AYAD Welcome Speech

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Life Matters - Disconnected

On ABC Radio National's Life Matters program, I spoke this morning with Richard Aedy about community life, neighbours and street parties, focusing on the findings of my book Disconnected. You can listen to the program here.
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What I'm Reading

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Taking on the World

Transcripts of our Wild Rivers hearings are now online. Here's the answer that struck me most.
Dr Andrew Leigh—Phyllis, part of our job is to think about sustainable economic development for the cape. When I am outside talking to people before the hearings or during the lunchbreak, a lot of people talk about the way in which the education system could be better, but no-one has talked about that in here. I am wondering if you could say something about the way in which the education system could work to get more sustainable economic development. I would be interested in other people’s views on that as well.

Miss Phyllis Yunkaporta—The education system, as I knew it before, has been of low standard. The curriculum in the past, as it is in all cape Aboriginal communities, has been of very low standard. By the time our children go out to mainstream schools they are hardly there—a child in grade 8 still has the understanding of a child in grade 1. Speaking for Aurukun, I was one of the persons who were invited to the States last October; I went to New York and Los Angeles visiting African-American schools. What we have brought back to Aurukun is a new kind of teaching method and we are having that implemented in the school. Of course it took time. At the beginning it pretty much had been, in my words, chaos before that. Since having this new program come in, if you come to the classrooms in Aurukun the kids are fully focused. This new method of teaching has got them going. The teacher is full-on with the tasks given and you cannot believe it when you enter those classrooms—it is as if some of those kids are play-acting. They are not; they are just full-on, focused. I guess in time we have to have expectations for our children to be educated in a way where they have to balance both worlds—the Western world and the traditional way. Of course we want them to hang onto the traditional way because that is where they are going to be identifying themselves for the future. And with them having to venture out into mainstream, we want them to compete. It is a competitive world out there. We want our black little kids to start taking on the world. That is the aim of all this.
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The Australian Government's MyHospitals website went live half an hour ago. Well worth a gander.
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Street Party - With a Template Invitation


Federal Member for Fraser Andrew Leigh called on Canberrans to get out and party this summer by having their neighbours around for a street party.

Over recent years Andrew Leigh and his wife Gweneth have hosted a street party for their neighbours on three occasions.

“Street parties are a great way for all the neighbours to get to know one another,” said Andrew Leigh.

“The festive season provides a perfect excuse to have the street around one weekend afternoon for drinks and a bit of fun.

“I’ll let you into a secret – it’s almost no work to organise. Pick a date, print a short invite and walk them around to the neighbours. And thanks to the magic acronym BYO all you have to do is provide the venue.

“To make it even easier I’ve put a template invitation on my website, www.andrewleigh.com.

“Knowing your neighbours makes life easier when you decide to replace the fence, host a noisy party, or hit a cricket ball into their yards. You’re also less likely to get burgled if your neighbours know you,” said Andrew Leigh.

Twenty-eight percent of Australian’s in a 2004 Hawker Britton poll answered that they have no social interactions with their neighbours. Over the past twenty years or so the average number of neighbours from whom Australian can ask favours from or neighbours they can simply drop in on have declined.  In the last two decades Australians have lost one to two close neighbours who will do them a favour and lost three close neighbours who they can drop in on.

“Street parties are a bit of fun and good way to build social capital in our suburbs,” concluded Andrew Leigh.

Gweneth and Andrew Leigh will be having their neighbours around for their street’s annual party in Hackett this Saturday afternoon.

And here's the template invitation:
With the holiday season upon us, our family is hosting the street end-of-year gathering. Please join us for neighbourly drinks and nibbles – to catch up with friends, meet new faces, and celebrate the festive season.



<Your address>
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Coffee's hot and the toast is brown

Started the day by serving breakfast at the Uniting Church's Early Morning Centre on Northbourne Avenue. If you work in the city, and are looking for a volunteering opportunity before work one day, it's a rewarding thing to do.
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What I'm Reading

A plethora of things that have caught my eye lately:
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Skilled Cities

My AFR column this week is on skilled cities. 

Future Lies in Skilled Cities, Australian Financial Review, 7 December 2010

One of my favourite Banjo Paterson’s poems is Clancy of the Overflow: a contrast between the life of the drover who ‘sees the vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended’, and the urbanite, who must put up with ‘the foetid air and gritty of the dusty, dirty city’. Published in 1889, the poem neatly sums up the Australian character – a nation of bush-loving city-dwellers.

By coincidence, one of the strongest defences of cities came out the following year. In his groundbreaking Principles of Economics (published in 1890), Alfred Marshall wrote that in cities, ‘the mysteries of the trade’ are ‘in the air’. As a result, Marshall concluded ‘if one man starts a new idea, it is taken up by others and combined with suggestions of their own; and thus it becomes the source of further new ideas’.

Over the past decade, the most prolific urban economist has been Harvard’s Ed Glaeser. Through dozens of empirical papers, Glaeser has analysed the interplay between urbanisation, economic growth and skills. Drawing mostly on US data, he finds that cities have historically grown more rapidly than rural areas – but the relationship is strongest for ‘skilled cities’, where more than one-quarter of the population have a degree.

In skilled cities, size matters. Double the size of a skilled city, and wages rise by about 10 percent. This relationship holds even after taking account of price differentials. It is true that house prices are higher in cities, but wages more than make up for this.

Studying the wage profiles of metropolitan and non-metropolitan workers, Glaeser and co-authors find that the wage profile of city workers is steeper than for non-metropolitan workers. City workers aren’t smarter than their country cousins (in fact, those brought up in small towns have higher IQs than people raised in big US cities). But the productivity of city workers seems to rise more rapidly than their non-metropolitan counterparts. Partly this is because urban workers acquire job skills at a more rapid rate. Another factor is that it’s easier to find the perfect employer-employee match in a big city.

A key feature of skilled cities, Glaeser points out, is their ability to reinvent themselves as new technologies come along. He gives the example of Boston, which provided sailors and fishermen in the early-C19th, became an immigrant-fuelled factory town in the late-C19th, and has now evolved into a university and technology hub. Skilled cities, Glaeser contends, help people adapt well to change.

But what about the environmental impacts of cities? While it is true that for much of human history, cities were the main source of dangerous emissions, the reverse is true today. Combining data on driving, public transit, home heating, and household electricity usage, Glaeser documents the fact that per-household carbon dioxide emissions in the US today are lowest in big cities. In San Diego and Los Angeles, each household is responsible for about 17 tonnes of emissions per year. At the other end of the scale, households Oklahoma City and Memphis account for around 29 tonnes of emissions per year. The relationship holds up even within cities: for example, Manhattan residents are more likely than people in suburban New York to catch public transport, less likely to drive long distances, and more likely to live in compact homes that are cheaper to heat and cool.

Glaeser’s use of statistical tools has made him sceptical of some of the bolder claims made by other urban researchers. Reviewing Richard Florida’s The Rise of the Creative Class, Glaeser takes the unusual step (for a book reviewer) of running a few regressions. He finds that across US cities, growth levels are not predicted by the share of the population who are gay or Bohemian. By contrast, a city’s education levels are a powerful determinant of growth. Glaeser concludes: ‘mayors are better served by focusing on the basic commodities desired by those with skills, than by thinking that there is a quick fix involved in creating a funky, hip, Bohemian downtown’.

The model of skilled cities has a simple policy recommendation: get education right. Fifty years ago, how many people would have predicted that computerisation would transform the labour market, that trade would reshape our manufacturing sector, and that the advent of air conditioning would spur population growth in Queensland? We cannot be sure what the shocks of the next half-century will be, but it’s a fair bet that investments in new school buildings, teacher quality, and trade training will be essential to creating the skilled cities of the future.

Andrew Leigh is the federal member for Fraser.

There's often an interesting-but-too-tangential fact that I'm unable to squeeze into my articles. This week, it was the finding by economic historian Gregory Clark that in the period 1500-1800, life expectancy at birth was around 40 in rural England, but just 23 in London.

Update: An friend reminds me that I've missed a key reference - Bradley & Gans's Economic Record paper which showed that during the 1980s, Australian cities with more human capital investments experienced more rapid population and labour force growth.
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On December 3, the International Day of People with a Disability, I visited Pegasus, an organisation in Holt that provides horse riding to people with a disability. If you'd like to know more about Pegasus, here's their website.

(Pegasus are the site of this year's ABC 666 Saturday Spruce Up, and they're really looking forward to the team arriving on Sat 11 Dec. If I can squeeze it in amidst kid-minding and mobile offices, I'm hoping to pop in.)http://www.youtube.com/v/VaCNbcZF6t8?fs=1&hl=en_US
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