I was so in love! We’d walk a lot, go downtown (Literally. She lived at the top of Stuart Street, Dunedin – famous for having the world’s steepest street), and when we got home we’d canoodle halfway between her gate and front door. I remember it well; there was a huge mature hedge, a picturesque gateway through the gap, trees, a deep mossy lawn, a weathered old concrete pathway leading to her parent’s 90-year-old Victorian house.
I went back there a decade later. On the exact same spot was a supermarket car park. I stood there, trying to drag her place back to mind. Nope. History had been broken and scattered. The tsunami called ‘Progress’ had swept away my memories.
Unless you’ve lived your entire in a hippie retreat, you’ll know these things. And if you’re an urban dweller, you’ll know them all too well. They barely existed when I was a kid. We rode our dinosaurs to school, then just let them roam. Dad had a car; a tiny dark-green Ford Prefect (later he become famous in a Certain Sci-fi Book, but in those days he was just a humble British working-class car). Mum drove too. They just parked on the side of the road wherever they could find a gap between the dinosaurs.
Ditto downtown [see note earlier]. There were no car-parks! Streets, yes, and that was where cars stayed. But over the decades, as I came and went, my beloved city changed. Supermarkets became a thing. Car-parks became a thing. And my city (once a charming mash-up of Victorian splendour, some Edwardian, a bit of Deco .. and that modernistic crap that followed) was ruined. Now it has gaps; blank paved patches of land where magnificent buildings once stood. Each of these former patches of paradise is painted like a Monopoly board but without any colour, character, or variance. It is dead land. Artistically dead. Historically dead. Literally dead, except maybe a tiny strip of nature along one edge. And occupied by 3 or 4 cars on average, year round.
I currently live in the most tragic of urban sprawls, a city that apparently claimed at one point that it was bigger than Los Angeles, not by population but by land area. In other words – the sprawliest city in the world; Brisbane. As mentioned, it’s spacious. Yes; it’s green. There are a lot of trees; that’s nice. And there are a lot of motorways. A lot of motorways.
They get bigger and bigger all the time. The city grows at the edges, creeping into the bush year after year. (‘The Bush’ is a very Australian term. It means many things but mostly: 1) Any kind of Australian native forest; 2) The geo-political landscape known as ‘Rural’.) The actual real bush bush – an entire ecosystem that has been there for a billion years – is barely valued in Aus. Here they sell ‘bare land’, and to make bloody sure of it they flatten every living thing upon it, down to grass. Sometimes lower than that. Tragic.
Anyway, this sprawl exists because generations of city planners have laid it out solely predicated on The Car. Awful AWFUL suburbs of convoluted streets that never seem to get anywhere (seldom ever in a straight line), and finally, after driving 4.6 km (approx 3 miles) to achieve a straight-line distance of 1 km [see example], you reach the supermarket / shopping-mall / sports-complex / workplace / school, and start trying to find a park.
Car-parks are a tragedy. There are just SO MANY THINGS WRONG WITH THEM:
- Paved and drained. They are like enormous house-roofs; waterproof and fitted with drains to swish all that nasty problematic (utterly perfect) water away and out of sight and dump it into the nearest waterway. The land stays parched while the waterways flood. Worse than that, most of the wetlands are gone. This unnatural flood rushes to the sea, scouring the creek-beds, wrecking ecosystems, and drowning people in their cars. Seriously, in every big ‘rain event’ here, someones dies.
- Heat and shade. Have you ever crossed a road in bare feet, in summer? Brisbane has a 6-month summer. We cover the landscape in literally thousands of hectares of road, and the same again in car-parks, and few if any have shade. The solar energy could run the nation, but instead it radiates back into the atmosphere the moment the sun goes down, at a different wavelength that is blocked by ‘greenhouse gasses’. Car-parks accelerate global warming.
- No trees. [See 1) & 2)]
- Occupancy. Every business puts down as much car-parking as it can, supermarkets and malls being the worst offenders. These car-parks are utterly full for about 3 days a year (it’s called “Christmas”). They do have other peak times – weekends can slam the bigger ‘destination shopping’ places. Full again for 5 or 6 hours. BUT REMEMBER THIS: they are utterly empty at night. The average annual occupancy of a car-park is in the order of 10%. On average, 90% of this land are empty; achieving nothing more that some global warming and the occasional drowning.
I generalise. Some are better than others. Some do have lots of trees. Some don’t waste land because they are under buildings. They are not the primary problem, cars are. BUT –
We could do a lot better. A whole lot better. Watch out for my follow-up blog.