Sunday, September 27, 2009

A public transport dream

I read an interesting article in the SMH the other day about public transport. Ken Livingstone, former Mayor of London, was in Sydney to give a public address on how to fix our public transport system. What interested me was not so much the congestion charge that he was famous for introducing in London, but the fact that he managed to change public perception from the "Thatcherian" view that anyone who catches the bus beyond the age of 26 is a failure, to one where so-called "failures" with Oxbridge accents were regularly found on buses and the tube.

In Australia, there is a real car culture that needs to be changed. People not only commute to work by car, but use their cars to drive to the gym and even to take their bicycles to the park. We take pride in the size, make and newness of our cars. Certainly we can learn from the examples of other, less petrol-guzzling countries.

In addition to London, there are many European cities that are shining examples of public transport success. In Geneva, high profile diplomats and dignatories are frequently found on the trams, bicycles and trains. In Amsterdam everybody gets around by bicycle and in Belgium's city of Hasselt use of public transport has increased expinentially since it became free in 1996.

So, while I am constantly reminded that I can't change other people, I would like to challenge norms in Sydney such as commuting by car to work, and the notion of car as status symbol. You see, I have a dream. I'd love to live in a city where a person is judged not by the make of their car, but by the strength of their commitment to public transport.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Getting totally sustainable, man

This weekend was pretty inspiring for me. Sunday was sustainable house day all around Australia. A whole bunch of houses that had either been retrofitted with sustainable design or designed from scratch were open to the public. We managed to slot in to our busy schedule two inner west houses and it was pretty awesome to see what they had achieved. One had built an entirely new living structure out of recycled timbers factoring in north facing windows with deciduous trees to provide shade in summer and allow direct sun in winter. The other had actually added windows to a north facing wall that had no windows previously to increase light and warmth. It's quite surprising that passive solar design has only recently become a focus in a land of so much sun.

This outing confirmed for me just how important it is to choose or design a dwelling with warm, sun-lit living areas. Of course, if you're renting as we are, then there's a limited amount of changes you can make to your abode. But, don't give up, as I'm learning that there is still an aweful lot you can do. For example, we hardly need the lights on because of the natural light coming in to our apartment. We also manage to "bucket" that first 30 seconds of cold water before the shower heats up, and that's enough to feed our small balcony garden, which incidently does provide us with a few vegies and herbs. We do wonder whether our climbing peas and beans will one day meet with the disapproval of the body corporate, but it's our small rebellion against the "not items hanging on the balcony" rule.

Talking of our own vegies, on Saturday morning Pete and I went to a free No Dig Gardening workshop and learnt all about the correct way to prepare a vegie garden bed, and about getting the right balance of carbon and nitrogen in the soil. At the end of the workshop everyone got to take home a new little garden with its own seedlings. We are now the proud owners of a bucket containing silverbeet and asian greens. We got so inspired that we retrofitted an existing pot with a new summer crop based upon no dig principles. The purple flower, which my mum gave me for colour, isn't coping with the wind in this photo, or perhaps it is just dancing with joy!