Surprise! Digital space isn’t replacing public space, and might even help make it better

 Telstra and the City of Joondalup have 
joined forces in a trial of ‘smart park’ applications at Tom Simpson Park. 
Author provided

You’re on the train on your daily commute, head bowed, peering at your phone. A cavalcade of news stories, friends’ holiday snaps and random promoted images of trending slippers pops up on your social media feed, which you idly push along in search of something fresh. You look up. Most of the people around you are doing something similar. Connecting intensely with their smartphones, and not with anyone near them.

It’s a scene repeated across Australian cities every weekday morning. More and more of our daily lives – how we work, how we navigate, how we learn and how we entertain ourselves – take place through the interface of glowing rectangular screens. There is concern about what smartphones are doing to our attention spans, our capacity for random human interactions and our self-esteem.

But what does the age of the smartphone mean for our cities, and for how we design our public spaces?

It’s a question that has intrigued tech futurists for decades. Australian-born architect Bill Mitchell trained a generation of digital urbanists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to imagine and plan for the coming “city of bits”. In his 1995 book City of Bits, he likened the impact of the infobahn to that of Haussmann’s 19th-century Parisian boulevards, in their capacity to radically reshape the city.

Unlike Haussmann’s network of avenues, parks and water infrastructure, the “invisible city” of the 21st century would, Mitchell argued, be shaped more by the logic of networked data. Places would be “constructed virtually by software instead of physically from stones and timbers”.

Mitchell wasn’t the only one who believed our digital future would dramatically reshape our cities. Media futurist Marshall McLuhan speculated in 1964 that the coming “global village” would mean that “the city as a form of major dimensions must inevitably dissolve like the fading shot in a movie”. Our need for groups of people to be near to each other, he believed, would become redundant as more and more of our connections would occur virtually.

Marshall McLuhan – The World is a Global Village (CBC TV)

Of course, the future didn’t quite turn out that way. Vibrant, productive physical places still matter. Architects and designers are still building places of “stones and timbers”.

Smartphone-equipped citizens need not be tethered to their desks to surf the infobahn. The Internet of Things (IoT) entails more and more urban services and infrastructure being connected via tiny distributed sensors. The virtual space of the internet has become increasingly interconnected with our urban fabric.

Experimenting with the city of data

The city of bits has become the city of data. The millions of daily interactions and transactions in cities – volumes of energy used; movements of people, traffic, water and waste; social media interactions; emails; financial and retail transactions; and multi-modal transport flows – are generating huge volumes of “data exhaust”. These data are increasingly being put to work in an attempt to better manage the pressures and challenges our cities face.

Many hope this age of big data will lead to smarter, more responsive cities. Australian cities have begun trialling smart technologies – parking apps, smart lighting trials, public Wi-Fi – to improve basic city services. The Australian government’s A$50 million Smart Cities and Suburbs Program will help scale up these investments to allow for more ambitious trials.

Many smart-city technologies are designed to help local governments better monitor services such as waste collection and roads maintenance. For example, the Western Australian city of Joondalup is partnering with Telstra to test IoT technologies to better monitor environmental factors like temperature, humidity, pollution, light and noise levels in real time.

Telstra and the City of Joondalup are trialling real-time environmental monitoring applications at Tom Simpson Park. Author provided

The recently released Smarter Planning Perth (SPP) map allows government agencies and utilities involved in infrastructure works to better collaborate, share costs and co-ordinate timetables. This is a platform designed to minimise works congestion and cut project time frames, so the city’s road networks run more efficiently.

But what kinds of places will these smart technologies and services actually create? With a focus on data analytics, efficiency and automation, there is no guarantee that the latest data-driven technologies will necessarily help our public places thrive.

As the digital urbanist Rick Robinson wrote in a 2016 article, commercial agendas for smart cities are:

just as likely to reduce our life expectancy and social engagement by making it easier to order high-fat, high-sugar takeaway food on our smartphones to be delivered to our couches by drones whilst we immerse ourselves in multiplayer virtual reality games.

Places of ‘stone and timber’ still matter

Data-driven technologies may make cities work more efficiently, but that may not always be the only thing we want out of places. One of the great lessons of the past two decades is that, despite our growing dependence on digital platforms of communication, spaces that enable us to connect and mingle in real life still matter. Our enduring connection to places of “stones and timber” surely reflects our all-too-human desire not only for seamless interfaces and swipeable apps, but also for places of disturbance, delight, random noises and chance encounters.

As the US urbanist Jane Jacobs observed many decades ago, good places are nourished by diversity and difference, not uniformity and efficiency.

We need, therefore, to ensure the new-found insights generated by all of our cities’ data works in the service of good places. How can this be done?

For a start, putting data to use may lead to a very analogue solution. For example, more fine-grained urban data that alerts us to temperature anomalies in different places should be used not only to monitor, but also to cool. This means more trees, not just more sensors.

Many cities have begun to design smart bus stops equipped with heat-responsive water misters and blinds, so these become places of respite and shelter for weary travellers. This approach uses digital technologies to artificially “switch on” natural services like water-cooling and shade in places that have, as a result of the use of materials like bitumen and concrete, become urban heat islands, exposing some of our most vulnerable to extremely hot conditions.

Digital technologies can also help us navigate and experience places through the events and characters that have shaped their unique identities. Digital overlays, soundscapes and augmented media can provide us with interactive experiences of the the built environments of today and their past “lives”.

Digital lighting technology allows residents of a building slated for demolition to express how they feel. Jessica Hromas, Author provided

These uses of technology allow for different, perhaps more intimate, interactions between people and places. Crucially, augmented experiences of the history of a place can help us recover what has been lost through decades of urban transformation.

Digital technologies can also be used to disrupt official narratives of place. At Sydney’s Waterloo public housing tower, slated for demolition in a new phase of urban renewal, community artists worked with public housing tenants to create a large-scale digital artwork that expresses the residents’ emotional connections to their homes.

Embedded digital technologies were used to subvert the usual mechanistic processes of community consultation managed by development agencies. The spectacular piece of digital art worked to highlight that residents should not be forgotten in the renewal process.

Feeling blue: Waterloo towers resident Fiona in her apartment. Nic Walker, Author provided

Clearly, the possibilities of digital technologies can be used to confound and enlarge our experiences of and connections to place.

As McLuhan and Mitchell would no doubt have realised by now, with the rise of digital technologies public spaces have become more, not less, important to the experience of cities. As we design the digital interfaces and data-driven services to support our places and spaces, the evolving possibilities of place and digital publics will no doubt continue to surprise.

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Older people now less likely to fall into poverty

 The incidence of poverty among people over 65 
is decreasing in part because of increased labour force participation. 
Col Ford and Natasha de Vere/Flickr

The risk of people past retirement age falling into poverty is now decreasing. There has been a substantial improvement compared to 15 years ago, when the incidence of poverty among the elderly was 32.4%.

People past retirement age are much more at risk of poverty compared to people of other ages. In 2014, 23% of people over 65 were identified as experiencing poverty, while among the general population this was 10.1%.

If we look at poverty in older age using three alternative, well-established, definitions: the Henderson Poverty Line, the OECD 50% poverty line and the OECD 60% poverty line, they all lead to very similar conclusions.

The OECD 50% poverty line is defined as 50% of median household equivalent disposable income. Equivalised household income allows for differences in household composition, like the number of adults and children who live in the household. It therefore makes income comparable between households of different sizes. Someone is counted as poor if their equivalised disposable household income falls below this poverty line.

Applying this to data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics Australia (HILDA) survey shows clear differences between ages. There’s a much larger incidence of poverty among people over 65, as well as a larger decrease in the poverty rate among those over 65.

Between 2000 and 2014, the prevalence of income poverty among older people declined by more than 9 percentage points, well above the decline of other age groups.

There are a number of reasons for this decrease in the poverty rate. One is the increase in labour force participation from 6.9% to 12.5% for this older group, whereas for other age groups labour force participation has remained quite stable.

Another reason is the larger increase in pension rates (which is the typical social security payment for people over 65) compared to allowance rates (which is the typical social security payment for working-age people). From an already high base, the payment rates for the oldest age group clearly increased by the most.

These two reasons combined account for over 75% of the decrease in poverty incidence. Increased private pensions account for a further large part of the decrease (nearly 41%), while changes in investment income would have increased the poverty rate.

Why pensions are so important

This shows just how important public and private pensions are for the standard of living of older people. Given that more and more people will be covered by superannuation, we expect that poverty rates will further decline in the future. However, maintaining the value of public pensions is equally important as a substantial proportion of people over 65 will remain dependent on these payments.

Those dependent on the age pension include people with a disability during their working life, and many women, as they remain the ones who are more frequently out of the labour force and working part time to raise children. As a result, these groups have less opportunity to build up sufficient superannuation. However, the age pension may perhaps be better targeted.

Although the largest increases in income support are for those classified as poor (with the largest average increase observed for those over 65), the non-poor population over 65 also receives a substantial increase in income support.

The increase in payments for people who aren’t poor and over 65 is nearly as large as the increase for those classified as poor who are aged 15 to 64. Payments for working-age people have only been increased with inflation, while pensions increased at the same rate as average earnings which has generally been higher than inflation.

To better alleviate poverty for our whole population, government payments for working-age people need to keep up with average earnings like the pensions do. If the government is not prepared to direct more resources to income support payments, they need to treat different age groups more equally. This means better targeting payments among our older population and using any savings to increase payments for the working-age population at a similar rate as pensions.

This article was written by:
Image of Guyonne KalbGuyonne Kalb – [Professorial Research Fellow and Director of the Labour Economics and Social Policy Program, University of Melbourne]




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Riding in cars with dogs: millions of trips a week tell us transport policy needs to change

 Having a pet dog turns out to be a highly 
car-dependent affair. 

Dog owners depend very heavily on their cars to transport and care for their pets. Our recently published study estimates that dog owners make about 2.4 million dog-related trips a week in Sydney. We also found pet owners overwhelmingly want to be able to travel on public transport with their pets. So why are they still excluded?

Our study, involving more than 1,250 Sydney dog owners, looked at popular activities owners do with their dogs and how often these require a trip by car. Typical activities include:

  • walking
  • visiting the park or other recreational areas
  • dog training
  • going to cafés, bars or shops
  • visiting family, friends or the vet.

On average, we found people walk their dog twice or more a week. While this confirms existing research, we found that one in four dog walks actually began with a drive in a car. Of the more than 75% of dog owners who go to a recreational area twice or more a week, 45% get there by car. And of the two-thirds of people who go to the dog park three times a week, more than half travel by car.

This demonstrates a surprisingly high reliance on private cars for dog ownership. The table below clearly shows this.

Activities undertaken by dog owners and the number of dog-related car trips each week.

The survey also found that, on average, people visit a vet three times a year. They use a car for 86% of those trips.

However, 14% said lack of transport had prevented them from taking their dog to a vet. People who did not own a car were more likely to fall into this category.

So, why does this matter?

Our results indicate that enjoying and caring for a dog in Australian cities – which has proven health and social benefits – is a relatively car-dependent affair. And car dependency is something urban planners want us to leave behind for many reasons, including sustainability, health and liveability.

If we are trying to reduce car use, understanding activities that lead to car dependence is important. We are particularly interested in the unintentional, often negative, consequences for individuals who, by choice or circumstance, do not have access to a car. A compromised ability to enjoy and care for a dog is one such consequence.

All European cities allow dogs on public transport but most cities in the US and Australia do not. TIF Fotos/Shutterstock

A policy solution would be to allow dogs on public transport in Australian cities. Unsurprisingly, our survey of dog owners found an overwhelming 95% support this.

More than half indicated they would do more activities with their hound if this were allowed. And 20% said they would even consider getting by without one of their cars if they could take their dog on public transport.

What are the rules in other countries?

With these findings in mind, we investigated public transport policies on pets in 30 cities across Europe, the United States and Australia. We found all European cities allowed dogs on public transport. Most cities in the US and Australia did not.

The policies allowing dogs vary. Some apply limits on where on the train, tram or bus a dog may travel, on travel during peak hours, and on the size of dog. In cities such as Paris, dogs must pass a “basket test” for riding in a carrier or small bag.

Most cities charge a fare for dogs at a concession or child price. Zurich has gone a step further by offering an annual travel card for dogs.

It is interesting that in cultures where private cars are dominant – such as Australia and the US – dogs are restricted from riding on public transport. In Europe, where car ownership and use are less common and public transport use is more the norm, dogs are welcome on trains and buses.

This perhaps says something about how we see public transport in Australia: it is for predictable and “clean” trips, such as the journey to work.

In reality, our lives are made up of messy trips, and to reduce car dependence we need to plan for this mess. This might include measures such as changes to timetables, making the interior of trains and buses more suitable for people carrying groceries, or allowing people to use the train to take their dog on an outing or to the vet. If public transport is for travel for all citizens and dogs are an important part of so many people’s lives, why should dogs be excluded from public transport?

This article was co-authored by:



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Listen To Older Voices – Carol Cochran: Part 1

Welcome to Listen To Older Voices, a program produced by Rob Greaves 
for Uniting Melba and podcast through the Toorak Times and Tagg.

Listen To Older Voices presents the stories, views and opinions of our older citizens. It is predominantly in a life & times format, with interviewees reflecting upon their lives from earliest memories. An underlying principal of the program is to promote the concept of positive ageing, reinforcing the principle that older people have & continue to make a valuable contribution to both their local & wider community.

This is the first part of a 3-part program featuring the Life and Times of 71-year-old baby boomer, Carol Cochran. Carol is a natural storyteller and her manner in which she tells of her life is most engaging. In this program we learn about her early life and in doing so are introduced to her parents. Being the oldest girl in the family, the task fell upon her to help look after the home and siblings when her father passed away from cancer.

In unravelling her early lifer carol gives us an insight into the many everyday activities that kids did in the late 1940’s and early ‘50’s. This was a time when the baker and the milkman delivered to the door, and, kids at primary school were given milk to drink, milk that was often left out in the hot sun. These are stories of a lifestyle now long gone.

Click to hear Carol Cochran – Part 1

Previous LTOV Programs can be accessed clicking on this icon – 




[Listen To Older Voices receives funding from the Commonwealth Government through the Commonwealth Home Support Program Program]

They know where you go: dockless bike sharing looms as the next disruptor – if key concerns are fixed

 Information about who rides where and when is useful 
for city planners and policymakers, but also a valuable commodity 
in its own right. AAP

Beyond the benefits of dockless bike sharing for people’s mobility and health, these services are producing an ever more useful byproduct: journey data. Mapped through global positioning system (GPS) devices on the bikes or via Bluetooth using GPS data from users’ smartphones, the journey data that operators collect could be a powerful tool for city planners and policymakers, possibly even a valuable commodity.

Each trip taken on a dockless bike is recorded in a database. At UNSW’s City Futures Research Centre, we have been working with Bicycle Network’s Riderlog app data. We have mapped more than 120,000 journeys and are exploring how the data can be both used and protected.

We have been able to create Bicycling Dashboards for all the capital cities of Australia, an example of which is shown below. The dashboard can show riders’ behaviours and movements across each city.

Bicycling Dashboard: visualising cyclists’ behaviour across the city. Created by Dr Simone Z. Leao, City Futures, UNSW, Author provided

Dockless, the next big disruption?

Dockless sharing schemes use bikes that are self-locking and tracked through GPS. Using a smartphone app, riders can pick up a bike, use it, then essentially leave it at their destination.

In an era of smart cities and ubiquitous computing, dockless bike sharing adds another layer of connection through digital platforms and smartphone apps to navigate and interact with the built environment. Our dependency on these new and useful technologies is driving their disruptive impacts.

Technology-based services are reshaping how city residents and visitors access essential services such as transport and housing. Bower and Christensen first coined the term disruptive technologies in 1995.

The two disruptive technology pinups are Uber and Airbnb. Uber has disrupted the business model of the taxi industry, while Airbnb has disrupted the short-term accommodation market. In the last 10 years both have exploded globally and now hold formidable market shares in more than 100 cities across the world.

The new kid on the block is dockless bikes.

A key advantage in bike sharing

An interesting point of difference to other city disruptors is that there is not one dominant dockless bike market leader. In Australia, over just a few months, we have seen the arrival of at least six operators: Reddy Go, OBike, ofo, mobike, Earth bike and Airbike.

To use the oBike, riders download the app and use it to scan the QR code on the back of the bike. shahphoto/Shutterstock

yrone Siu/Reuters

All dockless bike schemes allow the rider to leave the bike in public spaces close to their destination. This is the key difference from docked bike-sharing systems, which required the rider to pick up and return the bike at dedicated docking stations. Having hired such bikes in Chicago and Glasgow, I can attest to the challenges of finding the elusive docking station and then returning the bike to a station that is not as close as I would like to my destination.

The dockless bike can provide an important link in the “mobility as a service” value chain, whether it’s used for the “last mile” commute or the tourist experience. Either way, having more bikes on our roads must encourage more cycling, which can only be a good thing, right?

Smart but revealing

Our work at City Futures makes clear just how much the collected journey data can tell us about the users. Across Australian capital cities, we have mapped more than 120,000 cycle journeys by 7,600 users over three-and-half years.

Through cleaning and visualising this data, we can start to understand at a fine scale where and when people are riding through the city and where they are not, and what age and gender the cyclists are.

As the Bicycling Dashboards show, this is a rich source of information for city planners and policymakers. If linked to other data it could just as easily be a valuable commodity in its own right.

So one might speculate if collecting fine-scale mobility data is part of the dockless bike operators’ business model.

The collection of personal mobility data also raises questions about its security and anonymity. The data visualised in the Bicycling Dashboard has gone through a process of formatting, cleaning, validating and, importantly, anonymisation.

Safeguarding personal data is essential. It should be of paramount concern to dockless bike operators as they collect detailed information about each individual’s movements. Other personal information typically collected includes the cyclist’s phone number and credit card details.

Aggregating this information to understand mobility patterns is valuable for city planners and policymakers. However, the individual traces of a person as they travel the city must be guarded for reasons of privacy and personal security.

Every user of a docked bike leaves digital traces of their journey around the city. Shahjehan/Shutterstock

Guidelines to getting it right

Data collection is but one of the opportunities and challenges facing dockless bike operators. Many also see visual clutter as a key drawback. China has bike graveyards filled with dockless bikes; in Melbourne, dozens of dockless bikes have been dredged from the Yarra River; and in Sydney, six inner-city councils (Inner West, City of Sydney, Randwick, Waverley, Woollahra and Canada Bay) developed bike-sharing provider guidelines, giving operators three months to comply.

The guidelines are sensible and importantly include “data sharing” between bike-sharing operators and councils as one of seven key principles.

However, dockless bikes are still having a marked impact in Sydney. In the recently released draft Future Transport Strategy 2056, TransportNSW identified bike sharing as part of the solution to people’s transport needs.

We can see dockless bikes as the next link in the chain to mobility as a service. I hope the operators can get it right, so more Australians can get on a bike and realise the health benefits of active transport.

Dr Simone Z. Leao created the Bicycling Dashboard shown in this article.

This article was written by:
Image of Christopher PettitChristopher Pettit – [Professor of Urban Science, UNSW]






This article is part of a syndicated news program via

People love parklets, and businesses can help make them happen

 The Wray Avenue Solar Parklet by Seedesign 
Studio is in Fremantle. Jean-Paul HorréAuthor provided

As councils across Australia strive to enhance their liveability, parklets are proving popular among city communities. A poll of 300-plus citizens gathered for the inaugural Perth City Summit in August found parklets are the street activation people would most like to see. But why are they so desirable?

San Francisco is central to the parklet story. In 2005, the design collective Rebar turned a parking space into a “park” for two hours as a comment on the use and control of public space in the city. This was followed in 2006 by the installation of more than 40 temporary parks for PARK(ing) Day, now an annual international event.

By 2010, San Francisco had introduced a policy to help create parklets. This has set an important precedent for parklet policies in Australia and internationally.

There are now more than 50 parklets across San Francisco. According to its Pavements to Parks program, these parklets have “appeared … under the sponsorship of nonprofits, small businesses, neighborhood groups, and others”.

This account conveys a strong sense of democracy and accessibility: anyone can install a parklet in their city, and apparently many do. The Deepistan National Parklet (aka “the Deeplet”), the parklet installed by Deep Jawa outside his home in the Mission District, is a celebrated example.

The Deepistan parklet is a celebrated example created by a community-minded individual. Steve Rhodes/flickr 

Mark Hogan/flickr

The neglected role of business

We hear much less about the businesses behind parklets. Cafes, bakeries, bars and pizza shops have installed almost all of the 50-plus parklets in San Francisco. Deepistan is exceptional not merely for its topiary dinosaur but for its non-commercial nature.

This is not surprising, since the proponent pays for installation and maintenance. And the costs are significant (typically these can be well over A$20,000).

The term “parklet” can be traced to San Francisco (it was coined by City planner Andres Power as a catchier name for Rebar’s proposed “walklet”). But there are many other precedents for the intervention itself.

Rebar’s temporary parklet in 2005, the first of many to show vividly how much space we set aside for private cars.

Perhaps the most obvious, given the strong connection between parklets and cafes, is the long-standing use of footpaths and roadways as restaurant dining areas. The parklet outside Vans Cafe in Cottesloe, for example, was approved under an alfresco dining licence. Converting a parking space into a sitting space is hardly revolutionary.

Yet advocates of parklets rarely make this connection. The story of parklets as entirely new, stemming from Rebar’s DIY park, is far more appealing, suggesting a bottom-up, creative and democratic remaking of the public realm. The link to one of the world’s most innovation-rich cities doesn’t hurt, either.

The reluctance of planners and policymakers to connect parklets to business also reflects concerns about the commercialisation and commodification of the city. The problems of privately owned public spaces (“POPOs” – provided by large developers in exchange for variations to planning rules) are well documented, particularly the issues of high levels of management and surveillance.

Parklets, however, are not privately owned public spaces. Parklets are installed on public land, are temporary and cannot be controlled by the business that installed them. Each bears a sign proclaiming the public nature of the space. Anyone can use parklets, whether they buy something or not.

Parklets are only temporary structures paid for and built by the proposer. SDOT Photos/Flickr

One might critique parklets for their scale, their distribution or their use. They are tiny and do very little to meet important needs for play, exercise or engagement with nature. Some appear a little neglected; many are in areas that are already leafy.

San Francisco’s Parklet Manual gives detailed instructions on creating a parklet. City of San Francisco

In San Francisco, some parklets have been rejected for fear they will contribute not to community empowerment but to gentrification.

Why so popular?

So how can we explain the popularity of the parklet? Perhaps because parklets support, and build off, the kinds of places people like – and these aren’t just green spaces.

As US urban activist and writer Jane Jacobs explained so powerfully, cities need more than parks and plazas: commercial activity is a crucial component of public life. Cafes are increasingly important sites for community interaction as other places for local exchange disappear, including banks, post offices, corner delis and newsagents, on top of the local hardware, haberdashery and other specialist shops lost to competition from larger retailers and the digital marketplace. Parklets present some hope for walkable, local commerce.

Or perhaps their popularity has more to do with the lack of options for public participation in shaping the city. Parklets may be led by businesses, but they are local businesses, sometimes supported with public or crowdsourced funds, and parklet policies mean that the spaces cannot be private. Opportunities for participation are often much greater than for the larger public spaces created by professionals. They also show vividly how much space we waste on private cars.

North Perth’s Angove Street Off-cut Parklet, designed by NOMA. NOMA, Author provided

After parklets, the second-most-desired street activation, according to the Perth City Summit poll, was “creative installations”, followed by street events and murals. In comparison, parklets offer a more tangible and accessible option.

Clearly, we can’t rely on businesses alone to provide adequate and appropriate public spaces. The role of local and state governments in providing a high-quality public realm continues to be important. But parklets show that businesses are not all seeking to play the system. As we think about public life, parklets might provide a useful model to build on.

This article was written by:
Image of Amelia ThorpeAmelia Thorpe – [Senior Lecturer and Director of Environmental Law Programs, UNSW]






This article is part of a syndicated news program via

Listen To Older Voices – Hannah Sky: Part 3

 Welcome to Listen To Older Voices, 
a program produced by Rob Greaves for Uniting Melba and podcast 
through the Toorak Times and Tagg [Picture Left to right - Rob Greaves,
Kath Holten - Team leader Melba & Hannah Sky
Listen To Older Voices presents the stories, views and opinions of our older citizens. It is predominantly in a life & times format, with interviewees reflecting upon their lives from earliest memories. An underlying principal of the program is to promote the concept of positive ageing, reinforcing the principle that older people have & continue to make a valuable contribution to both their local & wider community.

In this final program on the Life and Times of Hannah Sky, she continues to talk about her experiences working with the Listen To Older Voices program in its early years and the work needed to get the program off the ground including the incredible contributions made by many people. Hannah also talks of some of the powerful examples of people interviewed by herself and her co-worker Jacey Hall.

As we listen to Hannah we understand the amount of work that went into building a solid foundation for this program which has now run for over 1,000 consecutive programs and, how her work has provided a platform by which the program has grown. Listen To Older Voices has continued to provided a voice for older people to promote positive ageing and provide a mechanism by which their stories and contributions to this country can be shared.

Click to hear Hannah Sky – Part 3

Previous LTOV Programs can be accessed clicking on this icon – 


[Listen To Older Voices receives funding from the Commonwealth Government through the Commonwealth Home Support Program Program]

Listen To Older Voices: Hannah Sky – Part 2

 Welcome to Listen To Older Voices, a program produced by 
Rob Greaves for Uniting Melba and podcast through the Toorak Times 
and Tagg.
Listen To Older Voices presents the stories, views and opinions of our older citizens. It is predominantly in a life & times format, with interviewees reflecting upon their lives from earliest memories. An underlying principal of the program is to promote the concept of positive ageing, reinforcing the principle that older people have & continue to make a valuable contribution to both their local & wider community.

This is part 2 of a 3-part program featuring the Life & Times of Hannah Sky who was the first producer of the Listen To Older Voices program. We learn that Hannah was a teacher at the last “strap school” in the state of Victoria where she took a stand against the practice. It would not be the last stand she would take on behalf of people who were underrepresented or could not speak for themselves

In this program Hannah continues to talk about her early life with stories of what it was like in a boarding school but, we also learn about Hannah’s work when she grew up, work largely in community development and how she was a key player in the development of the Melba Community program, where the Listen To Older Voices would be born some 19 years ago.

Click to hear Hannah Sky – Part 2

Previous LTOV Programs can be accessed clicking on this icon – 


[Listen To Older Voices receives funding from the Commonwealth Government through the Commonwealth Home Support Program Program]

More and more older Australians will be homeless unless we act now

 A homeless man sleeping rough in the city. 
More and more older people will be homeless on current trends.

One of the most pressing challenges older Australians face is finding secure accommodation with suitable amenities. And as the numbers of older Australians grow, the pressure to provide housing that meets their needs is increasing. We may be facing a crisis of ageing homelessness in coming years.

A new report from Mission Australia has called on all levels of government to act immediately on the critical shortage of appropriate housing and support services for older Australians at risk of homelessness.

A look at the trajectory of Australia’s ageing population gives a clear sense of the urgency of this issue. Today, 16% of our population is over 65 years of age. By 2101, 25% of Australians are likely to be over 65. People over 55 already make up around 17% of the homeless population – and this figure is likely to grow.

Affordable housing and related aged care services are already in short supply. Evidence of this is the increasing numbers of older homeless people seeking help from specialised homeless services.

Why are older people more at risk?

Older Australians face the same risks of falling into homelessness as everyone else. But they also face extra challenges related to ageing. These include physical and cognitive changes, reduced earning capacity and family changes, on top of the lack of suitable housing alternatives. All these factors can put older people at greater risk of becoming homeless.

Self-funded accommodation is simply not an option for many older Australians. Many depend on social security or social housing to cover accommodation and living expenses. Age Pension payments are modest – a maximum of A$407 per week for single people and A$613.60 for couples – which might be enough if people have adequate superannuation and own their home by the time they retire. Many do not.

The combination of low incomes and rising living costs is a significant factor in older people’s homelessness. The supply of private rental housing or social housing for people on very low incomes is limited.

Even if social housing is available, many of the complexes are poorly maintained or have mixed tenancy. This can cause older people to feel intimidated and isolated.

As rents continue to climb, private renting is beyond the means of many older people. Age discrimination further narrows the restricted market of affordable housing. Landlords may prefer tenants who are receiving a regular income from employment.

People with health problems, including mobility and cognitive impairment, and who require greater support may become unable to maintain their present living arrangements. However, they may also be unable to find or afford accommodation that caters for their needs.

Older people who have suffered elder abuse, in particular financial abuse or failed family accommodation arrangements, are especially vulnerable. Elder abuse is commonly inflicted by close family members. This can both impoverish an individual and isolate them from family support networks.

Which groups are most vulnerable?

Older women are especially at risk. Many women who have raised children and not been in secure paid employment have little or no superannuation in later years. This leaves them with reduced capacity to support themselves, particularly if they have fled family violence.

Traditionally, support services are aimed at younger women with children. Mission Australia has called for investment in housing tailored to the needs of older women experiencing family violence.

Mission Australia has also identified disproportionate numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders among the homeless population. Overcrowded housing is a key factor here. In 2011, 74% of Indigenous people were living in severely overcrowded dwellings.

What needs to be done to reduce homeless?

Significant funding is certainly needed to overcome the ever-growing problem of homelessness in our ageing population. Older Australians are not a homogeneous group. Housing options need to be provided that meet the needs of people with different financial, social, physical and cognitive capabilities.

Funding is also need to put support in place not only to allow people to move from homelessness to permanent accommodation, but also to counter the factors that lead to homelessness. These include the shortage of affordable rental accommodation, lack of accessible support networks, and financial insecurity for older people on low incomes.

Alternative housing options could include congregate housing. In this model, tenants live in units but support staff are on site. Another possible model is campus housing where villages contain housing with different levels of care. If tenants’ level of care changes, they can move to other housing in the village.

Alternative housing for those who are more independent include share housing models, which aim to provide low-cost accommodation to homeless women. Government financial incentives for alternative housing such as granny flats and co-ownership would also help ease the demand on government-run housing facilities.

The need for appropriate housing for our ageing population is urgent. The rise in homelessness among older people is sad but clear. Governments must prioritise research and implementation of a range of accommodation options to better prepare Australians for the challenges of finding suitable housing as they get older.

This article was written by:
Image of Teresa SomesTeresa Somes – [Associate Lecturer, Macquarie University]






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City-wide trial shows how road use charges can reduce traffic jams

 A trial of 1,400 drivers across Melbourne  
suggests time-of-use charges can be effective in easing traffic congestion.

Road congestion in large Australian cities is estimated to cost more than A$16 billion a year. Economists have long argued the best way to improve traffic flow is to charge drivers for their contribution to road congestion. We have now analysed data collected from 1,400 drivers across Melbourne to see whether road user charging can change their behaviour in ways that ease congestion. And the answer is yes.

Because the obstacle to adopting this approach has been concern about its fairness, we also looked at driver incomes. Would congestion-based charges price the poor off the road for the benefit of those who can pay? We calculated how different systems of road use charges affected households on different incomes, and how driving patterns changed under different prices.

The evidence does not support other common policy responses to traffic congestion. Building new roads does little to relieve congestion. Placing tolls on roads can push traffic onto others.

However, even small reductions in congestion can produce large benefits. On congested roads, reducing traffic by 5% can increase traffic speeds by up to 50%.

The question is: what would the optimal charges be? Drivers often plan their travel ahead of time, so Uber-like surge pricing is not necessarily the best way to go. Could simpler fixed charges, based perhaps on time of day or location, be effective?

In 2015-2016, Transurban Group implemented the Melbourne Road Usage Study (MRUS) to answer these questions. More than 1,400 drivers across greater Melbourne installed GPS devices in their vehicles for eight to ten months. After a period to establish baseline use, a randomly selected subset faced a series of road use charges via a system of virtual accounts. Every month participants accumulated real money from reduced charges as a result of their decisions about driving.

A congestion-charging zone in central London
A congestion-charging zone in central London. Bikeworldtravel/Shutterstock

Well-targeted charges ease congestion

The Melbourne Road Usage Study tested three simple charges:

  • a flat distance-based charge of 10 cents per kilometre
  • a time-of-day charge of 15 cents per kilometre at peak times and 8 cents at other times
  • a distance-plus-cordon charge where drivers were charged 8 cents per kilometre at all times plus A$8 if they entered the inner city.

Our working paper, Can Road Charges Alleviate Congestion?, evaluates the raw data.

Charges that vary by time of day were most effective at reducing driving at congested times. Drivers subjected to a higher cost of driving in the weekday peak hours of 7am to 9am and 3pm to 6pm reduced travel by 10% during these periods.

While a simple 10 cent charge on distance travelled did reduce driving, this was mainly outside the congested inner city and at off-peak times – mostly in the middle of the day and on weekday evenings. Most freeway congestion occurs around morning and late afternoon commutes.

London and Singapore have charges to enter the congested city centre. Further research is needed to assess the effects on inner-city traffic in Australian cities.

The evidence points towards most drivers who enter the CBD being willing to pay higher weekday charges. But few drivers entered the cordon zone during the study. Less than 5% of the drivers made over half of the trips into the area.

Access to reliable public transport matters

Public transit has a key role in getting cars off the road. Our data showed households located far from the CBD and from public transport drive more. Living 500 metres closer to a tram or train station has the same effect on kilometres driven each day as living 5km closer to the CBD.

Households within a 10-minute walk from public transport drive least. The largest reductions in driving from time-of-day and cordon charges come from households living 10 to 20 minutes’ walk away.

Road use charges could be fairer

Congestion-based charges can be a more progressive way to fund roads than the existing system of registration fees and fuel taxes.

The fuel excise makes up almost half of the average annual road bill in Australia. It’s essentially a distance-based fee, but more fuel-efficient vehicles pay less per kilometre travelled. Hybrid vehicle drivers, for example, contribute much less to fuel tax revenue.

Yet, although hybrids contribute less to air pollution, they increase congestion just as much as their petrol-guzzling counterparts. And congestion is a much greater shared economic cost than vehicle air pollution.

Annual vehicle registration fees make up most of the remaining road bill. These provide no incentive to reduce congestion.

Fuel taxes and registration fees put a disproportionate burden on low-income households in the outer suburbs. Our research shows these households would be better off if roads were funded more by congestion charges.

Field experiments help get the settings right

So what is the optimal congestion charge? Economic theory (Pigou 1920) tells us to price at the cost that each extra user imposes on the system.

With road use, though, the calculation is difficult. To fix rates in advance, we would need to know exactly how much longer everyone’s trip is when each extra driver joins each system. And we’d need to cost that slowdown for each individual on the road at that time (i.e. value their time and, potentially, the cost to them of being late). New research has been using clever experimental designs to identify these values.

That said, maybe it is not too important to get the price just right. For electricity, we are starting to see that households respond to there being a price, not its specific level.

Before widespread road use charges are implemented, we would like to see more field experiments like the MRUS to find answers to other questions. Would it be better to combine a time-of-day charge with targeted locations? How effective would it be to charge more for using highly congested arterial roads at peak times? Would this simply push congestion onto nearby local roads? How large a gap between peak and off-peak prices is needed to produce a strong response?

Another interesting option is the i10 model outside Los Angeles. Two lanes are for traffic willing to pay more to get to their destination faster.

Dynamic pricing ensures traffic in these lanes flows freely – if too many use these lanes and traffic slows, the price increases. Drivers can decide every few kilometres if they want to pay more to stay in the express lanes. Those who must get somewhere on time are able to, and the fee revenue can be used to reduce road costs for others.

The Melbourne Road Usage Study (MRUS) shows field experiments can help us design better road use charges. By all appearances, households took it seriously and were positive about their involvement.

The MRUS provides evidence that well-designed road use charges could help reduce congestion by encouraging people to drive at different times, take other routes or use other transport. This could lead to better use of existing infrastructure, thereby reducing costs, while generating revenue for infrastructure investments. Under such a system, drivers who contribute little to congestion could see substantial gains.

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