Current Issue #488

Montefiore: Town Hall's walking policy tested

Montefiore: Town Hall's walking policy tested

Sir Monty muses on that great musical classic You’ll Never Walk Alone, as Town Hall’s walking as policy is tested under duress.

As disc collections go, Sir Monty’s assemblage of music is quirky, but in the oldest city club in town, boasting some of Adelaide’s most eccentric personalities, that’s to be expected.

Most of its very well-heeled Adelaide members are renowned for their, shall we say, quaint, characteristics. It is only when one presents in the same black-tie outfit, polished shoes reflecting the soft glow of the dim lights that everyone appears to be the same. Then, arm in arm with partners, they enter the dining room, a tight bunch of business associates, linked only by their ability to make time work for them.

The next morning, the best way to drown out the traffic noise penetrating Sir Monty’s upstairs sash window in his North Terrace rooms is to wind up the Victrola, flip a ’78 onto the turntable and drop the needle. Walkin’ in the Rain (Johnny Ray, 1956); Walkin the Dog (Webb Pearce, 1953); Walkin’ after Midnight (Patsy Cline, 1957); and that perennial favourite, I’m Walkin’ (Fats Domino, 1957). It’s exercise, you see.

Sir Monty has been a walker ever since his driver’s licence was cancelled the day his Ford 10 had a sudden encounter with a black swan on the banks of the Torrens and, turning to avoid the startled bird, he drove straight into the path of Popeye as it plied its business on the rippling contaminated waters that SA Tourism calls Torrens Lake.

He dripped slowly up the slope of Elder Park and used the club’s trades entrance to avoid photographers. That damp walk coincided with papers in his mailbox that week revealing that the city council had endorsed walking as policy. That was 2009, when one of the great walkers of our time, Michael Harbison, wore the ermine and gold chain. Mayor Harbison was renowned for park lands rambles, another walking habit that last year was revived by the current man with the gold chain, Martin Haese. Walking is ‘in’.

It is not true that Town Hall’s 2009 endorsement of the International Charter for Walking was one of the councillors’ little jokes. It signalled a commitment to reducing barriers that limit walking activity and to help create a culture where people choose to walk rather than drive. But nine years later the number of ‘Pedestrians walk other side’ signs littering city footpaths associated with road works now mean that the gesture may have been rather hollow.

The man behind the not-for-profit group behind development of health, sustainable and efficient communities where people choose to walk, Dr Rod Tolley, was then on record for noting that poor design is one barrier to city walking. Sir Monty has noticed that nowadays, where cars depart from Town-Hall-run, multi-storey city U-park car parks, walkers must wait for a green light before they can continue on their way. One mustn’t walk away from the $27.9m that city car parks bring to Town Hall annually. It’s a subtle illustration of unstated city policy: the internal combustion engine still rules, despite millions annually spent promoting the cultural value of walking across one of the flattest cities in Australia.

Dr Tolley also had a theory that the slower people walk, the more they spend. It highlighted pedestrian activity as the key to the viability of many businesses. It is not true that the new state government, in a bid to crank up economic activity, is working on a policy to legislate for crawling on hands and knees outside department store frontages, if only to boost the dividends of those holding sagging retail stocks. It would have to be good for Adelaide business in these hard, Amazonian times.

A slackening of pace has some resonance with Sir Monty, who lately has noticed that the wind-up mechanism of the Victrola is tiring. He has invested much time mulling over the potential for Trades Practices Act civil action in the magistrates court, a claim seeking compensation relief relating to the fact that, after only 100 years, the machine has already developed faults. But unfortunately the store from which he bought it (second-hand) ceased trading in 1952, and anyway, the receipt is lost.

Fellow smoking room members nod in agreement at the shocking state of the world, but many quietly observe in his absence that Sir Monty is viewed as the club radical among them. The evidence floats in notes daily down North Terrace, evidencing that the classics of the 1950s have been usurped by the wanton recklessness of 1960s pop now wafting from Sir Monty’s quarters: Walk Away; Walk Like a Man; Walkin’ Back to Happiness, and that great classic, the musical motif of Sir Monty’s life – You’ll Never Walk Alone. This was advice the A-listers gave the Lord Mayor on the eve of his election back in 2014.

The man cannot escape the bean counters and the policy wonks who daily follow his every move, even as he tries to slip out quietly at noon to buy a noodle mix, around the corner from the club’s front door. If only he would walk a little further, he would discover an oasis of quiet reflection within the club’s rooms, free of the complications of commerce. But that would entail walking two blocks, and as everyone thinks they know, time is money. When you’re running a ship with a $200m budget, there’s really no time to go walking, even if it’s official policy.

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