Challenging stats


I’ve been reading the Newcastle Voice report of the Vision Thing. I’ve read the whole thing before a couple of times and I look at different things each time. 

You may remember that before the charette, subscribers to Newcastle City Council’s subscriber-feedback vehicle were asked to send in their ideas for Laman Street and the Precinct. It was also advertised in newspapers. 

On first reading what impressed me was people’s creativity – I recall the first time someone suggested to me that the former Post Office building would make a great library or art gallery extension; and people’s attachment to the area has stood out all along. 

I re-read it because council’s website claims that only one third of Newcastle Voice visions mentioned the trees. I found this difficult to believe because the has motivated so many people to take days off work and attend charettes, go to council meetings, write to their councillors and sign petitions and because I’ve met so few people who think the trees should go. I overheard a single conversation with an older person quoting the trees’ alleged danger, and one council employee – no, two – told me that the trees are dangerous and so should go. Some of the residents in the Newcastle Voice document, on the other hand,  lamented the ‘tree-hating’ that they had come across in Newcastle that set it apart from other towns they’d lived in. 

Only 2% of people dislike trees, according to Dr Jane Tarran in her treenet article ‘People and Trees; Providing Benefits, Overcoming Impediments’ . A larger number of people feel neutrally about them and a small number of people don’t even notice them at all  but most people value them to a lesser or greater degree. Tree removals are almost always accompanied by emotion. 

So I thought I’d have a look and see if I could pick up this neglect of the issues of trees in the report. I’m amazed that they get the one-third figure. Even if I just circle the word  ‘tree’ there’s so far (I’m more than halfway through) a single page that doesn’t mention it. 

If I include ‘fig’ or ‘canopy’ the mentions go up to a minimum of 2 per page and up to as many as 22 mentions on a  page. I’ve said before that because of the way the report is set out it’s almost impossible to work out where one vision begins and another ends and there seems to be duplication because of the fact that sometimes a vision is entered under ‘access’, other times under ‘linkage’ etc. (Or maybe I’m just disoriented from reading it too many times.) 

So we can put the one-third mention with the 47% figure of people who wanted to replace the trees  which was hotly disputed at the charette. (A vision only had to mention something like ‘If we must replace the trees then…’ to be called ‘wanting to replace the trees’.) I recall doing a subject at uni the aim of which was to train us to read scientific literature critically. I can’t say I thought I was good at it or enjoyed it but I can at least pick a glaring statistical error. 


There were a couple of misunderstandings which were repeated a number of times through the report. 

Lots of people don’t realise that Hill’s figs are in fact natives. 

Lots of people think ‘diseased’ trees, ‘ageing’ trees and ‘dangerous’ trees all mean the same thing. These trees are native and they’re not diseased. One is alleged to have moved a bit in a  1 in 100 year storm, one was taken out because of ‘potential’ instability (passers-by were told it had root-rot but it didn’t), and there were doubts about the presence of roots before the radar report cleared that up for most of the trees. 

I even read in a  report about some figs in Wauchope that they’re fairly tolerant of having inadequate roots. even Mr Marsden who believes they don’t have roots says they would have been like this in a  healthy state for decades. 

Anyway, I’m repeating myself. Here are some unrelated bits of trivia: 

I saw another black swan at the Tourle Street pond today – the wetland pond that seems to have been ruined for some months by the new coal loader and that mysteriously has started to fill up again. I hope it’s not contaminated beyond belief. I’ve only seen a  single swan at a time and only 2 days out of the last ten. 

When I was reading about public art recently I found this Blue Road from a  town in the Netherlands called Drachten. It’s by Henk Hofstra and apparently represents a canal that used to run through the town. You can read about it and find the picture credit here.  

 I heard on the radio this morning that the Gold Coast has secured $1 billion in funding for a light rail network. How do they manage a feat like that?   

In Tropical North Queensland they have issues with that symbol of the relaxed romantic getaway, the palm tree. We think we have problems with fig trees: they should be so lucky. 

‘THEY are a symbol of the tropics that help sell tourist destinations, such as idyllic Mission Beach, but they are driving councils nuts. 

A war is being waged on the Far North’s iconic coconut palms and pro-palm residents are up in arms about trees being felled on beaches this week at the tourist town of Mission Beach, south of Cairns. 

Angry Conch St residents said council workers had chopped down palm trees on the main tourist beach and well-established trees outside a home. 

The council says coconut palms are safety hazards – and a drain on the local authority’s purse strings because of regular de-nutting requirements. 

Cassowary Coast Regional Council’s park manager Paul Devine yesterday said public sentiment was changing and labelled people who were “wedded to coconuts” as “lost souls”. 

Mr Devine said Mission Beach’s drawcard was its high natural diversity. “We don’t need to market ourselves with coconuts,” he told The Cairns Post. 

A group of angry residents maintains palmed-fringed beaches remain the “lure” in almost every advertising campaign for Mission Beach. 

Geoff Satchell, of Conch St, said “coconut palms along a pristine beach” had propelled Mission Beach into second place in a recent Australian Traveller rating of Queensland beaches. 

Neighbour Gwyn Green, who found the remains of small coconut trees on the beach this week, said palms might not be considered native but they had grown on the foreshore for as long as anyone could remember. 

Mr Devine has denied reports the beaches are a major target for tree removals – but said trees would continue to be removed from there. 

“On footpaths and in council carparks the target is zero,” he said. 

“In council parks with play equipment and picnic areas it is as close to zero as we can get. 

“Council foreshore is less of a target (but) the council is actively involved in enhancing the natural values of our beaches and part of that is the removal of coconuts.” 

Mr Devine said each coconut palm in a public place set the council back $60-$80 every nine months to de-nut. 

“The more you have, the more money you waste,” he said.’ 

– Mission to save beach palms by Julie Lightfoot 

Thursday, May 14, 2009 © The Cairns Post                                              Home  






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