sound out

melbourne in train

transience has afforded me some thinking time about public transport.

i’ve been spending a bit of time on it lately and noticing the difference between transport in melbourne and those systems that i experienced in berlin, london and dubai.

i noticed, particularly, how loud our trains were. and i don’t mean to run, but the human noise level on them. people talk much, much louder, teenagers actually shout and scream at each other on them, so many people have mobile phone conversations on them and there is a general din about them.

and which probably explains why we have far more people with headphones on trains that i ever noticed in any of those cities*

i’ve managed to come up with two quick, simplistic reasons for that so far, separate from a cynical view on the commercial influence of personal music devices:

most of the trains in berlin and london have large sections of train with a central aisle in which many people stand and people sit flanking that aisle. people face strangers and sit next to each other. conversations between compatriots are rarely conducted across the divide, and so the conversations are far more hushed. added to this, the sound of train the underground perhaps drowns out a possibility of discussion, and certainly of mobile phone discussion.

whereas most trains in melbourne have small series of facing banks of seats and a central aisle. in peak hour, people stand in the central aisle, but don’t interrupt the flow of cross-conversation. generally it’s actually quieter at peak hour, because there are more strangers sitting opposite each other, but even still, it’s pretty chatty. 

given that only 4 stations are underground (and thus have access to networks except vodafone), the amount of mobile chatter is also way more than i became used to.

teenagers still act appallingly in berlin and london (i watched a boy spit on strangers into the window of a train as it was taking off in berlin), but they don’t seem to be quite so loud as our obnoxious youngsters, which indicates that culturally, there is an etiquette around noise in public.

even shouting across streets in berlin and dubai was rare. i think this culture of australians as loudmouths comes from our sense of space. we have a large soundspace, born from our stereotypical access to space (which gives me the shits). we’re rarely walking/sitting/being in confined spaces with millions of other people – we walk so far apart that we have to yell. we can’t possible sit so close together that we almost touch – which leads to practically yelling at each other from across a train.

melbourne’s population is growing like mad at the moment – it will be interesting to see in 5 year’s time if this changes the way we relate to each other on an auditory level. will we evolve to communicate closer together, or will we grip tightly to our sense of entitlement at space and continue to yell over a chasm of public space?

*i haven’t done controlled experiments, but for those who may critically object, suggesting that perhaps i don’t have evidence, you’re probably right. but i suggest you read my blog more and remember that i have spent the last 3 years obsessed with how people wear headphones in public. so there.

image credit: sinan229 from flickr
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found(ed) object(ion)


i found these posters, plastered up on bus stops in frankston.

i found them so despicable that i tore them down. thankfully, no one seemed to want to stop me doing that.

i found the whole experience completely weird. it’s not like frankston isn’t without its fair share of violence and rape. not to mention its filthy drug habit and general trashiness. it’s just that it’s mostly white there.*

i found the whole dialectic aspect of it kind of strange too – some racist wanker puts up these posters in prominent places, trying to sway a particular section of the public, and then i come along and tear it down – my action conveying a specific retort. and that , in a free country as ours purports to be, both actions are as ‘valid’ as each other. as much as i wanted to vomit all over the creator of said racist propaganda, i value the freedom of a politic which supports this kind of exchange – where he (and i’m being gross in my gender generalisation here) puts up shit i don’t agree with and i get to take it down. equal and opposite reaction again.

i found it quite important to be having a ‘remote’ clash of values, in the public realm. on equal footing almost. rather than it being facilitated through the all-powerful broadcast media, or the insidiousness of behind-closed-doors-deals-and-policy that happens at either end of the big power structures. it was almost mano e mano. one citizen against another in hand-to-hand combat.

i found out what what frankston looked like according to its sound a while back. it might be interesting to see what dandenong sounds like. and compare the two – see what frankston would sound like if it ended up like dandenong.

*disclaimer: for those not from melbourne, frankston is a southern outer-suburb which has had a bad name for years. it’s pretty low on the socio-economic scale and has a disproportionate amount of young pregnancy, amphetamine abuse and unemployment. superseded only by toorak (i jest, just). and my generalisation about frankston is just that. of course there are amazing people in frankston, doing some fantastic things. and plenty of ordinary people doing lovely ordinary things. naturally, this post isn’t really about them.

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whinge whinge, whinge.

a few weeks ago, i had a self-righteous whinge about my mildly annoying delays on the trip home from europe.

thankfully, i’ve finally got around to having my arse kicked, by being reminded how fuckin’ awesome it was that i could a) fly to europe; b) afford to do so; c) have an amazing time there, with the ability to communicate with friends and strangers in different languages and cultures and d) all of the above.

i promise to never whinge about travel and/or technology ever again. i know, i’m spoilt.

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public transport rant #4

It’s full…, originally uploaded by manganite.

i’m sure i’ve whinged about public transport before. and maybe i’m just some flaky idealist that believes that the key to a good city is about proximity and access. but holy mother of god, i’ve had some shit transport experiences lately.

the thing is that i continue to be baffled by the apparent ignorance and/or stupidity of state governments (both victorian and NSW) to bargain away public infrastructure through dodgy deals, leaving them with stalemates in the city, 20 years down the track. i haven’t seen what the 2030 plans are for either melbourne or sydney, but i suspect that they’re ridiculously lacking in forsight and courage relating to public transport.

i should preface this with a reminder that i ride my bike everywhere now. i need to be in collingwood in 15 minutes? hey, no problem! i gotta go to the supermarket at 11:30pm? no worries! cross town to yarraville for kraft kuties? ok- long haul, but i did it. i became a dreaded cyclist out of convenience, initially. now i do it out of sanity – and my recent brushes with the draconian ‘systems’ which call themselves public transport – have served as a reminder to continue my wheely ways.


the weekend before last i was in sydney for the biennale and got up close and personal with iemma’s dilemmas. i used to live in sydney, remember? i spent almost 10 years there and while about half of it was inner west, i also lived in the ‘burbs too. try being a freak in french’s forest kids – not easy. and i can say that the PT situation there has deteriorated so quickly, that i can’t quite believe that monocle believes it to be the most livable city in australia. i guess it probably is quite ‘livable’ – in that, when you live there, you catch the same trains/buses to and from work each day, you have a well-worn route, and then on the weekends, you drive if you have to go anywhere outside your suburb, or you walk. but for anyone outside the commuter cycle, it’s pretty ghastly.

one obvious craziness that i noticed while there is that it’s a 30 minute wait between trains from central to newtown. are you kidding? for those who don’t know, newtown is 6 minutes from central. yes kids, 6 minutes away. which means it’s easier to catch a cab from the city. sustainable fuel, and all that. in fact, it would have been easier/quicker for me to get to lidcome, 20 minutes from the city and trains every 10 minutes, than it was to get to an inner city suburb. am i not seeing something here, or does that seem like a really bizarre occurence. it’s great that you can get to the burbs quickly, but it’s not exactly facilitation an increased density/reduced environmental impact kind of lifestyle. add to the fact that, for a tourist, there isn’t anything in lidcombe. whereas newtown is billed as one of the top nightspots (ok, so it’s fast losing its vigour, but still).

and the usual craziness with the cost of transport still plagues the city. the t-card has obviously failed (private infrastructure again), which means that tickets are not only costly, but inconvenient. hell, i’ve lived in london, which is fucking expensive, but at least with the oyster card, it’s convenient. you chuck a chunk of money on your card and you just swipe away – across most forms of transport. sydney has 3 different tickets for its 3 forms of transport and it’s all based on the journey – journey. the word ‘holistic’ just don’t come into it. i know it’s never been unified, but at least it used to be regular. now, it’s just a mess.

which brings me to the melbourne transport system. which, after the sydney visit is looking a whole lot dandier, but it still needs some major fixing, i can tell you. thankfully, the ticketing system was well-designed from the get-go. you can buy a daily ticket, you can jump on and off trains/trams/etc and within a certain area. it gives you the freedom to move. if you’re actually moving. the traithe eddington report is woeful in its lack of provision for public transport infrastructure. or should i clarify, helpful and new infrastructure. and the current system is going to die if as many people are moving to melbourne as i hear there are, especially the cultural/creative types, who are moving here like something out of a steinbeck novel, and the last place we want to be is LA. there are fucked up deals where citylink has a moratorium on new transport infrastructure for 10 years, which bothers me on a conceptual level to no end – private interests can have such a crippling effect on the public good, long after the elected fucktard responsible for the disaster is retired and heading up football clubs and gambling dens.

the reason i bring this up, apart from having a whinge, is that transport is a public issue. it facilitates cultural and metropolitan engagement. it completely influences your experience of a place and the more negative/frustrating the experience, the less room there is for really taking in the magic of a place. if cities like melbourne and sydney. or hell, new south wales and victoria hope to sustain a combination of residents and visitors, there needs to be some serious balls being grown in terms of infrastructural development.

*sorry angus, i know you probably feel like i’m pickin’ on your home town, but i promise i’m not.

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art and public transport, public art and transport: flying.

airplane image by aaron kraten (awesome artist) stolen from his flickr set.

Following on from the discussions on art and transport i posted about here, i’ve been doing some investigating into the role of art and transport together. my current flavour of the month centres around airports.

i spent a lot of time in airports as a kid – i was an ID90 kid. that’s jargon for the child of an airline staff member. so it stands to reason that i have a fascination with airports and airplanes as public spaces and forms of transport.

The airport is a particular kind of public space: unlike loads of other transport hubs, it’s not entirely democratic, given that you have to pay a huge sum in order to facilitate being there. and for most of the space, you have to go through security searches. and that’s just the passenger terminals. it also contains huge sections of open, but incredibly restricted space: tarmac, hangars and runways.

but similar to other axes of transportation, it’s incredibly dynamic and diverse. and, depending on the airport, the sheer number of people passing through the space is unlike any other.

And yet, for all the coming and going, to-ing and fro-ing, there are also large numbers of people waiting around, trying to get comfortable, hungry, tired, bored, anxious, excited and joyous. and, like in the film Love Actually, airports are areas for expression of pure love. unlike most other public spaces connected to transport.

So, in terms of a marriage between airports and art, architecture and design, it’s a hell of a brief:

Make a site that’s got to have room for 500 people getting off a long-haul flight; space to run full-pelt towards your flight that’s about to close [but not so much that you scare the living daylights out of post-9/11 jittery security staff]. But it’s also got to have a cosy space to be able to curl up with a book while you’re waiting 3 hours for a connection, or for your loved one whose flight has been delayed.

Aesthetically, it has to appear clean, calm, safe and orderly to allay fears post 9/11 and also for those 80% of passengers who are afraid of flying, but at the same time, has to leave enough emotional space to accommodate the inevitable tears from hellos and goodbyes.

You need to do the basics in terms of logistics: cars, luggage, public transport, check-in, security and the official stuff. And of course, in terms of planning and business strategy, there have to be places to be basically human: food, water, toilets, prayer and entertainment.

And, naturally, flying changed dramatically after 9/11. Interestingly, though, I’ve noticed that, as a result, more care, thought and pointed strategy has gone into airports and airplanes since. Perhaps it’s because the airline industry stopped taking flying for granted and started to look at the benefits of flying and how to improve the experience of it. Or perhaps it’s always been like this, and i’m just noticing it now for the first time.

And seeing as I am noticing it, the whole world seems to be conspiring with me too!

Ben‘s been posting about his opinion of Heathrow’s new T5 and its new interactive signage and infographics; Design Quarterly has done a bit of a feature on Marc Newsom‘s design of the Qantas Lounge at Sydney Airport (above), and I picked up a cheap copy of last month’s Monocle mag, which was focusing on trains, but raised some of the same points about the experience of train travel vs air travel.

Then, over Easter, I went to Adelaide [boy has that airport changed in the last few years!] and I got to experience an airport that had obviously had a good long think about how to lay out the space, how to engage people, give them a good experience, while rushing them along to their planes. I took pictures even (and didn’t get arrested, which was nice). They even had art works on the walls and a showcase of maqettes from the JamFactory Furniture Design Studio.

Which reminded me about the secret desire I’ve had to open up a gallery in an airport. With all that amazing space, people looking for mental and visual stimulation, tourists looking to experience an essence of a place (and take some of that away with them), what better place to start an interesting art space. Or some site-specific projects.

And speaking of site-specific projets, one of my other secret desires has been to create an installation/experiential artwork within the interior of the plane. not to really freak anyone out, but to add a sense of play to the space which isn’t really there at the moment (aside from the chipper staff on Virgin flights). Does essential plane travel still have to be glum?

Having had that playing on my mind, it was with glee that I listened to a fabulous interview by The Architects on 3RRR featuring with Frederique Houssard-Andrieux, a designer who is working specifically with the interior of airplanes. I already love this woman! and one day would love to work with her – she spoke about colour use within the confined space of the cabin with real depth and understanding. and she’s looking to push the boundaries of what the fitouts of fleets will look like and feel like. unlike car upholstering, designing the interior of a passenger airplane (especially the long-haul jumbos she’s working on) really have to take into account the psychology and feelings of the passengers. and how there’s a whole range of pretty intense emotions that could feature in a flight, which need to be addressed in the design [and i suspect some of the fantastic primary school designers are probably tackling similar issues.]

Having said all that, airplanes and airports have always been aesthetically rich, thanks the need to try and make [expensive] air travel sexy and attractive. but since it has become mainstream and then back towards an environmental anathema, i think there is going to be a renaissance of design and interaction with this form of public transport. Which I have to confess, I’m a little bit excited about.

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