Monday, May 28, 2012


 It is not too often that one is able to read some good news on an environmental matter of any scale. Usually the claim for any successful accomplishment in matters to do with the environment relates to a building design that has achieved a particularly high ‘star rating,’ or to a special programme that has received funding from the government, with any outcome being based on hope and enthusiasm rather than the actual realization of any aim. The propaganda usually has more to do with public relations than the making of any significant change in the world that might have an impact on people’s lives by improving circumstances for many. So it is that one sees universities boasting and gloating about an energy-efficient new building, or a politician declaring over-enthusiastically, funding for some new, local clean-up programme, with much self-importance.

The BBC story on the Wadi Hanifah scheme is unusually good news for an environmental story as it is a significant project that has achieved a real outcome – and has changed lives: see

Wadi Hanifah: An oasis where Saudi citizens can really relax

The fertile Wadi Hanifah valley running through part of Riyadh was for years a rubbish dump and a public health hazard, but now it's been transformed into a vast park, with lakes that attract cool breezes. It's an oasis so large it's hard to police - making it a place for Saudi citizens to relax, in more senses than one.
 . . . . .
As a village, then a small town, Riyadh grew sustainably with its population. But from the 1970s rapid growth quickly overwhelmed the city's ecosystems.
Construction firms mined Wadi Hanifah for minerals. The valley was blocked by encroaching farmland. Seasonal flooding swept pollutants into residential neighbourhoods and then left stagnant water, jeopardising public health.
Yet today, Wadi Hanifah shows few signs of its polluted past.
At Al Elb, on Riyadh's scorched northern outskirts, I walked along Wadi Hanifah beside high desert bluffs.
Improvements to Wadi Hanifah have given children a new place to play
Palm trees now shade a line of carefully designed picnic pods, each comprising a horseshoe of roughly finished limestone slabs, offering secluded valley views.
More slabs, laid horizontally, create steps down to the valley floor, where children scamper along nature trails and families lounge under the acacias.
"Riyadh has no open space," says engineer Saud Al Ajmi. "Wadi Hanifah has become a place to breathe."
Since 2001 the ArRiyadh Development Authority has been restoring and redeveloping the valley, clearing rubbish, grading the banks, landscaping and replanting native flora.
In other big cities you might head up to high ground for a breath of air. In Riyadh, you head down.
Wadi Hanifah acts like a flue, drawing cool breezes over the city to disperse smog and temper the heat.
It is a very long, very thin oasis.
. . . . .

The scale of this scheme does make one ponder on other possibilities, and raises questions about our efforts in matters environmental. We seem very good at listening to the blurb and believing that we are achieving something useful - enough to praise ourselves and feel good about life - when in fact very little is being achieved. The scale of much of our self-praise frequently outshines the reality of the outcome. One building might be a start, just as local effort to clean out portion of a nearby creek might be useful in a micro manner; but much more needs to happen if we are ever to achieve something like the results reported on the Wadi Hanifah scheme.

Instead of itemised units that get detailed attention, the scale of our approach must change. Planning is involved here as well as environmental science and design. Sadly, the outcomes presently being achieved by planners in the development of our towns, cities and regions does not give one much hope. In spite of this profession having more members than ever before in the history of mankind, things just seem to keep getting worse. Plans are published with such vague parameters that anything seems to be possible with a little ‘negotiation.’ Success is measured by ‘proper’ paperwork rather than any review of the real outcomes. Indeed, results seem to be irrelevant. The core issue appears to be the ticking of all of the required boxes. Whether the proposal and its details as agreed/approved are ever likely to be possible seems to be of no concern to anyone in authority. Even proving to an authority that details of a proposal make no sense and will be unable to be implemented - no matter how wonderful they might sound or look on paper - seems to be of no concern. The core issue is the final approval and the closing of the file - and the politics of the situation. Whether the document one sends in by way of objection gets lost or not is of no concern either. One sometimes feels that others prefer them ‘lost.’ Frequently they might as well end up disappearing, for all the attention they are given.

So how do things change? There has to be a commitment to real outcomes rather than to assessing and approving schemes and proposals as words and illustrations matched against other texts and diagrams. Planning must start taking responsibility for results. Lives are involved, not merely presumptions, policies and preferences. This is not the ‘give us any proposal and we’ll look at it,’ proposition that leaves everything open to chats and cheque books. It is working hard to always determine real impacts and outcomes, and then reviewing these so that feedback can then inform other futures. Once this circular process starts controlling possibilities - real outcomes - then we will find that the parts might start joining together to give us something larger of substance.

The ideal would be to tackle matters on the large scale, but if this is not possible, then the gathering of the parts that are all environmentally sensitive and responsible - and beautifully designed - could give us a larger whole that is truly planned and co-ordinated with ambition and integrity, rather than merely being manipulated to maximize profits and benefits for a few. The failure of the success of the role of persuasive debate and argument in a project application can be seen everywhere in our cities, towns and regions. Planning has to change if we are to make a difference.

There is the possibility of making our own oases only if we make a commitment to outcomes and ensure that these are achieved - and tried and tested. Turning a blind eye has not given us much to be proud of. Producing propaganda and spin has achieved less. We need to start planning places for people and for people’s futures. Environmental outcomes are a core issue that need immediate attention for the health and wellbeing of all. The reported success of the Wadi Hanifah scheme should stimulate our ambitions to do a lot more than we are achieving now.

It should also make us more aware of the importance of those parts of our country that are already so special as to be recognized by the world as World Heritage areas - like Springbrook. Instead of continually dreaming of ways to develop these places for profit and play, we need to work hard just to maintain the qualities that have been recognised for this listing to have been made. A World Heritage area is already an oasis in a sea of development that needs very careful management and planning if it is to be there for future generations.

Sunday, May 20, 2012


 . . . ; a street is not a street; a lane is not a lane. The proposition is that while vehicles have standards that define their possible performances, thoroughfares that provide for these vehicles have a necessary hierarchy in their role that relates less to possible standard performance of these vehicles than to the character of their particular contexts. Instead of having all roads, streets and lanes changed to provide for the optimum functioning of the standard vehicle, whatever vehicles these might be - the larger ones, four-wheel drives or rubbish trucks, frequently define the parameters - roads and streets need to be carefully constructed and detailed to accommodate - to respect, to enhance - their different environments. This thought has arisen from the ever-growing notion that roads, streets and lanes have to be upgraded for all vehicular options in spite of their location; that the variation has to be provided by the road rather than by any restriction or modification in vehicular performance, access or driver behaviour. The logic is that vehicles must be able to go anywhere there is a gap that they might fit into, in spite of the location, and at speeds and with safety requirements universally applied as scheduled in the standards. Unless roads, streets and lanes are considered carefully, they will become like most other matters in our world - the same everywhere. Diversity will be lost - even in thoroughfares.

Roads with a unique character are being mutilated by engineers who work to standards and use standard detailing, irrespective of context, because this is what the standards say. No further thought is given to alternative options. Narrow, winding mountain roads with their heritage timber bridges are being widened to allow all and any vehicle to use them at the standard speed. The idea that the road should define the vehicles that might be able to use the road and require modifications in the drivers’ actions, seems to be given no thought. It is dismissed even without the safety argument being used as an excuse.

One Local Government Councillor argued that because one steep, curving and narrow mountain road that was kerbed on one side and open to steep falls into a forested area on the other without any safety barriers, was a public road, it should be available for all and everyone to use at standard speeds - and beyond - without any restrictions or extra supervision. This was in spite of the quaint old signs erected when the road was first pushed through - ‘ROAD CLOSED TO THRU TRAFFIC’ and ‘25KPH.’ When it was pointed out that neither Council nor police were enforcing the instructions on these signs, Council removed the signs - Gold Coast Division 12 logic. That this particular road - the road going over Burleigh Hill on the Gold Coast - is one of the very few roads with a special bush character on this glitzy strip, made no difference to any argument or outcome: just irrelevant, even though the narrow road is used frequently by joggers and walkers who enjoy the challenge of the grades and the different bush environment. Council will not even consider defining the road as a special zone. It has left the ‘LOCAL TRAFFIC ONLY’ signs at each end and one ‘25%’ gradient sign, opening the road to every driver, (they are all ‘local,’ whatever this might mean), who seeks the challenge of speeding over hills while taking what is believed to be a shortcut. There is a great ambition to use shorcuts in the Australian psyche, even if they mean more travel time and distance. And who cares? Certainly not Council or the police – or Main Roads. One is simply told by the State government that it is not one - see your Council; speak to the police : and so one is flicked around getting nowhere. Here, this unique thoroughfare that fits beautifully into its quiet surroundings, is left open to standard speeds and all traffic - buses, trucks, fire engines, and cranes - when they have no essential need to use this road. Argument goes nowhere, as Councils, and especially Councillors, always know best. Even when clearly shown to be wrong, they simply respond boldly and arrogantly with the message that they will no longer respond to any correspondence on these issues - go away silly boy, we’ll do what we want. It is astonishing that one is told that there is always the option of leaving the area if one so chooses! Gold Coast Division 12 logic: we don’t want controls or restrictions, just growth!

 Springbrook Road is another road suffering the same ruthless neglect under the same Council - Division 9. This unique, historic thirty-kilometre drive up the hinterland border mountains behind the Gold Coast - promoted as ‘the green behind the gold’ and mocked as ‘the greed behind the gold’ because of the ad hoc development that is approved - is a narrow, steep, winding road that used to be a one-way up/down road at various times of the day. It leads to the Springbrook plateau and continues right along this high region as its spine, to the end lookout, to reveal the great expanse of the Gold Coast’s random development in a distance that is growing smaller day. Yet even here, on portions of this road, the road authority is upgrading this heritage track to highway standard detailing, widening sections; painting bright white lines on the centres and edges, constructing massive concrete bridges over delicate creeks, making pedestrians appear as awkward participants on highways that ban all walking. The terrible truth is that Springbrook is substantially a National Park region, but even this makes no difference. Main Roads Queensland - this is a main road - still constructs to standard details that are used everywhere - go away silly boy. The narrow flow of rocky-cool water that splashes the fine and fragile foliage on its steep banks means nothing. A bridge is just a bridge - the concept is set in concrete and the bridge is made of it.

That roads and their associated parts should be defined by their locations, needs to become a principle that must be enacted. Without this approach, all roads will lead to the same experience - self-centred places of broad, bitumen speed with flashy, galvanised barriers, bold coloured, reflective signs and an airstrip glow of dazzling lights that laugh at everything around them. Vehicles must be curtailed - restricted in either access or performance; or both - if regions are not going to be destroyed by road engineers. One can gauge these engineers’ preferences when one hears pedestrians being referred to in casual conversation as ‘peds,’ turning people, their feelings and experiences into universal numbers, engineering facts and schedules of figures.

The universe is not universal. Just as diversity in flora and fauna is now coming to be seen as a critical matter for the survival of our world, so too the diversity in roads, streets and lanes needs to be respected and understood as being essential to our wellbeing. Turning everything into the same only creates a boredom and changes minds and places. Turn variety into one and it will be susceptible to the many that can kill it - in one simple step. We are slowly - but more quickly every day - killing the very things we love the best because our vehicles are being given preference over everything, when they are the mobile machines that can so easily adjust to the particular circumstance. Just go slow, carefully and avoid other areas. Drive vehicles to suit the road, street or lane; do not insist that every road, street and lane becomes a motorway.

I say vehicles, but there are other situations of the same ilk where vehicles of another era become the problem. Horse riding in reserve areas has the same problem - the demand that access be allowed for all. BMX cycles have a similar impact; four-wheel drive quads too. The motorised vehicles cause the greatest problem - even in the same locations. The authority of the 4X4 makes demands on these same areas as if they had a right to go anywhere at any time. One can see the workings of the mind of the 4X4 drivers in how they love to climb kerbs and mount traffic islands in urban and suburban areas, suggesting that just because they can, they must. Just because vehicles can do certain things gives them no essential right to do it. We must curtail random open access to everywhere on the basis of context. Politicians hate to say no, but leaving everywhere open to all and sundry as a right only makes everywhere the same - just like politicians and their silent bureaucrats! We need to think again and differently.
We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.
Albert Einstein.

The future of Lyrebird Ridge Road needs to be managed very carefully if we are not going to make this classic, mountain drive into yet another highway. It requires an understanding of what Springbrook and its World Heritage listing stands for - and why.

Thursday, May 10, 2012


 10:33PM  10 May 2012

Division 9 Gold Coast has been declared.
Congratulations Glenn Tozer.
The ECQ site suggests that counting stopped at 02:29:46PM on 09 May 2012 with a total of 17,654 ballots - 81.83% - counted.
Why? It's a puzzle, but it's a result.

Now let's get on with consulatation and the planning for a real future for Springbrook.

NOTE: The Queensland Local Government elections were held shortly after the State elections.
The sitting Councillor for Division 9 was defeated.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


If it takes 4 hours to count 60% of the apples in a box, how much longer will it take to count 100%?
The standard maths textbook in primary school used to have many such problems set for students to solve.
It is not difficult maths.
The answer, assuming the effort remains constant, is 2 hours 40 minutes.
It seems clear that things never stay the same in Queensland or at the ECQ.
After counting just over 60% of the vote in Division 9 at the Gold Coast (Queensalnd Local Government Election 2012) in 4 hours on election night, it has taken the Electoral Commission Queensland over nine days – well over 200 hours - to count just less than 20% of the votes.
The latest statistic published for votes counted in Division 9 is 79.55% - 5:30am, Tuesday 8 May 2012.
The total number of voters on the roll is listed as 21,573.
Simple maths again tells us that over a week after the day of the election, there remain more than 20% of the votes - actually 4,412 - still to be counted.
At this rate it will take at least a further week from today for all of the votes to be counted, but there is no guarantee that even this astonishingly poor progress can be sustained given the outcome to date.
Meanwhile, on Monday, the presidential election in France has been declared.
Voting was on Sunday.
What on earth is going on in Queensland?
It is not as though there are millions of votes to count in Division 9 or that the region is enormous.
Is it just carelessness or laziness - or incompetence?

Wednesday 9th May 2012, 10:35PM - ten days after voting:
Division 9 Gold Coast
ECQ internet site statistics:
Updated 09/05/2012 02:29:46PM (to the second!)
Percentage of Roll Counted: 81.83%
Total ballots counted: 17,659 
Who cares?

How slow can ECQ go?
About 2% of the vote was counted in two days. 
The last option seems to be the best explanation at this stage.
In the meantime, who is representing Dividision 9?
Who cares? 
There is nothing but silence.
Make this a competition:
when will 100% of the vote be counted?
Multiple choices:

16th May 2012;
23rd May 2012;
9th Jiune 2012;

Who knows?
Who cares?
We're Queenslanders!
This is really no excuse.