Category Archives: Television

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

Posted in Film, Television, Urban Planning, Urban Planning and Film | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on Released: Movie Towns and Sitcom Suburbs

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

Melbourne Too Does Not Lack the Big Things

This send-up of poor quality tourist infomercials is superficially disparaging of Melbourne, but actually manages to affectionately capture a sense of the everyday, humdrum life of the city.

It would be an interesting exhibit in a discussion of whether Melbourne (or any city) has its own distinctive ethos, an issue discussed by Alan Davies here.

Continue reading

Posted in Film, Television, Urban Planning, Urban Planning and Film | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

I Thought it Sounded Familiar

Herman Cain

Herman Cain is long gone as a U.S. Presidential nominee (after giving a farewell speech quoting the Pokemon movie), but his memory lingers. And, crazily, I feel he has vindicated me.

A couple of years ago I wrote an article for Planning News which looked at the parallels between SimCity and actual policy-making, and what it might mean if people took the lessons of SimCity and applied them to actual situations. This article memorably caused me to be labelled a “drooling, mouth breathing moron” by a commenter over at The Age when one of their blogs mentioned the story. But was Herman Cain playing some SimCity when he formulated his policies?

I missed it at the time, but amongst in the coverage of this was this great article by Amanda Terkel at the Huffington Post. As Terkel points out – getting all the nerdy details impressively correct – Herman Cain’s infamous 999 tax plan echoes SimCity 4‘s tax structure. Cain had a 9% corporate tax, 9% personal income tax, and 9% sales tax; this echoed SimCity 4‘s approach of a 9%commercial tax, 9% residential tax, and 9% industrial tax. I might add that these are just the default rates for SimCity, which I guess makes SimCity’s tax model more complex than Cain’s.

Continue reading

Posted in Television, Urban Planning | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on I Thought it Sounded Familiar

Merry Christmas, from YouTube

Tim Minchin’s Christmas song White Wine in the Sun is now pretty well known in Australia I think – or at least no longer obscure enough to seem novel when posted on a website like this. But I want to post it anyway, and I figure it will be new at least to any overseas readers who haven’t been chased away by my articles about Victorian urban planning. What I like so much about it is that it so completely and comprehensively rejects two of the cores of traditional Christmas iconography – the religious underpinnings and the northern hemisphere winter imagery – but gets instead to the core of what Christmas is (or should be) all about.

While I’m posting Christmas clips from YouTube: another favourite of mine is this duet by David Bowie and Bing Crosby, recorded for television in 1977. It’s such a strange juxtaposition of talent, and very corny, and yet it works. There’s something about Bing Crosby’s voice, in particular, that evokes Christmas in a very profound Pavlovian way for me.

Continue reading

Posted in Film, Miscellany, Television | Tagged , , , , , | Comments Off on Merry Christmas, from YouTube

And to Think That I Saw it on Colonial Street

Colonial Street B

A while back I posted about Courthouse Square, the classic town square used in countless film and television productions. As I argued then, I think these backlot places are interesting because they at once reflect and shape our ideas about community. When Hollywood production designers build a backlot set, they will aim for something that is at once familiar yet generic (since it will be used in many productions), while simultaneously desirable (since Hollywood films tend to show a world that is a little bit more exciting and interesting than our own). That’s the part where they reflect our desires.

Yet once built, those sets reappear in many productions. Over time, with repetition, those generic backlot communities can come to actually shape our image of community. I don’t want to over-sell this idea: obviously we don’t simply passively absorb a picture of the world from movies and then start to believe this is the way the world is, or should be. But I do believe that pop-culture iconography is party of the language we draw on to make sense of the world, and that Hollywood’s images of the quaint small towns, leafy suburbs, or the polluted big city become powerful visual signifiers that influence the way we picture different types of community.

Continue reading

Posted in Film, Television, Urban Planning, Urban Planning and Film | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off on And to Think That I Saw it on Colonial Street

A John Barry Sampler

Noted film composer John Barry, best known for his work on the James Bond series, has died at age 77.

I’m not qualified to write a really full analysis of his non-Bond work. Jaime Weinman has a nice little appreciation here.

Because of his association with the Bond series, Barry is sometimes assumed to have written the James Bond theme. That was the work of Monty Norman, although its authorship has literally been the subject of litigation: a defamation case a few years back was fought around the suggestion that Barry (who arranged the composition and whose orchestra played it) deserved more credit for the theme than Norman. While it seems clear that the basic melody was Norman’s work, there is also no doubt that even if Barry contributed no more than the arrangement, that was a mighty contribution. That work certainly crystallised the Bond sound.

The sound John Barry brought to those early Bonds combined a strident, almost lurid quality (most evident in the title themes), with a sweeping sense of epic adventure. The latter quality is very evident in Barry’s “007” theme, which he wrote for From Russia With Love and which became effectively the alternate Bond theme (no doubt preferred by Barry since he was 100% responsible for it).

Continue reading

Posted in Film, Television | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on A John Barry Sampler

A Photographic History of Hill Valley

As an urban planner and a filmy watchy guy, I’m particularly fascinated by the way our ideas about cities and towns are shaped by the environments we see in film and television. You can get a giant size chunk of my research on this by reading the essay here, but as another little snippet, consider Hill Valley in Back to the Future.

Click to view

Continue reading

Posted in Film, Television, Urban Planning and Film | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments


I occasionally feel like I should just give up on this site and just re-register this site under the domain name As I said at the start of October, other writing and projects have been taking me away from the website. But I can still find time to point out something good that Bordwell has written. This time, it’s his fantastic post looking at the US election campaign, and the attempts by Republicans and Democrats to shape “narratives” around the candidates, from the point of view of one of our foremost theorisers of cinematic narrative. Head on over: it’s a great read.

A far less intellectually rigorous link between the election and films was offered by the inimitable Shaun Micallef on Newstopia:

Watching it all unfold over the last twelve to eighteen months, it struck me how similar it is to the film Trading Places. An elaborate social experiment with Barak Obama in the Eddie Murphy role, elevated to a position of great power and influence in a normally Anglo-Saxon world. John McCain is the Dan Aykroyd character: moneyed, born to rule, and forced to work with a woman he normally wouldn’t be seen dead with. In the end, the combined efforts of Obama / Murphy and McCain / Aykroyd wipe out the share value of all the stocks owned by the people who put them where they are.

Posted in Film, Miscellany, Television | Tagged , | Comments Off on Obamarama

Renegade Planner Lives on the Edge

Press release: For Immediate Release

Premiering on Nine next Month, fresh from its Emmy award-winning debut season in the US, is the hit drama Material Detriment, set in the high stakes, high pressure world of urban planning. The series follows the life – and loves – of planners in a tough inner urban municipality, as they battle petty one-off developers and the larger, more sinister Mendoza Development Group (MDG).

Material Detriment centres on the tumultuous lives of its four leads:

  • Senior Planner Jack Detriment (Kiefer Sutherland) is a tough, street-wise planner. Abrasive and argumentative, he is committed to doing whatever it takes to keep his neighbourhood orderly and proper. He has little patience with the pen-pushing bureaucrats who seem to be emerging from Planning Academy, and just wants to get on with clearing the unresolved applications off his books. If he has to bend a few rules to get there, so be it.
  • Cadet Planner Dwight Rosewood (Jesse Spencer) is an idealistic rookie planner, straight out of the Academy. He graduated top of his class and his knowledge of the key planning texts is unparalleled. Strongly committed to appropriate statutory process, he is partnered with Detriment in the hope of reigning in his senior officer’s more extreme methods. Out in the “real world” for the first time, he learns a few lessons about life, loyalty… and love.
  • Team Leader John Taggart (Brian Dennehy) is the grizzled, cynical head of the branch, and the man responsible for pairing Detriment and Rosewood. Just 6 weeks from retirement, he is constantly exasperated by Detriment’s methods, warning him that one of these days, he’ll have to hand in his ID card. Yet he secretly respects his star officer, grudgingly acknowledging that without him, the branch’s processing times would be much longer. Gunned down in the 2 part series finale.
  • Junior Planner Tiffany Summers (Katherine Heigl) is the rising star of the branch, still fighting to make headway in the testosterone-filled halls of the Planning Branch. Raised in an exclusive suburb and the daughter of the Planning Minister, she constantly riles against the assumption that her wealth and connections got her the job, and that she plans on sleeping her way to the top. Her love / hate relationship with Detriment (source of much “will they or won’t they” discussion amongst the series’ fanbase) comes to a head when they attend an interstate Planning conference together.

Continue reading

Posted in Television, Urban Planning | Tagged , , | Comments Off on Renegade Planner Lives on the Edge