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Our asphalt cities and sustainability

by Dave Riley

I've been much interested in snippet blogging -- a sort of dedicated localism -- as I explored the question of our collective public transport options. There is a keen genre out there in cyberspace that seeks to explore and enrich the culture of this or that city.

This is popular within the cycling community as bicycle utility is formatted so often by geography and the transit deal the cyclist is sure to get, always has a lot to do with City Hall's preferences.

My favorite example of this genre is The Copenhagen Bicycle Culture Blog [It's Cycleliciousness!] but as I kept on searching through bicycle lore I came upon Raise The Hammer which
is a group of Hamilton, Ontario citizens who believe in our city's potential and are willing to get involved in making the city a more vibrant, livable, and attractive place to live and work.
The accompanying web site/blog has a lot of useful exchanges and resources focused on sustainability but the most impressive feature is how much of an aggregation of contributions the project is. It is indeed a forum about engaging with real urban problems .

The sustainability umbrella

In any city you'll find many campaign groups and ongoing projects that are broadly formatted under a sustainability umbrella. You'll even find projects like Sustainable Melbourne, a state funded NGO sponsored by the University of Melbourne. The site says it is:
a communications hub for re-inventing Melbourne as ecologically, socially and culturally sustainable.
The Melbourne exercise is modeled on Sustainable Rotterdam which (and here's a very broad ambit with a tongue in Postmodernist cheek)
is a blog about livable cities; sustainability, urban development, design, mobility, architecture, social & mass media, art
So the celebration of urban existence is sponsored as an enriching life style extension which seeks to merge design and culture into a discussion hub -- but one usually run in partnership with City Hall. These project themselves in a sort of "I Love [insert your city name here]" way and you are being asked to barrack for [insert your city name here] as the best city on the whole goddamn planet so that you wouldn't live anywhere else even if you were paid to...

You may in fact feel like that about Brisbane, Sydney, Hobart or Kalgoorlie but are you really going to be able to participate in a discussion about creating a sustainable city because there's a website about "ecological city living".

The problem with these forums is that they are embedded in the 'community consultation' template -- that our cities can be improved by dint of activated chit chat with the municipal bureaucracy.

I live in Brisbane and the Brisbane City Council is master of this ploy.

I'm all for it. By all means let's have as much "consultation process" as we can muster but the main game is usually one where you are held hostage to how far City Hall is prepared to go. Nowadays driven by your local council's registered Business/Strategic Plan it is indeed all about keeping the customers (that's us) happy customers cheaply so long as other customers (who aren't us) can be kept happy also. (If the truth be known: even happier.)

You only live and work there

So any form of re-inventing [insert your city name here] "as ecologically, socially and culturally sustainable" is sure to be constrained by the community that matters a tad more than you do -- the 'business community'.

You know that's true. It's your city, just look around town. You're only allowed to live and work there.

Once upon a time -- and not so very long ago -- your local concerns were usually formatted by
such issues as sewer drains and footpaths. But today the question of the city has moved up a few notches such that it has become a major platform for the environment debate.

In case you haven't noticed it, global warming has a lot to do with the way we live in our cities.Our cities are climate change drivers. Our cities are very unsustainable

[This is Part I of a three part series on urban sustainability
Part 2:
Monads and community in the Australian suburb.]
of poor b.b.
i, bertolt brecht, came out of the black forests.
my mother moved me into the cities as i lay
inside her body. and the coldness of the forests
will be inside me till my dying day.

in the asphalt city i'm at home. from the very start
provided with every last sacrament:
with newspapers. and tobacco. and brandy
to the end mistrustful, lazy and content

i'm polite and friendly to people. i put on
a hard hat because that's what they do.
i say: they are animals with a quite peculiar smell
and i say: does it matter? i am too.

before noon on my empty rocking chairs
i'll sit a woman or two, and with an untroubled eye
look at them steadily and say to them:
here you have someone on whom you can't rely.

towards evening it's men that i gather round me
and then we address one another as `gentlemen'.
they're resting their feet on my table tops
and say: things will get better for us. and i don't ask when.

in the grey light before morning the pine trees piss
and their vermin, the birds, raise their twitter and cheep.
at that hour in the city i drain my glass, then throw
the cigar butt away and worriedly go to sleep

we have sat, an easy generation
in houses held to be indestructible
(thus we built those tall boxes on the island of manhattan
and those thin aerials that amuse the atlantic swell).

of those cities will remain what passed through them, the wind
the house makes glad the eater: he clears it out.
we know that we're only tenants, provisional ones
and after us there will come:nothing worth talking about.

in the earthquakes to come, i very much hope
i shall keep my cigar alight, embittered or no
i, bertolt brecht, carried off to the asphalt cities
from the black forests inside my mother long ago
--Bertolt Brecht

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