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A paucity of experts
Posted by Tony on 16th February 2014 at 16:35:18
(I've reached a point in life where I really should try to record things that grab my attention a lot more frequently and mostly here. They can't all be turned into standalone projects. When it's not about Cumbo/Otways/new media or Supervenience in Complex Systems/Kororoit, this will likely be about the EW absurdity and implications for Moonee Ponds Creek; not that my current concerns end there.)

On Saturday, Metropolitan Transport Forum returned to the fray for almost the first time since the excellent Jackie Fristacky passed on that baton in favour of her role at City of Yarra, with a session at Deakin Edge in conjunction with a "sustainability" gathering. MTF's panel session managed to roll out two increasingly familiar experts, Roz Hansen who led the Plan Melbourne (mostly) disaster before turning her cutlass as she walked the plank and Graham Currie from the now mid-suburban wilds of Monash. Somebody had suggested it might be an opportunity to fly my flag for Open participation in planning processes, but it quickly became evident that would have been a step too far for almost all in attendance. While Roz and Graham both reiterated politically useful statements at this moment of broad network mobilisation against #EWfail, the audience clearly hungers for real experts who can and will do the right thing, by the criterion of public interest. It appears such people don't really exist, at least not this side of Vancouver.

The problem is also grounded in a vicious feedback loop between "decision makers" who only function with pretty pictures, software/service venders who charge massive per seat licence fees which keep the wider public in the dark, and a self-selected band of "consultants" who stump up for such licences but do an abysmal job when it comes to community engagement, let alone any on-ground fact checking which can't be done from their desk.

Make no mistake, by every measure except strict head count, Melbourne is well past the megacity threshold and really does need to start behaving like we know that, and are determined to make it work well. Yes, there is a feedback issue that the better we do it, the more attractive it becomes to others, but intentionally crashing liveability for the sake of local population restriction is hardly an answer. Better we take seriously the need to plan a framework which will support well beyond the next iteration of Melbourne's historic 40 year population doubling period, even if we might in practice stretch out getting to ten million towards the end of the lives of those being born here today. (For this exercise, I'm not factoring in the likelihood of Aubrey de Grey or others' success in treating ageing as that would unleash a host of other adjustments.) One thing already irreversible in that timeframe is significant coastal and estuarine inundation, although the rate is still beyond precise forecasting and subject to humanity's collective (in)action. It really is time to forget near term dates and population estimates as planning goals, focus a lot further out and work backwards to implementation. In reality, and even more so in Oz with our negatively-geared banking-developer nexus, cities are built more like termite mounds than the way residual authoritarians fantasise. Yet there remains a level at which we do need a strategic plan for connectivity which transgresses modes, the antithesis of most of what we have in Plan Melbourne which fails as both strategy and plan while pretending to be both, being dominated by governance and short term politicking.

Our (self-)identified transport/planning "experts" each finish up invested in their own particular patch of the elephant. They are no more engaged in collaborative communication with sympathetic others than they are in the reality check provided by actual implementation. (I'll avoid a detour here to bemoan the success of government and its favourites in commissioning designed-to-fail consultancies through absurdly constrained terms of reference.) Not that it's something I feel possessive about, but I won't try to duplicate here any of the list of mostly longer term proposals I see providing some key blocks of a skeleton for longer term rail growth. Ros Hansen is right here that rail lacks the short term flexibility of bitumen in responding to ad hoc developments, though that ignores the corollary that busy rail can provide a greater attractor for such developments. One big mistake we have made historically is decommissioning rail without regard to the impermanence of any particular set of economic circumstances. I am encouraged by the efforts of one individual to develop a reasonably detailed proposal for an, at least initially, V/Line service to Rye on a mostly new alignment from Baxter; as well as by the crowd funded project to document the old Outer Circle Line, reinstatement of which could serve both Rowville and Doncaster. So it makes sense that the rest of what I might otherwise repeat here about network improvements goes instead on the CrowdSpot map developed for the admirable Public Transport Not Traffic campaign.

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