Category Archives: Film

My Request for Apple’s Federation Square Plans

Extract from the Departmental Practice Note about Incorporated Documents

Extract from the Departmental Practice Note about Incorporated Documents

The Age has today reported that the government has said it won’t release the plans for the Apple Federation Square development. This is despite the plans being referred to in the incorporated document (which exempts the store from the need for a planning permit, so effectively acts as a planning approval.) As I have argued in a series of tweets (starting here) this morning, that’s outrageous. The plans are necessary to apply the planning control, and hence need to be publicly available. You can have secret plans, or you can have a planning approval, but you can’t have both!

I initially thought about lodging an FOI request for the plans. However I have not opted to do that in the first instance. Unfortunately, my experience is the FOI process causes the Department to clam up: the request gets referred to their lawyers, and then they can play out the statutory timeframes. (See here for an example of previous FOI game-playing by the Department). For the moment, therefore, I’ve stuck with a request for a copy of the plans that points out their obligations to release the documents.

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When Less is More: Why Smart Planning Will Stymie System Reform

smartplanning

This piece was written for the December 2017 issue of Planning News.

By the time you read this the Smart Planning program will have completed its consultation period after the release of its October discussion paper on the VPPs. The state government will be attempting to roll out its reforms exceptionally quickly, with some material promised by the end of the year and gazettal of a final package of VPP reforms expected by July.

It’s a nerve-rackingly short timeframe. The pace of change invites doubt about the genuineness of the consultation – is there really scope to stop, think, and potentially change course if the consultation raises legitimate issues about the package proposed? Is it long enough to sufficiently “debug” a complex set of changes? I fear not. This is, unfortunately, a deeply problematic set of reforms.

The problem with system reform like this is it all sounds great – yay! Smart! – but the problems are in the detail. This is why the timeframe allowed for the reforms is so challenging; it is also why it is difficult to unpack the issues with this paper in the space available here. Suffice, then, to make a few key points.
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The Hidden Complexity of Smart Planning

The Smart Planning discussion paper has dropped. At some point I expect I’ll take a more detailed run through of what is a complex document that mixes various good ideas with a number of really bad ones. It’s an infuriating read, partly because it is so predictable: in its broad strokes, it’s pretty much exactly what could be envisaged from the Department’s material when I wrote about the program last year.

Rather than exhaustively work through the good and the bad of this new paper now, I wanted to focus on one really weird diagram and use it to unpick the hidden complexities of this document. That diagram is this one, one page 29 of the paper, showing a proposed new assessment to pathway for simpler matters.

smartplanning diagram

Behold the simplicity in all its glorious smartness!

It is presented in contrast to this one, outlining the existing process.

existing process

Booooooooooooooooooo!

Wow, the existing system does look complex. And look at all that glorious white space in the new process – that does seem enticing.

[Edit 1 December – below is my attempt at a more honest reckoning of this system diagram. Excuse my crazy person hand-writing.]

How Smart Planning streams actually work. Click to enlarge.

How Smart Planning streams actually work. Click to enlarge.

Smart Planning system flow diagram

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My Next Book is Out Soon

It’s been a long time between Victorian Planning System: Practice, Problems and Prospectsposts, I know, but in my defense that’s been largely because I ended up writing two books, one on the heels of another.

My second book is both an introduction to, and a detailed study and critique of, the Victorian planning system. I have put a page up at www.sterow.com/vicplanningbook that gives much more of a detailed breakdown of what it covers. In short, though, I hope it is both a good introduction for those new to the system. and a thought provoking discussion for those familiar with it.

It is already available for pre-order at 12% off from Booktopia, here. It should be available by the end of the month or the first week of February at the latest.

While I’m posting, I will just brag that back in November my first book, Movie Towns and Sitcom Suburbs, was awarded the Cutting Edge Research Award at the Victorian Planning Awards. The following are extracts form the citation:

This work is an outstanding feat of scholarship… Movie Towns and Sitcom Suburbs offers a new perspective based on thorough research. It is a formidable academic work that is highly readable… The work is thought provoking about how community views are shaped, how planning seeks to influence day to day life, and how public opinion can be harnessed to guide and implement change.

You can see more detail about that book, including ordering links, at www.sterow.com/movietowns.

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Released: Movie Towns and Sitcom Suburbs

Movie Towns and Sitcom SuburbsIn an exciting moment my book has been properly published – the photo at right is the unboxing of my author copies. I’m very happy with the final result; now comes the challenge of getting so e people to read it!

The publisher’s page is here and includes links to various e-book options as well as the hard copy. The Amazon page is here and they have a kindle edition. I can confirm that the pictures come up really well on the kindle. It is in the Google Play store here.

The following is a very kind endorsement from Jim Collins, Prfoessor of Film and television at the of the University of Notre Dame:

Movie Towns and Sitcom Suburbs should be required reading for anyone who wants to explore the relationship between visual culture and urban theory in a rigorous manner. Rowley’s analysis of Disney’s envisioning of the ideal community – from animated entertainment to theme parks to planned communities – is distinguished by meticulous close readings and his theoretical sophistication. He moves so deftly across media because he constructs such elegant paradigms for comparative analysis. This is simply a benchmark work.

There is a more detailed page about the book, including a chapter-by-chapter outline, at www.sterow.com/movietowns.

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Details about My Upcoming Book: Movie Towns and Sitcom Suburbs

Little Shop of Horrors image
As I mentioned here last year, I have a book coming out later this year looking at media depictions of cities and towns, and how these influence urban planning practice, called Movie Towns and Sitcom Suburbs: Building Hollywood’s Ideal Communities. I’m currently reviewing the publisher’s copy-edit, and things are on track for the planned release in October. What’s more, there’s now cover art and the book is available for pre-order on Amazon. So it’s all starting to feel pretty real. It therefore seemed like a good moment to add some details of what the book involves on this page. You can see those details (including the cover and a detailed outline) by visiting www.sterow.com/movietowns.

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Links for PIA pre-congress event

Hill Valley

I am speaking tonight at a PIA pre-congress event, and this post should appear by the magic of WordPress as I’m speaking. I thought it may be worth providing links to a few of the pieces of writing that explore things I touch on in my presentation.

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Two Bits of News

rcilogomedAs you might have noticed things have been quiet around here, with this site serving mainly as a repository for the occasional things I’ve written for Planning News. However, I do have a couple of biggish bits of news to update with.

The first is that I am officially now at work on a book. This has been coming for a while now, but I actually have contracts and so on all lined up now. The exact title and production schedule are still TBA, but it will be with Palgrave Macmillan and I assume is likely to appear sometime late next year. It will be based on my PhD research, which blends film and urban planning topics together to look at the interactions that have occurred between how we picture cities and towns culturally, and how we build cities in real life. Obviously I’m super excited about this, if only because it gives me a decisive answer to those who complain I never write about film any more.

The other news relates to the life changes I am making to get this done. For the last year I have been working part time in local government and part time at RMIT. While I have enjoyed this dual balance, it hasn’t been terribly well suited to doing the writing I wanted to (whether on my book or other projects likes this site). So with considerable regret I have now left my old local government job, after fifteen years in state and local government planning.

I’ll be filling the gap with some consulting work under the banner of RCI Planning. In the initial phase at least (while I write my book) my main target will be local government VCAT advocacy though the website lays out some of the other intended areas of practice.

We’ll see how this goes, but the hope is it will give me a bit more flexibility to do the writing and other projects I want to pursue. Who knows, maybe I’ll even start writing on film here regularly again.

Posted in Film, Miscellany, Photography, Television, Urban Planning, Urban Planning and Film | 1 Comment

Links for my Talk Tonight

Hill Valley

I am talking tonight at Loop, and this post should appear by the magic of WordPress as I’m speaking. I thought it may be worth providing links to a few of the pieces of writing that explore things I touch on in my presentation.

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I’m an Event!

All I Desire

For anyone who is interested in hearing more about my PhD research, I will be discussing it at Loop Bar in Meyers Place, Melbourne, on 25 July. Details about how to book at this link, although oddly it doesn’t mention the price ($20 for PIA or WPN members, $25 otherwise). (Update: here’s a proper flyer).

The write up of my talk is as follows:

How do the media’s depictions of cities and towns inform the way in which we would like to live? And what happens if we try to build the media ideal?

In the 1940s Hollywood movies such as It’s a Wonderful Life depicted the ideal small town; in the 1950s TV shows such as Leave it to Beaver and Father Knows Best painted a similarly idyllic picture of suburban life. Such imagery helped to market the new postwar era of suburban prosperity; but they were also a source of discontent as people grappled with the reality of dispersed, centreless, car-oriented suburbs and found them wanting compared to media imagery. Are Hollywood’s fictitious communities an impossible fantasy? Or are they a cultural memory of aspects of community that we left behind in the postwar era?

This presentation will trace the evolution of such images of community in post-war Hollywood films and television, and look at attempts by planners and developers to build places that live up to that imagery. It will draw on fictional examples from the 1940s through to more recent productions such as the The Truman Show, Pleasantville and Mad Men, as well as a photographic tour through built environments such as studio backlots, the New Urbanist town of Seaside, and the Disney-built town of Celebration.

It will be a multimedia extravaganza, so come along. The booking link again: here.

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