Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Canberra, planning, the motor car, and now it seems climate change is man-made

(Above: second day in Canberra, and starting to feel like the electronic sheep decorating the wall of the Goulburn Soldiers Club - dinkum Oz meals available for genuine travellers. Is Canberra the loon capital of Australia? The world? Watch out Mercer Wisconsin, supposed and alleged loon capital of the world, with your cute animated gif, we're coming to get ya).

Canberra is the perfect example of a planned city, where the planners, not being futurists, failed to plan for the automobile, and its baleful influence.

As a result, Canberra manages to organize a traffic jam morning and evening as wretched motorists try to wend their way through the cunningly contrived funnel known as Northbourne Street. 

At other times, the street, like the town, can resemble the quiet after a funeral service. 

Meantime, to escape the planners and indulge in their McMansions, the people have sprawled out to bizarre byways like Gungahlin.

Once you begin to look beyond the formal structures of power, whether for politicians or bureaucrats, you see a large country town which on the one hand is indulged, and on the other already (after a relatively short life) exhibits social decay and produces a fervid desire on the part of some inhabitants to escape.

What effect this has on the governance of the nation will no doubt remain a sociological mystery, but a sense of detachment and remoteness surely goes with the alienation Canberra's design produces. Neither Sydney's goat tracks, nor Melbourne's grid, has managed to produce such a sterile landscape, where the biscuit tin pictorials are matched by a resolute indifference to human movement and interaction.

The obsession with signage - its removal, its obliteration - even when the signage produces useful information to passers by, is just the most obvious sign of a planning fetish which prefers dysfunctionality in order to produce an impression of nature and tranquility in the suburbs. But when of course you manage to find a set of shops, they have the same tawdry exteriors and banal advertising as you'd find on shops along Parramatta road.

Canberra is the best indicator of why some people prefer anarchy and inchoate, incoherent structures to the work of planners, but it would probably be better if planners were trained a little more in the art of free form thinking. Put them in an isolation tank for twenty four hours, and feed them non-stop jazz and then see what they come up with.

For all that, natives (the few you can find, as opposed to blow ins) tell me it's not such a bad town, and people manage to get along well enough, but I do chortle when bureaucrats tell me that the motor car is the cause of all the problems in major cities in Australia. Without a car, Canberra would become a hell hole in a very short time.

All of which is a way of acknowledging that genuine, certified Aussie loons seem to have got out of the water today in most of the main papers. The best The Australian can muster today on climate change is Bjorn Lomborg, who in Green energy a better bet than carbon, acknowledges person-made climate change is real, but wants a carbon tax rather than the Rudd government's currently befuddled scheme.

I guess that's one step up from ostrich land, but why is that we still have to accept "man-made" as a term for human activity, as if women are somehow incapable of doing their bit for hot air and carbon emission? Oh what the heck, damn you men, and your man-made climate change, it's all your fault we're in this pickle.

Meanwhile over at Crikey they pitted Dr. Andrew Glikson against Andrew Bolt and his ten climate change myths for a bit of blood sport (see Climate myths? Glikson v. Bolt). This has all the entertainment value of Muhammad Ali up against Sonny Liston, but doubtless Bolt will claim the phantom punch never landed, and he only tripped his way to the canvas. Such is the megalomaniac certainty of Bolt, such a pugnacious and assertive terrier, barking mad at all and sundry, I find him unreadable, so it's good to have a short hand summary of where he's at, which doesn't seem to have shifted from where he's been at for years.

Perhaps there's nothing like a dose of swine flu to make sure everybody can get hysterical over something more interesting than the end of western civilization as we know it.

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