The office photocopier hummed and clunked, sliding the final white sheet of printed paper out into the bottom tray. The young town-planning staff member stapled it between the covers of his first report.
A few minutes later he tapped on the City Planner’s door and walked in, carefully placing the report on the planner’s tidy desk. The older man studied the cover, sighed and slid it back toward the younger man.
“What does that title say?” he asked.
“It says ‘Proposed changes to the western retailing/pedestrian interface precinct’,” smiled the young planner.
The older man stared at him.
“What’s that mean?” he asked.
“The western end of the central city shopping zone, between blocks B2 and C4.”
“The block where Farmers is?” asked the older man.
The town planner turned the first page. He read the opening paragraph. Then he read it again.
“This report is designed to provide an overview of the inter-relation of vehicular activity and pedestrian flows in the central city retail/commercial precinct to reduce the current imbalance of stationary vehicular allocation zones, with particular reference to maximising digital metered revenue streams.”
He looked up at the young planning officer.
“I’m sorry, I don’t follow you,” he said.
“We want to put in more parking spaces,” the younger man replied.
The town planner took a deep breath. He stared down at a diagram filled with coloured lines, arrows and an array of cross-hatching. He tilted the report to one side then the other. Then he turned it upside down.
“What’s this?” he asked finally.
“It’s a diagrammatical representation of peak-hour traffic flows in the central city retail/commercial precinct with special emphasis on private vehicular movements and their interaction with non-motorised personal transportation devices,” said the young planner.
“You mean cars and bikes?” asked the older man.
“Er . . . yes, if you want to put it that way.”
The older man exhaled slowly.
“What are these?” he said, jabbing his pen at a series of red-coloured spaces.
“They’re the new stationary vehicle allocation zones. We are proposing 16 to a block instead of the existing 12, which means additional revenue streams from digital monitoring devices,” the young planner replied with a brief smile.
“You mean you’ve added four new parking spaces so we can add four more parking meters,” said the town planner. “They look pretty small to me. How big are they exactly?”
The young planner cleared his throat.
“Recent studies in North America and parts of Europe indicate that the average car has reduced in length by 1.35 metres in the past decade, due to advanced design techniques, particularly in the small-vehicle sector.
“Current computer modelling indicates that by 2023 the average Korean or Chinese hatchback will be 3.26 metres in length, which will allow 3.9 extra stationary vehicle allocation zones per city block,” he said.
“In view of that trend, we have made each metered space 3.99 metres long. That will accommodate all models of Japanese cars since 2009 and most European hatchbacks.”
The older man shook his head and blinked.
“My 2006 Commodore won’t fit into my carport let alone a 3.99 metre-long space,” he grunted. “You’ll have people going round and round the block unable to find a space they can fit into.”
The young planner smiled. “That’s the point. It keeps older cars out of the central city. Let’s face it, they’re not a good look, they make the central city look old-school – sort of l980s —and anyway, constant traffic circulation makes a town look busy.”
The town planner gripped his pen. The young man shifted uneasily.
“What do shoppers think about that?” asked the older man.
“We did a survey over three days but the results were skewed by the ratio of elderly people in town to the key retail demographic – those aged between 12 and 22,” said the young planner.
“They moan about everything. They hate cars because they’re not allowed to drive them anymore. They hate cyclists, they complain about blackboards and signs outside coffee shops and say the railway line shakes their dentures and hearing aids lose.
“We see these changes as a way of deterring older people from the centre of the city. They’re a bit like the older cars really — not a good look if you’re trying to create a vibrant retailing centre.”
The town planner closed his eyes. After a long pause, he opened them again and turned to the final page of the report. Six recommendations were listed. He took a deep breath and read the first paragraph.
It is recommended that all metered parking zones be progressively reduced in length by .56 of a metre annually during the next 10 years.
A nervous tic fluttered the town planner’s left eye.
That metered parking times also be gradually reduced from one hour to a maximum of 7.5 minutes during the same decade.”
“Oh my God,” he breathed. He read on.
That the use of motorised scooters, wheelchairs and walking frames within the central city retail precinct be restricted to 9am -10am and from 3 -4pm daily.
The ballpoint pen fell from the town planner’s frozen fingers, rolled across his desk and plummeted into his wastepaper bin with a clang.
That motor vehicles be given priority over pedestrians and cyclists in all central-city traffic movements and special slow lanes be provided for motorised scooters.
The words on the page began to blur.
That footpaths be reduced to single lanes outside cafes to allow for increased numbers of sandwich boards, tables and chairs.
The town planner felt his teeth grind. He could smell burning enamel. His eyes fell on the final paragraph.
That railway lines in the central city be raised to provide a barrier to motorised scooters as a means of restricting elderly shoppers to each end of the town.
The town planner sat frozen at his desk. Slowly his eyes rose to the younger man’s pale face.
“I think you’re just the person to go and discuss earthquake-strengthening requirements with the city’s landlords,” he said finally.
“They’ll appreciate your straight talking.”