Flying high

Ben Sandilands over at the Plane Talking blog has fun pointing out the bleeding obvious:

While we continue to get nonsense from the NSW government and the federal government and opposition in their evasions concerning the Sydney Airport crisis, a memo, in effect has arrived from Singapore.

The city state is doubling the size of its airport, to handle more than 100 million passengers a year in the coming decade, by which time Sydney will no doubt continue to flounder around protecting the interest of the current airport owners, and maybe wonder why it has declined toward much reduced relevance to the NSW and Australian economy.

While we piss about with this shameful (and largely pointless) election, the rest of the world is doing things, and even that may not be good enough.

It is apparent that even being as deeply embedded in Asia as Singapore is doesn’t guarantee or deliver full participation in the Asian Century. Singapore, and its airline, are in a massive struggle to keep what it has, and grow it to its potential.

Where is the recognition and committment these issues need among our political leaders? Nowhere, it seems, other than in voters disaffected with both parties in this poll in The Telegraph.

Sydney Airport took 36.9 million passengers to 31 December 2012. The infographic for Singapore Airport below shows it served over 51 million travellers.

That’s over twice Australia’s population.

Cities are good for you?

John Keane has a nice article/profile of Greens Senator Scott Ludlam (one of our brightest stars in parliament) and his thoughts on urban form:

A definite cut above most other politicians down under, Ludlam has city life and urban thinking hard-wired into his political genes. He’s highly knowledgeable on the subject. Politically wise for his young age (he’s 43) and now campaigning for re-election in Western Australia, he tells me during our recent breakfast in Sydney that cities are becoming political laboratories.

‘Much has been said and written about sustainable cities in recent times’, he says. ‘There’s a wild flowering of creative theory and practice going on.’ We’re now on the cusp of an urban tipping point. ‘The future is here’, he adds, borrowing words from William Gibson. ‘It’s just not widely distributed yet.’

The future, in this sense, begins with reminding ourselves what public space is for:

Sprawl, privatisation, soulless nowhere places, empty pockets, homelessness: such dark sides of the urban moon are downplayed in the much-discussed recent book by Leo Hollis, Cities are Good for You. Still the Senator broadly agrees with its brave attempt to reclaim the city from the gripes and grumbles of sceptics, naysayers and doomsday merchants. Here Ludlam shows a bottom of good sense. He’s a smart and lucid urbanist with a deft feel for the way city life can be empowering. Things done closer to home tend to be more meaningful, he tells me. Cities like Sydney and New York are vital crucibles of pluralism, cultivators of people’s acceptance of differences, their common sense of being in it together with others, their need for give-and-take civility. When they function well, they’re ‘diverse, organic, problem-solving’ places (he quotes the famous words of Jane Jacobs). Impressed by the southern Spanish city of Seville (‘a fine-grained, pedestrian-friendly, solar-powered city’), he’s particularly enamoured of Tokyo. It’s the centrepiece of a recent short film he shot and directed. ‘Tokyo’s fun, packed with energy that comes from deliberate compaction. Its public transport system resembles a ballet; it’s the best I’ve ever used. It’s a city with many pockets of deep memory, some of them living reminders of human triumph over firebombing, nuclear weapons and nuclear melt-downs.’

The experience of people rubbing shoulders with others in urban settings is important for another reason. The professor quotes Hannah Arendt on the vital importance of public space in citizens’ lives. He doesn’t flinch. ‘The public experience of face-to-face mixing and mingling of people reminds them of their diversity and commonality, as equals.’ Shared public space of course requires people to nurture their sense of history. City folk need to feel anchored, with their toes firmly on the ground. Heritage matters. Cities must be custodians of collective memory. ‘Given my particular roots, London does that for me as a city’, he tells me. ‘I know no other city where I can feel and appreciate the multiple deep layers of the past.’

It’s not that difficult. Just requires a change of mindset. After all, it’s hard to argue persuasively for whatever passes for the present one.

Making all their nowhere plans for nobody

As flagged earlier in the year, I promise to keep the election commentary to a minimum, but I thought this was a nice summary of where we’re at. It’s from the PoliticOz newsletter’s Campaign Day 1 edition:

As he announced the September 7 date, Kevin Rudd said: “This election will be about who the Australian people trust to best lead them through the difficult new economic challenges which now lie ahead.”

It echoed John Howard’s 2004 pitch, and seemed just as counterintuitive: Two days earlier, his government was explaining how it intended to deal with the $30 billion recently added to the budget deficit.

Launching the campaign slogan, A New Way, Rudd spoke about his “positive plans” and giving Australians “a real choice”.

Tony Abbott appeared under the banner Choose Real Change and pitched the “positive plans” of the Coalition.

Despite launching a campaign scant on costed policies, markedly lacking in positive plans, and headed by a leader who’s not widely trusted, Abbott thought the coming election should be about who’s “more fair dinkum”. He also announced yesterday that in the event of a hung parliament he won’t do deals to form a minority government.

Murdoch flagship the Daily Telegraph greeted the news of the election in the most brazen way imaginable. It flagged it is actively campaigning for the Coalition. News Ltd is likely to be Rudd’s most ferocious and effective opponent over the next 33 days.

If Australia ever wants to grow up and be taken seriously, it needs to get past squalid and embarrassing national displays like this.