Dialogue: Transferability of International Experience

From Michael Yeates, Eyes on the Street in Brisbane, Australia. In response to earlier questoins by Steve Melia of the University of the West of England and Stephen Marshall of the Bartlett School of Planning, University College London

Interesting points to raise at present as several “leading” nations (self-appointed e.g. USA, UK, Australia) embark on massive spending to maintain jobs i.e. maintain “growth” and consumption etc, on what looks very much more-of-the-same but no doubt reflects a slight change in priorities.

Interesting in the Australian context as the world’s worst per capita with indicators such as solar power and heating, coal powered generation, car dependency, etc., especially on a continent untested in terms of its long term carrying capacity under current and extrapolated resource use rates … based on little over 200 years of use but with about half not measured, and the last half, barely able to be assessed.

The ongoing trend to convert Australia (and maybe parts of South America and Africa) into an English landscape of trees and grasslands is part of the problem i.e. of colonisation.

I use that as an example where what we are doing and have been doing is right in that it reflects what we have been doing it for so long …!

But we then change that a bit … but not too much …!

Housing and planning are similar … based on English and more recently USA traditions … with almost no respect paid to different climatic and other factors … some directly related, others less so.

I guess one example of this is the permitting of housing and in some cases villages and towns in European type forests … with the tragic results obvious on a regular pattern of cycles in Australia, but also in the west of the USA. These fire events don’t or very rarely occur in the climates where people do live in forests … indeed in most of those places, they have lived there for more than a few hundred years.

Transport and related impacts are quite similar and I certainly agree with the proposition that adopts what might be described as a defensive strategy to change. The change process relies on exposing dominant power structures and exposing their weaknesses (i.e. it is oppositional) even when some of the points are what might be described as obvious.

One example is which side of the road to drive on … and why there is no analysis of the consequences. Another is why cycling is treated as if it is so different in so many places … especially when reduced to its basic performance needs for space and topography. Ideas such as cycling challenge the dominant power structures … i.e. those that insist as in Australia that an urban speed limit of 60 or 50km/h is so safe no reduction is required. Then try inserting cycling “on the road” and outcome all those often borrowed reasons for that not being acceptable … in effect a defence of car dependency.

Try making a city “barrier free” or “accessible for all” to see how poorly those people with any kind of disability are treated, public transport and cycling, even walking and footpaths, being useful places of power to review.

In essence it’s the old idea of the gap between “rhetoric” and “reality” … what is said and what is done.

Today our national budget is announced and in the depressed economic circumstances, it will be a line-in-the-sand time to see if many of the challenges are going to be addressed by a move to taking the substantial steps needed … what those steps are is the challenge and what is announced tonight will be a strong historical point in time.

Given the bang-for-the-buck preference and the short versus long term outcome problem, the budget will probably have initial funding for a number of exciting new transport projects but will have the construction costs for major road projects which are “spade ready” and can be rolled out using the rhetoric of reducing air pollution and congestion …

After all, who really wants to not use their car in urban areas designed for cars, not people or for walking, cycling or public transport?

Maybe next time the required projects will be “spade ready” …

Comment made knowing the risk of (i) over-simplification and (ii) lack of accepted forms of research to underpin the views expressed. The latter is part of the problem in that the dominant power structures decide what forms of research are acceptable and what are not … and case studies, personal experience, informed observation and/or audit techniques, even “the wisdom of the elders”, etc tend to be rejected at least summarily … so it might pay to persist a while longer.

The following is from the work of a philosopher … it is also relevant and indicates we may still be in the first stage …

All truth passes through three stages …. First it is ridiculed (or we might say ignored or marginalised) … Second it is violently opposed (we might refer to use of the violence of power and of speech and repression and forms of bullying) Third it is accepted as self-evident (we might say based on sufficient evidence i.e. critical mass to make the obvious obvious) …

Many seemingly radical changes follow that pattern … it’s just that where the power is political, by Stage 3, a massive PR effort will have quite dramatically changed what went before … and that too is part of the problem … unless the previous history is able to accurately i.e. factually documented.

Thus access to documentation such as is mentioned in the following is VITAL … if only to assess against current decisions some 6 years later.

I guess too given the supposed wonders of the www world and the benefits of information transfer, one has to ask why it is so hard to access such info … ;-)

Michael Yeates
Brisbane Australia

From: Of Stephen Marshall
Sent: Monday, May 11, 2009 11:14 AM
Subject: Re: [UTSG] Transferability of International Experience

Dear Steve

The EU project TRANSPLUS (Transport Planning Land Use and Sustainability) looked into the issue of transferability of transport/planning policies a few years back (2003).

The deliverable report(s) on “Barriers, Solutions and Transferability” may be hard to locate online; I can forward to anyone interested.

Dr Stephen Marshall, Senior Lecturer, Bartlett School of Planning,
University College London
Wates House, 22 Gordon Street, London WC1H 0QB, Tel +44 20 7679 4884,
Fax +44 20 7679 7502

New journal: Urban Design and Planning http://www.urbandesignandplanning.com
New book: Cities Design & Evolution (Routledge, 2009)

At 09:38 08/05/2009, Steve Melia wrote:

To what extent, and under what circumstances, can experience observed in one country or culture be transferred to another?

A lot of transport (and other built environment) research tends to “look across the fence” usually for better practice to be emulated, sometimes for worse practice to be avoided. But how do we know whether something which works in one country, will work in the same way somewhere else?

Most researchers (and others) who take this approach either:

a) assume that something will work in the same way, or:

b) argue that it won’t work (or will work differently) because of some contextual differences

In both cases, the writers seem to make up their own criteria for arguing either a) or b). I have never come across any general theory, or even rule-of- thumb criteria for assessing how experience might transfer across countries or cultures.

Has anyone come across anything relevant to this?

Steve Melia
University of the West of England

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