Finally, 10 take home messages from the BVI tour

Hey, any other bloggers out there, do you go throughout dry patches? I just did! But here I am, back into it and attempting to pull out the 10 big learnings we took home from the BVI tour I have previously storified here, here and here.

I suspect my BVI colleague and good friend, Warren Rowe, doesn’t always embrace this, but at the end of each trip we do, I sit us down and ask what we learnt. Managed to do it again this time, and here’s my view of the outcome of that discussion. Not suggesting there is any science in how we do this, but there is over 70 years of urban planning experience involved in formulating these observations!

1. Good public transport provides for a more civilised society

We saw light rail, heavy rail, subways, metros, ferries and buses. Everywhere we went, these work together to provide people with options about how to get around, and allow those who don’t want to, or can’t, access a car to still be able to go where they want to and get what they need to live productive lives and in doing so, help bind a city together and make it cohesive. And wherever good public transport is, urban renewal tends to follow and opens up more living and housing options for residents.

2. Funding for transit is tight everywhere

In the post GFC world, the initial Keynesian response of government spending has given way to a conservative agenda that is built on austerity programs and a rush to get national budgets into surplus. The Australian system for funding transit is clumsy, and inconsistent, waxing and waning with changes of government. Interestingly, the US system of accessing federal funding seems more rigorous and depoliticised, but maybe I don’t understand it!

3. Tax isn’t always a dirty word

When people understand the link between a new tax and what they get for it, it can be successful. Communities in the US accept propositions which involve more tax to deliver transit, and Norway residents seem to understand that 24% VAT helps fund a wide range of services for them. The recent Australian experience where an increase in the Medicare levy to help fund the National Disability Insurance Scheme won bipartisan support, is a case in point. Tax reform is, in our view, a big priority for Australia.

4. Green is standard

Many former new and funky green agendas around development – green roofs & walls, renewable energies, new age refuse systems, TOD etc, seem to be well entrenched in many places we visited, and are basically just part of normal business. Brisbane has some catching up to do on this agenda.

5. Good public places matter

Whether large or small, green or hard stand – well designed, fit for purpose public space helps make a city.

6. Cycling is going mainstream

In the cities we visited, significant investment in cycling infrastructure is making cycling a legitimate and practical choice for going about everyday stuff, in everyday clothes, without a helmet! Women are the indicator species for how successful a city is at entrenching cycling in its DNA, and most places we went are well on the way to doing that. And we were in New York before the launch of Citi Bike!

7. Little stuff matters

There is a definite city dividend of putting extra effort into design of the fine detail of the public and private realms; and connecting that design to the history and authenticity of the place works. And being flexible about it helps – the pop up movement, etc, add vitality and creativity.

8. The rise of the virtual town square

Social media is becoming a powerful tool for sharing information and influencing policy. And it can complement, rather than replace, the physical world. This trend is likely to gain pace as the baby boomers, more tied to old media (with some notable exceptions…), retire and become less influential in policy making.

9. Light rail trades higher than projected

When you put it in the right place, new light rail tends to trade higher than projected. People like this stuff!

10. Everything looks better after chocolate

No explanation necessary…

So there you have it. Hope you get something out of our experiences.


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