Monday Melbourne: XCV, October 2005
Russell Degnan

One last cricket picture. Not all grounds are picturesque, but they all have character. This is the Turner Road Reserve, Highett. Taken March 2002

Melbourne Town 31st October, 2005 17:33:57   [#] [0 comments] 

A Song is a City - Eskimo Joe
Russell Degnan

Eskimo Joe are remarkable for their ability to go missing between albums. They first appeared in the late 90s, releasing a couple of EPs before a silence that made me think they'd split up, or just not gone anywhere, despite the talent they had on display. Then they appeared again in 2001 with Girl. Their debut was typical of late-90s Australian bands but stood out for the subtlety of some of the tunes. Once again though, they went missing for a few years.

If they are just taking time to write their new material then it is time well spent because their latest album -- released last year -- is pretty good. Second albums are often just polished versions of debuts, and this is no different. Often the problem with a second album is that, if the first album consists of every good song a band has written since they started, then the second is every good song since their first album. It is a therefore a harder test of a band's song writing talent. Given that, you can excuse a bit of drift towards the end; the first six songs are substantially stronger than the second six, mostly because I get sick of listening to the same damn beat over and over.

Listen to the songs that are a bit different in melody and rhythm though, and you have some real quality, and lots of potential holes Eskimo Joe can (and hopefully will) explore while we wait for their next album,

Track Highlights
Come Down - Who starts an album with a 'come down'? A good test of the vocals that builds up beautifully. It could have been employed so much better at the end of the album though.
From the Sea - The first song with the standard beat, but the best of them. Very Coldplay.
Life is Better With You - Nice harmonies, but a good minute too long, particularly on song 3.
A Song is a City - Interesting piano-based verses and rock choruses. Probably the best song.
I'm So Tired - Dreamy, gorgeous song that could have been longer and should have closed the album.

Finer Things 30th October, 2005 23:05:29   [#] [0 comments] 

The Gastronomic Pub Crawl of North Melbourne:
The Bedford Hotel
Russell Degnan

1 Flemington Rd, North Melbourne
(Corner Peel Street and Flemington Road)

After last week's aborted effort it was with some anticipation we made our way to the Bedford. Even though I hadn't been there since it changed from the not-so-good Turf Club I'd heard good things; for starters, the meals on Mondays and Tuesdays are $10. First impressions were good, regulars on the bar are a good sign, the bartender was cheery, and there was a large mix of college students in for a cheap meal. I found a nice couch near the pool table to read in the flickering light of a candle.

Out the back lay a larger restaurant area and beer garden, but we confined ourselves in the copious spaces near the old church altar when it was time for dinner. The meals were good. I can't resist a cheap roast, even pork, and while the potatoes could have done for a little longer, the meat was copious and well gravied.

The Bedford comes across as a place with lots of potential and atmosphere on a weekend. Drivers are advised to watch for drunk kids crossing the adjacent Roundabout of Death late on. At other times the couches and music make it a nice place to just be.

The short: A place to hang out or go out

Next week: The Royal Park (Corner Howard and Queensberry Street) (If it's open!).

Melbourne Town 28th October, 2005 23:27:19   [#] [0 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: XCIV, October 2005
Russell Degnan

October and cricket don't mix well, it gets dark early, and rains a lot. This is a better depiction of last Saturday. Taken August 2005

Melbourne Town 25th October, 2005 18:12:57   [#] [0 comments] 

Victorian Planning: Failing at almost every level
Russell Degnan

In the paper this morning, and over the past week, there have been several planning articles. Directly and indirectly they relate to Melbourne 2030, but even though some of them discuss it, none of them ever engage with it properly, because none of them seem to understand what it really means. This is an abysmal failure on the part of this state's planning fraternity, to actually explain what it means. But then, I am assuming that they really do understand what it means, and perhaps that is wrong too.

Let's start with the articles:
- On Tuesday, the problem was the water supplies of the regional cities, Ballarat and Geelong; predicted to have substantial shortages by 2030. [1]
- An inernational consortium wants to build an estate in Rockbank;
- outer suburban councils and developers want to review the Urban Growth Boundary.
- (Some) farmers in Rockbank don't want their little town to become part of Melbourne;
- while some planners (Michael Buxton) don't want housing encroaching on the green wedges;
- Marcus Spiller wants infrastructure on the city's edge to stop being subsidised by imposing a developer's levy.
- And Guy Rundle wants to protect 'neighbourhood character' in Melbourne's existing suburbs.

What needs to be remembered, nay, must be remembered, is why planning is a worthwhile activity (if indeed it is). The Planning Act lays it out simply enough: planning is to facilitate development, in a manner that respects the amenity, environment, heritage, and character of the built environment. Melbourne 2030 requires exactly the same thing, but is intended as a guide for how to best accomplish this given an expectation for another million Melbourne residents over that period.

The reason I summarised all those articles above is to point out what should be blindly obvious. What looks like a local complaint about heritage, or sprawl, or the environment, or transport, or water, is not local. Every single person living anywhere has some attachment to their place of residence and the local character. Every single person who moves into a residence does so because that is the cheapest place they could find that offered elements of the lifestyle they wished to have.

The problem with the making of that lifestyle choice is that it depends on the choices of people outside your own sphere of control: mostly in the public realm, but also in the private. The entire basis of planning is to mediate that problem by considering the long-term implications of those decisions. The ongoing failure of planners has been to explain why this makes Melbourne 2030 desirable.

Every planning decision has costs. Rejecting an inner-suburban residential tower impacts on Ballarat's water supply, because some of those potential residents choose to live there instead. Not many perhaps, but some [2].

Development levies are not necessarily right, and certainly aren't equitable. Because what you charge for are the current costs of providing for new residents in that place. Consider this example: if 50 years ago I asked you the most cost effective way of housing forty thousand people the answer would undoubtedly be on the urban fringe (plenty of land, sufficient infrastructure, easy access to transport); if I asked you that question every year after that the answer would be the same, for the same reasons. But if I asked you the best way to house two million people fifty years hence, the answer would be very different. The costs of providing Melbourne's infrastructure get higher every year -- consider the Thomson Dam that had to cross the ranges, or the extensions to rail and freeway systems. A regional centre policy would have been much cheaper, but the planning system has never been capable of providing it and still isn't.

There is much more to be said on this, but I need to think it out first. Instead, I'll reiterate my main point: planning, despite what it seems, is not a political exercise. Planning as politics is a waste of time and money, driven and ultimately won by those best placed to exploit the system - namely developers and well-heeled suburban residents (not to mention laywers and planners). If planners want to be something other than despised they would do well to start explaining themselves better.

[1] The second part of this article quoted Federal MP Greg Hunt on recycling city water for country areas. This would be a good idea if Australia's urban population wasn't on the coast. Pumping water up hill is very expensive; pumping it uphill for agricultural purposes is very unlkely to be cost-effective.

[2] It is actually a chain, the first person chooses another spot where they can afford it, pushing out someone else, who pushes out someone else, and son on until someone has to build a house on the urban fringe.

Sterner Matters 22nd October, 2005 23:29:29   [#] [2 comments] 

The Gastronomic Pub Crawl of North Melbourne:
The Village Idiot
Russell Degnan

17 Flemington Rd, North Melbourne
(Corner Blackwood Street and Flemington Road)

Ok, I forgot a pub, or got them confused, or whatever. Why do pubs continue to rename themselves, couldn't the Bedofrd have stayed the Turf Club, and the Village Idiot the Chifley, thereby respecting the heritage of such fine old establishments? No matter. This place is a bit of a hidden gem, quiet, not large, with an upper and lower area, a piano and the classy carpet and decor of an old saloon. Paintings and honour boards dot the walls, the seats are comfy, and the couches looked comfy. There was a big screen tv too, looking vaguely out of place.

And the drinks and food are very, very cheap. By any measure they are cheap, catering for an RMIT student set that doesn't seem to have materialised yet, everything on the menu is under $10. Takign the cook's recommendation seemed wise after the experience at the Leveson, so we went the burger and chips ($5!). The chips were good, but needed a dip or something, the burger tasty, but thin (I should add I have had bad experiences with pub burgers in general). It was filling though, and at that price you cannot complain.

The short: For poor but discerning students

Next week: The Bedford Hotel (Corner Peel Street and Flemington Road). (no, really).

Melbourne Town 22nd October, 2005 00:10:06   [#] [0 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: XCIII, October 2005
Russell Degnan

The picket fence of the University Ground, with Ormond college in the background. Taken July 2004

Melbourne Town 18th October, 2005 11:51:40   [#] [1 comment] 

Schelling`s Meeting Place Problem and Paris
Russell Degnan

Discussion being what they are, a post by John Quiggin on Thursday related to game theory, diverged the next day into a discussion on Schelling's meeting place problem. Stated simply:

"You are told to meet someone in a city (New York?) on a particular day, but not told a time or a place. They are told the same information. Where and when do you go?"

A fascinating problem, much loved by theorists, but so much more fascinating when you actually have to solve it yourself.

I came across it in Paris. A friend of mine from Phoenix, Arizona was travelling on a tour through Europe. We had met once before, but details of what she looked like were a little bit hazy. I was also travelling, but slower, and without purpose. She was to be in Paris on the 5th October, and so we agreed to meet up on that day; place and time to be decided when we'd know, but probably in the afternoon. I arrived on th 2nd, and emailed her a contact number for the hostel I was at.

On the 4th, when I should have been in my room waiting for a phone call I was talking to some other fellow travellers. I missed the call, but a message and number was left. However, when I called the following morning she had gone.

Hence the meeting place problem. I resolved to check my email later in the morning, but hadn't managed it by the time I found her.

I won't tell you where and when directly. The answer is available on Stacy's old diary here. Needless to say, empirical evidence would suggest that Schelling was right.*

* Strictly speaking this isn't a correct comparison, because only one of us was looking, and merely happened to guess right, but the guess did conform to what Schelling suggested was the best guess.

Days Spent Away 15th October, 2005 12:27:59   [#] [2 comments] 

The Gastronomic Pub Crawl of North Melbourne:
Redback Brewery
Russell Degnan

75 Flemington Rd, North Melbourne
(Corner Villiers Street and Flemington Road)

The redback is a pub just begging to be opened out onto the street. Because it is so big, the restaurant is well to the rear, afoording a very large, wooden, front area with tall windows on each side. Given North Melbourne's pubs tend not to have beer gardens, the Redback might be your next best bet to catch a summer breeze. The other advantage of the big front bar is live music over the weekend, when the tables are cleared out for a dance floor, and is a great place for a trivia night -- which admittedly makes up almost every attendance I've ever had at the Redback -- in both the upstairs function area and downstairs (Thursdays).

But we were there for the food of course. The menu is diverse and slightly above average price-wise, with a predilection for seafood on the specials board. However, I couldn't go past the sight of a large and inviting parma. The chips were fantastic, perfectly cooked, lots of crispy bits, the salad no more or less than you'd expect, and the parma not bad. Not great though, the sauce was good, but the chicken a little bit thin leaving too much cheese. Good, not great, but good.

The short: For event organisers

Next week: The Village Idiot (Corner Blackwood Street and Flemington Road).

Melbourne Town 15th October, 2005 10:38:20   [#] [1 comment] 

Monday Melbourne: XCII, October 2005
Russell Degnan

These are my grounds. The McAlister and Ryder Ovals. Taken November 2002 when the poplars, art-deco changerooms and caretaker's cottage were around to make it charming.

Melbourne Town 10th October, 2005 18:32:28   [#] [3 comments] 

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