A ‘best of the year’ list

Melbourne - then and now (click)

The end of the year is always a great time for lists. As I’m not in a position this week to write anything more thoughtful than a drinks order, I’m just linking to interesting material. And there’s nothing more interesting than this great list, My blogs of the year, by the esteemed Sam Roggeveen, editor of The Interpreter at the Lowy Institute for International Policy. The first one’s a curious choice but the others look outstanding.

Speaking of curious, Gillian at Melbourne Curious has an interesting historical video of Melbourne as it used to be and as it is now. While you’re there, have a look around at items like this one on Melbourne’s old laneways and this one on Flinders Street station (gorgeous photo!).

O.K. I’ve turned on the snow flakes and the pilot’s honkin’ the horn. All the  best  for the Season!


How to make your PowerPoints really interesting

Swedish international health researcher, Professor Hans Rosling, is famous for presenting data “with the drama and urgency of a sportcaster”. His reputation is built on extraordinary presentations like this one.

Now the BBC has produced a hologram version of one of his renowned presentations. It plots how life expectancy has improved in 200 countries over the last 200 years. The world’s not perfect but the improvement in average life span since 1810 is truly remarkable.

Click picture to view video.


Portland, OR – “where young people go to retire”

They know a bit about city branding in Portland, Oregon, one of the darlings of new urbanism and one of my favourite places. This video is for a new TV comedy series, Portlandia, starting in January 2011 (in the US). It takes the mickey out of Portland and takes its name from a sculpture at the front of The Portland Building designed by Michael Graves.

Favourite quote: “Portland – where all the hot girls wear glasses”.

Click on picture to see video, Portlandia – Dream of the 90s.


Google Ngram for: ‘Sydney’ vs ‘Melbourne’

Melbourne almost rivalled Sydney circa 1890 – click to insert your own search terms. More on Ngram here.


Why do bankers make $squillions (and you don’t)?

Road pricing in London in the 18th century

There’s an interesting discussion going on in the blogosphere right now about how Wall St made and lost so much money in the noughties.

It started yesterday our time when George Mason University economist and ‘the world’s most read economics blogger’, Tyler Cowen, announced that he’d written an essay on inequality in The American Interest.

He makes some interesting points – for example, Americans are more likely to be envious of their better paid colleague or their slightly wealthier brother in law than they are of billionaires and financial high rollers. Nevertheless, he focuses on “the pernicious role that big finance plays in modern political economy”.

As I interpret it, his thesis is that the finance sector takes big but self-enriching risks in the good times because it relies on government bailing it out on the odd occasion when real disaster strikes. As Ross Douthat from the New York Times puts it:

The “bust” part of the cycle tends to make taxpayers suffer more than the Wall Street investors themselves, thus incentivizing further recklessness and still worse crack-ups down the road

By this morning (Thursday), the debate has been joined by an army of influential pundits, including Ross Douthat, Ryan Avent from The Economist, Kevin Drum from Mother Jones and political blogger Matthew Yglesias. By the time you read this it is likely there will be many more. Read the rest of this entry »


Merry Xmas (and some reflections on the blog)

Irish finance expert explains (robustly!) where the Celtic Tiger went wrong

It’s time for The Melbourne Urbanist to start winding down for the holiday season. After this week, posts will flow to a trickle or even peter out while I take a holiday.

The Melbourne Urbanist has now been going for over nine months so it’s timely to pause for a moment and take stock.

The blog now gets around 2,500 ‘views’ each week. WordPress, who provide the blogging platform, say this count excludes automated searches. The busiest month was November, with 10,721 views and the trend continues upwards. That’s not quite up there with the likes of NineMSN, but I think it’s pretty respectable for a blog with a defined topic and relatively narrow geographic ambit.

It compares well with some other blogs – for example, former ANU economics professor (and now Federal MP) Andrew Leigh, who’s been blogging daily since 2004, says he gets similar numbers. It seems many of the topics addressed by The Melbourne Urbanist “travel well” – they have a reasonably broad appeal.

About a third of views are of the home page where visitors presumably scroll down and scan the first part of each post. However I measure the popularity of each individual post by the number of  ‘reads’ i.e. the number of readers who click through to “read the rest of this entry”. I interpret this to mean the reader was interested enough to keep going.  Read the rest of this entry »


What’s the angle with Fishermans Bend?

LA Live entertainment complex

The Minister for Planning, Matthew Guy, is reported as saying that rather than “sprinkle high density housing across Melbourne”, the new Government will give priority to strategic developments on specific sites close to the CBD.

Mr Guy has already moved to water down the former government’s planning laws encouraging higher density residential developments (i.e. over three storeys) along public transport corridors.

He says the focus of urban renewal in future will be on locations like Fishermans Bend, the 20 hectare E-Gate site just off Footscray Road, and the area around Richmond station.

This is surprisingly reminiscent of Kenneth Davidson’s prescription for Melbourne. However unlike the Minister, who is moving to increase land supply in the Growth Areas as well, Mr Davidson sees major urban renewal projects as providing enough land to obviate the need for further fringe development.

Facilitating urban renewal in areas close to the city centre is a good thing. But it’s a big call to put all your higher density eggs in one basket when Melbourne’s population is projected to grow by 1.8 million between 2006 and 2036. According to The Age, Mr Guy doesn’t want higher density development in that part of the city that lies beyond the city centre i.e. virtually all of Melbourne*.

I’m not sure the potential of the brownfields basket is as great as Messrs Guy and Davidson imagine. Here are some constraints that individually might be a mere difficulty but collectively amount to a major impediment. Read the rest of this entry »