Trees in the City of Unley vs Geneva

I have been involved in a discussion lately about trees in Geneva – are there enough? Are they being cut down when they shouldn’t be? This will sound familiar to anybody living in Adelaide, but especially in my local area, where public trees are such an important part of the character of the neighbourhood.

My intuitive thought, based on living in both places, is that Geneva is a bit of a concrete jungle, but that it has magnificent parks. Unley, in contrast, has lovely street tree settings, but its public green areas are dire. They have little shade, no aesthetic aspect whatsoever. They are often totally utilitarian, there for sport and dogs. Anybody wanting a pleasurable experience of sitting in a beautiful green place need not apply.

Indeed, the facts bear this up. Geneva, being a typical medium density city, has an area of about 16 square kms with a population of 200K. The City of Unley has about 39K population in an area of 14 sq kms. Unley has 2728 persons/sq km, while Geneva has 12,000/sq km. Geneva has 40,000 public trees, whilst Unley has only 26,000.

However, the makeup of where those trees are, is incredibly different in the two areas and I think each could learn from the other. Geneva’s public trees are mostly in parks. Unley Council must do something about this. It’s such a shame that your green areas are the very opposite of the pleasing areas they should be. On the other hand, Unley has a huge number of street trees compared with Geneva: about 23,000 compared with 5,000 in Geneva. Thus the street scenes are all lovely in Unley – shady and verdant and utterly vital to making this part of Adelaide what it is.

This is not to suggest that the residents of the City of Unley have no obligations. We should all have as many trees as possible on our own property, but it all goes together. The beautiful gardens of the area are visually enhanced by the street trees. One has only to compare areas with nice gardens – eg the beach suburbs around Somerton Park – and no (or stunted) street trees to see the striking difference. The street trees give a continuity that makes the area one big garden. Maybe that explains why I often feel like I’m walking in the country when I’m walking down my street in Clarence Park.

Which is why it’s so disappointing to hear the idea expounded in Unley that trees on footpaths should be cut down so that people in wheel chairs can cruise around enjoying the gardens of the area – it’s their ‘right’. But take away the street trees and you’ve taken away a lot of the impact of the gardens too. They are symbiotic. And without the trees, there is not the shade which is crucial to walking around the area. This is not an option. In fact, noting that the Unley Council has put the occasional bench on streets in the area with signs saying that these are old people friendly, the very idea that benches have any purpose at all without being in shade is hard to understand. Ditto, one might add, for the CBD, where along North Terrace etc public seating places are rarely put where they can be used in summer/sun.

Thinking of my own back yard, something like 15M x 3M, I’m amazed at how many trees one can have in a small area and the fabulous visual, psychological and practical impact. The Unley Council should be a driving force in stepping up the process of increasing green tree coverage of public spaces, both streets and parks, and the local residents should be doing everything they can to facilitate and extend this into their private space. We should, in short, be a leader in making green matter.

 

 

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Gender (in)equality at Google

I love this statistic. When ordered by the Department of Labour in the US to produce wage figures…

In a final hearing last month, Google argued it was financially burdensome and logistically challenging to compile and hand over the salary records the DoL had requested, saying it would have to spend up to 500 hours and $100,000 to comply with the ongoing demands. The defense earned a strong rebuke from the DoL and others in the industry who noted Google has touted its $150m “diversity” efforts and has a nearly $28bn annual income as one of the world’s wealthiest companies, building some of the most advanced technology.

“Google would be able to absorb the cost as easy as a dry kitchen sponge could absorb a single drop of water,” DoL attorney Ian Eliasoph said in his closing arguments. Accused of underpaying women, Google says it’s too expensive to get wage data

I thought it was worth converting these figures into something more relatable to the average person. $100,000 to $28,000000000 is as 40 cents to $100000. So it was as if a person on a $100K income argued that it could not afford an expense of 40cents to comply with a request from the government.

I’ve been spending years telling people that they are creating a monster in their support of Google. There are many ways at the moment in which the monster is being revealed….

The Adelaide Parklands’ future.

Written in reaction to this story in The Adelaide Review. A bit depressing that such news gets no reaction. My two cents’ worth. When the idea of the Parklands was conceived, the impact of cars/traffic was obviously not factored in. I want to compare Tiergarten in Berlin with the Parklands. The Parklands are bigger, but it is all shallow and surrounded by cars. There is no meaningful concept of being ‘In Nature’ when you are in the Parklands. Compared with this, Tiergarten is smaller, but it is less spread out and only divided by one (large) road. This means that you can be inside away from roads and traffic. You can really feel, as the original intention was, that you are In Nature. It is a highly successful way for urban folk to get the sensation, the peace, the ambience of it.

Further, Tiergarten is deliberately left mainly uncultivated rather than manicured, but it is lush. You can always sit on the ground, there is always shade nearby. The parklands suffer, as all common area does in Adelaide, as opposed to Melbourne from being dry, harsh and generally unshaded. (Do the toffs in North Adelaide have it better?). It can’t be used in the way that Tiergarten can be. Or, indeed, Melbourne parks such as Treasury Gardens.

It will be a great pity if the Adelaide Council or the SA Govt is allowed to give the parklands to cronies to build more cafes (because we don’t have enough of them) or to make them places for Events (yes, let’s have more noise and environmental degradation because? I’ve forgotten why) or to make them increasingly sports places combined with the accompanying car parks. What’s the problem. It’s a parkland right? So we’re parking on it.

But I would be strongly in favour of improving the usability of this natural asset by making it more accessible to the idea of urban residents being able to seek solace there. Not Coffee, not Events, not Sport. Solace. The expensive way is to put all the road surrounding parkland underground, which I guess isn’t going to happen. The cheap way which will only make things better, not best, is to slow down all surrounding vehicle traffic substantially. Uproar. Cars travelling more slowly than they might? Well. Yes. It can be done.

PS: I wonder if I’m the only one who feels unsafe walking through the parklands even in daylight? Didn’t feel safe when I was a teenager, don’t feel safe now. More could be done in this regard to facilitate use.

Something’s wrong with the banks

With his $12 million salary this year, Commonwealth Bank chief executive Ian Narev has become the latest poster boy for corporate excess, making 106 times that of an average Commonwealth Bank worker.

Nearly $10 million of his pay was in bonuses, while 25 per cent of the long term portion was awarded for customer satisfaction. from the ABC

Today I queued at the Commonwealth Bank opposite the Central Market. This sort of bank used to have a large line of tellers, but now it is down to one. There was an employee standing near the door ‘welcoming’ people who stepped in. I said to the lady in front of me that it would be better if that man was working instead of standing there.

She was elderly and bitter. She worked hard and paid her taxes for 50 years. Now she is treated like shit. She is treated like shit by society at large who thinks it can’t afford to pay her pension. She’s treated like shit by the bank. The same bank who employs the CEO who has apparently made $4M this year just for his customers being satisfied. How dare society, how dare the bank.

May I assure you, Mr Narev and the Commonwealth bank, that your customers are not satisfied. We do not want to wait an eternity for a teller. Once I had got to see the one teller in a bank which seemed to have lots of employees doing other things, we had this conversation.

Me: I’d like to get withdraw some money.

Teller: Hey, you could link your account up to a card and then use the machines.

Me: I don’t want to use machines, I want to stand in a queue and talk to a human being when I get to the top.

Teller: But you wouldn’t have to wait if you took my suggestion.

Me: If you took my suggestion and employed more tellers, I wouldn’t have to wait.

Teller: Do you have a financial adviser? I can organise an initially free appointment with a financial adviser for you.

Me: I could have said already, not unreasonably, I just want my fucking money. Is that too much to ask. Instead I said no thank you, I don’t want financial advise.

Teller: We’ve got some great Apps you can download to your phone.

Me: thinking WTF, this is how Mr Narev gets his customer satisfaction bonus? By getting this teller to harrass me instead of giving me my money?, said: I’m a Luddite, actually.

Teller: (thinking WTF’s a Luddite, no doubt) gives up. Offers me what I went in for in the first place.

Mr Narev, you should be ashamed of yourself, taking this money. You should employ more bank tellers. You should not use them to try to force services upon the customers.

Society, what are you thinking of? It’s not even your money, it’s her money, this lady who has paid her fair share of taxes and probably a contribution to make up for whatever Mr Narev avoids.

Our elderly citizens are angry. Something is wrong with our society. Something is wrong with a society so greedy for its bank dividends, it will kowtow to the excesses of men (sic) like Narev, whilst treating those they should be honouring like they are tedious interruptions to their time and their financial planning. Couldn’t we do better?

 

Striking for fairness in Geneva

There has been a lot of unrest in Switzerland over past months. For some reason ordinary people here don’t necessarily agree that they should foot the bill for the rich. Today is the second public servant strike here and these are pictures I took from my windows a few minutes ago.

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Civil servant strike day two Wednesday November 11, 2015.
Civil servant strike day two Wednesday November 11, 2015.

You can see more about the story here. But it’s the same old story. The divide between the rich and others in Switzerland is enormous. There are special rules for the rich. An obnoxious example from Zug recently is the notion that really rich foreigners who want to become citizens here shouldn’t have to conform to citizen requirements such as learning the local language. Uggh, Zug. What are you thinking of?

The banks, as you will know, have been in the firing line here for unethical conducts resulting in enormous amounts of money being handed over to the US – and to some other countries, one expects. Who pays for that? People like my friend Yirlean who is down the banking food chain. Her office got moved from a few minutes’ walk from home to Nyon, a town 30km from Geneva. She was forced to take a pay cut as well as having to pay expensive travel fees to and from work. She has two little children and a non-work day that is now a couple of hours shorter. That’s who pays.

Life in Switzerland – one for the rich and one for the poor.

I couldn’t help noticing these two stories next to each other in the Swiss edition of The Local.

Switzerland is defined as a rich country but this is partly because it is happy to have this sort of person living here:

Former Novartis chief moved to Monaco: report
Published: 01 Nov 2015 21:38 GMT+01:00

The controversial former chairman and CEO of Novartis has moved to the tax haven Monaco, where he has purchased a luxury duplex apartment valued at around €24 million, a Swiss weekly says.

Daniel Vasella, 61, resigned in early 2013 from the Basel-based pharmaceutical giant amid an outcry over a 75-million-franc severance package — later cancelled — in return for a promise not to work for a competitor for six years.

It was later reported that Vasella, upset about the treatment he was getting from Swiss media and politicians, moved to the United States but SonntagsZeitung reported online that the multi-millionaire had instead quietly relocated to Monaco.

In the Mediterranean principality, free of tax on income and wealth, Vasella acquired a 268-square-metre with a pool on the terrace and wine cellar in a 22-storey building, the newspaper said.

The apartment enjoys a view of Monaco’s old town, the palace of Prince Albert II and the sea, according to the report.

It is located in a luxury building with a spa, indoor pool, gym, sauna and steam room.

SonntagsZeitung computed the value of the apartment based on property prices in Monaco, quoted by real estate agent Savills, of €91,000 per square metre.

It noted that the cost would be no problem for Vasella, who walked away from Novartis with a share package worth 220 million francs, in addition to options worth 105 million francs.

Since 2013, the native of Fribourg has also been receiving 250,000 francs a year from Novartis for advisory services, a sum he will continue to get until the end of 2016, regardless of whether he actually provides any services, SonntagsZeitung said.

Four years ago Vasella transferred ownership of his 700-square-metre villa in Risch in the canton of Zug to his three daughters to ward off a threatened inheritance tax initiative.

The lakefront property is next to four parcels of land formerly owned by a Novartis subsidiary that has passed into Vasella’s possession.

He acquired the land after a dispute in which he and Novartis could not agree on the price, a disagreement that was settled by the Zug cantonal court, SonntagsZeitung reported.

Neither Novartis nor Vasella have revealed the price but reports have put it between 30 million and 40 million francs.

Vasella has not revealed what he plans to do with the property.

It makes this story all the more abhorrent that it is placed next to this one:

Basel soccer fan ‘lost’ on Milan streets for decade
Published: 02 Nov 2015 09:09 GMT+01:00

A Basel football fan ended up living on the streets of Milan for ten years after losing his way while leaving the Italian city’s San Siro stadium, where he had been watching his team play Inter Milan, according to a Swiss media report.

Rolf Bantle, 71, returned to Switzerland earlier this year after he slipped on the sidewalk and broke his femur, prompting the Swiss consulate to arrange for his transport back to Basel, Schweiz am Sonntag said on Sunday.

Bantle , who had survived as a street person in Milan since 2004, was without health insurance, which apparently led Italian authorities to contact the consulate.

He was treated at the Basel University Hospital and is now living in a Basel retirement centre, where his astonishing story has come to light.

Bantle was reported missing after he failed to return to the bus that had transported him and his colleagues to the football game on August 24th 2004, Schweiz am Sonntag reported online.

The men were residents of a group home in Läufelfingen in the canton of Basel-Country who were on a day outing to see a Champions League qualifying game, the weekly said.

After going to the toilet in the stadium, Bantle became disoriented and could not find his colleagues, the newspaper said.

“I was suddenly in a different sector,” he is quoted as saying in an interview from the retirement home where he is now living.

With just €20 and 15 francs in his back pocket, without a mobile phone and without a telephone number for his group home, he ended up staying in Milan, living on the streets.

A search was launched for Bantle but he could not be traced.

Bantle explained that he survived by living rough and depending on the generosity of residents in the Baggio district of Milan, including students who gave him food and cigarettes.

One student “gave me a sleeping bag” so he could sleep outside without catching cold, while a woman offered to wash his clothes.

He took showers once a week in a public restroom and frequently visited the local library.

“There was for me no longer any reason to go home,” he told Schweiz am Sonntag, saying that he liked the freedom he lacked at the group home, where he had to follow rules and was placed under guardianship.

Bantle said he speaks some Italian because he had worked in construction jobs with Italian immigrants.

He grew up with his mother without knowing who his father was and was handed to a foster family at an early age.

Schweiz am Sonntag said he was currently without relatives and did not want to talk about his foster parents.

With limited education, he worked as a labourer but Bantle suffered from a drinking problem, which led him to being put in the group home.

“It’s nice here,” he told Schweiz am Sonntag of the retirement home where has been living since the summer.

He has a room in the home with expenses covered by the city of Basel, which include 100 francs’ pocket money per month.

“In the afternoon I go to the Denner (supermarket) and buy two cans of beer, which is allowed.”

Bantle said he doesn’t miss life in Milan now that he is in the Basel retirement home.

“Ten years is enough and here I feel very good now.”

Bantle’s life is as poignant as Vasella’s is repugnant. This is Switzerland for you. Children were taken from their parents and used and abused as unpaid labour until very recently when the horror of it was exposed and now some steps are being taken to amend the situation. But men like Vasella thrive here. FIFA has a true home here in Switzerland.

Ordinary Swiss people are told all the time that there is no money, cuts to the public service, to transport, to education are commonplace.

Health insurance is going up by a huge amount every year – my policy has gone up from 350CHF to 450CHF over 2 years. But at the same time this happens:

Geneva hospital probes massive lawyer fees
Published: 21 Sep 2015 22:19 GMT+02:00

The Geneva University hospital (HUG) has suspended a senior manager after revelations that the public facility paid a lawyer more than 40 million ($41.2 million) in fees.

A criminal investigation is under way into the payments made to the Geneva lawyer between 2007 and the beginning of the summer of 2015, broadcaster RTS reported on Monday.

The unidentified lawyer and the unnamed senior civil servant at the cantonal hospital have been charged with collusion and abuse of public trust through management, the state broadcaster said.

They were detained before being released last week while the investigation continues, according to the Tribune de Genève newspaper.

Officials at HUG reportedly became aware of the massive payments just a few months ago.

The lawyer was apparently retained to recover payments from the hospital’s debtors.

The investigations aims to determine why these fees were paid because the pay orders were not formalized in written documents, RTS said.

The investigation aims to establish responsibilities for the hefty payments, including at the top of the hierarchy of HUG.

The cantonal hospital and Mauro Poggia, the Geneva cabinet minister responsible for health care, have declined to comment on the affair.

I’ve been watching a relationship develop between HUG and a group at Geneva university trying to get a modest amount of funding to provide technology which will substantially improve the quality of communication between doctors and refugees.

It’s eye-opening to see where the money is all actually going.

Americans. Maybe they just can’t win….

Sitting in a cafe in Nyon a couple of days ago, there was a group of four twentyish Americans nearby. They took over in that confident way young people – and Americans – will. Plugged themselves into their various electronic contraptions, presented an arse to us for a while as one of them tried to plug the other end of hers into a powerpoint.

At some point a waitress came to see if they wanted anything else, one of them asked for something in not the correct French way and the waitress gave them all the rounds of the kitchen for not knowing French well enough. You come to this country, you should speaka the language properly. You can imagine the content of the tirade.

I sat there thinking, yeah. Damned Americans. Just come over here and think they can get away with anything. Like THEY don’t have to learn, something special about being American.

I might add, all this was from the entirely hypocritical viewpoint of being an Australian in Geneva who, after five years here, can not yet string a sentence together in the local lingo. In fact I’d already encountered this very same waitress, asked for cold milk with my tea in a way that completely mystified her no matter how I rearranged the three or four necessary words, but she wasn’t fussed by me at all. I have no way of determining if that was because of my grovellingly apologetic attitude, or if it was because I was with two accomplished French speakers, or because I’m Australian, and if she didn’t know that, perhaps she could at least figure I wasn’t American.

It’s just so easy, isn’t it? Hating Americans. Not specific ones, I have lots of American friends and my life would be a diminished thing in their absence. But in general. On principle. When you see them stomping around Europe coming into your cafe because they can’t see a Starbucks nearby.

I’m thinking all that, but then after the waitress leaves, and the kids start smiling at each other in some discomfort, one of them said ‘Geez. Can you imagine saying something like that in the US?’

And indeed one can’t. If the ‘we like being nice on facebook’ brigade got hold of that story ‘American tells foreigners to piss off home if they aren’t going to learn American’ there’d be hell to pay. Their President would probably have to offer a public apology and stress that nobody in the US has to know American. But in fact, it wouldn’t get that far, would it? I expect it would be a sackable offence in the US for a waitress to say such a prejudiced thing.

So it seems to me, they are stuck behind a rock and a hard place. And I’m feeling just a little bit bad that I don’t feel bad about that.