Book review: Made in Australia

Sep 25, 2013
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Made in Australia: The Future of Australian Cities
Richard Weller, Julian Bolleter
The University of Western Australia Publishing
Paperback | 318pp | $49.99

Made in Australia (MIA) is a refreshingly ‘big picture’ book that asks the question critical to the next one hundred years in Australia, where do we fit the extra 20 million people currently not planned for?

Two options are outlined: four megacities with populations of 10 million plus, or, alternatively, a number of new cities. Both options are diagrammatically and historically shown to be highly unlikely if our cities are to remain liveable and productive, with a national population of over 60 million by 2100. A new solution is proposed here: megaregions.

As globalisation would have it, in reading MIA over a few days spent on the Panhandle of Florida (also known as SoFlo), it is intriguing to draw comparison between SoFlo as one of the forty global megaregions, as defined by US urban studies theorist Richard Florida, and to that of the models outlined in MIA. SoFlo is 600 kilometres long with a population of 15.1 million and includes five large cities dotted along an almost continuous coastal settlement.

Driving around guided by smart phone navigation, visitors are constantly directed back to the ten-lane freeway, the I-95, moving between the high-hedged homes of Palm Beach and the high alcohol cocktails of Miami Beach, via gated golf course retirement communities. The I-95 is the infrastructural backbone that enables this megaregion to function. It is part of the Interstate Highway System in the US, a super-grid of freeways laid across the country from 1956 and costing (on the 2006 matrix) US$425 billion. It is probably the defining infrastructure project of the twentieth century, which has enabled Americans to live the suburban dream.

But what a city killer it turned out to be: clogged freeways, car-based sprawl and isolated shopping malls. This is not the solution for twenty-first century Australia.

Richard Weller and Julian Bolleter are starting the important national conversation about what sort of spatial arrangement Australia needs for the next century and what infrastructure will be needed to make it work.

High-speed rail (HSR) is likely to be the defining infrastructure project of this century. Weller states that it is “the key to forming megaregions… [to]… enable decentralisation and simultaneously enhance economic agglomeration”. China has built almost 10,000 kilometres of HSR in two decades and plans to increase that to 25,000 kilometres by 2020.

The Australian Federal Government is currently considering a $114 billion estimate for a 1,750-kilometre Brisbane to Melbourne fast train. MIA names this area the East Coast Megaregion, which, along with a west coast HSR-based megaregion and increased settlement in The New North around Darwin, is the spatial proposition of the book.

Substantial, civic infrastructure projects are usually controversial and drawn out. The Paris Métro was argued over for fifty years before construction started in 1896 — the catalytic event was the Paris Expo of 1900. But it has since facilitated Paris to become, and remain for over a century, one of the world’s great and prosperous cities.

HSR in Australia cannot suffer a similar fate of endless debates and budgetary wrangling, waiting for a catalytic event. In MIA, Weller and Bolleter have made the game-changing argument.

This is not about costing the construction of HSR as if it were a Public–Private Partnership (PPP) toll road, nor about competing with airlines for interstate passengers. Such arguments will condemn it to never stack up and condemn our cities to stagnation. This is about enabling Australian urban development into the next century.

MIA includes fourteen contributor essays. Starting with the Aboriginal notion of living as a custodian of the land, the essays cover a history of urban settlement, regional resilience, urban metabolism (cities as organisms), transport infrastructure, the fringe, urban renewal, water, urban policy, global finance, speculations on urban aesthetics, suburban infill in precincts and along streets, and finally, green infrastructure. Read individually the essays are interesting. But placed after Weller and Bolleter’s comprehensive and inspirational outline of our challenges, they also work towards filling in the complex pieces of the national settlement jigsaw puzzle.

MIA outlines a sparkling vision for an Australia of over 60 million people, living in economically and environmentally sustainable megaregions. It is vital that the built environment professions take up this challenge and lead the process of how we comprehensively budget, govern and build the twenty-first century infrastructure we need. Starting with high-speed rail.

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25 Sep 13 at 1:27 PM • Adrian King

At the risk of being pedantic…… The Panhandle in Florida is actually in the north west where Pensacola, Fort Walton, Panama City, Seaside etc are situated. There are a number of Panhandles in America where there is a narrow strip of one state overlapping another, in this case Alabama.

It is a good review on a topic which has been of particular interest since I went to the panhandle earlier this year.



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