Monday Melbourne: LXVIII, April 2005
Russell Degnan

The final in the series on "places, near which, I have lived"; this time the Carlton Gardens. And yes, that is near the previous picture. I literally moved just over a kilometre once. Taken April 2005

Melbourne Town 25th April, 2005 00:00:00   [#] [0 comments] 

Thoughts on the new CBD Congestion Charge
Russell Degnan

Regular readers will know that I am all in favour of user pays road pricing schemes. However I might make an exception for this one.

Unlike the London scheme that was introduced on the back of a mayoral election campaign, substantial debate, and an extensive economic analysis, this seems to have been dreamt up in a London hotel-room during the Premier's visit.

Take these quotes:

On Wednesday Premier Steve Bracks said from London that he was "leaving open" the idea of a levy. Barely 24 hours later it was reality and the majority of the revenue was headed not to the council but to the Government.

Acting Premier John Thwaites said the Government's share of the revenue would pay for improvements to public transport, expected to be announced in the May budget.

Treasurer John Brumby said the Government did not have figures that showed how the plan would ease congestion, but said the aim was to reduce traffic in peak periods, and not to punish casual visitors and shoppers.

Does this sound like a well thought out policy?

This wouldn't be a bad thing if it was a great idea. But it isn't. It is symbolic, simplistic, poorly targeted and likely to be ineffective. Firstly, the CBD is not congested. It is nothing like London was before the charge, even at peak hour. The congestion that does exist is near freeways and arterial roads in the suburbs. Secondly, the exceptions in the CBD - King St. and Lonsdale St. - are congested, not because of parked cars but because of through-traffic, which is not affected by the charge. Thirdly, the $400-800 a year will generate only $57.5 million over 3 years, which is a drop in the ocean as far as public transport is concerned. Fourthly, it is barely a quarter of an average all-day parking rate and unlikely to shift user preferences in any substantial way. Fifthly, it is not equitable, as it targets the CBD and its users. After years of policies to try and attract businesses and residents back to the CBD this policy is a direct imposition back onto them, even if it is small.

Conversely, I do support the use of parking as a measure of road congestion, because it has no effect on freight transport and because it is relatively cheap to implement; unlike tolling.

However, if the government was serious about city congestion they would create a study to examine congestion city-wide. The roads suffering from congestion are in Deer Park, Nunawading, Springvale, and other outer suburbs with severe public transport deficits and large freeways that draw in more traffic. A far more sensible policy would assess land uses for the number of vehicles they attract and create a charge based on that figure, with the money to go towards public transport in the area, and concessions for policies that attract alternative non-vehicle uses, such as bicycles and pedestrians.

And yes, this would labour large shopping centres and business parks with large bills. This is why economic analysis - despite its limitations - is an important part of policy making. It would need to phased in slowly to give people time to change their market preferences, and be supported by substantial public transport expenditure. It would require vision and commitment.

By contrast, this charge has neither. It is shoddy.

Sterner Matters 23rd April, 2005 17:01:56   [#] [3 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: LXVII, April 2005
Russell Degnan

Still on the theme - and still late. When I live here I used to look at the back of the State Library and Daimaru with my feet out the window, and Gershwin on the stereo. Taken April 2005

Melbourne Town 21st April, 2005 02:08:38   [#] [1 comment] 

The ephemeral city
Russell Degnan

Recently, I talked about the importance of festivals in cities such as Melbourne. The basic argument was that there isn't a sufficiently large market for most cultural activities to sustain them year-round; hence the need for festivals.

In Metroplis this month is an interesting article on cities pursuing "tourism, culture, and entertainment" in the absence of more traditional economic activities.

The interesting aspect is it works against the idea of promoting a "creative class" on the basis that "there aren't enough yuppies to go around".

I am not sure either way. On the one hand there are substantially higher numbers of young singles living in inner-city areas now and pursuing an energetic lifestyle. This is a class that previously didn't exist in large numbers - at least from the 1950s - and which will drive inner city growth, even if it is in a seperate direction from the suburbs.

On the other, this statement is quite true:

"In the past, achievement in the arts grew in the wake of economic or political dynamism. [...] The extraordinary cultural production of other great cities--Alexandria, Venice, Amsterdam, London, New York--rested upon similar nexuses between the aesthetic and the mundane."

Perhaps in a globalised economy, the creative and leisure classes can live seperately from the productive class, not just within the context of a city, but in the context of a state or nation. But I doubt it. The provision of services implies proximity and that still means the same city.

It raises many questions on the way cities tune their economies, and the way certain economic activities are catered for within the urban context. I speak especially here of zoning for large industrial or business parks. Catering for culture is nice and all, but we shouldn't forget the jobs that really count.

Sterner Matters 21st April, 2005 02:00:18   [#] [0 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: LXVI, April 2005
Russell Degnan

Continuing the theme of places near where I've lived. The suburban streets of Brunswick. Taken January 2002

Melbourne Town 15th April, 2005 00:08:25   [#] [0 comments] 

Little Birdy - Big Big Love
Russell Degnan

There is something exceptional about the Perth music scene. It is as if, bereft of international, if not Autralian, touring bands, they collectively decided that if they wanted to hear decent music, they'd have to do it themselves. Add the general Australian female singer-songer writer renaissance to it and you get Katy Steele, and a very good album.

I honestly can't fault anything about it. The production is excellent, the cover art on the CD is excellent, the melodies are simple and catchy but evocative, and there are 12 songs and all of them are worth listening to. While Steele's vocals occasionally make her sound like a Kate Bsuh, but the general tone of the album is typically local. In other words, the sound of the local pub on a lazy Sunday. Rebecca's Empire or the Clouds come to mind, but Little Birdy are probably better than both of them,

Track Highlights
Beautiful To Me - Very country. Kasey Chambers even, but better.
Message to God - The most elaborate song on the album, slow and moody, leading into soaring vocals.
Losing You - The middle of this album is so strong. Frenetic and frantic at first but finishing sad and broken.
Close to You - Either the dodgy guitar solos or the breathy deep vocals make this track stand out. Since I like it I'll pick the latter.

Finer Things 15th April, 2005 00:01:16   [#] [0 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: LXV, April 2005
Russell Degnan

The top of Errol St., North Melbourne, with the town hall in the background. Taken January 2005

Melbourne Town 4th April, 2005 23:24:31   [#] [0 comments] 

Ratings - April 2005
Russell Degnan

I finally got around to resurrecting the cricket ratings; lost last year when my hard drive mysteriously deleted itself. There were three series recently:

South Africa v Zimbabwe
Opening Ratings: SAf: 1095.78 Zim: 713.82
1st Test: South Africa by an innings and 21 runs.
2nd Test: South Africa by an innings and 62 runs.
Closing Ratings: Saf: 1099.31 Zim: 707.44

South Africa dealt Zimbabwe the thrashing you'd expect from such a mismatch. Zimbabwe were even worse than expected, capitulating in less than two days in the first test, and taking only 3 South African wickets in their rapid first innings. They fought out the 2nd test with the bat, but only took 7 wickets again. The South African averages got a boost, but their rating didn't, they lie fourth.

India v Pakistan
Opening Ratings: Ind: 1176.05 Pak: 1024.85
1st Test: Drawn.
2nd Test: India by 195 runs.
3rd Test: Pakistan by 168 runs.
Closing Ratings: Ind: 1142.64 Pak: 1065.38

An interesting series that Pakistan did well to draw, picking up a handy ratings jump in the process, but still leaving them sixth, while India stays third. The efforts of Afridi and Kaneria against atypically slow-scoring Indian batting - Sehwag excepted - were outstanding. Youhana and Inzaman led the batting, but the support from the rest was patchy. It will be interesting to see how whether Pakistan shows the same spirit against the West Indies in late May.

New Zealand v Australia
Opening Ratings: NZ: 1028.49 Aus: 1379.53
1st Test: Australia by 9 wickets.
2nd Test: Drawn.
3rd Test: Australia by 9 wickets.
Closing Ratings: NZ: 1014.51 Aus: 1389.17

The ratings indicated a mismatch and it went to script. New Zealand's batting on the first day of the first test, but McGrath and then Warne rolled through the batting to leave an easy chase for the tourists. A lot of rain put paid to the second - is late March the best time for cricket in New Zealand? And the third was an exhibition by Ponting with a typically good supporting cast. Gilchrist destroyed the New Zealand attack with two centuries and a strike-rate over a run-a-ball, while McGrath and Warne did the job with the ball. For New Zealand, Hamish Marshall looked promising, but it was Vettori - of all people - with the best average. His bowling needed support as New Zealand was left wanting. The ratings barely changed though: Australia is still well on top, while New Zealand stay seventh.

Forthcoming Series:

West Indies (843.49) v South Africa (1099.31) - 4 Tests.
As I write this, the West Indies are belying their weak rating and dominating the first test. It is a longer than typical series however. South Africa's rating has declined markedly in the last year, and West Indies might finally be coming around. Worth watching.

New Zealand (1014.51) v Sri Lanka (1097.95) - 2 Tests.
The ratings say New Zealand are slight favourites at home, but like South Africa their rating has taken a plunge, while Sri Lanka continue to slowly improve. It would be interesting if it wasn't so short.

England (2nd) 1209.78
Bangladesh (10th) 616.46

Idle Summers 3rd April, 2005 23:39:35   [#] [0 comments] 

The cultural life of an economic backwater
Russell Degnan

In the years before the 14th century, long distance trade between northern Europe - and in particular Flanders - and the more developed economies of Italy barely existed. For two centuries, this marketplace in Troyes and others like it there, and throughout Champagne was a keystone in the developing economy. Each June and October merchants from all over Europe would converge, to trade their wares, allowing them to take home a diversity of goods that would be unthinkable and highly risky if they'd needed to go to the source.

War and direct exchange killed off the Champagne fairs, and the buildings of Troyes are the sign of an economy that peaked - relative to others - even before the Renaissance. Yet the idea lives on, in the dozens of festivals in Melbourne and elsewhere.

They exist because the economics of many things doesn't lend themselves to being available all the time. New York and London can have thriving comic scenes, but Edinburgh, Melbourne, and Montreal have comedy festivals. Hollywood can release a film worldwide and expect patrons to come, but independent and short films go on tour. Places like Sundance, Cannes, or Annecy are the biggest, but Melbourne has its turn with the International Film Festival, the Animation Festival, the French Film Festival, TropFest, the Underground Film Festival and the Queer Film Festival, to name but a few!

When the sponsoring council makes their opening speech, they invariably justify all these events on economic grounds. They cite all the visitors, the benefits to the local economy, and the tourist industry. But even where it is beneficial it is largely unquantifiable crap, and probably little more than a subsidy to those industries. The benefit of festivals is that they concentrate otherwise diverse economic agents; be it a little known international comic, an avant garde, a niche garden supplier in country Victoria, or dozens of others who can't afford to market themselves without the broad umbrella of a festival to attract the punter.

For attendees, the government grant is a subsidy for their benefit, even if that benefit is good quality entertainment. Even if you don't attend, the city will have that special buzz for the two weeks or a month that the festival runs. Of course, some non-attendees will complain about the gross impact of the festivals they don't like, but really, to complain about the Summer Fun in the Parks concerts is the sign of a kill-joy. Some festivals can be an inconvenience to the city resident - and I've been one - but the benefits are many, and if you don't like them might I suggest you're living in the wrong place?

The reality is Melbourne is a geographically distant place, with a large but not enormous population. Without these festivals Melbourne, and so many other Australian towns and cities, would be culturally monotonous and pathetic. We shouldn't necessarily be proud of our festivals - they are unnecessary in a lot of places - but we need them.

Passing Fancy 3rd April, 2005 21:25:35   [#] [3 comments]