ACADEMIC, TRANSPORT PLANNING EXPERT
20-3-1961 - 19-6-2013
Paul Mees, one of Australia's leading authorities on urban transport planning and management, has died in Melbourne, aged 52.
Mees was a prominent and controversial public transport advocate, centrally concerned with how cities work. An associate professor at RMIT University, Mees researched, debated and wrote about urban planning and development in Australasia, Europe and North America. He was an international authority in his field.
A graduate of the University of Melbourne, with degrees in law (honours) and arts, in the 1980s Mees practised, mostly in industrial relations law, at Gill Kane & Co and Maurice Blackburn. Non-conformist by nature, this was the only period in Mees' professional life when he regularly wore a suit, preferring T-shirts and skivvies.
While working as a lawyer, Mees became involved in public transport advocacy through the Public Transport Users Association. As the association's president from 1992 to 2001, he became one of Victoria's most recognised spokespeople on public transport planning and management issues. In the 1990s, Mees launched a legal challenge against aspects of the Victorian government's CityLink infrastructure project, which eventually went to the High Court. In the early 2000s, he helped to establish the Public Transport First Party, which sought to put transport issues on the agenda in key electorates. He was also a member of the community reference group for the Melbourne Metropolitan Strategy.
Mees left the law to complete a doctorate in urban transport planning at the University of Melbourne, which was awarded in 1997. His dissertation, published under the title A Very Public Solution, is an authoritative work on public transport. After a term as a research fellow at the Australian National University, he returned to the University of Melbourne in 1998, this time to teach and research in urban planning.
An articulate and robust critic, in 2008 Mees found himself at the centre of a public row over academic independence when the University of Melbourne took disciplinary action against him, citing among its reasons public remarks he had made about Victorian government transport officials. An investigation dismissed the university's complaints against him. He resigned to join RMIT University later that year, and was appointed associate professor in 2012.
Mees' influence on urban transport planning and development is reflected in his scholarly achievements. His analyses of transport problems in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra are key texts in their field, as is his 2010 book Transport for Suburbia: Beyond the Automobile Age. His research capabilities were recognised by significant grants in Australia and overseas, including from the Australian Research Council.
Outside Australia, Mees' work provided the basis for the European Union's 2005 HiTrans project on improving public transport in medium-sized cities and towns. He was also a member of the International Advisory Council for Paris' New Mobility Agenda Project.
While undoubtedly a notable academic, it was Mees' capacity to engage in public debate that set him apart from many of his scholarly peers. For nearly three decades he shared platforms with politicians, activists, journalists and commentators, developers, planners and designers, bureaucrats, researchers and concerned citizens. He was arguably Australia's highest-profile authority on public transport planning and development, demonstrating an extraordinary commitment to canvassing issues in the public arena.
As a respected commentator, a provocateur and a campaigner, Mees will be remembered for his candour, integrity and tenacity. In recent months, despite being seriously ill, he continued to participate in public debates. Questioning the Victorian government's plans for an east-west tunnel system across Melbourne's inner northern suburbs, he argued there was little substantial research behind the project.
Born in Melbourne and raised in Glen Waverley, Mees attended St Kevin's College and was a regular church-goer for much of his life. Unsurprisingly, throughout the 1980s he was an active competitive debater, participating in university and adult championships around Australia and overseas, as well as adjudicating schools' debates.
Mees had a driver's licence - for identification purposes, he argued - but never owned a car. He was married to journalist and teacher Erica Cervini for 25 years, their inner-Melbourne home convenient to public transport and for walking to work.
Mees is survived by Cervini, his parents, Roma and Tom, and by his brothers Peter, Bernard and Stephen. He is also survived by Cervini's mother, Roberta, who was close to the couple.