Category Archives: Film

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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World War CG

World War Z

Max Brooks’ novel World War Z is a faux-documentary account of a zombie apocalypse, comprising a series of first-person accounts from around the globe as the undead take over. It essentially tries to game out the zombie apocalypse: if such an outbreak really occurred, using the rules we saw in George Romero’s classics, how it would actually play out? Could humans survive? And if so, how?

It’s an intriguing book, and its single-mindedness in thinking through its scenario to logical conclusions has justly made it a classic of the zombie niche. Yet it presents some obvious problems as a basis for a film narrative, and especially a big summer blockbuster. It lacks a central protagonist (the witness accounts are told to a central investigator character, but he’s essentially a passive, off-screen narrator). Its events take place over a decade, and in disparate locations. And it involves such massive, large-scale carnage that it presents budgetary problems for any adaptation. At the same time, those things that make it challenging to adapt are also much the same things that offer a point of difference from the glut of other zombie properties on the market (the 28 Days films, Romero’s Dead films, the Zack Snyder Dawn of the Dead, Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland, TV’s Walking Dead, and all the rest).

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Miniature Melbourne (Updated with Disaster Footage)


With my dual focus on film and urban planning I couldn’t resist this great short film by Melbournian Nathan Kaso using tilt-shift effects to give the illusion of Melbourne as a giant train set (or possibly a more functional version of the newest SimCity). While I know applications like Instagram have made tilt-shift overly familiar as a creative device, there’s a big difference between using it well and using it badly. Kaso knows how to use it well, with an excellent choice of subjects, time-lapse to enhace the toy-like effect, and very evocative use of sound and music.

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3.14159 out of 4 Stars

Life of Pi (Ang Lee, 2012)

Life of Pi

Ang Lee’s Life of Pi is one of the most visually beautiful movies I have seen. So was his Brokeback Mountain. But here’s the thing: the two films are beautiful in totally different ways. Lee is such a strong and versatile director that he seemingly reinvents himself for each movie; you could love every one of his movies but still not consider him as your favourite director, because he’s like a different one each time.

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