Monthly Archives: August 2019

Death by surburban sprawl

Published in collaboration with The Conversation, a website that features commentary, research and analysis from Australian universities and the CSIRO.


Non-communicable diseases – Billie Giles-Corti looks at how the built environment impacts the development of NCDs.

Never before in human history have so many people been able to be so sedentary in the course of daily life.

Since World War II, technological advances have transformed the design and development of buildings and communities, the way populations are mobilized and fed, the nature of work, and methods of communication.

Industrial and home labour-saving devices – from the remote control of garage doors to televisions and everything in between – maximise convenience and minimise effort.

So compared with our parents and grandparents, feeding and clothing ourselves has never been so effortless.

But while offering convenience, our use of motor vehicles – even for short trips to the local shop – or a blower to “sweep” garden leaves, appears to be having a profound impact on the health of human populations.


Diseases previously associated with affluence – cardiovascular disease, cancer, respiratory illnesses and diabetes – are now prevalent in disadvantaged populations.

The problem is so big that an emergency long-term response is required – not just by the health sector but by everyone.

The United Nations declaration calling for action on the prevention and control of non-communicable disease highlighted the need for a “whole of society effort” to tackle this enormous global problem, which is crippling already overburdened health systems.

This is a call for all hands on deck: no one sector – and certainly not the health sector – can solve this problem. Fixing up people when they are ill is not the solution.

The number of people with non-communicable diseases are growing exponentially not because we have changed genetically, but because we have changed our lifestyles in response to a rapidly changing environment.

We now sit too much, move too little and over consume energy dense food – just because we can.


The UN call for action specifically mentions the role of urban planning in the development of non-communicable diseases.

Research consistently shows that people are more likely to walk if they live in compact, pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods characterised by connected street networks, access to mixed-use planning, with presence of local destinations and higher density housing.

And that time and distance influences walking and cycling as preferred modes of transport.

Heavily trafficked roads are contributing to the decline of active modes of travel. Peter Blanchard

Neighbourhood design has a powerful effect on active travel options of all residents, particularly young people.

Children’s independent mobility is influenced by traffic exposure and parental concerns (real or perceived) about safety, as well as access to local destinations including schools.

Locating schools in neighborhoods with disconnected street networks and heavily trafficked roads is contributing to the rapid decline in children and young people using active modes of travel.

In fact, parents chauffering their children to school are themselves contributing to the traffic congestion that makes roads unsafe for children to walk or cycle.

The power of planners

In the course of their professional lives, urban planners, transport planners, urban designers, civil engineers, property developers and architects make decisions with long-term impacts on the health and well-being of generations of residents.

They make design decisions that determine whether neighborhoods have connected street networks and footpaths so that residents – including children – can easily and safely walk to local destinations.

They decide whether shops and services are part of communities and in places where people can walk to them.

And whether communities have well-designed parks that meet the needs of a range of users from sporting groups, children, dog walkers through to our ageing population.

These planners decide whether streets are wide enough to allow access by public transport.

And underpinning all these decisions are land use and regional transport system planning policies made by state and local government and politicians.

Networking for a healthier society

So there’s an urgent need for policies that encompass social, economic, sustainability, and health policies to create more vibrant, pedestrian-friendly communities serviced by public transport.

Multiple sectors now promote active transport because of concerns about the health, social, environmental, and economic impacts of a range of agendas.

These include rising levels of obesity and inactivity, climate change, population growth, declining oil supplies and rising fuel prices.

Active transport can achieve outcomes for all of them, from improved health and traffic management through to environmental protection and climate change mitigation.

As Australian cities expand rapidly with continued growth on the urban fringe, the challenge is to adopt joined-up approaches involving creative ways of producing supportive land use and transportation planning that ensures compact pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods.

But a plan is one thing and a “populated plan” is another – new communities can take decades to build.

To ensure people on the fringes of cities are not deprived for decades, we need to move from planning to populating the plan.

New business development models that ensure access to local employment and alternative government service delivery models that provide access to local health and public transport are needed.

Without joined-up approaches, we can stick on band aid after band aid but the true nature of what ails us will remain unheeded.

This is the eighth part of The Conversation’s non-communicable diseases series.

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Tropical forests ‘managed poorly or not at all’

All but seven percent of the world’s tropical forests are “managed poorly or not at all” despite efforts to boost sustainability, according to a major report released Tuesday.


Forces driving forest destruction across four continents — including rising food and fuel prices, and growing demand for timber — threaten to overwhelm future conservation efforts, warned the 420-page study by the Japan-based International Tropical Timber Organisation (ITTO), an intergovernmental agency group that promotes sustainable use of forests.

“Less than 10 percent of all forests are sustainably managed, and we expect deforestation to continue,” said Steven Johnson, ITTO’s communications director.

“The economic rationale is just so compelling. Revenue streams coming from standing forests just can’t compete against conversion to agriculture or biofuel crops, pasture land for livestock, or palm oil plantation,” he said by phone.

Tropical forests play an essential role in Earth’s carbon cycle, absorbing about a quarter of CO2 emissions generated by human activity.

Deforestation, which releases stored carbon, accounts for 10 to 20 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions globally.

Forests are also a lifeline for nearly a billion people around the world living at or close to subsistence.

The report, “Status of Tropical Forest Management 2011,” covers 33 countries and about 90 percent of global trade in tropical timber, and presents itself as the most comprehensive assessment of its kind ever conducted.

So-called “natural permanent tropical forest” currently stand at 761 million hectares (1,880 million acres) worldwide, it estimates, with just over half “production forest,” and the rest “protection forest.”

The good news is that the area under sustainable management has grown by 50 percent in five years to 53 million hectares (134 million acres), equivalent to the surface of Thailand or Spain.

But these gains must be stacked against the millions of hectares (acres) of tropical forests cleared each year for crops, pastures or development, the report cautioned.

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Dispute over European IMF leadership

The world’s largest emerging economies on Tuesday slammed Europe’s push to lock up the International Monetary Fund’s top job, calling its hold on the position “obsolete.


One day after nominations opened to replace Dominique Strauss-Kahn as managing director, IMF directors from Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — the so-called BRICS economies — said Europe’s longstanding exclusive deal to lead the IMF “undermines the legitimacy of the Fund.”

They strongly objected to the aggressive push by Europeans since last week to have one of their own to replace Strauss-Kahn, who resigned Wednesday after being arrested in New York on sexual assault allegations, which he denies.

“We are concerned with public statements made recently by high-level European officials to the effect that the position of managing director should continue to be occupied by a European,” they said.

The 2008-2009 financial crisis in the United States and Europe showed the need to reform institutions like the IMF “to reflect the growing role of developing countries in the world economy,” they said.

“This requires abandoning the obsolete unwritten convention that requires that the head of the IMF be necessarily from Europe.”

Last week the IMF said it want to make a choice by the end of June, based on consensus among the 24 executive board directors, or possibly by a vote.

No formal nominations have been revealed but Mexico’s government said it would propose Agustin Carstens, the respected Mexican central bank governor who has extensive experience at the IMF.

However, within days of Strauss-Kahn’s May 14 arrest, European officials were already promoting French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde for the job.

In recent days she garnered strong endorsements from the German, British and Dutch finance ministers as well as New Zealand Prime Minister John Key.

Moreover, earlier Tuesday the chief French government spokesman Francois Baroin said even China was ready to back her.

“The Chinese are favorable to the candidacy of Christine Lagarde,” Baroin, who is also France’s budget minister, told Europe 1 radio.

“What is being drawn up is a European consensus,” Baroin said, adding that France did not want “to make any gesture that could be interpreted as a form of contempt for emerging countries nor any sign of arrogance.”

Many European leaders believe the deep problems of the European Union, with Greece, Portugal and Ireland in financial crisis, require an IMF chief current on the region’s issues.

Developing country officials accuse the Europeans of trying to ramrod Lagarde through and scare off possible challengers.

For years developing countries have complained about the “gentlemen’s agreement” dating to the founding of the IMF at the end of World War II that keeps a European running the Fund while an American leads its sister institution, the World Bank.

The five BRICS directors said that for credibility and legitimacy, the managing director should be selected “after broad consultation with the membership” and decided based on “the most competent person… regardless of his or her nationality.”

They recalled then-Eurogroup president Jean-Claude Juncker pledging, at the time of French politician Strauss-Kahn’s selection in 2007, that “the next managing director will certainly not be a European.”

But they did not name any possible candidates, and so far, developing countries have not coalesced around any one person.

“It’s a sign of the times that five directors are issuing a statement like this,” said Daniel Bradlow, a law profesor and expert in international financial institutions at American University in Washington.

“They’re not endorsing anyone, nor are they agreeing on a single candidate, which is unfortunate, but they have strong words against Europe.

Carstens, the most prominent developing country candidate with his hat in the ring, told Bloomberg television that he would only have a chance for the job if the process is transparent, allowing the IMF’s 187 members “to compare resumes, compare experiences, hear the candidates and make up their minds.”

“If the process is done in that way, I have a chance,” he said.

On Wednesday attention will turn to Lagarde, expected to give a press conference ahead of the Thursday-Friday summit of the G-8 countries in Deauville, France.

On Friday an EU insider told AFP that her name would be advanced during the G-8 meeting, calling her a “shoo-in” as Europe’s candidate.

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Top 10: Assange and gay marriage

Most industries have their awards nights, but most people from outside the industry would find them utterly boring – even with free booze.


For example, doctors are unlikely to turn up to the Australian Engineering Excellence awards, or the Chartered Accounts awards, and the feeling’s probably mutual on the engineers’ and accountants’ sides.

Which is why it’s always a surprise that our viewers – presumably from a very wide range of non-media-related occupations – take so much interest in the Walkley Awards.

Sure, it’s on TV, but so’s a whole lot of stuff about the Kardashians. Doesn’t mean you have to watch it – especially since there’s NO booze that way anyway. But watch it you do, and you clicked it into top spot in our list of popular stories this week, and that pleases and flatters us over here in the business of journalism.

At first glance, one might think the popularity of THIS year’s Walkley broadcast and related online stories may be owed to the fact that the top honour was handed to Wikileaks’ Julian Assange.

But the very next story on the list – hot on its heels – was a whole gallery of photos from the Walkley awards presentation night, which says to us that not only are you interested in seeing who wins what, but you also want to see us having dinner all dressed up!

In an industry where ego is abundant and arguably necessary, that kind of flattery will get you everywhere, dear readers.

In third spot, you were hunting for serious news, and you clicked on our interview with members of maritime activists Sea Shepherd as they prepared to tackle Japanese whalers.

In fourth, this blog about how Twitter helped arrest a woman for a tirade against migrants on a UK tram stirred debate about what one should and shouldn’t say about people of different backgrounds and the way in which one can or can’t say it. A warning about that one – if you click on the links to the videos, be prepared for some potentially offensive remarks and foul language.

Fifth spot went to the passing of rugby league legend Arthur Beetson. He died of a massive heart attack as he rode his bike a few hours before he was to attend a function for 400 young indigenous rugby players whom he’d helped to achieve their dreams.

In sixth, the much lighter story of a stolen Superman comic expected to sell for squillions of dollars.

Then, with the news that Queensland was the latest state to legalise same sex civil unions, readers flocked to our discussion board to have their say on whether Australia should legalise same-sex marriage. It’s worth a click to get a sense of where Aussies stand on that question, with over 700 responses so far.

There was a collective gulp from all those with an interest in the Middle East as reports emerged that four Katyusha rockets (they’re the big, nasty kind) had been fired from south Lebanon into Israel, drawing return firefrom the Israel Defence Forces and creating a worrying sense of deja vu from 2006.

And to finish, a timely warning for Christmas shoppers, with news that a US shopping centre (oh, all right – “mall”) opening its doors for the traditional Black Friday sales found its staff pulling shoppers off each other as the spree turned violent.

And with that, we wish you a relaxing weekend and may all of your non-denominational holiday season shopping excursions be safe and free of pepper-spray.

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British referendum puts strain on Coalition

British voters handed the Liberal Democrats a double blow, rejecting their electoral reform bid in a referendum and punishing them in local elections for their role in coalition spending cuts.


Final results released on Saturday showed almost 68 percent of voters had spurned the new system supported by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, leader of the Lib Dems.

The Lib Dems also suffered their worst results for a quarter of a century in elections for local councils, even as Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservatives, which lead the year-old coalition, were left largely unscathed.

The separatist Scottish National Party (SNP) meanwhile secured a historic majority in the devolved national assembly in Thursday’s elections and vowed to hold a referendum on independence within the next four years.

Clegg described the voting reform referendum result as a “bitter blow”.

He said his party had taken the brunt of the blame for the swingeing public spending cuts introduced by the coalition to rein in Britain’s record deficit but insisted the Lib Dems would soldier on in the coalition.

“We’ve clearly had bad results overnight and we now need to learn the lessons, get up, dust ourselves down and move on,” he said.

The Lib Dems insisted on having the referendum on the Alternative Vote (AV) system for electing lawmakers — in which voters rank candidates by preference — as a condition of joining the coalition after elections in May last year.

Final results from the referendum showed that a total of 67.9 percent of voters — 13,013,123 — had rejected a move to AV, while just 32.1 percent had supported the idea. Turnout was 42 percent.

Cameron said he remained confident about the future of the coalition despite the results of Clegg’s party and added that he would “pay tribute to the work that the Liberal Democrats have done.

“I am absolutely committed to make this coalition government, which I believe is good for Britain, work for the full five years of this term,” he said.

The Conservatives backed retaining the current first-past-the-post system, in which the candidate with the most votes wins, and opposed the introduction of AV which would benefit smaller parties like the Liberal Democrats.

Senior Lib Dem figures said trust between the two parties had been badly damaged by a vitriolic referendum campaign in which the Lib Dems accused the Tories of making unfounded claims about the cost of introducing AV.

“There is no doubt that the relationships have been frayed in this campaign,” said Lib Dem cabinet minister Chris Huhne.

The referendum and the local elections in England on Thursday were held alongside elections for the devolved national assemblies of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

In Scotland, nationalist leader Alex Salmond’s hopes of holding a referendum on independence were boosted after his governing SNP pulled off what he called a “stunning victory”.

In the first overall majority for any party since the parliament opened in 1999, the SNP battered the once dominant Labour party to win 69 seats in the devolved 129-seat Holyrood assembly.

First Minister-elect Salmond pledged to hold a referendum on Scottish independence within the next four years, something he could not deliver in his first term as the SNP were outnumbered by unionists.

“Just as the people have bestowed trust in us, we must trust the people as well, and that is why in this term of the parliament we shall bring forward a referendum and trust the people with Scotland’s own constitutional future,” he said.

In Northern Ireland, results were still coming in early Saturday but the two major parties that share power in the devolved assembly, the Democratic Unionist Party and republican group Sinn Fein, were set for a resounding victory.

Their triumph, which came after an upsurge in violence by dissident republicans in the run-up to polling day, was slightly marred by a record low voter turnout, predicted to drop to as low as 55 percent.

In Wales, Labour fell just short of an overall majority in the national assembly, having spent the past four years in government with the left-wing nationalists Plaid Cymru.

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