Say Hello to Derek and Leonie

This story turns NIMBY-ism on its head.

It’s fictional.

The City of Marion exists but this is not really about Marion. It’s about density in Australian suburbia.

It was written by Kent Plasto with Wendy Sarkissian, with thanks to Karl Langheinrich.

For planners, sustainability can be a minefield. One the one hand, commitment to sustainability principles by their organisation (such as alignment with Agenda 21 for a local council) means that the council may support housing density increases to reduce automobile dependence, pollution, congestion and long journeys to work. On the other hand, community members may object vehemently to changes in their neighbourhoods, even though they may also espouse `sustainability’ principles. In the story that follows by Kent Plasto, an older architect who is a member of a community targeted for density increases begins to understand the deeper meanings of sustainability for his neighbourhood and his community. That he is a member of the influential Baby Boomer age cohort simply adds to the complexity of the situation – and the complexity of the issues faced by the local planner.

The Australian Department of Sustainability and the Environment has issued several reports on ageing. In 2010, it issued Sustainable Australia – Sustainable Communities: A Sustainable Population Strategy for Australia. The report considers four strategies, none of which specifically addresses `the aged’ or `the ageing population’ with respect to coping with housing densification. In 2007, it issued Preparedness for the Ageing Population. This report explained that by 2051, almost 31% of the South Australian population will be over 65 and those over 85 will have increased four-fold.   In 2006, the Improving with Age report examined seven key themes: work, safety, housing, contribution, grandparents, diverse needs and, active and healthy lifestyles.

 Who are older people? In 2012, the Australian Department of Health and Ageing defined `older people’ as those aged over 65 and over 55 years for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. It is recognised that there are difficulties in ascribing a particular chronological age to define `older people and that there is wide variability in health status, function and wellbeing at any age.

Members of Australia’s ageing population are now entering their retirement years. A generation of ageing Baby Boomers will usher in new patterns of transport needs and choices among retiring Australians.   The differences between the ageing Baby Boomer population and the current aged population with respect to transport choices, preferences and differences in transport expectations arise from the change to a more urbanized society, which relies heavily on cars While there are many causes for the changing expectations of the ageing Baby Boomer generation, it is generally assumed that they will expect more services for them than previous generations. They are accustomed to being the `taste-makers’ and to having a high degree of influence over civic affairs.

Say hello to Derek and Leonie

 Derek and Leonie have been married for 45 years. Together they own a colonial-style house on a quarter-acre block in the suburb of Marion, South Australia. Leonie is 66 and has recently retired as a high school teacher. She has a healthy lifestyle. She swims in the local pool twice a week where she also volunteers as a swimming coach. She works in her thriving vegetable garden. She socialises with friends and cares for her four-year-old granddaughter four times a week. Derek is 69. He has been reducing his full-time commitment as chief architect in a consulting firm. He hopes to retire in the coming year. He is president of the local Lions Club and is considered somewhat of an authority and spokesperson for his local community.

Derek and Leonie's home
Derek and Leonie’s home

 Leonie and Derek enjoy an affluent independent lifestyle with a rich social life. They plan on living in their current dwelling until circumstances prove too difficult. Financially, both Leonie and Derek have generous superannuation packages and they own two investment properties.


Leonie and Derek have two children: a son aged 24 (who threatens to move back home while he continues studying at university) and a daughter, who is married with one child. Their daughter and son-in-law work full time and often require babysitters. Leonie is more than happy to do this.


As an architect, Derek has recently observed changing trends and styles of housing, especially in Adelaide. In the past few years, he has been involved in designs that included five-to six-storey unit blocks on sites where detached older houses with front and back yards once stood. Until now, Derek has enjoyed the lucrative opportunities of such developments. However, when the Nine News report announces that the City of Marion would be included in the State Government’s 30-Year Plan for a Transit-Oriented Development, Derek begins to reflect on his quiet Adelaide suburb and its beautiful colonial-style architecture.

He calls out to his wife:

 Derek: `Leonie! Leonie!’

 Leonie: `Yes, dear’.

 Derek: `Have you heard about this 30-Year Plan for Adelaide?’

 Leonie: `Nope Very little’.

 Derek: `Did you know that they are planning to increase Adelaide’s population by 560,000 people in the next thirty years?’

 Leonie: `That seems like a lot. Surely, that won’t affect Marion’.

 That night Derek downloads a full copy of the 30-Year Plan for Greater Adelaide.

While the environmental and social aspects of the Plan intrigue Derek. His worries about his home suburb are not in the least dispelled by what he reads.

 He also checked some local real estate agents online. He found these startling statistics for the suburb of Plympton, a few suburbs to the north:

 Analysis of the types of dwellings of the households in Plympton in 2006 compared to Adelaide Statistical Division shows that 48.1% occupied a separate house: 35.5% occupied a median density dwelling, while 7.2% occupied high-density dwellings, compared with 71.0%, 20.0%, and 1.6% respectively in Adelaide Statistical Division.

 Oh dear! It looked to Derek like Marion might be ripe for the picking. And he realised that since that Census a lot of new housing had been built in his neighbourhood.

 Derek can’t seem to stop thinking about the Plan. Later that night, he turns on his bedside light and once more flips through the Plan.

 Leonie: `Go to sleep, darling. It will be okay’.

 Derek: `I’m not so sure. I just can’t stop thinking about it. What if our neighborhood turns into a construction site?’

 Leonie: `Oh, Derek. You’re getting yourself worked up about nothing. There are so many lovely old houses around here. I can’t imagine too much will change’.

 Derek: `I’m not sure you’re right, Leonie. There’s been quite a bit of new development recently. Units and townhouses all over the place. And that’s not all. You know all that medium to high-density construction we’ve been working on in the northern suburbs? Well”¦those suburbs are a lot like Marion. I know there has been some complaint from residents about some of it and it’s still gone ahead. Have you heard of the anti-30-Year Plan movement?’

 Over the coming week, Derek hears more and more about the planned density increases for Marion and the surrounding suburbs. He reads the introduction to the Plan, where the former Premier, Mike Rann, enthuses:
The Plan sets new benchmarks in urban planning by locating new housing developments close to public transport networks.”¦ We will locate a majority of our new housing within the established metropolitan area, and in transit-oriented developments along our transport corridors.

 He wonders, is Marion one of those places? He decides to make an appointment with one of the local City Council planners at Marion who had helped him with some extensions in the past.

 The following week:
Bill: `I’m sorry I couldn’t meet earlier, Derek. Council is very busy at the moment. What with this 30-Year Plan. I must say I’m very excited with some of the directions. Have you read the Plan?’

 Derek: `Well, that is actually what I’ve come to see you about, Bill’.

 Bill: Oh!

 Derek: I have been reading the Plan over the past few weeks. I’m not too keen on some of the changes planned for my neighbourhood.

 Bill: `I would have thought that as an architect you’d be more than happy with the progress, Derek. I hear your firm is in a good position to profit from these changes’.

 Derek: `I’m not so sure this is the sort of `progress’ my family was hoping for, Bill. I mean, my wife Leonie has just retired and I’m not too far off myself. We certainly don’t fancy living next door to construction sites for the next ten years. Let’s face it; I’m not getting any younger. I’d like to able to drive to and fro safely for many years to come. Has Council considered how much the increased traffic will affect the area? Has Council considered what this `progress’ will mean for older residents like myself?’

 Bill: `Indeed, Derek, nothing is more important to Council than the safety and well being of its residents. Although there will be an initial construction phase that will affect the entire Council and your suburb in particular, we have taken measures to ensure that all designs will adhere to certain regulations: everything from setbacks to adequate parking per building, road widening, new public transport routes, safe and equal access to facilities and services. It’s all being taken care of’.

 Derek: `Bill, I’m almost 70 years old. In ten years, I’ll be 80. I don’t want to spend half of my retirement living in a construction site. I don’t want Leonie to have to navigate with our granddaughter through trucks and heavy machinery to get to the corner shop. Look, I know that development is unavoidable but the scale of this development worries me. Couldn’t Council designate certain areas or scale down the construction to maintain not just heritage buildings but heritage neighborhoods like ours?’

 Bill: `I hear what you are saying, Derek, but we feel it’s important that we integrate and welcome these design features into our existing neighbourhoods. This is the most effective way to prepare for the kinds of population increases we’re expecting over the next thirty years. Derek, you must understand that Adelaide’s future may depend on attracting and maintaining young people. Certainly, Marion’s features may change but it will mean developing a more vibrant community for all’.