They do nasty things to rats in laboratory experiments, making them suffer to test ideas. People in and around Cessnock may be about to find out what it feels like.
For the NSW government is planning to pump tens of thousands more people into the local government area (LGA) while almost certainly leaving them without proper roads, an innovative exercise that's sure to produce interesting results.
As the streets are laid out, the houses built and the removal vans unloaded, the current, inadequate arterial roads that wind through such localities as Kurri Kurri, Weston and Cessnock will just have to do.
They will become snarled with traffic. People living near them will suffer from noise and congestion. Getting around the Cessnock LGA, and into and out of it, will become misery.
It's all in the name of a newly popular planning principle called the 15-minute city. The concept, which aims to minimise car use, has great virtues. It's not really new, however, and you'd have to be an anti-car fanatic to think it's a substitute for arterial roads in the booming outer suburbs of a major city.
Yet we seem to have such fanatics in the NSW planning and transport departments. For years, massive residential expansion has been planned for the huge triangle bounded by Cessnock, Branxton and Maitland (see map). But there's been not a hint it would include the obviously necessary high-capacity roads.
Now the question is whether Planning and Public Spaces Minister Paul Scully and Transport Minister Jo Haylen will tell their officials to have another look and do the job properly.
The state is expecting the Cessnock LGA population to surge 77 per cent to 112,500 by 2041, but even those people won't fill all the housing space to be made available. The planning department did not give me the estimated capacity of the intended new housing land in the triangle, but it seems to be something like 100,000, which will surely grow as more releases are identified.
Then add the 63,600 who were already in the Cessnock LGA in 2021 and the thousands of people in the west of the Maitland LGA. So we're looking at a future population in the triangle of maybe 200,000, more than are now in the Newcastle LGA.
The first thing to conclude is that if a rail connection can be provided, then it must be - and it can. The former coal line to Cessnock and Bellbird is ready and waiting to go. Next, planners of earlier generations would never have doubted that so many people would need high-capacity roads. Those old planners would have drawn lines on maps and arranged for corridor reservations. But not today's planners. Not on your nelly.
Instead we are supposed to believe that the 15-minute city concept will keep people close to their homes - that they will hardly want to drive anywhere. Their favourite destinations will be within a quarter of an hour from their front doors by foot, bike or bus.
But nearby convenience is hardly a new idea. Suburbs have been designed for decades with local centres offering shops, cafes, doctors' surgeries, schools and so on.
And people still want to go farther afield - for work, visiting friends or trying new restaurants or pubs.
Canberra has been superbly designed with houses clustered around local centres. Bus services there are good, too. None of that is enough to keep Canberrans tied to their neighbourhoods; they think they have other places to go to, and, thanks to excellent roads, can get there easily.
That brings us to a suspicion of how the 15-minute concept is intended to work in the Cessnock-Branxton-Maitland triangle. If the planners refuse to provide adequate roads, then people will be more or less forced to stay close to home. The state will, in fact, have built a vast new Cessnock jail.
There's a mad conspiracy theory about the 15-minute city concept being a tool for dark forces in governments to keep us contained, so they can control our lives. It's believed by the sort of people who also think COVID-19 vaccines will make them magnetic.
Nonetheless, what the state has been planning for the huge lower-valley urban extension does look like social engineering to compel people to give up driving - even in far-flung suburbs. It's outrageous.
A new transportation plan for the Hunter region should be published next year. Asked about roads for the lower-valley urban extension, Transport for NSW said it was working "to understand the transport infrastructure and service needs to facilitate predicted housing growth."
It expected some capacity upgrades for current arterial routes in the Cessnock and Maitland LGAs, a spokesperson said. And new links might be needed for employment zones, such as Rutherford and the former aluminium smelter site at Kurri Kurri.
But of course the agency said nothing about providing a complete set of fast, high-capacity roads.
The map accompanying this article shows some of what's needed. As readers will readily appreciate, future traffic in the new residential triangle should be carried by an inner arterial loop. The road should bypass all the communities, keeping vehicles away from homes, shops and workplaces - in other words, leaving the poor lab rats in peace. It should also link to a new bypass carrying ever-growing traffic that's now surging through Maitland.
All that's just for starters. An outer loop, not shown on the map, would probably be required, too, along with new connections to the Hunter Expressway. And the whole zone will need a good link to suburbs on the western shore of Lake Macquarie and another to the Pacific Motorway.
That's how former planners would have designed the lower-valley urban extension. They'd also have included convenient local service and shopping centres. So they'd have given people a choice between doing things locally and going elsewhere.
They wouldn't have tried to force everyone into a hideous social experiment.
- Bradley Perrett is a Newcastle journalist