City of Sound is about cities, design, architecture, music, media, politics and more. Written by Dan Hill since 2001.

A few recent entries attracted useful responses, and several contemporaneous links opened up new angles on similar subjects. I thought I’d pause briefly to tie a few of these loose ends together.

The “Shinkansen to Melbourne …” story on the potential for a Very High Speed Train (VHST) link up and down the east coast of Australia generated a fair bit of buzz, and some extremely useful comments from readers. Several comments provided detailed reasons why it would be difficult, though none of them convinced that it shouldn’t happen. Have a read and let me know what you think – particularly if you have further insight or experience on large infrastructure projects of this nature. To me, it feels like a case of ‘when not if’, but a concerted effort is clearly required to help people here believe that.

Partly, this will be enabled by moves elsewhere – in that the road and air alternatives are not only being seen as increasingly out-of-step with the times, but shooting themselves in the foot (if indeed a transit system can have a foot to shoot itself in). Road traffic congestion in and around Melbourne is now reaching the breaking points also witnessed in Sydney and Brisbane (with some talk of congestion charging at last, even if not officially. It’s mildly instructive to read this piece from Mayor John So from only 2006, boasting of how ‘the car is welcome in Melbourne’, and then reflect on these subsequent and ensuing woes; and so different in tone to the Gehl proposals for Sydney’s CBD). The train service in Sydney is now being used so heavily that it’s at bursting point – almost necessitating the use of ‘push men’ – despite clear evidence of some years of under-investment. Ditto buses, which desperately need further investment but are still heavily used. This at least indicates that Sydneysiders are not that averse to public transport.

Moreover, Sydney Airport is about to close down one of its runways due to safety concerns (was due for April and now put back in the year, for reasons unclear). This will have a massive impact on the ability of the airport to service demand to Melbourne and Brisbane. Reports suggest that it’s already struggling with that. Closing this runway can only cause problems for that air corridor, and those who live along it, for that matter (I didn’t go into noise pollution in the piece I wrote, but it is of course an issue.) Meanwhile, oil prices 'surge past' 100 US dollars a barrel

The item also featured briefly in The Architects on Melbourne's Triple R (cheers Rory). It’s just good to hear this being discussed, and most fervently by those who have experienced the likes of the Shinkansen and TGV.  To be clear about the piece: I’m not anti-car or anti-plane. Far from it. I find the New Urbanist rhetoric that attempts to expunge the car from the urban memory to be wholly misplaced and not useful, and air travel can refresh the parts other modes of transport simply cannot reach. It’s a massive shift of balance that’s important, towards the likes of a tripartite framework for rail (VHST interstate, loca/regional and then inner-city); augmented by smarter bus networks (see Curitiba, Bogota and beyond), as well as an overlay of quality pedestrian and cycle networks. Ferries, monorails, integrated ticketing systems, the lot. This, augmented by minimised air travel, and car-use that is, primarily, recreational (as Iain Borden has recently suggested). It’s about redesigning the city for public transport, and redesigning public transport for the city (see also Mitchell Joachim) – and that includes rapid links throughout the spaces in-between the cities. Infrastructure is in the news a lot at the moment, not least due to China’s extraordinary expansion, and Infrastructure Australia has recently been announced (chaired, intriguingly by a former BA boss). So watch that VHST network-shaped space, I reckon, not least for an interesting debate.

“The Street as Platform” garnered even more attention, not least because William Gibson and Bruce Sterling both linked to it. (I think I just need RU Sirius and Rudy Rucker now, to complete my Mondo 2000 Panini sticker collection. Younger readers will have no idea what I’m on about.)

With startling serendipity, Adam Greenfield happened to post a piece at almost exactly the same time, detailing his ‘central dogma’, related to his forthcoming book, and discussing many of the same ideas and issues, but from a usefully different angle. Do go and have a read (and his follow-up, which is indeed ‘On the same side of the street’). Molly Wright Steenson has also started a useful blog, which looks like it will frequently cover the work of City of Sound pin-up Cedric Price, and specifically his Generator project. One of her posts reminds us of the fundamental importance of designing the social and operational frameworks around technological systems, a point I was very keen to make in "The Street …" (see also recent Economist articles on e-government; this sense of redesigning the systems and organisations around technology, when designing a technological system, is a generally sound tenet.)

A piece earlier this year, The Personal Well-Tempered Environment (based on last year’s presentation at Interesting South) got picked up by USA Today and FastCompany amongst others and it’s also worth checking again for the many useful comments. I’d pick out Usman Haque’s work on XML schema for communication between objects and their environment, some research from the States indicating that basic feedback can seriously improve personal energy usage, and also note a follow-up post at Headlessness and a beautiful realisation of some related ideas by The Living in NYC. I’m collating links to do with these concepts at delicious/PWTE.

I’ve had very useful conversations around much of this, so watch this space for more developments on the ideas in “The Street…” and PWTE soon, I hope.

And finally, an update on the Best Urban Places project. James, Russell and I are knee-deep in good, honest production issues for the first issue now – we’ll give a further update on that shortly. In the meantime, the group keeps growing and the photos keep coming. Please do keep them coming in, ideally accompanied by your short introductions, as issue 2 is already being set up nicely.


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