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Does the Australian Grand Prix belong in a public park?

From Thursday through Sunday this week the Australian Grand Prix will take over Melbourne’s Albert Park, bringing with it the glamour of fast cars, grid girls and Formula One drivers Raikkonen, Alonso…

Save Albert Park unsuccessfully campaigned to relocate the Grand Prix to a permanent track. AAP/David Crosling

From Thursday through Sunday this week the Australian Grand Prix will take over Melbourne’s Albert Park, bringing with it the glamour of fast cars, grid girls and Formula One drivers Raikkonen, Alonso, Hamilton, Webber and … noise and vibration.

Which is strange, because public spaces such as national and urban parks, marine parks and coastal areas have traditionally been understood as an escape from the noise and pressure of urban life, used for appreciative recreation, tranquillity and conservation of the environment.

While authors on The Conversation have suggested a need for more people in parks, the research of my co-authors and I indicates a problem with the rising tide of events that see a concentration of users who are motorised, on mountain bikes or part of running events. Does the impact of these activities on our environment and community outweigh the benefits?

Increase in motorised activity?

A recent article by Professor Glen Searle on The Conversation detailed the use of urban parks for private functions. Issues raised included the legitimacy of charging fees for private use and whether events being staged in urban parks diminish the experience of other parks users.

Aspects of Searle’s analysis are mirrored in the use of national parks, with the emphasis here on the growing use of protected areas for events, especially motorised activities, including 4x4 touring, trail, dirt and quad bikes competitions, four-wheel-drive competitions and Formula One motor races.

mgstyer

These events range from local to international, amateur to professional. They raise questions about community engagement, corporate funding, international profiles, environmental damage and the impact on the use of that space by other users, especially individuals and small groups there for a relaxing time.

Traditionally, threats to public space have been logging (in Tasmania, WA and Victoria), infrastructure developments such as the damming of rivers and flooding valleys (WA, Queensland and Tasmania), mining (bauxite in WA) and now fracking’s likely impact upon Badgingarra National Park (WA) and other sand plain reserves. Hunting has also been re-activated, with recent controversy over hunting in NSW National Parks.

A model to understand impacts and benefits

We propose a model with a set of categories to understand the different usage patterns of motorised events in protected areas, along with governance and community engagement issues.

The four categories are: micro, meso, macro and mega.

Micro level events are local, run by volunteers and often sponsored by a vehicle club. These events are primarily about having a good time in the bush, sometimes with light competition. The only spectators, if any, will be family and friends, and other club members – Sunday afternoon fun such as family picnic days, working bees, tag-along-tours, intra and inter club events.

Meso level events are generally larger, such as Variety Club events – still amateur and voluntarily managed, but attracting participants from outside the local area, possibly interstate. Again, these are not-for-profit operations but supported by sponsorship from local and/ or national related businesses.

Dune buggy racing. madlyinlovewithlife

Macro level events take us into the professional and for-profit realm of motorised events. They may be “feeders” into larger events attracting international competitors and spectators from interstate. State and local governments often seek and sponsor such events. This level will attract media attention and includes events such as Australasian Safari, part of an adventure genre of which the Dakar rally is the global pinnacle.

Mega events are international competitions, run by international organisations, professional and for profit such as the Australian Grand Prix and Australian Rally Championship. Competitors are also professionals. These events are highly prized by governments to promote tourism and investment involving global financial and global media coverage with international spectators.

The motorsport industry and related manufacturers increasingly see natural areas as places to showcase their products. All four categories have environmental implications but they also have the potential to contribute to social capital and the transfer of learning.

Protected areas

A Formula One car is flown in for the official launch of the 2014 Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne. AAP/David Crosling

Urban and national parks have specific purposes, including the protection of special environments, flora and fauna. They provide spaces for Australians and visitors to understand our unique landscape and to learn how to “tread lightly” on the land. Tranquillity and peaceful enjoyment are crucial to these objectives. Motors, especially mass motor events and their helicopters, are incompatible with these objectives, including in urban areas.

Even micro events have some potential for environmental impacts, such as disturbance to wildlife, crushing and breakage of vegetation, trail degradation and soil erosion, depending on where the activity takes place. Others users can also be in danger from speeding vehicles or trail bikes.

Larger events have serious, mostly negative, implications for public spaces. Impacts can be a complex mix of social effects including crowding, localised air pollution and noise partnered with biophysical effects including damage to vegetation, soil compaction, erosion and disruption of the normal activities of wildlife.

These impacts need to be factored in to policy and planning as the conflict over competing uses of protected areas gets more intense as traditional passive uses come into conflict with commercial interests.

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25 Comments sorted by

  1. Dean Frenkel

    logged in via Facebook

    This is an important article and all the authors should be congratulated for it. I strongly support protections against human activities that destroy the peace and environment in parks and waterways. Indeed even the concept of 'public' parks disturbs me. Such places should well be open to the public but not taken over - other species should be protected. Noise pollution and space pollution are constant threats. Why do humans have to own, take over and vandalise natural things? If I had my way more parks (including Albert Park golf course) would be taken over as public forests with lots of trees planted, hunting, fishing 4 wheel drive safaris in the bush would be banned and humans would learn their place in the scheme of things.

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    1. David G

      Mechatronic Engineer

      In reply to Dean Frenkel

      Lucky for the rest of the people in this country people such as yourself are removed from the decision making process.

      The article is suggesting weighing up the social benefits vs. the environmental impacts. Its not advocating banning any particular recreational activity, just that we should consider whether or not they are being conducted appropriately and in a sustainable fashion.

      Just a couple of things that are worth considering. Trail bike ownership and participation is actually on the…

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    2. Dean Frenkel

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to David G

      David G, you don't know how removed I (or the likes of me) are from the decision-making process. This article brings up some important issues - and in a better world removing certain harmful recreational activities would benefit the whole. Vision can include where we have gone wrong and the concept of freedom is not limited to 'freedom to' but also includes 'freedom from'.

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    3. Dean Frenkel

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to David G

      I also contest your statement that the Australian GP is appropriate and without impact. I'd suggest that it is a disturbing intrusion into the tranquility of Melbourne that promotes the insidious car culture and is felt for months after the horrible event. Ridiculous event.

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    4. Craig Read

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to David G

      "We need to ensure that areas are set aside for all recreational activities (yes even 4WDing) so that appropriate land use and management can be controlled and policed effectively."

      Couldn't agree more David.

      I do think there is definitely an argument for having "quiet" parks, whether they be national parks 50km out of the city, or inner-city parks like the Royal Botanical Gardens. But I don't think that precludes the odd organised event or festival that will create some traffic and/or noise…

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    5. Robyn May

      PhD candidate

      In reply to Craig Read

      Craig, the GP might be once a year but the impact on the park is felt for months on either side of the actual event - the destruction of the local ammenity, the impact on the lake and birdlife and the loss of community sporting facilities begins several months before the race and I know the local footy club does not get access to their ovals again until May which forces teams to travel further afield for training and events. The state of the art athletics track is closed for a week during the major…

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    6. Dean Frenkel

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Craig Read

      No problem with special events (depending what they are) but this GP is entirely unsuitable for Albert Park and even for Victoria, though I'd give the Calder Park just to get it out of Melbourne. For those whining about objectors to the GP I say 'get civilised', 'grow up' and 'get perspective'.

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    7. Craig Read

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Robyn May

      "The GP is wrong on every level, environmentally, commercially, morally and the supposed benefits to the state in tourism dollars are dubious to say the least. It makes a few people very rich and the state of victoria poorer for its involvement."

      I do agree that the financials don't quite stack up, regardless of the positive PR it generates. But I don't think events of this scale (and bigger like the Olympics, commonwealth games, etc) ever make money.

      I also agree that most of the benefits…

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    8. Craig Read

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Dean Frenkel

      I do think the location of Calder Park would be better (if public transport existed to get there), but the track itself is totally unsuited to a modern Grand Prix both from a driver and public safety standpoint, and from the number of people it could hold.

      Phillip Island is probably the closest track to Melbourne that could realistically handle the speeds the cars travel at now, but at 90 minutes from Melbourne is totally unrealistic from a logistics point of view.

      If the Grand Prix is to be held in Victoria, Albert Park is simply the best place.

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    9. John Phillip
      John Phillip is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Grumpy Old Man

      In reply to Dean Frenkel

      Dean, your position is one of the reasons that the term 'ecofascists' came into being. It is disappointing that, not only do you believe you know what is best for the rest of us, but that you'd be happy to proscribe the activities that don't fit into your approved list.

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    10. Simon Kerr

      observer

      In reply to Dean Frenkel

      I quite like (some) cars. But what is an insidious car culture Dean? And what is the tranquility of Melbourne? I get woken regularly (ok, occasionally) by the great big noisy dangerous trams hurtling down the road near me and they can't even get out of the way like a car can. Clearly Melbourne has an Insidious and dangerous tram culture!

      More seriously, I do understand why some people object to the F1, but that is partly personal preference. Many of my friends don't like mechanical things and…

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    11. Simon Kerr

      observer

      In reply to Simon Kerr

      Oh, just for the record again, once a year is enough for such an event. It is intrusive, but for one weekend, I think the intrusion is outweighed by the joy it brings to then or thousands of people.

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    12. Dean Frenkel

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to John Phillip

      John, we can all descend to name-calling to describe those we disagree with. How would like to be called 'petrol-head' or the like? Really it's not about what I like or dislike others to do, it;s more about activities like F1 the interfere with everyone else. I really can't fathom how F1 supporters can justify the noise pollution, exhaust pollution and inconvenience. And we haven't even started not he bullshit values it promotes.

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    13. Dean Frenkel

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Simon Kerr

      Simon, though I'm not particularly fond of the tram culture I admit to thinking that the car culture is insidious. No I don't expect us to return to the horse and cart and of course cars do have a purpose - from A to B. But there are too many people who have taken cars far too seriously and its worship out of control. I can't believe how anyone could spend $100,000 plus on a bloody friggin' car - and others who compete with each other on who's got the better car and what each car says about the owner…. Then there's the appallingly designed 4WDs which seize space and unleash drivers who are ill-equipped to handle them. Simon you present good taste as a follower of folk music - a cultural activity - but I can't see how one could be happy watching pretentious blokes in hotted-up noisy cars competing against each other.

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    14. John Phillip
      John Phillip is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Grumpy Old Man

      In reply to Dean Frenkel

      Dean, you'll note that I did not call a name. I stated that your desire to outlaw activities with which you disagree was the basis for that term. To put it more clearly, the use of a 'green' agenda to justify the banning of motorsport activities is an example of an absolutely pointless (in terms of environmental results) action taken in order to make it appear that 'something is being done'.
      If you want to ban all activities that cause "noise pollution, exhaust pollution and inconvenience" you've got a very big task ahead of you. Unfortunately, if you were successful, the only thing we'd be allowed to do would be to.....well...umm...what actually would you find acceptable?
      (Jokes aside, surely, Dean, you can see the arrogance of adopting a stance that outlaws anything you find that offends your sensibilities?)

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    15. Dean Frenkel

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to John Phillip

      Ok John, you used the phrase 'eco-fascist' without directly aiming it, so technically you'll think you're right but in effect you're being slippery and not totally honest. And it's worth noting that I never said nor implied even that motor sports should be banned. They are your words. I did say I that they are intrusive, etc and I freely admit to not supporting the concept of Melbourne staging the Grand Prix but never that it should be banned. Perhaps John you will understand the difference. But it is common for narrow-minded right-wing people to easily brand alternate views as being 'green' or 'leftist'. Indeed people with no imagination cannot imagine recreational activities that don't disturb the peace or damage the environment. To enlighten you there's a world of interesting and fun activities that are decent and ethical. It is of course a basic test of being civilised.

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    16. John Phillip
      John Phillip is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Grumpy Old Man

      In reply to Dean Frenkel

      Dean you're position is one based on unstated assumptions. What are the 'bullshit values that it promotes'? What is banning if it does not involve "removing certain harmful recreational activities" on some unstated, unsupported, basis that it would "would benefit the whole"?
      You've accused me of being slippery with words when I clearly stated that it was the behaviour (ie the proscription of an activity based on an unsubstantiated 'breach' of a 'green' agenda) that leads to the term ''ecofascist…

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    17. Dean Frenkel

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to John Phillip

      John, my opinions about motor sport are not part of any green agenda. Yes I freely admit to disliking it and I do think the world would be better without it but I'm not realistically calling for it to be banned. And it is clear that your use of the phrase 'eco-fascist' is wrong and name-calling - and yes its use is slippery and cowardly. There is nothing wrong with moral arguments about such activities. If they impose inconvenience on others, cause noise pollution, environmental damage and weigh down the collective vibration - it's not within society's interests and it is my right to point that out.

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    18. John Phillip
      John Phillip is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Grumpy Old Man

      In reply to Dean Frenkel

      Neither slippery nor cowardly, Dean. As for moral arguments, there may be nothing wrong with them but you have to be able to support them with something more than a vague link to green goals. A prime example of such a basis for a moral argument would be that used to justify the Spannish Inquisition - it was said that certain behaviours offended God. The Taliban present a similar argument for many of their prohibitions. How can you claim that the basis for your position is any more 'correct' than theirs? If iyt suits your narrative to place yourself as the victim of 'name-calling' that's your issue. I havent called you a name. In fact your use of the phrase 'right wing' in a perjorative sense is clear evidence that you yourself are engaging in that particular behaviour, Dean. Additionally, it indicates another attempt to reframe the discussion in terms that suit the particular narrative that you are pushing. It is my (and anyone else's) right to point that out.

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  2. Terry Reynolds

    Financial and political strategist

    Albert Park during and for decades after WW11 was a large military base established by the US military during the war and occupied by the Australian Department of Defence until they relocated to Canberra in the eighties. It was also used as a rubbish dump as I recall walking over the uncovered rubbish during the fifties. In the early nineties is was a largely featureless park with many trees cut way out of shape and several remaining military buildings at the northern road end. It had been used…

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  3. Jim Macbeth

    Emeritus Associate Professor at Murdoch University

    Thanks for the discussion and you each raise important issues. I won't debate the Grand Prix as that was/is not the purpose of our paper- our categories are designed to provide a way to think about public policy and the issues surrounding motorised events and activities in protected areas, including national and urban parks.

    However, what I want to raise here is the issue of social capital and of community involvement. As always, activities usually contribute one way or another to communities forming or getting together, either as family groups or clubs or activist organisations. The Grand Prix also contributes to social capital, partly through the volunteer activities and partly because its existence in Melbourne has led to a strong, vital and vibrant protest movement, the Save Albert Park group (http://save-albert-park.org.au/).

    I should also add that our article does not deal with the political issues surrounding parks and their uses.

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    1. John Phillip
      John Phillip is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Grumpy Old Man

      In reply to Jim Macbeth

      Jim, I find it interesting that some of the respondents are quite happy to ban certain activities for a range of reasons - one of the central being the fact that it is a 'minority' that is affected by such action. I thought that part of our society was respecting the rights of minorities. Must be wrong on that score.
      Additionally, I am surprised at the focus on motor sports or other vehicular events. No mention of music concerts, fetes, markets etc.

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    2. Jim Macbeth

      Emeritus Associate Professor at Murdoch University

      In reply to John Phillip

      Hi John, the article here is specifically about motor events, which is why we don't mention other types of functions and use of public space. Of course, we did reference the previous article by Professor Glen Searle which has this different focus.

      That said, David Newsome is undertaking research on non-motorised events in protected areas, with a primary focus on competitive events.

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