- a collection of notes and reflections on urban living from the perspective of a family of five in Tokyo. My epiphany was many years ago, but being hit by a motorbike and seeing my life flash before my eyes caused a sudden change that slowly made me reflect on whether American style auto-centric urban transportation of the Roosevelt era really is a capital G "Good Idea" for civilized modern cities in the 21st Century. This blog explores the good and the bad in urban planning and design, here and elsewhere. The goal is simple - not "death to all cars," just more walkable communities, quiet tree-lined streets, good public transport, traffic calming, Velib style bicycle sharing and a bit of common sense. The bolg is mostly theraputic, so I don't go wanting to throttle every dangerous driver I come across, but partly also out of a real desire to see positive change. This blog explores how it can be done, the people who do it, and how, in many small ways, this very old idea may at last have found its zeitgeist. Comments and suggestions welcome.

Monday, June 30, 2008

6.7M people presented to emergency wards in 06-07 in Australia

According to this ABC article, 6.7M people presented to emergency wards in 06-07 in Australia - equivalent to 1 in 3 Australians. Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon is quoted as saying that the Federal Government intends to make a big investment in improved services.

What is missing from this picture? I don't see either the ABC or the honourable Minister reflecting at all on WHY these people are in emergency rooms in the first place. If we want to reduce this state of emergency, then we need to change our very way of life. We don't need a war on terror, we need a WAR ON TRAFFIC.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Power Down

Fascinating, mind-numbing piece here in the Daily Reckoning, a quirky investment newsletter.

But wWow. I may have been criticizing it for years, but I never thought I would see American society forsake the "American Way of Life" so quickly, en mass. Talk about a "tipping point!"

Some quotes :

"High energy prices are undermining the American way of life itself, such as it is. As colleague Byron King explains, below, we've spent the last 100 years building the wrong kind of world. Now, many Americans are doomed to live in the ruins of a civilisation that no longer works."

"Like it or not, Americans are being forced to park their cars. This spring, they cut back on their driving at a sharper pace than anytime since 1942. But it's hard to stop driving when you live far from work and far from shops."

""Prices in outer suburbs will get clobbered," concludes economist Mark Zandi."

"And it will get worse before it gets better. To be perfectly blunt, it might not even get better. Over the next year, and into the foreseeable future, in the developed world people will go broke buying motor-fuel, heating oil and natural gas. (Wait until next winter... Sweet Jeeeezus!) In the less-developed world, people will go broke buying bread. And then the poorest amongst us will starve. Any way you look at it, it's bad for business.

"Fast-rising energy prices are decapitalizing entire nations. Energy prices are destroying wealth faster than people can re-create it. Entire segments of the world economy have hit the iceberg and are filling with cold seawater. Some industries are becoming obsolete in a matter of months. Much of the airline industry is drowning in red ink before our eyes - almost every flight in the sky is losing money, no matter how much they charge to check your suitcase or how few peanuts they put in the small package.

"And down on the ground, most motor transport is just plain uneconomic any more... 'Dead Rigs Driving.' Farewell to the 'Warehouse on Wheels.' Sic Semper Globalisation.

"Large swaths of the auto & truck building industry have become capital-wastelands. For example, GM is closing SUV factories and planning to ditch the Hummer brand. This cascades down to firms that make everything that goes into a set of gas-guzzling wheels. You name it: hot-coiled strip, axles & tires, wire bundles, paints & coatings, window glass and seatbelts, and so much more. Billions of dollars worth of past investment is just gone...bye-bye, poof! And the good-jobs-at- good-wages? History."

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Chrysler is Going Down ?

Oh man. This is pretty impressive. Thanks to freep for this. Chrysler Chairman Bob Nardelli is quoted here as saying that this is "the lowest sales level in 16 years" and "indicates a significant and continued softening of the U.S. automotive market." No s##t Sherlock! And IRN Inc., ("The Source for Automotive and Industrial Intelligence") is quoted as saying that if the annualized rate of 12.5 million sales continues for long, it would be "Armageddon. Doomsday." Hyperbole to be sure, but a fundamental shift in attitudes is already running hot and the economy will follow - probably down for the time being as inventories run up of things people no longer want (cars) and industry frantically retools to provide the things that they do want - the tools and infrastructure of "New Urbanism" - so much more than just switching to selling hybrid or even electric cars, this is all about trains, transit, smaller more efficient homes in convenient, walkable towns that are safe and mostly free of speeding, stinking, dangerous vehicles and instead serviced by safe, efficient, cheap and convenient transit, where they can get to know the neighbors better because the kids play together in the park out the front where the highway used to be etc etc - what has been dubbed "New Urbanism" this newfound love of urbanity comes as much out of growing respect for the surrounding natural environment as it does out of desire for convenience and society.

As you may have noticed, I abhor car culture and everything it does to ruin our cities, communities and environment, and yet even still, I find this graph catching me quite shocked. Don't get me wrong. It is nothing to get too excited about yet. This isn't Armageddon or doomsday - hell, they are still selling over 10 MILLION NEW VEHICLES A YEAR and that's just in the USA, so Americans still have not yet kicked old habits of cars and sprawl, not by a long shot. But mark my words, attitudes are changing fast, and if this does continue it really will show that American society as a whole has finally woken up to the reality of the necessity for substantive change NOW to the way people's lifestyles there are designed.

It will be interesting to see if the Canadians and Australians (buoyed by mining) will follow suit. America could actually really get a leg up on other such new world countries by using the current crisis as the impetus to really rewire their cities for better efficiency PPS style, while these other countries power on with coal and oil, and sprawl and waste just because they can afford it...for now...

Yours Rambling,

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

New Urbanism

Found a very upbeat article "Suburbs a Mile Too Far for Some" in the WSJ discussing the promising future of "New Urbanism" in the United States, and how this process is already well underway. Three cheers for high gas prices. I find it fascinating that in the US the statement "I only fill a tank once a month" is still something to be wondered at. I cannot even remember the last time I filled a tank. I may have done it in 2007 for a rental car. Certainly not yet in 2008 (it is almost July now). I love reading these stories - and stories about trucking companies struggling to improve efficiency.

I wonder if the WSJ has been found PPS lately. It really is all about the streets and public places - not about the home castle. I've never felt all that cramped even living in a small Japanese shoebox - because my home is much more than the dwelling I live in, it is the town around me - the shops, restaurants, library, public hall, park, shrine, children's playground, coffee shop, university etc etc. My house is just a place to sleep and clean and get a bit of private time. Most of the real fun takes place outside - on the streets. But of course, you cannot have a chat with the neighbors while watching your children play soccer in the street if (like in the USA, Australia, Canada etc) your streets are sterile places reserved for speeding vehicles.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Eight reasons to rejoice at 8-dollars a gallon oil

This story from none other than the Wall Street Journal describes eight good reasons to be happy with high gasoline prices - the first of which is "we can say goodbye to the internal combustion engine", and number six is that it will be an "antidote to sprawl".

I am certainly very encouraged to see this kind of thinking in the Wall Street Journal, that bastion of the world of finance which until so recently supported everything automobile. It might be worth keeping these points in mind before pushing Governments for tax relief. Sure, there are plenty in finance who still do promote the automobile industry and culture - they just support it in China, India, Brazil, Russia and Eastern Europe now rather than in their own back yards. But America likes to throw its weight around, so once we have America convinced that auto-society is not the way to go, then I have a feeling we will be making some very good progress.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

The "Auto Bubble"

This may well be a topic you will hear more about over the coming year or two. Investors are finally waking up to the fact that cars may have been a little oversold - on credit.