Monday, 18 April 2011

Super things

Some time ago, the State Government announced the building of six "super" schools. It is an adjective you hear more often these days - "super" GP Clinic, "Super" Highway, etc. I think the word is intended to give the impression of something bigger and more impressive than you have ever seen before. Occasionally it is not successful, such as with the cycling "super" highways in London: after much fanfare, it turns out that in the main, the local authorities have painted the gutters blue on select routes into central London.

The announcement of the "super" schools here was actually a work of political brilliance. The announcement of the 6 new schools coincided with an announcement that 18 or so other schools would be closed and demolished with the new schools taking their place. In other words, the net loss of 12 schools was described as an investment in education.

Two of the new schools are Reception to Year 12 schools. One is just north of Grand Junction Road in Gepps Cross (the Roma Mitchell Secondary College), and the other covers two campuses in Smithfield Plains (Mark Oliphant College and John Hartley School).

The school websites use Google Maps to show where they will be situated. You will see that all three campuses are effectively in the middle of nowhere. I stand to be corrected, but in each case,  it appears they are being built in a paddock next to a busy road.  The location of the schools is understandable of course,  because it's cheaper than getting hold of land close to things and building there. However, the consequences of building big new schools in the middle of a paddock can already be predicted.

We are all familiar with the noticeable drop in traffic whenever schools are on holiday. Given the large percentage of children in this country who get to and from school in the backseat of their parents' car, there is no reason to assume that these new schools will be any different. They will have large student populations and the traffic outside them each day can already be predicted. Anyone familiar with David Hembrow's short video outside a school in the Netherlands will know that there is an alternative. The schools are also far away from libraries and sports facilities.

All of this brings me slowly to my point. I cannot help thinking that our schools (and other facilities such as aged care facilities) are built in places like that as a consequence of our planning decisions. Adelaide is a city that in the past few decades has been built with travelling by car in mind. Spare paddocks are turned into housing estates with what appears to be not a lot of thought devoted to things like public transport. Once the roads and the obligatory Coles/Woolworths surround by a car park have been put in place, some bus stop signs are put on the sides of the main roads. Unsurprisingly, everyone gets around by car.

If on the other hand a little more care was taken with urban planning, and thought  were given to the various proposed used of land and the best way of helping people get there, I think you would have schools, aged care facilities, libraries and so on closer to other activities. As it is, so often they're dumped in the middle of nowhere.

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