Parking: the panacea antonym for Brighton & Hove

2 08 2011

At least, it is for Brighton & Hove. In general, the so-called “war on the motorist” is a complete fabrication: the cost of motor travel has grown significantly less than the costs of public transport (see here).  In larger cities though (#Brighton anyone?), there is certainly a war on parkers. Let me preface this by saying that I am strongly in favour of public transport, and, in fact, believe the best solution available to us here in Brighton & Hove is the promotion of competition in public transport (see, for example, how competition from the Big Lemon forced B&H Buses to reduce their fares).  This can best be achieved via incentivising competition e.g by providing transport subsidies to companies serving new routes (to encourage expansion) or by promoting other forms of public transport (such as expanding cycle lanes)

Neither am I opposed to paid parking in general: as you can see here, paying to park is necessary when demand outstrips supply significantly, if anyone is to ever find a space.

On the other hand, there is a detriment to the city, both to its residents, such as myself (and all other motorists), but also the wider city and its income (see: tourist tax.)  As a city earning a significant proportion of its income from tourism, I feel it is foolish in the extreme to discourage visitors from coming to Brighton.

We clearly need a review of parking and whilst the Greens are currently conducting one I feel, perhaps unfairly, that they have an equanimous view with regards to use of motor cars (e.g. their notion of introducing a city wide 20mph limit which would increase pollution as well as congestion (although 20mph zones do have  other benefits as you can see here)).

If we are to have a parking system, which we clearly need given the available road-space and population density, then we need a realistic system for handling it.  I would suggest buying out the NCP car parks so their rates can be made reasonable (perhaps scaling them down from their current rates until the purchase is covered).  Introduction of park and ride for tourists (perhaps based at the university since the bus routes from there are already in place).  Then we need to introduce an oyster card which would not only simplify our brighton-london links, our use of buses, but could be integrated with parking meters so that one pays only for the time one is parked.

This automation of parking meters could also ensure that no-one overstays their ticket (i.e. is lucky enough to miss a warden).

I will be pushing for the introduction of a Brighton & Hove extension of the oyster card, and its integration with parking meters, to be included in our next manifesto.  Let me know if you are in favour in the comments.





Technological interrelatedness

28 01 2011

I recently came across an extract from David Landes on the self perpetuating economic cycle that drove the (first) industrial revolution, which I found so insightful that I felt it was too good to keep to myself:

“In all this diversity of technological improvement, the unity of movement is apparent: change begat change. For one thing, many technical improvements were feasible only after advances in associated fields. The steam engine is a classic example of this technological interrelatedness: it was impossible to produce an effective condensing engine until better methods of metal working could turn out accurate cylinders. For another, the gains in productivity and output of a given innovation inevitably exerted pressure on related industrial operations. The demand for coal pushed mines deeper until water seepage became a serious hazard; the answer was the creation of a more efficient pump, the atmospheric steam engine. A cheap supply of coal proved a godsend for the iron industry, which was stifling for lack of fuel. In the meantime, the invention and diffusion of machinery in the textile manufacture and other industries created a new demand for energy, hence for coal and steam engines; and these engines, and the machines themselves, had a voracious appetite for iron, which called for further coal and power. Steam also made possible the factory city, which used unheard-of quantities of iron (hence coal) in its manystoried mills and its water and sewage systems. At the same time, the processing of the flow of manufactured commodities required great amounts of chemical substances: alkalis, acids, and dyes, many of them consuming mountains of fuel in the making. And all of these products – iron, textiles, chemicals – depended on large-scale movements of goods on land and on sea, from the sources of the raw materials into the factories and out again to near and distant markets. The opportunity thus created and the possibilities of the new technology combined to produce the railroad and steamship, which of course added to the demand for iron and fuel while expanding the market for factory products. And so on, in ever-widening circles. ”

(Landes, 1972, pp.2–3)

I think this account is a fantastic example demonstrating the necessity of considering the dependencies of the economy.





Is sustainable growth an impossibility?

11 01 2011

Let me open with a small proviso: this post is far more theoretical in nature than the typical fare on this blog, so take as many pinches of salt with it as you wish.  I wrote it some time ago, but am prompted to post it now in response to what I feel is a complementary view on it by Paul Krugman on his blog over at the NY Times.  Whilst I don’t feel the fundamentals of the arguments are similar (they aren’t), I nonetheless feel that we are discussing the same idea: in short, that what people see as economic “growth” is, in my view at least, unnecessarily blinkered, when in reality it is people’s choices of what they value that creates wealth and growth.  Those choices are not pre-decided and can and will be revised as circumstances change.

Is sustainable growth an impossibility?

In short: no it is not.  While sustained growth of a given (real world) variable under certain conditions can certainly be shown to be impossible (or at the best existing only as a limit), the potential for as-yet-unimagined avenues for growth and change mean that growth can theoretically be sustained infinitely.

Example:

Malthus originally published his ideas in Europe at the end of the 18th century, and while his point that population increases in geometric progression (i.e. exponentially) has been borne out, that has yet to produce the implied catastrophe.  Now while the argument can be made that it either a) has occurred (or is occurring) but in non-obvious mean or b) is definitely going to occur, I purport instead that changes in human society which are impossible to predict will avert this outcome.

Fundamentally humankind is a highly adaptable organism, equally we are driven by the profit motive.  As the need for sustaining increasing population (i.e. preventing food riots/famine) outweighs the profit made by not altering the status quo (current cash crop profits, supermarkets forcing low purchase prices via monopsony) then humankind will veer towards alternative solutions, which at that point will be economically sensible and thus worthy of investment.

A second argument is that repeatedly throughout history technologically advancement has significantly changed the face of our civilisation, beyond what could have been imagined in previous generations.  While sci-fi authors of the 50s have accurately imagined some of the developments of the ensuing half-century, I nonetheless feel that people who believe in the “singularity” are validated by the notion that to people of Malthus’ time, we are already in a culture so totally different from their own that it would be impossible for them to imagine it; our “future” being unpredictable and qualitatively different from [their] “today”.  Thus it is impossible to say that growth cannot be sustained indefinitely, only that particular types of growth cannot be.

Humanity has consistently discovered deeper and more underlying fundamentals of the universe (or potential multiverse) in which we inhabit.  The eventual harnessing of those fundamentals generally involves a paradigm shift (an exponential increase) in the energy capacity of our civilisation.

Example: elements, underlying the development of chemistry, allowing for a huge increase in output of energy and economy.  Atomic structure, allowing us access to the strong nuclear force via fission and fusion, both of which pale in comparison to the potential energy output from matter/antimatter collisions.  However even our current understanding of the fundamental forces (which would imply an upper limit on energy production (e.g. harnessing all the energy from all stars in the universe)) may be flawed.  It may be that the creation of parallel universes via big bangs whose entire energy output can be channelled into our own is achievable.  I do not say this because I think it likely, but more to point out that history demonstrates that our understanding of reality, and what is really possible, fundamentally shifts, and with increasing regularity.

Example: if humankind digitises, our capacity for growth would increase exponentially- our requirements for sustenance would no longer be organic and thus the ability of the earth to produce subsistence level food would be irrelevant.  Developments in energy harnessing (fusion, high-efficiency solar conversion etc) would solve the “food” shortage.

The final argument is also technological, however it may not always hold true: historically advances in agriculture have consistently increased the world’s ability to generate subsistence.  It is possible that this may continue, although I would personally argue that the ability of evolution to increase the efficiency with which organisms transfer the sun’s energy into their own (i.e. by which food could be made more efficient to eat, or grazing animals to need less grass to live on) is on a geological scale compared to our own far faster rate of growth.  Thus eventually, unless something along the lines of an energy->matter converter is invented, food itself will eventually run out.

In conclusion- growth is sustainable, as long as our ideas about what needs to grow are flexible.