Monday, June 15, 2009

Sustainable Urbanisation, Climate Change and the United Nations

Dr Anna TibaijukaDr Anna Kajumulo Tibaijuka, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director, UN-HABITAT will be speaking on "Sustainable Urbanisation, Climate Change and the Global Financial Crisis: The role of the United Nations Human Settlements Program" in Sydney, June 18, 2009 at 6:30pm (tickets required).

The year 2007 was a turning point in human history as it saw half of humanity already living in towns and cities. By 2030, three quarters of the world’s population is projected to be urban.

The bulk of this rapid urban population growth will take place in developing countries, countries which are least able to cope resulting into massive growth of slums and squatter settlements. Today close to one billion people or 32 per cent of the Worlds urban population currently lives in slums under life threatening conditions where they are directly affected by both environmental disasters and social crises.

On the current global economic and financial crisis it has to be noted that it was sparked off by the sub-prime mortgage crisis, which itself was the outcome of one-dimensional approach to housing and a “one-size fits all” model of housing provision. It did not look at how to improve incomes to make housing more affordable. It did not look at how to make housing cheaper so as to make it more affordable. It did not, above all, look at the need to have a mix of tenures whereby poor people could access decent housing through the rental market as well as through home ownership.

Financial prudence and banking principles were simply thrown out the window. Financial engineering became the “in game” as different so called innovative products from brokers outcompeted with each other. Commissions and bonuses were collected, CEO payments rose into the stratosphere but the risk remained on the one end with the borrowers and at the other end with the shareholders across the globe.

With regard to climate change, it has to be noted that it is no coincidence that it has emerged at the forefront of international debate precisely at the same time, and virtually at the same pace, as the world becomes urbanized. This is because urbanisation brings about irreversible changes in our production and consumption patterns. How we plan, manage and live in our growing cities determines, to a large extent, the pace of global warming. This is because 75% of global energy consumption occurs in cities, and 80% of greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming come from urban areas. Roughly half of these emissions are caused by the burning of fossil fuels for urban transport; the other half comes from energy to heat or cool our buildings and to run our appliances. These are the hallmarks of our built environment and our quest for quality-of-life in urban places which have to inform mitigation and adaptation strategies for climate change.

Mrs Tibaijuka’s lecture will discuss these issues , with reference to the potential for academic and other partnerships to help address them, and outline the role of the UN-Habitat as it relates to the implementation of the Habitat Agenda with the twin objectives of shelter for all and sustainable human settlements development.
Today we are faced with many challenges in our quest for sustainable human settlements but among the most compelling ones are rapid and chaotic urbanization, climate change and the global financial crisis.

Anna Tibaijuka is the first African woman elected by the UN General Assembly as Under-Secretary-General of a United Nations program. She is currently serving a second, four-year term as Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN-HABITAT. Since 2002, Mrs Tibaijuka has been instrumental in promoting water, sanitation and slum upgrading globally and in assisting the African Union to establish the African Ministerial Conference on Housing and Urban Development (AMCHUD). She also helped place urban poverty high on the agenda of similar regional bodies for Latin American and the Caribbean, as well as the Asia-Pacific.

In its unanimous decision to re-elect Mrs Tibaijuka for a second term as Executive Director of UN-HABITAT, the General Assembly noted her success in forging strategic partnerships with financial institutions for follow-up investment in housing and urban infrastructure. These include the UN-HABITAT $570 million agreement with the African Development Bank and $500 million agreement with the Asian Development Bank.

Mrs Tibaijuka is credited with raising awareness about the global challenge of chaotic urbanization, inspiring a new strategic vision, and significantly enhancing the organization’s performance, management and image.

Prior to joining the UN, Mrs Tibaijuka pursued an active academic career as a Professor of Economics at the University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. She is the author of various books and research papers on agriculture and rural development, farming systems, food policy, agricultural marketing and trade, sustainable development, social services delivery, gender and land issues, and environmental economics.
From: "Sustainable Urbanisation, Climate Change and the Global Financial Crisis: The role of the United Nations Human Settlements Program", The University of Sydney, 2009

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Thursday, April 09, 2009

NSW Draft Centres Policy for Retail and Commercial Development

As mentioned by Kristina Keneally, NSW Minister for Planning, last night, the NSW Government has today released a "Draft Centres Policy - Planning for Retail and Commercial Development", with a detailed document on Draft Centres Policy and Questions and Answers available.The policy is open for comment until 11 May 2009. At a quick glance the problem I can see with the policy is that it is concentrating on retail and commercial development, with little mention of community use.
  • Description: The Draft Centres Policy provides a planning framework for the development of new and existing retail and commercial centres in NSW. The policy is based on six principles:
    • Retail and commercial activity should be located in centres to ensure the most efficient use of transport and other infrastructure, proximity to labour markets, and to improve the amenity and liveability of those centres.
    • The planning system should be flexible enough to enable centres to grow, and new centres to form.
    • The market is best placed to determine the need for retail and commercial development. The role of the planning system is to regulate the location and scale of development to accommodate market demand.
    • The planning system should ensure that the supply of available floorspace always accommodates the market demand, to help facilitate new entrants into the market and promote competition.
    • The planning system should support a wide range of retail and commercial premises in all centres and should contribute to ensuring a competitive retail and commercial market.
    • Retail and commercial development should be well designed to ensure they contribute to the amenity, accessibility, urban context and sustainability of centres.

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Wednesday, April 08, 2009

NSW Land Planning and Sydney transport chaos

Kristina Keneally MPGreetings from the Holme Building at the University of Sydney, where Kristina Keneally, NSW Minister for Planning, was due to talk at 6pm on "Planning in New South Wales - Responding to the Global Economic Crisis". Ironically the Minister has been held up by transport difficulties in the Sydney CBD, due to a protest.

The minister was able to arrive at 6:20pm, only 20 minutes late. Craig Knowles, a former planning minister, did the introductions. The new minister started with a quip, saying she had been described as "Sartor in a frock". Her formal training was as a feminist theologian and has worked in the area of social justice. She argues that planning is about social justice, with parks and other facilities for people. Minister Keneally related how on a recent trip to New York the difference in ability for NSW to undertake projects such as the Redevelopment of Barangaroo.

The Minister pointed out that the Government does not do everything. Housing construction is at historically low levels and was low even before the global financial crisis.

The Minister's goal is to have the best planning system in Australia. Given the NSW government's poor planing in other areas, such as in announcing and then cancelling metros and is unable to ensure electricity supply in the Sydney CBD, that is a bold claim. However, in the area of housing planning, it would appear that streamlined planning processes imposed on local councils will speed up approvals significantly. The government has also reduced infrastructure levies on new development. As to if these are good for long term planing is debatable.

A "centres policy" will be released for comment tomorrow. The minister commented that blogs might be used for future consultations online. The minister might like to consider using fast track web enhanced planning.

The Minister listed a number of goals for shorter benchmarks and said the government had committed to publishing performance against the benchmarks. It is not clear if this is separate to the reports from the Auditor on Reporting of the State
s Performance.

The Minister commented that the federal government's stimulus package was a massive undertaking, with construction and upgrades for most schools and public housing in NSW. In some cases whole schools will have to be closed for building work and the students attend a nearby school. In regional areas the work on government and non-government schools will have to be coordinated so that all the schools in an area are not closed at the same time. Planning rules for non-government schools were streamlined last year so that routine upgrades can be approved quickly. This has now been extended to non-government schools.

Government departments which build public housing will be able to self approve plans for public housing. This will eliminate months spent waiting for approval from local government. Departments will still need to meet standards for public housing.

A quick rezoning process will also be put in place for development around major public transport nodes. This is to increase the density of development near public transport.

A user guide about the new process will be available soon. This will explain how planning goals will be met by the new process, including environmental goals.

The Minister compared the stimulus package with the World Youth Day, in that there are firm deadlines when the new procedures are required to be in place so the federal money can be received.

The Minister commented that since the Cumberland Plan of the 1950s, centres planning has bedevilled planing ministers. This is because that new innovative proposals would not fit in the plans. A net community centres benefit test will be proposed for out of centre development. The new policy document will be released tomorrow afternoon, on the web for comment for four weeks.

The last issue the Minister covered was Redevelopment of Barangaroo. The new Barangaroo Delivery Authority is overseeing the development, headed by a CEO with experience from the Melbourne Docklands. One challenge is to get many more people to travel to and from the new area by public transport. Another challenge is to set up an area for new offices of the future during a recession. Paul Keating chairs the public design review committee.

The Minister finished talking at 7:20pm.

The first question was about "zoning" and if it was a good idea. The comment was that a lot of the Minister's streamlining was about sidestepping the zoning, so why not eliminate it? The Minister acknowledged the difficulties with zoning and indicated support for councils which want flexibility.

The second question was about integrating planning with whole of government and budget. The Minister did well to clarify an unclear question and commented on the difficulty of planning in a democracy and when conditions change.

The next question was about the wisdom of moving the cruse ship terminal to Balmain. The Minister replied that the straightforward answer was that a 30m security exclusion zone was required around cruse ships. Also it would be difficult to provision ships at Barangaroo.

I asked the Minister if she had yet considered how to incorporate the federal government's NBN policy in planning. She said they had started to consider this and is likely to involve some public consultation shortly.

The Minister gave an impressive delivery with a lot of detail. It was unfortunate that the speech was not provided on the Minister's web site, with links to the many initiatives mentioned.

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Thursday, April 02, 2009

NSW Land Planning for the Global Economic Crisis

Kristina Keneally MPKristina Keneally, NSW Minister for Planning, and Minister for Redfern Waterloo will talk on "Planning in New South Wales - Responding to the Global Economic Crisis" in the Sunset Seminar Series at the University of Sydney, 6.00 pm, 8 April 2009.
As the global economic crisis begins to take effect in NSW, a key question on the minds of developers, planners and policy makers is what impact this will have on urban and regional development and planning policy.

The Minister for Planning, the Hon. Kristina Keneally, will present an informative, no-nonsense, discussion on the State's responses, including Part 3A reforms to the planning and assessing regime and the short and long-term impacts this will have in speeding up of approval processes and in stimulating economic activity in NSW....

From: "Planning in New South Wales - Responding to the Global Economic Crisis", Sunset Seminar Series, Faculty of Architecture, Design & Planning, University of Sydney, 2009

I hope to attend the talk. One aspect of this is the role of new computer and telecommunications technology in speeding up of approval processes, as well as stimulating economic activity. The NSW government has encouraged local councils to move their planning processes online and, in theory, it would be possible to do all the "paperwork" needed for planning approval of a home from an iPhone while out on a building site.

In terms of wider economic issues, use of computers and telecommunications can lower costs, while reducing carbon emissions, without needing large investments in new roads or public transport. This is called "dematerialisation" and I teach it in the course "Green ICT" run by the Australian Computer Society.

An example of the use of ICT in planning is the use of electronic signs to make public transport more efficient. An example of this is the recently introduced Sydney MetroBus. A metro is a public transport system which is so frequent it does not need a time table. The term is usually applied to underground trains (such as the Sydney Metros which NSW state government keeps announcing and then cancelling). However it can also be applied to buses. One way to make the system more attractive is to provide electronic signs which say when the next bus will arrive. This was planned as part of the Sydney MetroBus, but has not been implemented. The information can also be provided via mobile phones. The electronic information increases the usability of the metro for very little additional cost.

Another way to use ICT to improve transport use is to provide WiFi access, as on the Cambridgeshire Guided Busway. This will encourage travellers to undertake longer journeys, as they can do useful work, or entertain themselves, while travelling.

The Green ICT course is designed for ICT professionals, but I hope to get planners involved. I will be delivering a version of the course next semester at ANU in Canberra, but the course is open access and universities could use it o train planners and architects.

ps: I gave a seminar on ICT for planners from the "new" Bauhaus at the USyd Faculty of Architecture in 2002.

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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

New Australian Government Accounting System

The significance of Operation Sunlight for ICT became clearer later in the briefing. This will require a replacement for the Australian Government central accounting system, called the Central Budget Management System (CBMS). This will not be up to the phase of actually considering calling for tenders until some time next year. The data which agencies will need to supply to the system is not likely to change significantly. It was emphasised that this is not a project driven by a fixed deadline.

There are no changes planned to the way the information from the system is presented publicly. The same sort o reports will be issued on paper and on the web. This is unfortunate as the materials produced now are readily available via the web but not very easy to read. I suggest the Australian Government should take the opportunity to make the reports more user friendly online. Currently the budget web site scores 64/100 on a W3C Mobile OK test. I suggeste the Government aim for 80%.

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Operation Sunlight Briefing

Greetings from the Operation Sunlight Briefing in Canberra. Operation Sunlight is an initiative from the Australian Minister for Finance to make government budgetary processes more transparent. Unfortunately while there is a lot of documentation, none of it seems to clearly set out exactly what the object of the exercise is. It would helps if there were examples of how this will help the community, particularly during the global financial crisis.

What are the key objectives of Operation Sunlight?

Operation Sunlight has six key objectives:
  1. Tightening the outcomes and outputs framework;
  2. Changing the Budget Papers to improve their readability and usefulness;
  3. Improving the transparency of estimates;
  4. Expanding the reach of budget reporting;
  5. Improving inter-generational reporting; and
  6. Improving inter-generational reporting; and
  7. Improving the financial framework
From: Operation Sunlight, Department of Finance and Deregulation, 20 March, 2009

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Monday, March 09, 2009

Smallville but not global village

Smallville by Carl MilofskySmallville: Institutionalizing Community in Twenty-First-Century America (Civil Society: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives) by Carl Milofsky (Tufts, 2008 ISBN: 978-1584657217) provides a useful but limited view of the role of informal organisations in the community. Milofsky argues that informal local organisations are an important but neglected part of organisation theory. This is because the usual definition of what is an organisation excludes them.

The book started to get interesting when he discussed the role of local groups who are part of national organisations. I turned the page expecting to see the discussion of local groups as a part of international organisations and how the availability of the Internet had changed the role of location, but the book had ended. As Milofsky is basing his research on a small part of the USA, it may be that the people there don't interact online with the rest of the world. But it seems more likely that Milofsky's method and theory are flawed, resulting in him being unable to discern the existence of these groups all around.

The book mentions the Internet only twice and I could find no reference to the effect of the web or social networking:
  1. Page 10: "... are vertical community relations." In the second group, relationships may not even be face-to-face (as is the case with Internet chat rooms)." This group also includes communities made up of professionals trained in a national or international ...."
  2. Page 165: "... " Locals may relate directly to the national culture using professional or economic connections, the media, or the Internet. Many local activities, however, demand something more-specific organizational connections that render the locals and the nationals mutually accountable. ..."

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Friday, February 06, 2009

Greening ICT to address Global Downturn and Global Warming

Greening ICT to address Global Downturn and Global Warming, 19 February 2008, Australian National University, Canberra.

A free half day event bringing together people from academia, industry and government who are interested in sustainable uses of ICT to address Global Economic Turmoil and Global Warming challenges through effective organizational policy, reliability, availability, and efficient operations.

On 3 February 2009 the Australian Prime Minister announced a strategy to deal with the effects of the global financial crisis on the Australian economy. The strategy includes funding for national infrastructure, education, energy reduction and combating climate change. Such a large and complex task will require rapid decision making and detailed oversight of projects. Computer based systems and the Internet offer the opportunity to help refine the policy and aid in its implementation, as well as form part of the projects implemented. Main topics:
  1. Bridging the ICT-Energy Disconnect
  2. Start Measuring, Implement Energy Efficiency Measures and Save to Maximize Bottom Lines
  3. Green ICT quick wins, operational and user behaviour change
  4. Development of Green ICT training needs
  5. Social networking, E-government and m-government in government and business
  6. University roles in R&D and deployment of 'green

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Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Evidence-based policy for the Global Financial Crisis

Gary BanksGary Banks, Chairman, Productivity Commission, gave an interesting, informative and very timely Public Lecture in Canberra this evening on "Evidence-based policy: What is it? How do we get it?". This is timely as a few kilometers away Parliament was debating spending billions of dollars, to address the Global Financial Crisis, with minimal analysis and little evidence to support either side of the debate. On the surface "evidence based policy" seems a tautology: how could you propose policy not based on any evidence? However, Mr. Banks took use through some of the not so obvious issues with the process.

At question time I asked about the use of online systems and cross agency resources to make the process quicker and more efficient. I used the example of the Environment Department, who on Tuesday hosed a meeting of industry on how to reduce energy use. One way I suggested to reduce energy use was to conduct such consultation online so the participants did not need to fly to Canberra.

Given that the Productivity Commission has a mandate to, and considerable expertise in, analysis of government policy, perhaps they could commission an online system for this purpose. Such a system could be initially used by the Commission and then made available for other agencies and state governments. The system could function in a similar way to AusTender, the Australian Government’s online tender system. It could use similar free open source software to GovDex, the Government's online collaboration tool. Agencies could upload draft policies for consultation. The system would automatically alert those who had registered interest in the topic. People could download the draft and upload comments. The system would collate the results automatically. The Australian Bureau of Statistics National Data Network could be used to support analytical analysis of policies across agencies.

Providing an online system for policy analysis could considerably cut government costs. I get the impression that much of the resources in policy agencies are not devoted to analysis of policy, but to arranging meetings to discuss the policy. Eliminating most of these meetings would greatly reduce costs. This would also reduce accidental or deliberate bias in the process, where only a small select group is consulted due to time or cost pressures (or because no criticism of the policy is welcome). In the case of something like the response to the Global Financial Crisis, a consultation and analysis could be carried out in a few days.
The concept of ‘evidence-based policy-making’, while not new, has recently become elevated in public discussion. Like motherhood, it has universal appeal, at least in principle. The need for it is manifest in the complexity of the policy challenges confronting Australia, both in the short term (the ‘meltdown’) and the long term (greenhouse, population ageing). But what exactly does evidence-based policy-making entail? How can it contribute to achieving better policy outcomes? What is needed to put it into wider practice? Gary Banks will address each of these questions, drawing some insights and lessons from the experience of the Productivity Commission and its predecessors over the years.

Gary Banks has been Chairman of the Productivity Commission since its inception and was reappointed in April 2008. In addition to overseeing the Commission’s activities, he has personally headed national inquiries on such topics as National Competition Policy, the National Reform Agenda and the Economic Implications of an Ageing Australia. He also chaired the Australian Government’s Regulation Taskforce in 2006 and is presiding on the Productivity Commission’s gambling inquiry. Gary Banks chairs the inter-governmental Steering Committee for the Review of Government Services and was the initial convenor for its report on Indigenous Disadvantage. In 1998 he was a member of the West Review of Higher Education. In 2007 he was made an officer of the Order of Australia for services to the development of public policy in microeconomic reform and regulation.

Presented by the Australia and New Zealand School of Government (ANZSOG). This lecture is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be served following the lecture.

Speaker/Host: Gary Banks, AO, Chairman, Productivity Commission, Canberra
Venue: The Shine Dome, Gordon Street, Acton
Date: Wednesday, 4 February 2009
Time: 5:30 PM - 7:00 PM

From: "Evidence-based policy: What is it? How do we get it?", The Australian National University.

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Impact of the Global Financial Crisis on the Computer Industry

Professor  Milind SathyeThe Australian Computer Society hosted a talk by Professor Milind Sathye on ICT and the Global Financial Crisis and what it means for the ACT, 3rd February 2009. This had a sense of drama as the Australian Government had just announced its economic stimulus package and the Professor had come from discussing it at Parliament House. The Professor gave an clear explanation of the causes of the economic crisis, the proposed solution and the effects on the ICT industry and Canberra. He commented that the Government's proposed package at 5% of GDP was about twice the 2% the IMF recommended. The professor commented that ICT would do better than most industries, with a decline in hardware area but demand for software. Canberra might suffer if the Government had to divert money to stimulus packages in the states. The slides of the presentation will be provided to members.
1. Global Financial crisis: how it started, where it is now and where it is heading
2. Impact of the crisis on global and Australian economy in particular the ICT
3. What does the crisis means for the ACT

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