I’m constantly coming across the odd detail of the landscape, a church, a beautiful bit of iron lacework on a terrace house or just the almost Parisian curves of the top of the poles that hold the tram wires in Fitzroy St Kilda and being aware of a thrill at seeing them. I also wonder why they’re not elsewhere.
I recall about ten years ago they put up some light rail work near I was living. And the poles? Well, they were rudely utilitarian (See below). They weren’t particularly ugly unless you’re prissy about these things. But here was a chance to make things a bit nicer – like they had all those years ago in Fitzroy St.
Did the nicer designs cost more money? Probably. But hardly a lot more. And think of the pleasure they might have given the odd few – perhaps many more than the few and surely plenty of people who didn’t take in the mechanics of why the view looked better than it otherwise might have. So I count them as a good public investment – indeed the marginal cost involved in the difference between a bunch of poles without any conscious design and the same poles with a bit of design nous put into them could easily turn out to have some of the best rates of return around. And whatever gift they are to the public keeps on giving. Year in, year out.Which brings me to the fact that on reading the Issues Paper I discovered that the inquiry was actually about liveability in the context of ‘competitiveness’. The relevant press release (pdf) says that “Maintaining our high position in world-wide liveability rankings is not only important for the people who live in Victoria, it also helps to attract innovative people who, in turn, attract high value industries.” Well, I’d be happy for it all to be the other way round. I reckon living is priority number one and the extent to which ‘competitiveness’ helps you do it, and enjoy it then all the better for competitiveness.
Anyway, all of those who think of competitiveness as a means to an end, as an input into liveability can thank Richard Florida‘s oddball theories for squaring the circle and selling liveability as an input into competitiveness. Competitiveness is serious stuff, so it’s good that the hard heads are putting on their hard hats and wondering how to deliver liveability.
So how would you define liveability? Well the Issues Paper tells us how the Premier defines it.
It is a mix. It’s about good economy, but more than that, it’s about the sort of values that make up a society values like fairness, a fair go, traditional values, caring, strong communities. And it’s about opportunity making sure wherever you come from, whatever your family background, you’ve got the opportunity to go on and do well in life.
So there you are. It’s a fair way from what’s at the top of those tram poles in St Kilda. Or the pleasure we get from parks, or from how easily and pleasantly and efficiently things work. Or of the advantages in minimising traffic congestion. It turns out it’s about all those things that always come up in campaign speeches – a strong economy, communities, fair goes all round, caring, and that ladder of opportunity – are liveability. Perhaps that’s a little unfair – the quote is from an interview in a newspaper article and I don’t know the context. Perhaps he went onto say that liveability depends on the shape of those tram poles or I’m somehow missing his point.
Anyway, the supporting research on VCEC’s website makes it look like they’re going to do a good job. But of course I’d always appreciate some input from Troppodillians as to what is liveability and how to optimise it for cities in general and for Melbourne in particular.
- 1. As explained on the Victorian Heritage Website “These three sets of poles are considered to be of State significance for their association with the early years of Melbourne’s extensive and well-preserved electric tram system. They were erected at the same time that the famous W-Class tram was being developed and introduced, and particularly enhance lines where Ws run in everyday service. The tram poles were designed and erected by the Melbourne and Metropolitan Tramways Board in the 1920s as part of the electrification of the cable tram system and its unification with outer electric networks. They are also important streetscape elements in their own right. Their curvaceous design and curly trim recall another era of street furniture design. Melbourne’s significant and characteristic tree-lined boulevards are also enhanced by their use, especially in Victoria Parade and Peel Street.”
- 2. As explained on the Victorian Heritage Council website, “The ornamental tram poles in the median strip of Dandenong Road are the oldest and the most ornate of the remaining tram poles in Melbourne. Erected by the Prahran & Malvern Tramways Trust when their network was extended down Dandenong Road in 1911, they are also one of the major remnants of the many independent suburban electric systems that operated before the formation of the Melbourne & Metropolitan Tramways Board in 1922. The tram poles are also considered to enhance one of Melbourne’s great tree-lined boulevards, which is further enhanced by W-Class Trams, contemporary tram shelters, and many early twentieth century houses and flats.”