Thursday, November 20, 2008

Council heavies give stick over public art story

The SMH yesterday featured a pic of mine and some words in a page 5 story about Council's enthusiastic 'beigeing' of public art, even when it is commissioned by the building owner and executed by renowned artists.

Clover Moore's spinners spun into furious action, denying to The Herald that their people did the erasing and apparently getting the place into a tizz, right up to the Editor.

Unfortunately for them I also had a photo of the truck they were using, with a City of Sydney logo on the door, which I supplied to The Herald.

Then the spinners rang me with a third-degree interrogation, trying to make capital out of a sub-editor's mistake which captioned the picture as being of the Bar Me venue when it is in fact the Crest Hotel, just around the corner in Victoria Street. Both places had stencils applied in 2004 as part of my 'Live Walls' project, with the permission and encouragement of the owners, and both were erased by Council at different times.

I queried why they were so worried, as the story only showed them carrying out the tidy towns policy they boast about. The reply, (in an adrenalin-elevated voice): 

"Do I sound worried? We just want to get the facts straight." 

It was interesting to see Clover's media machine in action. It's not about the issues, it's about who has the biggest media budget – standard operating procedure these days for politicians and big organisations. If a critical story appears, they punish the publisher to make them more reluctant to criticise in future.  

Meanwhile after a tipoff from me, The Herald corrected the caption on the website (and belatedly credited me for the pic, after electing not to pay me for it either because they "didn't have much money at the moment". So much for me making a living – the cutbacks at Fairfax have a lot to answer for).

The top picture shows (among others) work by Numskull who has an exhibition opening at the MTV Gallery in Yurong Street on 5 December, and by Jason Wing who recently appeared on the ABC's Arts Sunday and was recently named Artist of the Year in the Blacktown Council area where he now lives and works. Artist Shannon Johnson also contributed to the group mural, pictured here with Jason in the background at work on the doomed stencils in Victoria Street.

Of course my media jousting partner, Andrew Woodhouse, was against the whole thing.  "I think there should be art but not visual vandalism," he said.

I guess all the galleries exhibiting these people, and those buying their work, mustn't know much about art. And I guess the working party of Victoria Street businesses and residents who had called for murals in that very spot, marking the entrance to a famous backpacker strip, and enlivening a bland wall otherwise displaying only ugly aircon outlets, have no say in the matter either.

Total control of public spaces by authoritarian bureaucrats imposing bland uniformity is apparently the only right and proper thing, pip pip.

The issue sparked a letter to the editor today, titled A city of grey walls from Jesse Fink in Paddington. It puts the case nicely.

PS (21/11/08) Another letter in the Herald today supports public colour.  This one from Sally Gaunt who works in Glebe is titled No place for street culture.

PPS (22/11/08) This story in August has Council again erasing world-class art -- that they had also sponsored -- despite pleas to a Ranger from a Powerhouse Museum staffer telling them it was legitimate. Apparently all the paperwork was not in order. Paperwork is far more important than art, you see... if you are an officious twat with too much power. I know who the true vandals are.

PPPS (25/11/08) Today The Herald published Council's reply to all this as the lead letter. It is seriously and deliberately inaccurate. I've posted comment under this story. They demand a full DA process if someone wants their wall stencilled but if, like most renovators these days, you are a fashion slave to dark grey (that dead non-colour that steals light from the street and deeply offends me) that's just fine and dandy. Fundamentally there is nothing behind this affair except a middleclass loathing of extroversion, colour and expression enshrined in draconian council policy. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Melbourne venue lockout dumped

The 2am lockout enforced on 46 nightclubs in Melbourne has produced an increase in reported violence and the plan has been dumped, reports The Age.

It seems all the "alcohol-fuelled violence" simply moved to an earlier time bracket.

One problem with the Melbourne scheme was its selective nature – also one of the fatal flaws of the Sydney version.  

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Where to go for the 2am swill

Welcome to the global city. According to the Premier's Department, the local venues listed below will be hit by a 2am lockout from December 1. This was the problem in Melbourne -- selective lockouts just redirect the late-night punters elsewhere and cause stress and tension as people are barred from venues or compete with bigger crowds for scarce taxis. IT WILL NOT WORK.

OXFORD HOTEL - Darlinghurst
EXCHANGE HOTEL - Darlinghurst
ARQ SYDNEY - Darlinghurst
STONEWALL HOTEL - Darlinghurst
VEGAS HOTEL - Potts Point

Monday, November 10, 2008

First 'small bar' in Kings Cross hits a snag

After gaining Development Approval at Council last week over the objections of local residents and Greens Councillors, the would-be operators of a small bar in Llankelly Place face the onerous task of providing a Community Impact Statement. 

They now have to get approval from residents, police, indigenous leaders, medical authorities, places of worship and nursing homes according to The Sydney Morning Herald.

In Victoria by contrast, applicants simply post a notice on the premises and it is up to the community to object.

Local residents objected to the DA on the grounds of noise etc, even though they live on the Kings Cross strip and are flanked by backpacker hostels. Some say it's hard to believe they would ever notice the difference in noise from one extra bar, assuming it became a success. 

The premises used to be the Ecstasy sex shop and cruise room, closed down after last year's police raids. Word on the street is they found 'under-the-counter' sex videos involving dwarfs and animals but no child pornography, which was the rationale for the raid.

Llankelly Place remains a business 'dead-zone' despite being the first local precinct to get a design makeover several years ago. (Pictured is the lane some years ago before most of the business closures).

Council at the same meeting rejected an application from Hugo's Pizza for extended opening hours till 4am. Apparently having quality food available for the alcohol-fuelled throngs is not a good idea. Local residents again objected on the grounds of noise etc... and you have to admit the sound of people eating pizza is most intrusive. 

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

New Temperance Union triumphs in Kings Cross

Last night I attended my last meeting of 2011 Residents' Association (its 2008 AGM). Having been re-elected to the committee unopposed, I later resigned after an amazing series of procedural contortions as the New Temperance Union attempted to exclude me; after two of my fellows also resigned; and after a heated debate about late night liquor venues in Kings Cross. 

Who said local politics was boring? 

Comments during the debate from the anti-late-night-venue faction told more about their own ageing minds than about any terrible new drinking crisis. For example:

"I'm against regulation and over-regulation in principle but in this case I think we should make an exception."

"I used to dance in Oxford St until daybreak but nowadays it's much worse and it should be stopped"

"I used to get really angry when police arrested someone for urinating in the street but now it's gotten out-of-hand" (!)

"Why can't people stop drinking at about 1am and keep having a good time on soft drinks?" [Heckle from Malcolm Duncan: "How?"]

"People should party in their own areas." [Pretty difficult if you live in Pymble or Top Ryde.]

"It's gotten a lot worse over the past 4/15/20/50 years." [Select number according to age of speaker.] 

"It used to be more sophisticated back in the '80s. Sure people got murdered in the back rooms now and then but it was better on the street."

"Why can't young people just go out earlier and go home early?" [in other words, "why can't young people live just like old people?"]

"24-hour trading was brought in for the shift workers. Now everyone's hopped on the bandwagon." 

Indeed, what of the shift workers? 

Answer: "They can just go home to drink, can't they?" Too bad if they have day-shift housemates or neighbours trying to sleep! Wouldn't be our problem then though, would it.

These baby boomers cannot face the fact that have simply grown old and intolerant. Still, even as their hormones fade, Kings Cross parties on just like it has for decades. 

I have video of the Strip in 1964, in the fabulous doco "The Glittering Mile" and I can assure you it was heaving with life then. And the same prune-faced biddies who chose to live in it then were making exactly the same complaints. Nothing has really changed.

Today's NIMBYs just brush that observation aside when I make it. Can't let facts get in the way of a convenient illusion.

They are so self-centred that they really think anything they have "grown out of" should be banned for everyone else.

Richard Florida, author of The Creative Class, calls these people "Squelchers". His theory is that the young, vibrant "creative class" are a good measure of a city's economic power as they earn the most money and are the most productive. The more the squelchers kill night life and street culture, the more the "creative class" move elsewhere, making the city poorer. Same goes for the tourist industry. Sound familiar in Sydney?

One of the chief grumblers lives on an upper floor of a modern apartment block with double-glazed windows facing well away from Kings Cross. But she "can still hear it". Obviously the tens of thousands of partygoers should instantly dissolve their culture and lifestyle to suit her keen-eared neurosis.

Among other prohibitive measures, the New Temperance Union is calling for a 2am close for selected venues in Sydney. 

I pointed out that the last train leaves Kings Cross at 1.30am on weekends and locking out the party population at 2am would result in a transport shortage that would only exacerbate violence.

The retort was: "Well they should make the trains run later." Sure thing, but in Sydney? LOL.

When I pointed out that the Police could not handle the action in the early hours because their union enterprise agreements mean they have to work an even balance of day and night shifts, the retort was: "You can't expect the Police to change their systems just to suit the drunks."

Yet the train drivers should all be out all hours, and Council should engage more "Compliance Officers" to police the pubs in the early hours. Apparently it's OK for them to "change their systems".

This inconsistency is obvious to me but not to the fossils, who nod sagely at any statement that reinforces their view.

Never mind how many police would be required to handle the new "2am swill".

One grumbler claimed the whole transport thing was a red herring, and the real problem was "an attitude that you can do anything you like in Kings Cross", which is why people "defecate and vomit in the streets." But, gee, if you close all the pubs at 2am, there won't be any toilets available. Anyway it's not the drunks who defecate in the street, it's the homeless who are barred from the pubs in the first place.

The fossils want "density controls" applied to liquor outlets in Kings Cross.  

To the contrary, I pointed out the many advantages of concentration: a wide choice of venues in a small area around a railway station reduces the distance patrons travel, reducing car driving by drinkers; Concentration reduces Police response times (because they have less distance to travel); CCTV becomes a viable monitoring method; Concentrating people into a smaller area increases safety because there are more eyes on the street; And welfare services such as outreach street workers and Missionbeat work well because their clients mostly gravitate to the nightlife precinct.

These points were supposedly rebutted with gems like: "How can you say Police have a quick response time when they say they already can't handle the demand."

It seems obvious to me that even a limited police force can get to a reported problem 100 metres away more quickly than one 500 metres away. Short distances are even more important if we have too few police at night. 

Police also prioritise serious incidents -- if there is an assault happening down the road, they leave low priority stuff like noise complaints and routine searches of street people and rush to the scene. I know this because I have seen them do it often.

But people with their heads in the sand do not see it. They just get outraged when they see a queue outside a nightclub. 

I asked one of them why they felt this way. The answer: "Once I was walking down the street with X, [a 90-year-old, ill woman] and we were blocked by the queue outside the Empire."

What happened, I asked.

"We asked them to get out of the way and they did."

So what's the problem? I'm still wondering why nightclubs should be shut down in Kings Cross in favour of ill 90-year-olds out after midnight.

Tony Brown, the main community force behind Newcastle's recent pub shutdown, said at our local New Temperance Union meeting (pictured): "The Act says residents are entitled to quiet and good order. It doesn't say 'except in Kings Cross'." (Applause).

Never mind that the legislators might not have imagined that people would be silly enough to move into Kings Cross if they couldn't handle the noise. Never mind that the Newcastle shutdown might simply be transferring the problems back to its hinterland which already has the highest rate of domestic violence in NSW, and even fewer police on duty late at night. And I'll bet data on this possible effect will not be collected, either. The NIMBYs just want it out of their back yard.

They are also asking Police to release "linking data" ie when Police deal with an alcohol-related problem they are supposed to ask the perps what pub they were last at so the nabobs can work out which ones are "problem pubs" and shut them down.

Never mind the accuracy of data collected from drunks, or that many of these incidents are caused in the first place when a pub does the right thing and ejects a troublemaker who then attacks the bouncers, or that the incidents might be related to a lot of other things besides alcohol, or that most such incidents are minor push-and-shove stories anyway. 

So much for common sense. Too bad, the New Temperance Union is carrying the day, supporting our teetotaller Police Commissioner who asserts that things are getting worse because "young people these days have a culture of drinking to get drunk". Huh? Why else did people ever drink (not counting us baby-boomer chardonnay-sippers of course).

Mr Scipione, mate, when I was at uni the catchphrase among my now-professional confreres was "Rage till you puke", something that I quickly learned was not a great way to go. My flatmates in my first shared house in Chippendale were country boys who regularly set up a keg in the kitchen on Friday nights. They would START with eight schooners in a pub session.

Anyone who doubts my word just needs to dredge up Barry Humphries' Adventures of Bazza McKenzie cartoon books from the late 1960s which concerned little other than drinking, chundering, syphoning the python, splashing the boots and choking a darkie.

Or read, in Fairyland, Sumner Locke-Elliot's account of his arrival in Sydney after WW2 to face the routine swilling, vomiting and fighting around the pubs. Locke-Elliot himself was the son of an alcoholic father who do doubt never "drank to get drunk".

I think it's actually better these days (allowing for a bigger population), especially with the prevalence of happy luvvey drugs like ecstasy which a local doctor and some brave police have recently thanked for reducing their alcohol-related workload -- even as their dog squads sniff out the pills and bust the nice people. Doh!

But the New Temperance Union blithely accepts Mr Scipione's fiction because it reinforces their own view. After all, the baby boomers invented post-modernism so why not use it? All texts are suspect, you know, so why not just believe in the one that suits you regardless of the facts?

Saturday, November 01, 2008

This week, drinking's OK again

Just as the new temperance unions have all but brought in their dream of 2am lockout/closing for Sydney's pubs, a new study shows that pregnant women who drink lightly have better outcomes for their children.

The large study of 12,500 mothers assessed their children at three years of age. Boys born to light drinkers were 40% less likely to have conduct problems and 30% less likely to be hyperactive than those whose mothers had abstained.

They also scored more highly on vocabulary tests and on identifying colours, shapes, letters and numbers.

Similar advantages were found among girls.

You could call it "alcohol-fuelled child rearing".