Australia still living in an industrial past

Not wishing to race too far ahead of Europe or Asia, the New South Wales Parliament has waited until the twenty-first century to release a report recommending land be densified near rail corridors. Thus far it has been rail authorities blocking development, “just in case”: just in case they want to widen their track gauges by a few hundred meters; just in case they want to use rail to transport matter with huge toxic clouds; just in case they find some way of making trains incredibly loud. Better to leave all those brownfields free of pesky residents who might one day complain. The report highlights the greater need to develop land near rail for TODs and communities that rely more on cycling and walking—ideas that must be 4 decades old. Yes, it hurts to live in a nation with a Planning Intelligence Quotient so low, you assume we’re fed knowledge on plastic spoons, and let most of that dribble back out on our bibs. Two weeks ago I was touring a rehabilitated gas works in Amsterdam and meeting with experts in the design of bicycle highways. This week I’m in a country where maps are marked with two colours: black for the factories and white for the workers. There are no shades of grey.

Westerpark. Amsterdam’s former gas works.

To my mind, this is the physical evidence of Australia’s lack of participation in the global economy of knowledge and ideas development. We don’t need former industrial land as places to meet and share knowledge, because for the most part we’re still just a nation of miners. We have a national planning institute who this week announced that bicycle transport is a pipe dream, and we should be planning for Segways. (Take note bike promoters: if you downplay the exercise inherent in cycling to sugar-coat it, you will invite more electric devices.)

Progress toward healthy, green and more liveable cities in the US, leaves Australia as the nation most inviting of ridicule in the first world—which does’t matter really, since we’re not trying to attract or retain clever people, just miners. We will most likely be the last nation on earth where bridges like this are admired. With some difficulty, I managed to cross it alive yesterday afternoon when I rode North from Launceston to clear my mind. Now here’s a challenge to Australian readers: can you see anything improper about it?

Written thanks to background research by Roberto.


  1. Edward says:

    It is easy to forget how peculiar we can be in this country. One thing that puzzles me is this: every second day, there is intelligent comment on this and many other blogs about transport and planning reform that is largely ignored by the mainstream media.
    The Planning Institute of Australia comes out and says one (frankly stupid) thing and it is plastered across the Sydney Morning Herald. How can that be?
    It reads like a regurgitated press release. Maybe we could learn from them:
    1. Set up the ‘Institute of Sustainable Transport Studies’ or a similarly named body;
    2. Call yourself a ‘research fellow’ of the institute;
    3. Draft a press release;
    4. Click ‘send’.

    • Steven says:

      Strange though it may seem, I’m probably in a position to do all that already. I’ve only held myself back for fear of making stupid comments too publicly. Now with the “planning institute’s” super-segway highways remarks, I see the bounds of acceptability are much much wider than I could have imagined.
      I was harangued last year at a conference by the chief of Australia’s board of sustainable infrastructure (can’t quite remember the title) who was anti-bike too.

  2. Ben says:

    How strange that the list of futuristic electro-vehicles includes ‘robo-scooters’ and electric trikes but not electric assist bicycles. And as for the ‘too sweaty’ argument, it was 0.5C in Canberra just last week wasn’t it?

    • Steven says:

      The planners I have met, who roll their eyes at the mention of cycling, are usually sweating just sitting there. “Cream puffs”, as my old PE teacher would have said.

  3. Vicki says:

    I can only see that segways and related vehicles offer only the disadvantages of bikes without the advantages: they are open to the weather and a challenge to carry things on, but they do not allow any exercise and all the benefits that go with that. I also cannot understand the horror of sweat expressed in that piece, what is that about? Surely no one can take that article seriously?!?!

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