist James Hansen argues convincingly that climate change is now not only upon us, but in fact we are fully immersed in it. Much of the extreme weather we have witnessed in recent years almost certainly contains a human-induced component.

He shows that the increase in probability of hot summers due to global warming is such that what was once considered an unusually hot summer has now become typical, and what was once considered typical will soon become a thing of the past

gordon
"Well, that's the first time I've seen a criticism of extensive urban design based on the weather!"

Climate change is subjecting our coastal cities to increased erosion and inundation from rising sea level, and massive flooding events.

These are associated with an atmosphere that has warmed by nearly 2˚F, holding roughly 4 percent more water vapor than it used to – water vapor that is available to feed flooding rains when atmospheric conditions are right.

Brisbane has low lying areas that are subject to flooding. Australian's had to pay a national flood levy to help pay for repairing the damage.

"Look, let's not forget that all the hype for higher-density city living is going to lead to reduced quality of life for the poor. There will not, repeat not, be adequate infrastructure by way of parks, recreational facilities, public facilities (like health centres, libraries etc.) "

The new urban design is about making our cities more liveable and people friendly.

"in these dreamworlds of the "progressive" urban planner."

In Adelaide new high rise inner city housing also includes low income housing. The Adelaide City Council is building low income housing on the street in the inner city where I live. The site is an old industrial site.

The ALP state Government is also supportive--see Common Ground.

James Hansen's peer-reviewed study, published by the National Academy of Sciences, makes clear that while average global temperature has been steadily rising due to a warming climate, the extremes are actually becoming much more frequent and more intense worldwide.

It seems to me that I have been reading about the evils of urban sprawl almost forever. Every time I read another denunciation, I ask myself “Which developer is paying for the propaganda this time?” Don’t fool yourselves; no developer can drive past a park, playing field, school or run-down urban office site (or Gary Sauer-Thompson’s “old industrial site”) without salivating at the thought of the money to be made by redevelopment. The result is always the same: too many people too close together, inadequate infrastructure and an incipient slum.

I don’t doubt that our existing urban infrastructure is vulnerable to extreme weather events brought on by AGW; that isn’t my point. What I am saying is that the sort of urban “infill” and “higher density development” touted by almost everybody these days is a scam which will result in short-term profits for the developers and the creation of slums and ghettos of the future for everybody else.

I know that denser development is, other things equal, less resource-intensive than extensive development. But that isn’t really the point as far as reducing AGW is concerned. It’s what we buy, what we consume that counts, and that swamps the savings from density. Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs are high-density in terms of people per square kilometer, but they are also some of the most carbon-profligate in Australia, because those households are rich. So if you want to reduce GHG emissions from households, impoverish them. The housing doesn’t matter.

gordon, two points:
" What I am saying is that the sort of urban “infill” and “higher density development” touted by almost everybody these days is a scam which will result in short-term profits for the developers and the creation of slums and ghettos of the future for everybody else."

The low income housing project is being undertaken by the Adelaide City Council because the costs of remediation of the badly degraded land are far too high for the developers looking for their short term profits.

Second point:
"The result is always the same: too many people too close together, inadequate infrastructure and an incipient slum."

Bringing more people into the inner city (CBD) of Adelaide is being done because the infrastructure is good and accessible. It is the new outer suburbs on the urban rim that have inadequate infrastructure.