Wollongong is a Strong Town!

Over the weekend I received word that based on my application, Wollongong has been selected as one of the 16 competing cities in the Strong Towns competition for the ‘Strongest Town’. Now we [the people of Wollongong and others who care] just need to win the competition!

To do this we need members of the public to vote online for Wollongong! To do this we need to spread the word far and wide! To do this we need everyone’s help!

Today I was afforded the wonderful opportunity to speak with Melinda James of ABC Illawarra radio. The discussion will be aired Tuesday morning. Presumably many people looking at this blog post will have come here after listening to Melinda’s interview? Thank you for caring to look!

Go to this link here to vote for Wollongong. Votes need to be in by this Friday, the 3rd.

Initially Wollongong is up against Ellsworth, a small city in Maine in the far North East of the United States. Maine has a small downtown but is dominated by a large Walmart supercenter, a Home Depot, several large shopping malls and vast areas of paved car parking all on the outskirts of the urban area. It has nothing on Wollongong’s urban  core. Wollongong has every right to win this first round of competition!

Strong Gong

This week I entered the city in which I live (Wollongong) into the Strong Towns competition for the ‘strongest town’. Strong Towns is a fascinating US organisation, already mentioned in my first blog, essentially focused on financial solvency of local area governments. While I don’t expect the US constituency to be delighted by my rouge entry, it was an interesting exercise to focus on the positives of my own domain.

Wollongong is in the process of reinventing itself from its manufacturing past. It is doing both well and also failing in the wrong way. Too much of its engineering is done according to old dumb codes. Pride of place in the good stuff is the re-imagining of its fantastic ocean foreshore, the harbour precinct and the area known as North Beach & Stuart Park. Together with getting more people living in its centre and connecting the centre to the foreshore, this area of Wollongong is becoming entirely vibrant! It’s wonderful to see, and it’s evidential.

The ongoing problem with Wollongong is the less evidential stuff. One example – recently the local council accepted their own draft plan for the future of Mt Keira, a gold mine of opportunity for Wollongong. Within the context of many great ideas put forth, the official plan is to do nothing. Nothing of substance whatsoever. It seems no one much really noticed. But this week I did see something happening on the mountain – and I was horrified! The road up the mountain (Mt Keira Road) is a council road so I can only assume council are in charge.

The issue? New guard rails are being built along the length of the road where none previously existed. So what? That’s good isn’t it? This is a road that is a mecca for cyclists. It’s a relatively winding, quite road where most people driving cars take sufficient care. It is meant as a peaceful road. It is though, about to become a whole lot more dangerous for everyone. Currently it is pertinent for motorists not to drive too fast up or down the mountain. There is a consequence to doing so and motorists know it. Going off the edge would not be a good idea!

Now the road is being reconstructed as a race track, with motorists secure in the knowledge that if they fail – they will be saved by the (safety) rails. These rails will be interpreted psychologically as risk compensation. They will cause people subconsciously or otherwise to take additional risks where they themselves are not in the most danger. Any safety improvement inherent in the rails will be offset by the additional risks being taken. And resources needed elsewhere are being used to encourage people to speed.

Urban Upright & Urban Innovation Australia (UIA)

Welcome to Urban Upright’s first blog post.

I will not be a prolific blogger. I’m under no delusion about how much time people have to read stuff in the crowded place we call the internet.

I will be placing more emphasis on offering talks and presentations. I have lots of ideas relating to ‘Urban Innovation’, good ones at that, I have a message and I have a mission! But like Nancy Duarte says:

The only difference between an idea that is adopted and an idea that dies is the way it is communicated.

And: The way ideas are conveyed most effectively is through storyAnd that’s where my focus will be! On story. And there are so many real stories to tell!

But, as someone once said: “When a well-packaged web of lies has been sold gradually to the masses over generations, the truth will seem utterly preposterous and its speaker a raving lunatic.” I’m preparing to be called that ‘raving lunatic’.

I believe in time I will be vindicated. I’m certainly not alone anymore. I make no apology for wishing to Copenhagenize Australia. The bumper sticker says, ‘Australia, if you don’t love it than f*%# off’. And what? Leave it all to the rednecks and their 4WD’s? I live in a street where people literally consistently drive to other houses of people they know in the same street. It’s a concern. It’s not a long street.

But than I’m not actually here to judge those people who behave in this way. I’m here to argue that a structure that allows and even facilitates this behavior also diminishes the economic competitiveness and the overall attractiveness of ‘place’. It is boring, it is staid, it is diminishing and our kids increasingly want no part of it. It also creates a financial liability that local area governments cannot keep pace with.

I’m a financial member of the US based (& US centric) organisation Strong Towns. Its founder Chuck Marohn informs my world view. Given Australia has followed a US model of development, Australia faces much the same issues as the US and is being sent just as financially south by following car-as-god model. Urban Upright and UIA are in no way anti-car. We are simply anti car-worship. Here is a Strong Towns introduction video:

It provides some insight as to where Urban Upright is coming from. Bye for now.