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Miscellaneous

Jul 30, 2017

30 July – that was the week that was…

A commentary on stories in the news over the week ending 30 July 2017 bearing on urbanism and it's discontents

 

(Image by Joseph Bsharah via So bad So good)

In this weeks TWTWTW, find commentary on:

  • Why was no one home on Census night?
  • Battle for Box Hill: Residents warn of slums as high-rise surge in hot market
  • Bike share is New York City transit!
  • Millennials prefer revitalized historic areas not malls
  • Opec and the oil barons face a slow death by electrification
  • Why Sydney’s new light rail trams won’t carry passengers on inner west line
  • Sirius: Decision not to put iconic Sydney building on heritage list ruled invalid
  • Australian cities have ‘both hands tied’ over congestion, growing inequality
  • ‘Not everybody’s happy’, but $110m Yarra bridge between Kew, Alphington will ease Chandler woes
  • Social housing: Publicly funded beds left empty, while waiting list grows, new data shows
  • New levy on 70,000 homes around Parramatta to pay for parks, schools, transport
  • How can our cities match Europe’s for finding value in their creative vibe?
  • City of Melbourne: Amend Melbourne Forest strategy to include food to improve food security

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Why was no one home on Census night?

While there were over one million dwellings unoccupied on Census night, there does not appear to be a large pool of dwellings being withheld from the housing market. It appears that most dwellings that were unoccupied on Census night were unoccupied for a very valid reason. 

This analysis by SGS Economics will disappoint those who claim that (mostly foreign!) investors intentionally leaving homes unoccupied in capital cities is a key explanation for high housing costs. It is however a key way politicians can take visible action in order to show they’re “doing something”.

Battle for Box Hill: Residents warn of slums as high-rise surge in hot market

But many people who live there say Box Hill’s development frenzy is handing developers “obscene” profits, and could create a “modern-day slum” and “transport chaos”.

“Slum” is an absurd description. Residents of new high rise in Box Hill will have security of tenure, plenty of floorspace per person, access to high quality communal services, and will live in a brand-new building. Future occupants will be relatively well-off and have a choice about where they want to live. The buildings won’t be owned by a rapacious landlord but by apartment owners who manage maintenance jointly via the body corporate (see also Are city centre towers really slums?).

As for developers making “obscene” profits, that’s more likely to be the party who sells the land to the developer; they’re not necessarily the same. As for “transport chaos”, Box Hill is on a train line; it’s the sort of place where high densities make sense. Council has a key role in managing the level of parking in major new developments.

Bike share is New York City transit!

Citi Bike sets new record with 70,000 trips–greater than daily ridership on the Staten Island Ferry. Bike share is New York City transit!

Citi Bike is brilliant and hugely successful, but is it really “New York City transit” as the former NYC transport commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan who implemented Citi Bike claims? Over 5 million ride the NYC transit system on an average weekday, so claiming 70,000 trips is “NYC transit” is hyperbole (see also Why does bikeshare work in New York but not Australia?).

Millennials prefer revitalized historic areas not malls

The survey finds millennials tend to value a mix of old and new buildings where they live, dine, shop and travel…

Don’t we all? Can’t give much weight to this without knowing to what extent millennials differ from other cohorts. Nor does the story show that “not malls” means millennials actively dislike them; preferring A over B doesn’t necessarily mean B is unacceptable.

Opec and the oil barons face a slow death by electrification

Morgan Stanley expects EVs to capture 70 per cent of the European market by mid-century…Tony Seba from Stanford University and RethinkX says the technology is moving so fast that the British ban (on ICs) will be overtaken long before 2040 by pure market forces. Michael Gove, the Environment Secretary, might just as well ban horse-drawn carriages. There won’t be any petrol or diesel cars left on the road anyway.

There’re good grounds to think electric vehicles (EVs) will have a huge impact, but thinking about Australia there are still plenty of issues to consider e.g.:

  • Lithium-ion batteries are costly, bulky, heavy, take a long time to charge, and generate a high level of emissions during manufacture
  • Electricity generation in (mainland) Australia is high in emissions, largely from coal
  • Wholesale conversion from internal combustion engine cars to electric cars would significantly increase demand for electricity from the grid
  • Cars don’t account for all fuel used for ground transport; in Australia, 42% of transport fuel is consumed by trucks and commercial vehicles which require a very long range
  • The lower cost of electricity relative to petrol and diesel would encourage motorists to drive more, exacerbating congestion
  • Electricity is not subject to the $0.40 per litre fuel excise; it would be difficult to separate electricity used for transport from other uses

See also Are electric vehicles a game changer?

Why Sydney’s new light rail trams won’t carry passengers on inner west line

Different standards for Sydney’s inner west light rail line and a new $2.1 billion line from the central city to the south east mean trams carrying passengers won’t be able to switch between the two.

The absence of integration seems the key issue because everyone knows about the history of different rail gauges in Australia’s states. Different specs means the ability to shift vehicles between Sydney’s light rail routes is compromised, but two points: (a) the new (different) standard gives better operating performance and lower cost, and (b) standardisation isn’t as important as it used to be because there are advantages in operating lines completely independently so that a failure in one doesn’t affect the other; this is the way modern metros are built.

Sirius: Decision not to put iconic Sydney building on heritage list ruled invalid

Those who have fought for the last four years to save Sydney’s iconic Sirius building are celebrating after a court ruled the Government’s decision to keep the building off the heritage list was invalid.

They might be celebrating prematurely. The decision was on the basis the former Minister didn’t properly consider the heritage issues. The current Minister, Gabrielle Upton, can reconsider the decision according to proper procedures and decide to come to the same conclusion. It might be harder politically in light of the court ruling by Acting Judge Simon Molesworth (a Victorian!), but the NSW government has shown it likes culture wars e.g. bicycles.

Australian cities have ‘both hands tied’ over congestion, growing inequality

Without the ability to make decisions about issues such as transport, education, health care and energy within their own borders, municipalities in Australia – with a weaker level of authority than their overseas counterparts – will be reduced to watching as their urban fabric decays, said Mr Hill, an expert on cities and urban development.

The US experience indicates there are also potentially big downsides to delivering services like policing and education at the local level e.g. access to schools sorted at the local level by socioeconomic status and race. We already have this to some extent but nothing like it could be (see What to do about schools and “rich switch”?). There are potentially some benefits in reorganising the way services are delivered, but the benefits of administrative changes are usually overstated. Brisbane City Council manages more services than most municipalities, e.g. buses, but are the benefits that big?

‘Not everybody’s happy’, but $110m Yarra bridge between Kew, Alphington will ease Chandler woes

The new bridge is being built alongside existing Alphington homes even though, across the road, is the vacant former paper mills industrial site that it could traverse.

The former paper mill site is being redeveloped and will have many more residents in taller buildings than on the other (western) side of the road. I expect the fact the government already owns the land on the western side was also a pertinent consideration.

Social housing: Publicly funded beds left empty, while waiting list grows, new data shows

Almost 200,000 Australians are on waiting lists for housing but a large number of them can’t find accommodation because larger homes are being occupied by single, elderly people.

This isn’t just a public housing issue; research shows as many as 84% of older Australians live in homes with one or more spare bedrooms (see Are Australia’s 1960s suburbs really “emptying out”?). The Newman Government in Qld advanced a controversial proposal in 2012 to have tenants of under-occupied dwellings share with strangers (see Should public housing tenants be forced to move?). A possible approach would be to facilitate voluntary transfers as South Australia reportedly does by offering a financial incentive to encourage households to move of their own accord to smaller dwellings.

New levy on 70,000 homes around Parramatta to pay for parks, schools, transport

The levies would help to fund schools, parks, light rail and roads through an area the government is hoping to expand by 70,000 new homes or more over the next 20 years.

Sharp comment by Michael Pascoe: “Infrastructure levy only on new homes. Existing homes won’t use it? Won’t gain value? Need a no-exceptions land tax”.

How can our cities match Europe’s for finding value in their creative vibe?

European cultural and creative cities have stronger economic output and more jobs than their Australian counterparts. So why is our urban creative vibrancy associated with city size, not economic performance?

Interesting conclusion, but hard to take the correlation seriously when the authors use different indices of creativity for Europe and Australia.

City of Melbourne: Amend Melbourne Forest strategy to include food to improve food security

As an inner city resident I am vulnerable to climate destruction and in particular food security. The current City of Melbourne forest strategy which is being rolled out, at a big investment, does not include food producing trees. These trees should be included to aid food resilience for all citizens.

Why do advocates of local food always assume climate change will affect all food sources except local ones? The best way to ensure food security is to transport it from those places where it can be grown most efficiently in both economic and environmental terms (see also Is sprawl a serious threat to food security? and Is local food more sustainable?).

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