Republic of Moreland

April 9, 2008

Call to action: save Coburg pool

Filed under: architecture,Coburg,politics,urban planning — Kath @ 10:50 am

The campaign to save Coburg Olympic pool is still going strong. The campaign has a website here, where you can download fliers, get background information and attend action meetings.

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Meeting in Brunswick to discuss proposed freeway

The following is from the Moreland Greens’ Mike Puleston:

Moreland Council will be sponsoring a Public Meeting on the proposed East-West Freeway at Brunswick Town Hall on Sunday April 13 at 2.00. This will follow the Cyclovia, [pictured] when Sydney Rd will be closed to motor vehicles from Bell St to Brunswick Rd for the morning.

The Greens are opposed to the proposed freeway for a number of reasons:

1. The project puts motor vehicles at the centre of a transport strategy that should be looking first and foremost at public transport in this era of climate change. For example, motor traffic would be greatly reduced by construction of a light railway from Doncaster along the Eastern Freeway to link up with inner city public transport – this railway has been on the books since the 1970s.

2. Provision of freeways is massively more expensive than public transport options. The billions earmarked for the East-West Freeway could be better spent on public transport, including better rail connections to outer suburbs.

3. The freeway would funnel even larger numbers of motor vehicles into inner suburbs. Even though Eddington does not have off-ramps into the City in his report, there is general agreement that the project’s financial backers would not accept a lack of off-ramps. The increased congestion would not only affect suburbs such as Collingwood, Fitzroy and Carlton. It would also cause slowdowns to trams coming from further out, and greater risks to cyclists.

4. The freeway would cause massive disfigurement of Royal Park – which has already suffered from land grabs in recent years.

And so it goes on.

It would be good to have a strong turnout of Greens members and supporters. Please bring your Greens triangles – there will be triangles available if you do not have one.

Brunswick Labor MP for Brunswick Carlo Carli is showing uncharacteristic energy on this issue, and will speak at the meeting. It is hard not to think that Carlo’s rare burst of vigour has been largely promptly by the threat to his seat posed by the 30% Greeens vote in 2006 – the highest in the state. With a few more % in the primary vote and favorable preferences, the Greens will take this seat in 2010, as we will take Melbourne, Richmond, and possibly Northcote.

Although Carlo may speak out against the freeway, he is a small cog in the Brumby Labor machine. When it comes to voting in Parliament Carlo will toe the Party line – to do otherwise would be political suicide.

We need more Greens in state parliament to ask the questions others are afraid to ask.

March 20, 2008

“Tanti-social” toilets in Coburg

Filed under: Coburg,crime,Sydney Road,urban planning — Kath @ 11:45 pm

What larks to see Media Watch pick up on the Moreland Leader‘s sub-editing issues. And following The Republic’s exposé on Coburg’s über-toilet scandal (see post below), the Leader ran a campaign to “stop the tanti-social behavior” in Coburg toilets.

You what?

Tanti-social issues are one thing (and don’t we all have ’em?), but spelling ‘behaviour’ American-style is just a steaming pile of jobbies. Still, bottoms up to the Leader subs who remembered to replace “Toilet headline in here thanks ta” with:

Toilet backflip a big relief for Coburg shoppers

It’s punny, innit? (I bet you can think of a dozen variations — “Shoppers’ fears flushed away” and so on.) The story then describes a dangerous Alan Jones phenomenon in Cobes that’s threatening family values:

A lack of toilets in the central shopping district had forced families and parents with prams to use underground toilets also used by men cruising for sex.

I’m just busting for A Current Affair to pick up on this one. Read the full report here.

June 2, 2007

Moreland Council “targets populism over longer term responsibility”

The Age reports that climate change will soon see expensive bayside real estate under water (I wonder where Andrew Bolt lives?). Meanwhile, in Moreland we’re sticking our heads in the sand. So say the Greens Councillors, Jo Connellan and Andrea Sharam, in a media release.

They say the Moreland City Council is not putting its money where its mouth is, and keeping rates low at the expense of its stated climate change targets:

“A key reason that the 2007/08 Council budget represents a slipping backwards from financial sustainability is that Council wishes to retain the rate rise at 6.5%.

The only responsible way to do that, and maintain the trends of the five year plan (ie to keep moving to a sustainable position), is to either cut service, or alternately increase rates to 8.5 –9%. By retaining all services and not ensuring adequate income (ie sufficient rates), the only option is to borrow from the future. The impact of this (as illustrated in the draft budget papers) is as follows.”

I for one am happy for rates to rise a little to meet climate change targets. But other steps can be taken, too, such as stopping wasting money on useless expensive things like the street steles. The authors continue:

“Keeping rates as low as possible is always popular. But there is also a level of responsibility that needs to exercised by a Council. The community rely [sic] on Council to make the best decision it can in keeping rates at a reasonable level AND at maintaining a financially sustainable level of operating over the longer term. The proposed budget not only reduces financial sustainability, it constrains future Council’s options. This occurs because there will be very limited capacity to deal with emergencies or to implement some of it’s [sic] capital intensive plans (eg renewing aquatic centres) as rates income in these future years will be needed to re-fill the cash reserves.

The proposed 2007/08 budget targets populism over longer term responsibility. It postpones the hard and unpopular decisions to the next Council. It should be rejected. It is in the best interests of the community to have a slighter higher rate rise in the current year rather than a significantly higher one in the first year or so of the next Council.”

What say you? Would you pay higher rates or rents to meet climate change goals? What cuts in services would you tolerate to meet these goals?

May 13, 2007

Revegetating our nature strips

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  • Revegetated nature strip in Rennie Street, Coburg.

Fanged if I can figure why urban councils don’t encourage nature-strip vegetation (other than lawn and maybe a single tree). After all, it’s in their best interests.

The Age reports that “big leafy trees can often add more value to a house than an expensive renovation”, and that “Real estate agents agree that a good streetscape can add 30 per cent to the price of a property.”

There’s nothing to suggest this isn’t true of understory vegetation too. The Age also reports that

Houses in and around Separation Street, Northcote, used to overlook a municipal tip until the council transformed the site into All Nations Park, he says. Not surprisingly, values soared.

“Property values went up overnight by 20 to 30 per cent,” Mr Valentic says.

The reason is obvious. As Michael Pollan has written, it seems we’re hard-wired to enjoy a pastoral sensibility that lies in that comfort zone between nature and culture. (Where in that zone your comfort range falls is probably cultural and generational: my elderly Italian neighbours on one side and my middle-age Lebanese neighbours on the other prioritise pavers, stones and cement over living landscape.)

In light of current urban planning values, lawns are as outmoded as the Cyprus hedge.

  • most residents use fossil fuel to mow lawns
  • lawns are high-maintenance
  • exotic lawn grasses seed competitive weeds on our creek banks
  • you get better stormwater and weed management from a bush garden than a strip of lawn

There are some very inspirational native nature-strips around Westgarth, and some orchard strips as well. I was intrigued by a link provided by Marty in his comment about an earlier post on urban farming. He linked to a site discussing the philosophy and practice of guerrilla gardening (or ‘green graffiti’). I’m scheming a bit of guerrilla gardening myself. My Loquat tree spawned hundreds of baby trees this summer, and I’m nursing them to replanting stage. I’m going to target specific bare nature-strip sites around Coburg and plant them at the end of winter. Hopefully people will leave them to grow and fruit, so Coburg can enjoy the Victory garden philosophy. I shall document my endeavours: watch this space.

May 10, 2007

Green roofs could make more land in Moreland

This is what I’d like to see more of in residential Moreland:

And, in our light industrial areas, this:

A brand new gallery of photographs of green roofs from around the world is on the Green Roofs for Healthy Australian Cities website. Just follow the links to the photo gallery.

May 3, 2007

Another reason the State should support home vegie patches

Oh, Bettina, Bettina. In your plagiarised article, syndicated in newspapers Australia-wide, you claimed that organic food was more dangerous than factory-farmed food. There are too many outright lies in this copied-and-pasted industry spin article to unpack here, but they have been adequately discredited elsewhere.

But you got me thinking about the ongoing lobbying efforts to discredit organic food — even in our suburban vegie patches. Recently, our own Melbourne Times printed some typesetting claiming the answer for home vegie gardeners could be genetically modified crops.

“Efforts to grow drought-resistant crops,” typed Kirsten Alexander, “could extend to the garden… Once crops have been created to cope with drought there’s surely an opportunity to offer genetically modified, drought-tolerant plants to the gardening public.”

This is WAY unlikely, Kirsten. For a start, no such GM commercial crops exist, or have been field-trialled. And repeatedly, industry and independent polling shows that the overwhelming majority of Australians don’t want GM. And a poll by the South Australian Farmers’ Federation revealed 80 per cent of farmers didn’t want it, either, and supported a moratorium on it. There’s no reason to suppose we urban farmers will feel any differently.

And the rhetoric of drought-tolerance coming from industry isn’t matched by peer-review studies. The promises of (patented, monopoly-owned) GM crops — lower yields, drought tolerance, pesticide tolerance, save the third world — look good, but are simply not backed by evidence.

Back to sexologist-turned-industry-lobbyist Bettina’s campaign. I’m reading Michael Pollan’s magnificent book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Did I mention that this book is stupendous? Part history, part gastronomy, part biology and politics and philosophy and intrigue, it’s so elegantly researched and written that even those not interested in food production would love it, I swear. It reads as a giant literary essay, and as Penelope Hobhouse said, it’s “as compelling as a detective thriller.” Buy this book: it’s peerless. Really. (If you want examples of Michael Pollan’s writings, they’re here.)

Something I’m learning about from this book is how the by-products of war became integral in industrialised agriculture. In particular, the introduction of petroleum-nitrogen fertilisers meant farmers no longer had to rotate their crops (for example, with legumes, which fix nitrogen in the soil, or livestock, whose poo also adds nitrogen). Using nitrogen fertilizers derived from fossil-fuels, farmers could now plant monocrops repeatedly in the one space:

Liberated from the old biological constraints, the farm could now be managed on industrial principles, as a factory transforming inputs of raw material–chemical fertilizer–into outputs of corn. Since the farm no longer needs to generate and conserve its own fertility by maintaining a diversity of species, synthetic fertilizer opens the way to monoculture, allowing the farmer to bring the factory’s economics of scale and the mechanical efficiency to nature.

… From the standpoint of industrial efficiency, it’s too bad we can’t simply drink petroleum directly, because there’s a lot less energy in a bushel of corn (measured in calories) than there is in the half-gallon of oil required to produce it. Ecologically, this is a fabulously expensive way to produce food…

Put another way, he writes, “it takes more than a calorie of fossil fuel energy to produce a calorie of food.” The traditional farm, on the other hand, “produced more than two calories of food energy for every calorie of energy invested.”

More than this. Nitrogen fertilizers decrease our food’s nutrient content. Graham Harvey has documented the ways nitrogen fertilisers don’t stimulate nutrient density, but they do cause excess growth of sappy tissue within plant cell walls. Repeated studies show animals and plants fed chemical fertilisers are lower in the essential vitamins and minerals than organically-fed animals and organically-grown food. Although Bettina’s plagiarised article reckons the opposite.

We home gardeners, even those who buy our fertilizer from Bunnings, tend not to pullute river systems with petroleum fertilizer run-off. And we use far less water and energy to make our food.

Even if you do believe Bettina’s claims that organic food isn’t tastier (it is), and isn’t more nutritious (empirical studies show it is), for these reasons alone we should be encouraged by the state to grow the stuff. If the State is really interested in sustainability and public health, that is. And there’s no better place to grow it than in our fertile, intensive backyards, where we can use much less water and energy than broadacre farmers.

March 1, 2007

VCAT to review decision to abolish Coburg High School

Filed under: architecture,Coburg,events,notices,politics,urban planning — Kath @ 1:28 pm

The pain of school closures from the Kennett years is still felt by many Victorians. Coburg High School was one of many Jeffed communities, and 11 years later, its site remains a source of contention. This is among a number of pictures of the heritage school site taken by Peter Robertson and available on his blogsite. As Peter reports, residents who opposed the Council decision to demolish the heritage building are attending a VCAT hearing to determine the validity of the Council decision. 10am, 7 March, 55 King St, Melbourne.

February 15, 2007

Please don’t go

For several years I had the strange experience of living in far north Queensland, where developers breed like cane toads, and old house demolition is an international sport. (more…)

February 9, 2007

Crow’s-eye view of Moreland

Ever wondered how big your neighbour’s illegal extension actually is? Now you can check it out, at Google Earth, of course. Or Google maps. Here’s the satellite aerial image of Moreland, thanks to Brickworks Collective, a site I found via Brunswick Labor.net. Scroll around and have a perv! You can zoom in using the tool on the left.

February 6, 2007

Rally to save Coburg parklands

Filed under: Coburg,events,gardens,notices,politics,urban planning — Kath @ 4:57 pm

The Merri and Edgar’s Creek Parkland Group is holding a public rally next Tuesday 13 February, to stop the sale of public parkland in Coburg into private hands. It’s on the steps of Parliament, so those working in town could perhaps take an early lunchbreak. The MECPG says: (more…)

January 28, 2007

Why Moreland Council should invest in groofs

I had the good fortune recently to meet an urban planning graduate from RMIT, Ben Nicholson. I had the further good fortune to read his elegant thesis about Melbourne’s ‘groofs’. Urban rooftop gardens reduce our environmental footprint in so many ways, but more than that, they’re bringing new ecologies, aesthetics and social behaviours into cities. They’re even reducing urban management problems. And they’re profitable! Not so much in Melbourne: we’re woefuly behind the rest of the world in the green roofs movement. (more…)

January 21, 2007

Your rates and rents at work

Filed under: Brunswick,urban planning — Kath @ 1:43 pm

(And is there any other precinct in Sydney Road, Brunswick?)

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December 26, 2006

Can’t decide which I love the best

Filed under: architecture,art,Coburg,politics,urban planning — Kath @ 10:41 am

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Houses are people too, you know. I was going to write an earnest little post on neighbourhood character, which quoted from Alain de Botton’s peerless book, The Architecture of Happiness. I was going to explore my bourgeois notions of what constitutes neigbourhood character, and take you on a romp through the different styles in my area (Victorian, Edwardian, Federation, faux Georgian, Deco), and compare their virtues with these brown boxes, also in my street.
(more…)

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