Australian Cities: Issues, Strategies and Policies for Urban Australia in the 1990s.
Driven by economic, environmental and (last and least) equity considerations, the 1990s has seen a resurgence of interest in urban issues. An impressive raft of official publications and critical texts has resulted. These two books are edited by Patrick Troy from the Australian National University's Urban Research Program, which since the mid-1960s has been a national centre for interdisciplinary urban studies. A unifying mission has been installation of `the urban' in public policy; infused with a commitment to social justice, as reflected, for example, in two of Troy's earlier books: Equity in the City (1981) and A Just Society? (1981). Where these works responded to early fissures in the post-long boom social fabric, the situation now seems more uncertain and troubling. Where the constraints were once allocative, the new policy challenge is to establish a synergy between rival notions of `productive' and `equitable' cities.
This challenge emerges as a major theme of Australian Cities. The book aims to provide `a fresh exploration of the issues and problems bound up with the current growth and functioning of Australian cities' at a time when `the old verities have dissolved'. Troy has assembled a team of high profile researchers to investigate historical context, review current policies, and scope future directions. The papers, most directly addressing welfare issues are Mark Peel's thought-provoking essay on how `market triumphalism' has marginalised social justice concerns, Sophie Watson and Alec McGillvray's highlighting of the anglo-celtic bias of planning systems in increasingly ethnically diverse cities, and Blair Badcock's review of how interconnected trajectories in restructuring labour, housing and public services markets threaten greater inequality.
Other chapters are contributed by Lionel Frost and Tony Dingle on the historical foundations of Australian suburbanism, Lionel Orchard on national urban policy and the inherent policy tensions between social democracy and economic rationalism, Pat Mullins on the `culture ideology of consumerism', Tim Bonyhady on the conflict-ridden planning for several abandoned industrial sites in Balmain, Ray Bunker on trends in metropolitan strategic planning, and Renate Howe on the role of local government in strategic planning. Three final `avenues for development' are proferred by Max Neutze on financing urban services, Peter Self on linking urban with regional development policy; and Troy on tensions and opportunities in intergovernmental cooperation.
Australian Cities is an excellent addition to the literature with critiques of current debates that help make the required connections between the local, national and global scales. The original, high quality essays are not all exactly fresh, with some of the authors tilling fields they have already well-ploughed; the real value lies in bringing these perspectives together in the one volume. The editor admits a certain `catholicity of attitude', but the real variety lies more in the approach which ranges from hypothesis testing through case study to philosophical discussion. Only Mullins draws explicitly on critical social theory.
Sympathetic readers will find the overall conclusion of the book almost incontrovertible: `there is a strong need for public intervention in the resolution of urban growth problems and ... such interventions can produce better outcomes than will otherwise occur from the present policy'. But despite the editor's conviction that the book ends on an `essentially optimistic' note, it actually provides a depressing inventory of constraints to effective policy formulation, management and implementation: from bureaucratic expertise through the disempowerment of citizens to the intrinsic weakness of planning in a capitalist society. Given that this book was substantially completed by 1993 when even the most interventionist federal government since the Whitlam era is caricatured as `stumbling' toward coherent urban policy, one could hardly be sanguine about the prospects for improvement under a conservative Howard administration committed to small government and market efficiency.
Inevitably, some key issues like heritage, transportation, and environmental sustainabilty are not given much prominence in Australian Cities. Another is technological change which does not even make it into the index. That makes Technological Change and the City a useful complementary volume. While organised in a similar three part structure (history, aspects/issues, futures/options), it is a different type of book: not exclusively Australian in coverage;, nor policy focussed, nor driving headlong down the information superhighway as the title might imply. This modest little paperback is more soberly concerned with exploring `technological innovations which have occurred over the recent past and the way they have affected the operation of the Australian city and how institutions of the city have responded to technological possibilities'.
Following a discursive editorial introduction, sanctioning an expansive interpretation of `technology' sequeing into services and infrastructure, come nine core chapters. Frost and Dingle again provide a synoptic historical perspective. Ray Brindle looks at the interconnectedness of transportation and land use. Clem Lloyd considers patterns of water, sewerage and drainage provision. There are chapters by Don Lamberton on `conceptual aspects of the role of information and organisation', Alastair Greig on retailing trends and the role of post-fordist micro-,electronic advances, and Marton Marosszeky on building technology. Jane Marceau tackles `organisational dynamics of the production system and its transformation', Jim Falk evaluates the broader role of cities as centres of technological innovation, and Peter Droege concludes with wide-ranging reflections on technology, institutional policy and urban design in the information age.
These are generally shorter, more informational essays, and not all as dry as they might seem. Technological Change has a surprisingly strong historical focus on the impacts of technology on the (re)structuring of metropolitan areas, taking up the notion of `path dependency'. But social welfare and distributional issues are given short shrift, although Droege does attempt to conjure up a vision of the `humanely sustainable information city'. While more obviously normative than its companion volume, the outcome remains as indeterminate, with frequent talk about necessary but not sufficient conditions, correlations not causality, and `order without predictability'.
Both these books, and particularly the more substantial Australian Cities, are valuable reference works. They demonstrate the benefits of a rigorous gestation through workshopping and critique. Both are technically excellent, apart from some minor hiccups in the references. With minimal illustrative material, these are serious works and only Droege's racy cyberspeak introduces a welcome lighter tone. While the predominant literature review style never lets the authors get too close to real people, the respective consolidated bibliographies provide excellent guides to further reading. Both books eschew determinism, technological and physical. The major sub-text is an expression of concern with the economic and social implications of crude urban consolidation policies; a theme close to Troy's heart. He works mightily to extract support for it from the contributors to both volumes but has garnered most of his ammunition in another new book The Perils of Urban Consolidation (1996).
Robert Freestone, Planning and Urban Development Program, University of New South Wales
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|Publication:||Australian Journal of Social Issues|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Feb 1, 2000|
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