Here are two real world experiences from my own life.
Firstly, four years ago, a friend and I visited Melbourne for a short holiday. After a night out, we caught a cab back to our hotel on the fringe of the inner city.
I am notoriously bad with names, but entirely opposite with directions. One of my favourite warnings to others is, “I never get lost, but I can’t tell you where I am”.
With that in mind, I had to apologise to the driver for not being able to give him an address, but I could easily direct him.
Without a detour, we quickly made it the short distance back to our hotel. The driver was by far the worst driver I have ever come across, rude and unpleasant for the entire trip, with a few snide remarks when we reached the hotel. My friend can be a little hot-headed and the two of them nearly ended up in a physical incident.
I later learned that the driver’s attitude most likely reflected being caught into taking a small fare. They apparently have the reputation for rejecting fares under a certain amount and, by not giving him the address, he might have felt that it was a deliberate attempt to avoid this.
The second experience occurred with the same friend, however this time in his home province of Sichuan, China, this previous April.
We were there for his wedding and on one of the days he wanted his Aussie friends to experience a typical Chinese weekend recreation. This in basic detail is a lazy day in the countryside, playing Mahjong, perhaps doing a little fishing, all while drinking copious cups of tea and enjoying the delicious food of the region.
Again my friend found himself in a war of words with a cab driver. The driver was annoyed by how far we went out into the country, thinking that we would stop at one of the closer country tea houses. It ended with the driver demanding twice as much as he outlined at the start of the trip.
Yet, the drive out from the centre of Dujiangyan to the tea house was less than 15 minutes in total.
While on holiday there, at any hour of the day or night, if my family required something, it was a short walk from our hotel room to all sorts of goods and services. By comparison, in suburban Australia, for most people, without a vehicle, there is a significant separation from even essential goods and services.
More than this, the attitude of the taxi drivers in both cities speaks volumes of the contrast in urban design.
Australians largely are subjected to poor quality, inefficient urban design and yet, when you speak to them about this, the defensive response illustrates just how ingrained into the cultural identity this phenomena actually is.
We Australians have been sold the urban sprawling landscape for so long that anything else seems foreign. However, it’s not the image of suburbia that we really buy into, but rather the semi-rural feel; the escape from the “rat-race”… our little oasis, overlooking parks and golf courses by sunset.
Of course, when we all move there together, value of land increases, driving further development and soon we find ourselves again stuck in peak traffic, far from any open spaces.
How different would it be to live and work within a short commute from one another, with all goods and services within a walking distance? How about having the countryside a relatively short drive out of town, for the weekend getaway?
Throughout Asia and Europe, this is normal for most people, where urban design still reflects times without widespread fast vehicles, yet in the sun scorched Great Southern Land, we are fixated in converting sun-buffering green space into concrete and bitumen, where we waste a lot of our life in commute.
With the cost of petrol and electricity on the rise, this lifestyle already hurts Australians and will increasingly in the coming decades, ultimately devaluing the urban landscape and local economies. It is unsustainable and will, sooner or later, be rejected, either by choice or by necessity.
I have a feeling that, if provided an alternative, innovative urban designers could set the scene for a new urban landscape for future Australians that would be adopted by many and over time, most. This would not be like Asia or Europe, nor would be what most Australians are currently used to, but a combination of both to develop something new, distinctive and unique.
With a changing climate and increasing costs in traditional energy, to act sooner would be timely.
I have a few ideas myself on this and would love to see an increase in this dialogue in an urban landscape already stretched too thin.