Two Brisbane Planners Call for a “Revolutionary” Approach to Increasing Housing Density:
Realising the Revolution?
In a recent paper to the Planning Institute of Australia (PIA) Queensland conference, Bridget Rogan and Fran Toomey of the Council of Mayors (SEQ) presented the results of work in progress on the strategic importance of medium-density housing in their region.
Their paper, “Liveable Compact Cities: Realisation of the Revolution”, is very helpful in understanding the reasons behind the strong resistance to medium-density housing in Queensland (and elsewhere).
What are they saying?
Deconstructing this paper – and especially its very precise and specific language – can offer guidance for planners and policy makers about how to proceed with density increases.
And how not to proceed.
In their paper, Rogan and Toomey (2011) call for the “realisation of the revolution”.
So what is a `revolution’?
a forcible overthrow or repudiation and the thorough replacement of an established government or political system by the people governed.
Or at the very least “¦ a paradigm shift.
While they are not explicit about what the `revolution’ might be, it is clear that the revolution is a revolution in land-use planning with the battle for medium-density housing at the forefront of the conflict. The project they report on, the Liveable Compact Cities Project, sponsored by the Federal Government, explores policy, practice and the housing market. It aims to increase housing affordability.
But the real revolution that is to be realised is not housing affordability per se. It is a massive project to increase density in housing in Southeast Queensland.
The Nub of the Issue
Here, encoded in what appears to be an innocent conference paper, is the nub of the issue confronting us today as planners and policy makers. While on the one hand, governments tell us that here is nothing `revolutionary’ about higher density housing, on the other hand, their language publicly promotes it to “realise the revolution’.
This is exactly what local people and people in low-density communities are afraid of: “the revolution”.
Do people want the `revolution’?
A wide body of research confirms that local people, when they consider their housing and public spaces do not want “the revolution”. They want homes in suburbs like everyone else.
The Hall of Shame
They do not want avant-garde or `revolutionary’ architecture or parks and open spaces like the shockingly `revolutionary’ Parc de la Villette in Paris, with sculptures, structures, places and “community art” they cannot relate to.
The American Project for Public Spaces has inducted that `revolutionary’ park into their “Hall of Shame” for Public Spaces and its list of “the worst parks in the world”.
Parc de la Villette: Realising the Revolution?
Rather than “realising the revolution”, planners and policy makers would be wise to consider what is not revolutionary about good medium-density housing.
How we can re-interpret the tried-and-true, successful even archetypal elements of housing design and the design of the spaces between buildings to achieve a high level of `congruence’ or `fit’ between the residents and their housing environments.
This need not be a battle or a conflict.
Definitely not a `revolution’.
What works and what doesn’t work are well known. Less well known are the complex dynamics of humans’ relationships with their domestic environments.
A very positive response to my paper on 22 February 2013 to the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University indicates that rather than a harsh, top-down, “imposing” and perhaps “revolutionary” approach advocated by activists and others in positions of planning authority, such as Bridget Rogan and Fran Toomey, a much gentler and more sensitive “psychological” approach could yield better results.
A ‘revolutionary’ approach will only inflame NIMBY-ite responses and is completely counter-productive.
See: Joint Center for Housing Studies
The Fifth Estate: Our Planet, Our Real Estate
To contact these authors and hear more about the revolution they propose:
Council of Mayors (SEQ)
Fax 07 3211 5889