Welcome back to Sunday reading.

Before the articles, a brief personal note. My grandma, Mollie Rogan, died on Friday night after a short stay in the hospital. She was 96, and had spent most of those years in Devonport (where her family moved during the 1930s), Milford (where she and my granddad Jim raised a family), and Takapuna (where they moved after the kids moved out).

Mollie was the last of my grandparents to die: Her husband Jim died in 1990, the same night my youngest brother was born. My father’s mother, Elsie, died in 1998, a decade before I moved back to New Zealand, and his dad, Gordon, died before I was born. I feel like I’m coming unstuck from the past: the people I know who knew Auckland (and New Zealand) as it was are now largely gone.

Back to regular service…

I was down in Christchurch on Monday and Tuesday for work, and as usual it’s gotten me thinking about the city’s slow (but progressing) rebuild. Later on in the week, the city hosted a debate between the Labour and National leaders. In the leadup to that, Barnaby Bennett highlighted some questions that should be asked about the future of the city in The Spinoff:

There a real sense amongst the population that the wrong questions are being answered in the rebuild and the opportunities to really think about notions of sustainability, climate change, long term growth and new kinds of economy and production were all ignored in the strange slow haste that eventuated – the urgency of not having enough time to consult or think critically about what the city might become, while still only finishing three projects in six years. It’s peculiar, and we tend to overlook that the National party cabinet has been quietly making all the big decisions on this process and somehow taking none of the heat. Red-zoning, health funding, the central city plan, transport funding, the insurance industry and the EQC have all been managed and directed from Cabinet. The ‘suppressed’ climate change report that predicts $19 billion worth of damage to New Zealand includes $7 billion for Christchurch alone. This is the same amount the government has spent on the rebuild so far, and isn’t being addressed at the moment.

Many of us lobbied the government hard in late 2015 to create a new, more collaborative agency to replace CERA. This new group, Regenerate Christchurch, is working on new plans for Cathedral Square, the huge residential redzone, and New Brighton. The danger here is that great ideas will emerge with no funding to develop them.

The long and the short of it is that Christchurch is still a good billion or two dollars short of a decently funded recovery. It’s money that will do wonders for the city, in projects in the residential redzone, in the city, and out east. But the council is at its debt ceiling, and neither party has shown interest so far in making these necessary investments. I think one of the reasons for the malaise in Christchurch is that all of the major players seem to have given up on a shared vision for the city – it’s fallen into an underfunded hole. The visions of light rail, or a green city, or a 21st century city, all seemed to have stalled despite the best efforts of council and those in the city.

Speaking of disasters, the two hurricanes that have just hit Houston and the Caribbean (one of which is headed for Florida) raises the spectre of climate change-related weather catastrophes. It’s pretty simple: as things heat up, storms will get more severe. And, of course, the seas will rise.

As reported in the Financial Times, the World Bank is calling on New Zealand to open up and resettle people who will be displaced from the Pacific Islands:

Australia and New Zealand should relax migration rules on workers from Pacific islands and consider providing open access to people from low-lying atoll nations most at risk from climate change, the World Bank has said.

In a report on the economic opportunities and challenges facing Pacific island nations, the bank identifies the region’s principal challenge as climate change, and says it should be given an avenue to depopulate. “It would allow for gradual migration from the atoll nations and be less costly and preferable to a last-minute abandonment that would require a significant level of emergency assistance and be difficult to manage,” says the World Bank report, which will be presented to regional leaders meeting in Samoa at the Pacific Islands Forum on Thursday.

The region is extremely vulnerable to climate change, which is making storms more frequent and intense, with the highest points of Kiribati, the Marshall Islands and Tuvalu only a few metres above sea level.

Last year Cyclone Winston, the most powerful tropical storm ever to hit the southern hemisphere, killed at least 42 people in Fiji. In 2015 Cyclone Pam killed 11 people in Vanuatu and caused $450m in damage, equivalent to 64 per cent of the island nation’s economy.

The World Bank estimates a 15 to 20 per cent loss of habitable land in the atoll nations this century. “Climate change is an existential threat for Pacific islands and could wipe out low-lying atoll nations,” said Jonathan Pryke, analyst at the Lowy Institute. “Extending labour mobility is one of the last tools left in the development aid toolkit.” Mr Pryke added that the strategy “could be a win-win by meeting labour shortages in Australia”.

I’m all for this. New Zealand is a Pacific nation, where many people have family or ancestral ties to smaller islands further to the north. We should be leading on this.

But not everybody is convinced that this is happening. As David Roberts reports in Vox, increasing certainty about the reality and effects of climate change has coincided with increased denial from the American right:

On Tuesday afternoon, as Southern Floridians nervously watched Hurricane Irma become a Category 5 monster, they received an odd message from popular right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh: The hurricane forecasts are not to be trusted.

In “official meteorological circles,” he said, “they believe that Al Gore is correct” about climate change. They “desire to advance this climate change agenda,” he warned, “and hurricanes are one of the fastest and best ways to do it.” So these meteorologists, he argued, create needless fear and panic.

What’s more, local TV stations are hyping the hurricane to drum up bottled-water sales for local businesses. (Seriously.) For Limbaugh, the hurricane conspiracy goes deep.

If you can put aside how irresponsible it is to send that kind of message to a group of people in real and serious danger (uh, extremely irresponsible), it’s almost funny. This is what conservative climate denial has come to. Even with one climate-amplified hurricane barely in the rearview mirror, another barreling down, and much of the Western half of the country on fire, the only reaction someone like Limbaugh can imagine is to double down. He would rather deny an oncoming hurricane than accept climate change.

The postscript to this is that Limbaugh has evacuated ahead of the storm. These people are the worst.

And now for two things on cycling and walking. First, in Mashable, Alex Arbuckle digs into history: the birth of the bicycle:

It is uncertain who first added cranks and pedals to the front wheel of a velocipede, but it was a major innovation. It also proved that a two-wheeled vehicle could be pedaled and balanced simultaneously without falling over.

Once that fear was conquered, riders wanted to go faster. The simplest way to do that was to increase the diameter of the front wheel, which was enabled by the replacement of wooden wheels with tensile wire-spoked wheels. The size of the front wheel was only limited by the length of the rider’s legs.

These new bicycles, with massive front wheels and diminutive rear wheels, were popularly called “penny-farthings,” after the coin and its smaller cousin. Many bicycles of this time were also called “bone-shakers” — the iron-banded wheels and lack of suspension did not provide the most comfortable ride.

“Wheelmen” pose with their penny-farthing cycles, c. 1890

Image: Corbis

You’ve got to have a look at the entire article, as it’s got a lot of fantastic pictures. Like this picture of a race held in 1896:

c. 1896

“The Stearns Sextuplets” attempt to outride a train pulling four cars.

Second, in Aeon, Antonia Malchik writes about “the end of walking” – how one of the most basic human activities has been outlawed or made impossible in America. We’re not quite as bad, but things certainly aren’t good:

In 2011, Raquel Nelson was convicted of vehicular homicide following the death of her four-year-old son. Nelson, it’s crucial to note, was not driving. She didn’t even own a car. She and her three children were crossing a busy four-lane road from a bus stop to their apartment building in suburban Atlanta, Georgia. She’d stopped on the median halfway across when her son let go of her hand and stepped into the second half of the road. Nelson tried to catch him but wasn’t fast enough; she and her two-year-old daughter were also injured.

The driver admitted to having alcohol and painkillers in his system (and to being legally blind in one eye) and pleaded guilty to the charge of hit-and-run. He served six months in prison. For the crime of walking three tired, hungry children home in the most efficient way possible, Nelson faced more jail time than the man who had killed her son. […]

When her son was killed, Raquel Nelson was jaywalking. ‘Jaywalking’, the legal definition of which varies slightly by state, is the term for crossing a road at any place without an intersection or designated crosswalk. When Nelson’s conviction for vehicular manslaughter was overturned in 2013, the $200 fine for jaywalking stuck. In her shoes – considering the actual crosswalk was about a third of a mile down the street, her apartment building directly across from the bus stop, and her children tired and hungry – I would have done the same. In fact, when I’m with my children, jaywalking feels safer than dragging their wiggly selves down the kind of sidewalk that serves Nelson’s neighbourhood, with its stingy concrete almost hugging the highway. And, considering the state of the driver who killed her son and the fact that he had two previous hit-and-run convictions, it is in any case questionable whether Nelson’s children would have been safer on the crosswalk.

It comes down to design in the end. I live on Mount Eden Road opposite a busy bus stop. Every morning I have to cross the road against traffic, without any legal or physical protection. There is no crosswalk or signal. If I wanted to cross at a place where I had the legal right of way, rather than dashing across between fast-moving cars, I could walk 400 metres to the nearest signalised intersection at the Mt Eden shops – but to do that, I’d have to cross three side-streets without crosswalks on the way there, and one on the way back.

This is a fairly common situation in New Zealand suburbs: Busy arterials with few safe places for pedestrians to cross, but relatively high pedestrian volumes due to moderately dense land use and busy bus corridors.

Speaking of normal things that have been forbidden, an article by Mark Vallianatos on Urbanize.LA reveals how Los Angeles banned some of its most popular buildings:

L.A.’s forbidden city consists of the many buildings that we inhabit, use and care about but that are illegal to build today. Some of Los Angeles’ most iconic building types, from the bungalow courts and dingbats common in our residential neighborhoods to Broadway’s ornate theaters and office buildings, share this strange fate of being appreciated, but for all practical purposes, banned.

For a few years I have wanted to lead a tour to see and consider some of these forbidden buildings. The irony that much of our city is illegal to build today is an interesting facet of L.A.’s history. I also felt that wider awareness of why and how so much of our built environment became restricted could help us think about how to plan for the future. Thanks to the pedestrian advocacy group Los Angeles Walks, I finally got the chance to organize a Forbidden City tour in late July.  Around 50 of us walked parts of East Hollywood, Silver Lake and Los Feliz to notice, pay respect to, and discuss some of the forbidden building that comprise these neighborhoods.

We could have done this walk in almost any LA community where there is a mix of pre- and post-World War II buildings. In fact, I chose the route partly because of it ‘ordinariness.’ We didn’t focus on building designed by famous architects or those with a noted history. The streets we walked had a mix of low-rise small and medium apartments, with a scattering of single family homes and a few commercial stretches.  The policy history that I share below is tailored to these residential buildings. A somewhat different history and tour could be designed for other components of our forbidden city, such as the special rules that govern buildings in hilly areas; the shameful legacy of racist private and public restrictions on where people could live; limitations on more ‘naturally affordable’ dwelling like mobile home parks, residential hotels, and motels; and changing standards for commercial development. But for this walk, exploring how laws have impacted diverse types of multi-family homes seemed especially relevant given the severity of today’s housing crisis.

Origins of the forbidden city

The basic thesis of the walk was that changes to Los Angeles city zoning and building rules gradually banned many of L.A.’s most popular housing types. By cross-referencing several important policy changes with the style and age of buildings we saw on the walk, it was possible to trace the emergence of L.A.’s forbidden city.  Each property and building provides a clue to the history and mystery of what happened to Los Angeles’ housing over time.

Read the whole thing! And have a good Sunday.

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19 comments

  1. “If I wanted to cross legally, rather than jaywalking across, I could walk 400 metres to the nearest signalised intersection at the Mt Eden shops – but to do that, I’d have to cross three side-streets without crosswalks on the way there, and one on the way back.”

    My understanding was that NZ doesn’t have jaywalking laws, and as such crossing the road here as mentioned is not illegal. The only law I thought existed was that if you were within ~50m (or some figure) of a crossing you were supposed to use it. Jaywalking laws make absolutely no sense in NZ, it would be impossible to walk past a single block in most of the city.

    1. Yes, thanks. I have amended that sentence to reflect what I was trying to get across, which was that it’s hard to cross at places where people on foot have the legal right of way.

      Our laws don’t prevent us from crossing, but our road design means that we must take our lives into our hands every time we do.

  2. I’m sorry to hear you have lost Mollie, Peter. It sounds like she had a good long life and I hope that helps the family adjust to not having her around.

    I’m so glad I knew some of my grandparents very well. I think they’ll be in my thoughts at least every few days, and not least because the personal stories they shared with me help anchor a more complete understanding of Auckland and New Zealand’s history.

    For example, from an urban design perspective, I’m not willing to concede that Aucklanders embraced the removal of the trams and the building of the motorway system. I know from my family history that councillors were often voted in on the basis of their public transport plans. Time after time, the roading part of each plan was implemented, while the public transport part was not. I know from my family history that the public protested the destruction of bush and houses for the motorways.

    The victors tell history as they want, but families keep some of the truth alive.

    1. Hence the change in terms and conditions. Now I understand.

      “After being contacted by Stuff, AT changed the HOP card terms and conditions to make it clearer that it was willing to reinstate money taken under the 60-day rule, and that there was no time limit for getting your money back.”

      Yet no proactive action from AT to contact the people who had the money wiped? Let alone to fix the systemic problem? It’s just like the children’s cards that revert to charging adult fares while showing up online as children’s cards.

    2. Come on, enough of the faux outrage. Yes, sure, AT has a whole department dedicated to trying to find new ways to rip people off. A fairer way of viewing this would be that AT didn’t think through the full implications of having a 60-day validation period, and now fully understands that and has publicly stated that it will honour the money loaded on the cards irrespective. It’s not ideal, and there may be other solutions, but if the impact of NOT having the 60-day rule is that tag-ons and -offs for everyone else (you and me included) is slower, and if this creates delays, then we all suffer. Would this be preferable? Some may say yes, some no, but it’s an open and debatable question.

      My question is whether the same rule applies after an auto-topup: If my card is auto-topped-up today and then I go away for 90 days, will I come back to find my balance is zero?

      1. No your money won’t disappear as you have already activated your card. I have had a small amount sitting on my card for over a year now and it is still there.

    3. This is actually fake news. It’s just the great journalists and editors at Stuff wanting to get some easy outrage clickbait views through exaggeration and disinformation.

      The money doesn’t disappear or get wiped, you can see it in pending transactions. AT didn’t “update policy” because of Stuff, the policy always existed they just made it a bit clearer. $300k hasn’t been stolen, that’s just the number of pending transactions that became inactive at some point – the vast vast majority of them will have been reactivated and put onto customers cards. You don’t need to provide proof of purchase to reactivate for going over the 60 days, I would know as I’ve done it myself.

      Really disappointed at Stuff for allowing an article that so heavily skews the truth, but obviously it’s getting them views so they won’t care.

  3. Limbaugh’s fleeing before the Hurricane Irma “conspiracy” is “exposed” shows the reality of climate change denialists at this point. They are not stupid or ignorant. They know it is real. They are lying cynics, usually gettting paid very well to do it. Mostly they are wealthy and selfish old men, hanging onto privilege by any means.

    1. one of my concerns about autonomous vehicles is exactly this. no doubt under the pretence of safety but mainly to eliminate delays to the ever important motorist.

    2. One of the things mentioned in the abstract of that article are vague child neglect laws.

      Doesn’t New Zealand have a law against leaving children aged under 14 years old alone? How is that interpreted / enforced over here?

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