Emboldened by the Bentley Blockade

 

It’s been ten days since the text arrived announcing the suspension of Metgasco’s license to drill for oil at Bentley.

 

Only ten days — and life has changed dramatically for many of us.

 

I search for a word for this new feeling and find an old one:

 

Embolden: “To give someone the courage or confidence to do something.”


What really happened at Bentley?

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

I did not camp there and visited on only a few occasions, so I can’t say for sure.

 

What I do sense is the aftermath–the spin-offs, the unintended effects.

 

At the final Bentley dawn service on Tuesday 20th May, Ruth Rosenhek begged several hundred cheering Protectors and supporters to go gently after the close of the Bentley Blockade, to keep up the warm hugs and looking into people’s eyes when she’d meet them in the street in Lismore.

 

Everyone was nodding agreement. We must not let this fade; we must keep this connection.

 

See:

https://freefall23.wordpress.com/2014/05/19/go-forth-gently-the-aftermath-of-bentley/


Most local people I speak with confess to having had a good long cry after the victory. I certainly did.

 

Some are in a shocked and fragile state.

 

Most are simply astonished.

 

And even those known as being “the voice of reason” admit the need to celebrate such a magnificent triumph.

 

Whatever happens next — here and elsewhere – the Bentley Blockade was a massive victory that Australia will never forget.

 

The ham-fisted tactics of a cowboy mining operation have brought forth the most sophisticated social action this country has seen in decades.

 

Metgasco has done us all a great favour.

 

We are emboldened. Our courage and confidence have been strengthened.

 

The Bentley Blockade is a powerful symbol for those who believe in freedom. Everything about the operation communicated care, love and concern.

 

What could be more heart-warming than the Camp’s beautifully tended vegetable garden?

The Bentley Vegetable Garden
The Bentley Blockade Vegetable Garden

 



“We who believe in freedom cannot rest”

 

When I was younger, I listened to Holly Near and Sweet Honey in the Rock sing Ella’s Song:

 

“We who believe in freedom cannot rest.

 

We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.”

 

So many people – and so many older people – putting their lives on hold to camp in harsh conditions powerfully affected the rest of us. We cannot rest now.

 

All of my communications with local people begin and end with Bentley. “Go, Bentley” is a salute to all who showed they cared.

 

Consecration

 

I remember — in 1992 — when I discovered that I was consecrated in the service of the Earth.

 

See: Wendy Sarkissian Consecration story 2012

 

My heart softened and opened. I ached with love. I’d wake to the shock that I loved the Earth. My heart vibrated with the power of that knowledge.

 

It’s that way now with Bentley. Waking with a yearning heart, soft and open.

 

I yearn to return and place bouquets at the Bentley gates.

 

In gratitude to the Protectors who gave us so much more than social action.

 

I bless them – all of them, that motley crew – for renewing my courage and confidence.

 

Emboldened, I turn my face to the morning sun.

 

I believe in freedom.

 

I cannot rest.

 

I am ready for more.


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Emboldened by the Bentley Blockade



 

Metgasco’s “Community Consultative”: a Moment of Hilarity for the Bentley Blockade

I am old enough to have studied Latin in high school. It helps make me a good speller.

 

A moment of hilarity

 

And today, Latin provided a moment of hilarity in battle to bring Metgasco to see reason about gas mining in the Northern Rivers.

 

The goss now is that Metgasco is encouraging its shareholders to write to the Minister Anthony Roberts and the Office of Coal Seam Gas and say – wait for it – that the community consultation they undertook for the Bentley tight sands gas site was excellent.

 

I gagged when I heard it.

 

So I thought I’d better have a look online at Metgasco’s community consultation policies – to give me something to assess them by.

 

Well, that’s where the Latin came in!

 

Here is the website at 10:35 am on Thursday 22 May 2014. For posterity.

 

Metgasco website Thursday 22 May 2014 at 10:35 am

Metgasco website Thursday 22 May 2014 at 10:35 am

 

 

 



I can easily imagine the desperate in-house conversation in the Metgasco office, which would have gone something like this:

 



Fred, we gotta get some sort of consultation policy online while we’re negotiating with the Minster and the Office of Coal Seam Gas.

You know that stuff. It’s easy to write. Just a few bullet points. Any sort of placeholder will do, Fred.

Just get something up and get it up quickly and make sure it’s got all the usual buzzwords in it. Got that, Fred?

 

And Fred (or Freda), bless their heart, did not realise that on a website and a blog you have an option to go public. (Or stay private.)

 

Metgasco is public with their ungrammatical “Community Consultative” Latin page.

 

Here’s what is says in Latin.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Community Consultative

Sed odio nisi, lacinia eu interdum in, varius sit amet arcu? Maecenas aliquam sapien in ipsum dapibus bibendum. Quisque ac justo nunc. Quisque vulputate sem vel est adipiscing pharetra! Praesent interdum magna in quam dapibus sit amet ornare augue euismod.

Suspendisse facilisis condimentum lacus eu suscipit. Pellentesque eu enim lorem, vehicula iaculis nibh.

Quisque egestas leo a purus feugiat et mattis augue mattis. Nullam sagittis tempus enim ut laoreet.

Nulla mollis, est vel accumsan dictum, ante tortor ultricies enim, eu fermentum purus est at augue. Praesent scelerisque erat vel ante tempus tempor. Nunc imperdiet auctor eros nec mattis.Phasellus interdum varius tellus id bibendum. Mauris elementum mauris auctor magna venenatis vitae luctus libero imperdiet.

Nam euismod, arcu a accumsan malesuada, sem mauris vestibulum libero, sed rutrum mi eros vel augue.

Duis scelerisque, massa eu mattis dapibus, mi nisi elementum lorem, quis hendrerit justo nisl sit amet augue. Maecenas congue varius justo, et placerat est auctor ut. Curabitur pharetra justo non magna ullamcorper fermentum. Praesent imperdiet aliquet erat sed molestie. Maecenas orci justo, pellentesque id tempor ut, facilisis a ligula.

 

And here’s what an on-line translation yielded. My favourite line is this:

 

I’m a great quiver just, do not worry yeast.

 ________________________________________________________________________________________________

Translation:

 

But the hatred unless, on the fringe of EU is at times in the is various cancer cells? Learn some Tips for the same protein drink. Each and just now. Korea’s beef, whether the scenario is immigration processing! So sometimes it’s the tips on how to decorate the likelihood of protein is an important investment.

 

Americans spent to improve the park fun and exciting. Technology that your kids for their vehicle, the vehicles targeted options.

 

Anyone want a lot of research and a lot of travel attitude. Here’s arrows, for the time is to be proud of.

 

No soft or scientific sense, window glass for computer troubleshooting is free at the company. It’s a crime, either at the time. Now the financing of the United States or mattis. Phasellus sometimes variable region this dynamic. Important source of data elements to create the magic of free software financing.

 

For more, player-oriented styling, a lot of drugs manufacturing department, but to help my team or organization.

 

It’s chocolate, the mass of the football a lot of protein, my dear, unless the element of the Internet, which of the players Bureau to the righteous, It’s OK. Developers across the various equity and real estate is the seller. I’m a great quiver just, do not worry yeast. It’s modern, but it was effective employee. It’s the United States, the just, the kids that time had been when, easy of a bonus.

 

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

 

If this is what Metgasco want us to read about their community consultation policy, that’s fine with me because it accords perfectly with that we’ve experienced in this region. That it’s incomprehensible.

 

I live only 40 kilometres from the proposed Bentley gas well.

 

I am here, on my half-acre property — just up the road. Waiting.

 

Nobody knocked on my door, nobody rang, emailed or asked my opinion in any form.

 

And I get lots of mail and the local post office is very reliable.

 

I get lots of phone calls and emails.

 

All my communication systems are working fine. Metgasco: the problem of non-communication must be at your end.

Or:

 

  • Am I not a “stakeholder?”

  • Not living close enough?

  • Not likely to be affected?

  • Not seeking influence?

  • Not caring about my health and that of my community?

  • Not one of the “usual suspects”?

 

Until this morning, I thought Metgasco’s community consultation policy did not exist.

 

Now I know it does exist.

 

But it’s in Latin.

 

I think I’ll keep my gate locked, just in case.

 

While I wait for the English version of Metgasco’s “Community Consultative”, whatever that is….

 

And while I wait for the phone to ring.


UPDATE 5:14 pm May 22nd:

Fred or Freda are on the job at Metgasco.

 

A neighbour emails that “Community Consultative” (in Latin) has been removed from the Metgasco website.

 

In its place, a long, self justifying letter from the Chair about how great the community consultation has been and how it’s

even better than the State Government’s community consultation. Eek!

 

I searched for the Metgasco Community Relations Policy while I was at it. It’s half a page of bullet points!

 

These folks need help!

 

Meanwhile, the rest of us must go gently.

 

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The Bentley Blockade: Weeping for the Earth

The text!

 

It would have looked better if I were digging out the composting toilet or planting organic veggies. But the truth is I was half-way into an egg and sausage McMuffin in Casino when the text came from Bentley.

 

I had to ring Yollana to make sure I had it right.

 

We’d won at Bentley.

 

Or at least, a major victory had occurred. (I’m too old for complete acceptance that “all is now well.” The Bentley Blockade had succeeded. Metgasco’s license was suspended and they were referred to ICAC.

 

But, you know, your body speaks its mind and in a second I was weeping.

 

I was weeping in Maccas in Casino.

 

It took me a while before I realised how much I love this country. How much I love this Earth. Since I migrated to Australia in 1968, I’ve had a few `falling-in-love-with-the-Earth” moments. Deep Ecology rituals specialise in helping that response emerge in reluctant humans.

 

Tall Tree Country

 

Nevertheless, having grown up

in “tall tree country” in Canada, I spent a long time coming to love this part of our Earth. It’s not what I was used to.

 

Tall Tree Country

Tall Tree Country

 

 

 

 

 



A year living alone in the bush at Humpty Doo helped a lot and generated a PhD thesis on caring for Nature: https://researchrepository.murdoch.edu.au/289/

 

 

 

Humpty Doo 1992

Humpty Doo 1992

 

 

 

 

 

 

 




And fog in the valley in Nimbin can do it.

 

https://sarkissian.com.au/wendys-blog/posts-from-the-bush/fog-in-the-valley/

 

 


But this weeping in Maccas?

 

Something else altogether.

 

  • Weeping for gratitude to many protectors who braved discomfort and hardship to keep the vigil at Bentley for so many weeks.
  • Gratitude to the canny politicians and wise negotiators who kept seeking a political solution when many thought that was impossible.
  • Blessings on the parents who brought children to the dawn gatherings on the hill when warm beds beckoned.
  • Gratitude to a brave landowner who made his property available to the protectors.
  • Close friends of mine who put their lives on hold to give all they could.

 

Yollana had another insight into why I was weeping in Maccas.

Community consultation

 

All of the press reports – and the Bentley Alert text – identified inadequate community consultation as the key factor it the Government’s decision.

 

OMG!

 

Yollana writes me:

 

Facebook post by David Filipczyk“Ž, Lock the Gate Alliance Inc.

Let it be known and remembered loudly and clearly:

Bentley was won,
Not because a politician stepped in!
Not because of a loop hole in the law!
Not because a dirty industry found a conscience!

The official reason for the cancellation of the drilling license is:

Insufficient community consultation!

In other words,  
Bentley was won because the people stood up, protested and refused to back down!

 

Does anybody really care about that? Community engagement has been my life’s work. I’ve written eight books about it.

 

I often feel like a boring old fart. Banging on about community engagement.

 

Who cares?

 

Well — yesterday morning — someone cared about community consultation.

 

That’s

enough to keep me banging on for another 25 years.

 

Go Bentley!

 

 

 

Toderian’s 10 Lessons in More Engaging Citizen Engagement”: A confused response

“Engagement Done Well”


In a few days, Vancouver planner Brent Toderian will be speaking in Sydney, where last year he was training planning bureaucrats in the NSW State Government in community engagement.


His conference topic is “Density Done Well”.  My topic in the preceding session was “Engagement Done Well”, making the point that density done well needs community engagement done well.


My speaking post was mysteriously cancelled – without explanation.


I wonder if it had anything to do with my support of the Better Planning Network’s concerns about the proposed NSW planning legislation.


In any case, while Toderian is selling Vancouverism to Australians, I am eagerly listening to Vancouverites – and especially to Vancouver’s activists. It’s a Council election year there and it’s on for one and all when it comes to community engagement.


But it’s definitely not on in the ways Toderian would have us believe.


Cultural Imperialism


I’ve written before about Toderian’s and Vancouver’s cultural imperialism (https://sarkissian.com.au/vancouvers-ecodensity-policy-reflections-on-australian-plannings-cultural-cringe-and-cultural-imperialism/).

 

Of course, Toderian is free to express his opinions about community engagement but they should not  masquerade as facts when describing the Vancouver experience.


Vancouver is where we learn by bad example.

 

I was astonished to read a recent Planetizen post by Toderian and Jillian Glover:  “10 Lessons in More Engaging Citizen Engagement”.  I drew it to the attention of some  Vancouver  activists and  acquaintances.


https://www.planetizen.com/node/67656?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&
utm_campaign=03132014


The Densification Wars

I’ve just returned from Vancouver and spent some time listening to the concerns of community activists. I also spoke at an activist meeting in January about what Vancouverites are calling “The Densification Wars”.

 

Speaking at the "Densification Wars" event in Vancouver January 2014

Speaking at the “Densification Wars” event in Vancouver January 2014



See:   https://vimeo.com/87643788


I have my own responses to the Planetizen blog. They have to do with matters of inclusion, governance and influence. Matters that go beyond the use of techniques.

 

But the Vancouverites have their own ideas – and they are sharp as tacks when it comes to spotting an “advertorial” for Vancouver.


So I asked my Vancouver friends what they thought of the Planetizen post by Toderian and Glover.


My computer was smoking as the furious responses arrived from the Canadians.


Initially, one friend replied that it was at worst “advertising” and at best “creative fiction”.


Jak King
, Chair of the Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods, weighed in with his insightful comments. They are copied in full below along with his contact details.  Seems to me that  Jak knows what he’s talking about.

 

Jak King Photo: Yolande Cole

Jak King Photo: Yolande Cole

*     *     *



I read with interest the piece in Planetizen by Brent Toderian and Jillian Glover.   Had they not kept mentioning Vancouver, I never would have recognized the city they are describing.  

 

In one section, they claim that this is “a region known internationally for its public consultation” — really?  

 

In whose fantasy is that?  

 

The fact is that locally the current City of Vancouver administration is known for being complete failures at engagement.   In 2013, one of our major local newspapers, the Vancouver Courier, conducted a survey to find the most important story of the year, and their readers chose neighbourhood discontent with civic engagement by a huge margin.

 

The Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods, of which I

am chair, was formed last summer specifically to focus and assist the unprecedented opposition to City planning from right across Vancouver.   We began with 18 neighbourhood associations and now have 24, covering about 90% of Vancouver’s population.

 

The City recently published the final Report of the Mayor’s Task Force on the Engaged City.   The report was completed without consultation with or input from any of Vancouver’s numerous and active residents’ associations – that’s a perfect example of how engaged they are.

 

What the Plantetizen article does highlight is this City’s administration’s ability and indeed willingness to create public relations exercises in which citizens are invited to participate but which result in those same citizens having no genuine influence on policies that, most of us believe, were done deals before the first invite was ever sent.  

 

Bread and circuses are all we get.


Jak King

Chair, Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods

https://gw-ac.org

Phone + 1 604 253-6232+ 1 604 253-6232

Twitter @jakking49

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Vancouver’s EcoDensity Policy: Reflections on Australian Planning’s Cultural Cringe and Cultural Imperialism

Australia‘s “cultural cringe”

 

One of the challenges of being a “migrant” in Australia is understanding the “cultural cringe” that infects so much of Australian life. I’ve lived and worked here for 45 years and it still puzzles me. For those not familiar with it, it is an internalised inferiority complex that causes us to dismiss our own culture as inferior to the cultures of other countries. It makes us vulnerable to cultural imperialism.

 

As a planner, I am constantly bewildered by Australians’ need to turn to other countries for planning models – for density, urban design and community engagement. We have many brilliant theorists and practitioners, yet we invite outsiders with sometimes mediocre credentials to brief our planning managers and train our staff. The results are rarely successful.

 

It’s easy for those outsiders to assume that Australia is “just like” Canada, the USA or the UK.

 

How wrong they are!

 

The Density Wars

 

As the “density wars” heat up in all Australian capital cities, turning to outsiders for planning advice becomes even more problematic. And, sadly, the one place Australian governments and developers turn is the one place we should avoid – at least for now. That’s my hometown of Vancouver.

 

As state governments in Australia try to find ways to sell increased housing densities to a reluctant public and recalcitrant local councils, one model has slipped into the conversation that should, in my view, quietly slip away. That’s the recent Vancouver invention of EcoDensity. This failed housing density initiative with a dodgy pedigree is being touted by visiting Vancouverism boosters as one of the answers to our housing density needs. Nothing could be further from the truth, as a significant amount of recent scholarly and practical research reveals.

 

Origins of Vancouver’s EcoDensity Policy

 

I was in Vancouver in June, 2006, when the then Mayor, Sam Sullivan, sought to impress World Urban Forum delegates with his new initiative: EcoDensity. The name was made up by his Chief of Staff. Sam took advice from people who did not know about or fully understand the complex and sophisticated legacy of CityPlan and neighbourhood planning.   He passed the idea by several academics and developers unfamiliar with the CityPlan Neighbourhood Centre rezoning program. There was no other scrutiny, especially by knowledgeable planners and managers within Council. By the time the Vancouver City planners got the job of explaining and implementing it, EcoDensity was a “done deal”.

 

Sullivan even tried to patent the term.

 

Speed was of the essence: the aim was “Doing it faster”, unlike Toronto, which built only 200 laneway infill units (several years before EcoDensity was coined by Sullivan) before they abandoned their discretionary zoning policy.

 

A massive City public relations program from 2006-2007 trumpeted this new initiative, which was seen by the spin-doctors as more interesting with “eco” than  boring old “planning” or scary new “density”. The 2008 Council meeting to endorse it lasted for six nights, with 151 speakers lined up.

 

The EcoDensity Charter

 

It took two years and four official drafts to approve the EcoDensity Charter. It is now widely accepted that the Charter misrepresented community views and did not adequately address issues raised in the public process. There were strong community complaints of misrepresentation by Council officers (and senior planners) of the contents of community submissions; there were serious weaknesses in the analysis of submissions about the draft Charter. In meetings to work out the Charter, it was observed that the moderator skewed public comments.

 

ecodensity brochure cover

 

 

In the community’s view, the 2008 EcoDensity Charter represented a “battering ram” approach to densification. Considerable discretionary power was eventually granted to Council by the Charter, thus undermining well-established policies of community engagement and implementation. Despite the extensive publicity campaign, the community hated and distrusted the policy. It sank Sam Sullivan politically. Shortly after he announced it, his popularity went into steep decline and, despite thirteen years as a City Councillor, he lost candidature after only one term as Mayor. Anti-EcoDensity public sentiment was a significant factor in his 2008 election loss. The new City Planner, Brent Toderian, inherited the policy in 2006; he had to run with it. Not surprisingly, it took its toll on him, as well.

 

 

 


Justifications for EcoDensity

You’d have to pity the City’s planners who were forced to implement this policy, this new “sustainability fix”. Their mandate was one of neutralizing opposition, while promoting social welfare through affordability. (And you’d also wonder why they did not speak up.) Instead, they went along with it, claiming that Laneway Housing was essentially “invisible” and easily absorbed. Laneway Housing before this time was about the only thing the new planning regime implemented on their watch (and it failed to deliver a significant increase in density). It was parallelled in terms of community opposition and distrust by the now infamous failed “Thin Streets” initiative (which had also been mooted in Council years before but failed to get endorsement).

Thin Streets: "Where's my corner lot gone?"

Thin Streets: “Where’s my corner lot gone?”

 

 

With regard to Laneway Housing, the city’s planners argued, unconvincingly, that gentle, hidden and invisible forms of density were possible in suitable locations across the City with design that respected neighbourhood identity. It was promoted as having the same envelope as a permitted garage, but two storeys were allowed. In fact, 95% of Laneway Housing permits issued were for two storeys, thus negatively affecting privacy and shadowing back yards, which conflicted with urban agriculture policies and reduced songbird habitat.

 

Laneway Housing under construction

Laneway Housing under construction

 

 


My sister, living in Marpole, now wonders if her beautiful garden, that is her delight and solace, will be in full shadow throughout the day in all seasons with proposed height increases on Oak Street.

 

Will she have to move?

 

These were the sorts of concerns that Vancouver residents expressed in 2007 and onwards. Knowledgeable critics acknowledged some eco-footprint benefits in EcoDensity as, in terms of development and environmental stewardship, it showed some promise. However, community people soon pointed out that regulations made laneway houses unnecessarily costly to build. In violation of basic sustainability principles, EcoDensity in laneways     — as currently implemented in Vancouver –encourages demolition and replacement of existing dwellings, with loss of embodied energy and character. Those two weaknesses alone neutralized its power as the “new sustainability fix”. The Council ignored suggestions from community members about how Laneway Housing could be less costly and intrusive but they were ignored.

 

Thin Streets protest 2013

Thin Streets protest 2013

 

 

Research reveals that even the City of Vancouver planners were not convinced that the policy would work. Brent Toderian was quoted in 2007 as saying: “EcoDensity won’t provide housing that meets average incomes. I don’t think we would affect housing supply to the point that prices would go down.”

 

A 2007 staff report agreed that the “trickle-down” effect would not work for housing affordability. If they were referring to so-called “filtering” (i.e., the concept in housing research that older residences, once sold by their owners so they can downsize, move into a retirement community, etc., become available as affordable housing to younger buyers), they were right that it simply doesn’t function in Vancouver’s housing market. Nevertheless, in November 2013, Toderian told a Sydney audience that, “EcoDensity gave a good context for an idea that didn’t have traction.”

 

Community and professional views

 

Research revealed that, in Vancouver, local people were not scared about density until June 2006, when the Mayor “put the fear of density into people.” EcoDensity was seen as an “institutional fix” to make densification acceptable:   a “Trojan horse”. To many local people in 2006, density was seen as equal to development and profit to developers. Densification consistent with “Community Choices” had been approved under CityPlan Visions and under pre-existing Local Area Plans (but that density was primarily small-scale, not suited to major developers and overseas condominium pre-sales). #/nom-generique-du-cialis/ There was a pre-existing public understanding of density after years of sensitive community engagement conducted by the City. Those sensitive approaches and the densities they involved conflicted with the kinds of density envisaged by Eco-Density supporters.

 

The Sullivan initiative heralded a new era of top-down city policy making and implementation. People were frightened – and angry. One community view was that EcoDensity opened floodgates for more large-scale types of development, which were not consistent with existing plans or “discretionary” urban design guidelines. Researchers found that EcoDensity destroyed public confidence in “discretionary zoning”.

 

There is a great irony in this destruction of confidence. An approach which had been designed to placate opposition to housing density (to “clothe the wolf of densification in the sheep’s clothing of eco-trendy jargon”) had failed miserably. One of the two former City Planners (either Larry Beasley or Ann McAfee) was quoted in academic research as saying, “By putting the dirty word of density with the very sweet and tasty word of eco – you launder the dirty word of density.” Not surprisingly, others cottoned on as well. Community people challenged the discursive connection between density and affordability. It was seen as a prominent example of how environmental concerns can be co-opted to neutralize environmental opposition by promoting a value-free vision with “win-win-wins” among economic growth, social development and ecological protection. What was seen as manipulative rhetoric designed to break down resistance and opposition led to perceptions of false promises and misleading descriptions (in the engagement processes).

 

Some people argued that EcoDensity deceptively sells densification for profit – using the values of liveability, sustainability and affordability. Basically, they argued, it serves developers, not communities. Many experienced critics (including current and former City staff) felt that they were tangled up in political sloganeering and deliberate attempts to mislead, deceive and lull people into acquiescence. City planners were forced to promise one thing and enable another. Basically, for the communities, it boiled down to a simple suspicion: the whole policy was nothing more than a publicity campaign for the Mayor aimed at serving developers’ interests.

 

As a result, decades of careful policy development and trust building (guided by the stellar former co-director of planning, Dr Ann McAfee) became mired in distrust. Now Vancouver’s neighbourhoods were experiencing for the first time in decades a lack of genuine participation and the over-riding of community planning.

 

What people feared

 

What people feared was not density but overcrowding.  Community concerns focused on problems associated with very dense neighbourhoods and what was coined “green overcrowding” (density without amenity). The policy was seen as greenwashing of developers’ agenda. Critics were concerned that EcoDensity would sacrifice liveability and that led to anxiety and open protests in a number of neighbourhoods.   Before long, Vancouver’s neighbourhoods were in uproar. At risk were Ann McAfee’s carefully crafted visioning processes for neighbourhood plans under CityPlan. Now local people felt that EcoDensity would destroy their communities.

 

Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver (NSV)

 

EcoDensity had a strong effect on organising and uniting neighbourhoods and the modern wave of Vancouver community action (described recently by eminent Vancouver journalist, Frances Bula as “a peasant revolt”) we see today around Community Plans and rezoning was reborn at this time. In 2007, Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver (NSV) was established. It was the first time in the City’s history that neighbourhood groups from across the City had come together to protest. There were concerns about weak leadership in planning and a flawed engagement processes that allowed visions and local area plans to be overridden. More than anything, people were concerned (as they are today in Vancouver) that EcoDensity centralized implementation away from the community.

 

Effects on existing CityPlan processes

 

Until the arrival of EcoDensity, density discussions in Vancouver were proceeding amicably. One of the big differences between EcoDensity and earlier densification programs (like False Creek North, Yaletown and Downtown) is that the latter occurred in brownfields sites rather than in existing lower-density single-family neighborhoods. The earlier effects were not felt in low-density residential neighbourhoods. The City Plan Vision framework, approved in 1995, envisaged “A City of Neighbourhoods” and “community involvement in decision-making”. The community visioning process took CityPlan to the neighbourhood level, with communities developing detailed

local vision directions. With EcoDensity, these initiatives were ignored. The new language of EcoDensity was seen as undermining both CityPlan community visions and residents associations. Not surprisingly, community members questioned: Was this policy a continuation of CityPlan (city visioning processes) – or a disruption? Proponents of EcoDensity, including senior planners, marketed it as a continuation; opponents clearly experienced it as a disruption.

 

The tragic legacy of EcoDensity is a governance one. It undermined the effectiveness of CityPlan, whose artful design and implementation had had the effect of de-politicising the planning process. Now the Vancouver planning process is fully politicised. Decades of work by the previous two highly skilled City Planners was eroded. And the firestorm that we see in Vancouver today is the direct result.

 

Protests at Vancouver City Hall, September 2013

Protests at Vancouver City Hall, September 2013

 

The current situation in Vancouver regarding EcoDensity

Widespread opposition to EcoDensity-spawned top-down Council planning continues to grow. Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver (NSV) is running a candidate for the 2014 mayoral race, as well as candidates for the Council, School Board and Parks Board.

 

In 2013, the “Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods” (CVN) was formed to establish a “new planning paradigm. The CVN is currently questioning the City’s inflated population projections, demanding that community planning processes return to the CityPlan practice of public workshops and surveys to consider and select among various options for housing density − not single options seen by community members as created in back rooms by the developer-influenced City administration.

 

It’s a great tradition that is set to continue: it is widely accepted that Vancouver’s liveability was founded on opposition to planning experts. EcoDensity has been continued only half-heartedly by the new Council, which now boasts the “Greenest City Initiative”. The current Council is also beholden to real estate development interests because of huge election campaign contributions (with no controls in British Columbia). They avoid the term EcoDensity because of its wide unpopularity and partisan rivalry. However, EcoDensity continues to be cited in staff reports and some EcoDensity policies continue to be implemented by the current Council.

 

In summary: Why EcoDensity is a failure?

 

  1. It arose from a top-down public relations initiative and never had widespread popular or Council support.
  2. The way it was initiated led to initial mistrust and the ways it was implemented continue to contribute to mistrust.
  3. It promised much more than it delivered.
  4. It did not make housing more affordable.
  5. It did a poor job of improving social equity.
  6. It did not provide enough new housing units to satiate the demand.
  7. It contributed to a breakdown of trust between communities and the Council.
  8. It re-politicised the planning process and destroyed social capital and relationships established through the extensive CityPlan processes.

 

What can we learn from this – in Australia?

 

This is a cautionary tale that we ignore at our peril – as communities, planners and governments. First, let’s learn from our own experiences, do the relevant research – here and abroad – mine the archives, refresh the institutional memories and learn to think for ourselves.

 

Second, let’s respect our overseas colleagues and engage with them – but as equals, not as supplicants. The City of Vancouver has made many mistakes, as have our larger cities. But it’s only a small place with 600,00 residents. We have larger cities and bigger problems – and many smart people to address them.

 

Third, let’s fearlessly face “the cringe” and vow to create our own planning solutions. We can learn from others. Yes. And we can come to our own decisions.

 

And finally, let’s beware of the spin-doctors. One recently told an Australian audience packed full of activists and planners that planners and governments need to “be more creative now about how you `brand’ ideas.”

 

The spin-doctors have all but ruined planning in Vancouver. Let’s not learn from them how to do that better.

 

Because if we want learn how to do spin doctoring better, Vancouver is definitely the place to go.

 

 

Selected sources:

 

Brown, Ryan C. (2008). Reconciling Ecological and Social Sustainability: The Case of the EcoDensity Initiative. Research Report, Vancouver Island University, 30 May 2008, https://newcity.ca/Pages/ecodensity.pdf, accessed 19 December 2013.

 

Bula, Frances (2012). “Vancouver city planner sees term ended by Vision council,” State of Vancouver, 31 January: https://www.francesbula.com/uncategorized/vancouver-city-planner-sees-term-ended-by-vision-council/, accessed 19 December 2013.

 

Condon, Patrick   (2013). Blog: “Whose City is it Anyway?”, The Tyee, https://thetyee.ca/Opinion/2013/08/26/Whose-City-Is-It/   26 August, accessed 19 December 2013.

 

Eggleton, Crystal and Peter McMahon (2013).What is EcoDensity?“ Clayton Utz Insights, 23 May, https://www.claytonutz.com/publications/edition/23_may_2013/20130523/what_is_ecodensity.page, accessed 19 December 2013.

 

Pacheco-Vega, Paul (2009). “Laneway housing, affordability and EcoDensity: Preliminary thoughts,” 4 August, https://www.raulpacheco.org/2009/08/laneway-housing-affordability-and-ecodensity-preliminary-thoughts/, accessed 19 December 2013.

 

Rosol, Marit (2013). “Vancouver’s “EcoDensity” Planning Initiative: A Struggle over Hegemony?” Urban Studies 50 (11), August: 2238-2255.

 

Sarkissian, Wendy (2013). “EcoDensity,” The NIMBY Clearinghouse, https://thenimbyclearinghouse.wordpress.com/tag/eco-density/, accessed 19 December 2013.

 

Sham, Fred (2012).   The urban political ecologies of Vancouver: Sustainable development and affordability. Unpublished Master of Science in Planning thesis, Columbia University, May. https://academiccommons.columbia.edu/catalog/ac%3A147370, accessed 19 December 2013.

 

Sullivan, Sam (2013). “How Vancouver’s EcoDensity Ideas can Help Sydney”, 20 April 2013. https://www.samsullivan.ca/vancouvers-ecodensity-ideas-sydney/, accessed 19 December 2013.

All Hell Breaks Loose with Proposed Housing Density Increases in Vancouver!

 

Vancouver protestsAll hell is breaking loose in Vancouver.

I wish I were there to watch it.

 

For decades, the so-called Lotus Land has prided itself on its premier status as the most liveable city in the world.

 

 

Etc.

 

And so on.

 

 

Visiting Overseas Experts

Its retired or retrenched planners (those Visiting Overseas Experts) frequently visit this country as speakers and consultants and evoke images of delighted citizens embracing planning reforms — including (especially) housing density increases.

 

The proposed NSW planning reforms are apparently modelled on the now out-of-date, irrelevant and (for our State planning purposes) discredited “Vancouver model” of community engagement…

 

… which in NSW turns out to mean proposals for no substantial or authentic engagement about what matters when it matters.


What’s really happening in Vancouver?

 

The Vancouver vision is one of peaceful acceptance of housing density increases. Hmmm.   Nothing could be further from the reality!

 

stop marpole rezoning placards

A basic Web search will reveal that community activism is alive and well in Canada’s Evergreen Playground — and the residents of ordinary suburbs (such as Marpole) are up in arms about rezoning.

 

And have a look at the ages of the activists.   They remind me of the H.E.A.L. professionals in their sensible shoes in Sydney’s Northern Beaches protesting against the closure of the Manly Hospital.

 

The Mayor of the City of Lotus Land (oops, Vancouver) seems to keep backing down.

 

Ugly scenes occur as hundreds of protesters rally outside City Hall (just last week!).

 

And yet the juggernaut continues.

 

 

The word on the street is that the community planners ARE listening to the community — but (comme toujours), back at City Hall, they’re being rolled.

 

 

But ordinary citizens are saying that they don’t accept that “You can’t fight City Hall.”

 

They say it’s a vicious rumour spread by City Hall!

 

You can't fight city hall rumour

Video demonstrates this so well.

 

Take a look at this:

 

 



A Warning

 

Let’s be careful in Australia not to be seduced by the Lotus Eaters from the Lotus Land. It’s a powerful drug: denial.

 

In another life, decades ago, I was a scholar of Victorian poetry. I wrote a thesis on Robert Browning’s long poem. A thesis about truth.

 

And I also read Tennyson.

 

Tennyson’s The Lotos-Eaters is salutary reading at this time, especially for our Australian politicians and planners who have inhaled deeply of the exotic fragrances, eaten the poisoned fruit and fallen for “Vancouverism”:

 

But they smile, they find a music centred in a doleful song

Steaming up, a lamentation and an ancient tale of wrong,
Like a tale of little meaning tho’ the words are strong…


The mariners (aka our Australian planners and ambitious politicians) have been entranced by the “mild-eyed melancholy Lotos-eaters,” who approach them bearing the flower and fruit of the lotos.


Those who eat it feel as if they have fallen into a deep sleep; they sit down and can no longer hear their fellow Australians speaking to them.

They have succumbed, hearing only the music of their own heartbeats.

 

I say: Let’s wake up.

 

Inhale the fragrance of the lemon-scented gum.

 

Listen to the kookaburras.

 

And let’s stop this nonsense!

 

For more video from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), see:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NIMBY Psychology: What Can a Planner Do?

logo_pia

Last night we had a lively discussion in Brisbane hosted by the Planning Institute, Queensland Branch.

 

Stephanie Wyeth, a highly experienced engagement practitioner and Director of Urbis, Queensland, and I spoke about the practical aspects of community engagement in a well-attended “How-To” seminar.

 

 

NIMBY psychology image

I spoke about NIMBY Psychology: What Can a Planner Do?

 

Here is a link to the paper that I prepared with Jim Beaudreau of the School of Community and

Regional Planning, University of British Columbia, Canada:

PIA seminar Beaudreau and Sarkissian 2013

 

And here is my PowerPoint presentation:

Sarkissian PIA How To September 2013 revised_PIA web version

 

The discussion was excellent. And we had very positive feedback, too:

 

A great coup to have Wendy here – a hero of mine – thank you!

 

Brilliant presentation

 

Great speakers and topic

 

Great, inspiring

 

Difficult topic to simplify, so good to hear of pros and cons of various approaches

 

Loved it!

 

Fantastic session

 

Love Steph – she’s awesome!

 

Many thanks to Jim Beaudreau for writing the paper with me, the Planning Institute, Queensland Branch, to Rosanne Meurling of Allens for gracious and generous hospitality and flawless coordination, to Peter Gill for stylish impromptu chairing, to Buckley Vann for sponsorship and to my co-speaker for a truly inspirational talk.

 

… and to Karl, my Beloved, for a second trip to Brisbane in two days!

Banging on about Bang the Table

Comic book - door knocking

A couple of times recently, I’ve heard Australians complain about the Australian online engagement firm, Bang the Table (BTT) (see https://bangthetable.com/).   I’ve done their training and greatly admire their work, which I see as directly complementary to my more “hands-on” approaches.

 

I decided it was time to sort things out in my own mind, so I spoke with Crispin Butteris, one of the Directors, last week.

 

This blog reflects my own thoughts and some ideas that came out of our conversation.


In one of my recent conversations, a resident complained about the “thin” website that Bang the Table had prepared for a local council in Western Australia. I explained that BTT (like my own firm) has many options to offer.

When a client chooses the weakest option in the catalogue, there is little we can do.

We have the same problem all the time: the good parts get defunded before we even begin a community engagement process.

 

In another conversation – at a public rally, actually – a disgruntled resident complained about the very small sample in a survey of attitudes toward a medical facility in Sydney. Again, the “reach” of the survey would have been a matter for the client, again, a local municipality.

 

That got me thinking about my own experiences with community engagement. The appalling things people have said to me in public forums:

 

  • We know you’re a spy from HomesWest [the state public housing authority]”. We have that on good authority/

 

  • Or: You’re just another hired gun, paid to do what the council wants you to do. You have no integrity.

 

  • Or: We’ve heard from a reputable source   that you’re being paid by Developer X. We have spies in high places.

 

And so forth.

 

Both Crispin and I have had to grow thick skins to take the abuse that flows in these situations.

 

Because (and here’s the rub), we have to keep our gloves on, while members of the “public” can take theirs off. It can be very challenging and frightening (especially for young professionals).

 

The more I think about it, the more I felt that we needed a good conversation – maybe at an IAP2 conference or a PIA conference – about these matters.

 

Consider the following:

 

It is not without precedent for one individual or a small group of highly activated community members to attack us. It seems to happen when they feel threatened by the transparency created by an open online process. Or, for that matter, by any authentic process, online or embodied. In those sorts of situations, people who aim primarily to disrupt lose their ability to frame and control the discourse around an issue.

 

Crispin and   agreed that what we do can be very disruptive to “activist practice.” Both of us have been roundly condemned by a small group of residents when their position was exposed as being unrepresentative of broader community interests. We know that our other colleagues in their field have similar experiences. Sometimes we have these encounters with the same people over the same planning matters over many years.

 

Crispin also explained that by taking the engagement process online (and adequately publicising opportunities to get involved), the frame of reference for the discussions is expanded beyond those with an immediate interest. It puts their interests and their scale into a much broader context.

 

At this stage, there are a number of different possible outcomes:

 

(1)     The activists are proven correct. The rest of the community rallies behind them, both in terms of numbers (lots of people express their interest) and sentiment; or

(2)     the activists are proven wrong. The rest of community rises up to oppose them, a great tidal wave of alternate opinion washes them away; or

(3)     the activists are proven to be lone voices in the wilderness. Nobody else cares about the issue. We agreed that this is as bad an outcome for the activists as being proven wrong. Community ambivalence kills the issue.

 

Of course, the client (the consulting organisation) needs to do a good enough job of publicising the engagement process. If not, all bets are off!

 

I am an activist myself and involved in a number of campaigns in New South Wales – from opposition to coal seam gas mining to keeping hospitals in Sydney’s northern beaches, to trying to reform the reform of the NSW planning system. (OMG, that’s a job and a half!)

 

Wise ones among us admire the work on Deep Democracy: accepting the will of the majority along with the wisdom of the minority.



Coming to Public Judgment


For my part, I’m leaning strongly in the direction of “Coming to Public Judgment”.


I’m currently reading Daniel Yankelovich’s classic text on that subject (see https://www.viewpointlearning.com/about-us/who-we-are/daniel-yankelovich/).

 

That’s different from “public opinion”.

Daniel Yankelovich Photo: Matthew Septimus

Daniel Yankelovich                                                           Photo: Matthew Septimus



Yankelovich’s makes a salient point early in the book: an informed citizenry is not all that we need. We need people genuinely to understand what’s being discussed. An engaged citizenry is a good start.

 

So, I say, stop banging on about Bang the Table.

 

And bang on instead about the content of what’s being discussed.

 

Let’s get educated.


Let’s build and strengthen our communities’ capacities to understand – really understand – what’s happening in our communities.

 

And let’s stop shooting the messengers.

 

PLEASE, PLEASE COMMENT!

Please Spare Manitoba!

 

Manitoba in the early days
Manitoba in the early days

 

What now?

 

I never thought I’d see the day! One of the best examples of medium-density housing in Australia is up for redevelopment! How can this be?

 

Where is our memory?

 

Is new always better?

 

Don’t we know what’s good when we see it?

 

 

One of my fears about the redevelopment of this site is that the shared open space will be lost.

It’s the heart and soul of Manitoba and it’s its best feature.

Removing shared open space: a fashion we’d be best to forget!

A fashion in the development nowadays, promoted by New Urbanists seeking to maximize developers’ profits, is to remove shared space from higher density housing. This is such a massive social error that it defies understanding.

The hierarchy of open space

It is generally accepted by social designers that there is a hierarchy of open space in any urban or residential area.

 

First, there is private open space (the balconies, yards, courtyards, terraces, decks, patios and other private outdoor spaces that are associated with a private dwelling).

 

Second is shared open space, the territory of a group of dwellings and the primary play space for pre-schoolers.

 

Finally, we have public open space, which can be accessed by anyone: parks, plazas, community gardens and any other pace that does not belong to a specific dwelling or group of dwellings.

 

For many years — decades, actually, New Urbanist designers and developers, bent on “neo-traditionalist” designs and grid road patterns, have sought to remove the central level of the hierarchy: shared open space. They argue that the function of shared open space can easily be taken up by neighbourhood parks. The reasons are clearly about profit maximisation, as there are not legitimate other reasons fro removing this space or violating the integrity of a hierarchy that has stood the test of time.

 

All the recent research on natural pay, child development and “Nature-Deficit Disorder” focuses on the importance of “near nature” in the early years fo a child’s life. And, with the increase in single-parent families and many parents experiencing post-partum depression and feeling uncomfortable about venturing into the the wider urban domain, this piece of nature is all the more important.

Ian Hannaford

One of the best examples of shared open space is the beautiful public housing estate designed in the 1970s by South Australian architect, Ian Hannaford: the Manitoba development. The care and sensitivity of this design have made it a popular site for visits by overseas planners and architects for decades.

 

Ian Hannaford
Ian Hannaford

 

The care with with Hannaford (and the Housing Trust planners and architects who assisted him) provided for natural surveillance (“eyes on the street”) from the neighboring  dwellings while allowing residents to maximise their privacy, spoke to a sensitivity that we rarely see in current housing designs.

The subtle but sensitive approaches to “cut-out” fencing allowed residents to add to their fencing and/or provide landscaping if they sought greater privacy chose not to participate in the chidlrne’s play in the central shared space.

 

Cut-out fencing allows views out or privacy
Cut-out fencing allows views out or privacy

 

Qualities of shared open space

Clare Cooper Marcus, a specialist in this field and now an Emerita Professor, argues that shared open space must have specific qualities. It   can be a highly significant component of the neighborhood landscape if it meets the following criteria:

 

(1)                 It is bounded by the dwellings it serves and is clearly not a public park;

 

(2)         Entry points into this space from a public street or sidewalk are designed so that it is clear that one is entering a setting which is not public space;

 

(3)         Its dimensions and the height-to-width ratio of buildings to outdoor space create a human-scaled setting;

 

(4)         Each dwelling unit bounding the shared outdoor space has access to an adequately sized private outdoor space (patio, yard, balcony) which forms a buffer between the residence and the common area;

 

(5)         There are clear boundaries and easy access between what is private (dwelling unit, patio, yard) and what is shared;

 

(6)         As much care is focused on the layout, circulation patterns, planting plan, furnishings, lighting, etc., of the shared outdoor space as is normally focused on the dwelling interiors. In particular, the design needs to focus on children (play equipment, paths for wheeled vehicles, areas for exploratory play, etc.) since research shows that children will comprise more than 80% of the users of such spaces if they are designed with the above criteria in mind.

 

(7)         The scale of such a space can vary from the urban, rectilinear courtyards of St. Francis Square to the more rambling suburban greenways of Village Homes as long as all the above six guidelines are followed, thus ensuring that the space is perceived as unambiguously neither private nor public, but shared.

 

The arguments in favour of shared open space can be summarised as follows:

 

Arguments for shared open space

 

  1. CPTED (Crime Prevention through Environmental Design): Capable guardianship possible within territory controlled by residents
  • Children are vulnerable users of residential environment

 

  • Do not always understand which places are safe for them to use

 

  • Can be victims of predatory practices

 

  • Parental fears can inhibit children’s use of the environment (Paul Tranter)

 

  • Attention to CPTED principles will reduce potential for limiting children’s independent mobility

 

 

  1. Education for sustainability: Microcosm of the wider environmental world: essential for child’s environmental literacy and ethical development

 

  • Diversity of urban environment: learning ground for children’s ecological values

 

  • Environments that communicate   sustainability are important

 

  • Educate children (and adults) to value sustainability

 

  • Valuing sustainability and intergenerational equity communicates that we value children and their futures

 

  • Children grow into ecologically literate and responsible adults

 

  • The environment is a communicating medium.

 

  • It communicates what we value.

 

  1. Child development and safety: Microcosm of the wider social world: necessary for child’s social and physical development

 

    • Shared space is microcosm of the wider social world: necessary for child’s physical and social development

 

  1. Equity and cultural diversity: Young children in some households (and some young girls) not permitted to go alone beyond sight and calling distance of home

 

Young children in some households (and some young girls) not permitted beyond sight and calling distance of home without an adult

  • Males tend to dominate outdoor play

 

  • Older boys and teenagers will dominate most attractive play areas

 

  • Girls play less often in parks than boys do

 

  • Girls tend to play significantly closer         to home

 

Children (especially girls) need opportunities for private social play

 

Summary:

 

CPTED:

  • Clear sense of territory: what is private or shared (reduces excuse-making)
  • Recognising (and confronting) strangers
  • Expressing capable guardianship
  • Building a sense of community

Sustainability:

  • Nature-deficit disorder
  • Learning and practicing ecology at home
  • Near nature
  • Personal health and ecosystem health linked
  • Cooler neighbourhoods (reduce heat islands)

 

Equity:

  • Low-income people can’t travel far for outdoor recreation
  • Some cultures won’t let women and girl children go far for recreation
  • Without shared space, some young girls will not be permitted to leave the dwelling or the yard

 

We remove shared open space from medium-density housing at our peril.

Let’s keep the Manitoba development as it is.

The brilliant example of shared open space in the Manitoba development in the South-East corner of Adelaide needs to be preserved.

Let’s keep it for its architectural value, for its housing quality and for its residents, as well as an example of how to get it right in terms of design and sensitive provision of shared open space that can benefit all residents.

 

Access to "near nature" supports child development
Access to “near nature” supports child development

PLEASE SPARE MANITOBA!!!

 

Emotions Count in Community Engagement

Emotions Count 2013

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 




There’s lots of discussion about emotion in community engagement these days.

 

Maybe that’s because we’ve ignored this important component for decades.

 

Adelaide’s independent newspaper, InDaily, recommends, following an interview with me last week, that we “consider emotion in community engagement.”

 

The difficulty is that in many community engagement circles, and especially among those practitioners in the “risk-aversion” category (and their colleagues and clients), emotion is seen as a negative thing, often associated with “outrage” and something to be avoided.

 

But emotion is not always outrage. Or outrageous. Sometimes it’s soft and sweet. Sometimes it’s passionate and daring. Sometimes it’s hopeful.

 

And sometimes it’s untrusting.

 

Emotion is only energy.

 

It’s natural and instinctive, like the human desire for territorial control. And if you find energy in a community engagement context, you don’t have to drum it up.

You have something — something energetic — to work with!   Emotions count in community engagement

 

See: https://iaf-oceania.org/emotion-and-outrage-when-facilitating-community-engagement/

 

The Energy Wheel

 

In my work, I use a diagnostic tool called the “Energy Wheel” to assess the emotional state of people in a community, a community group or an organisation.   It gives me a way of working out what’s necessary. What might work.   In a “cool negative”   community, for example, you might have literally   to”light a fire” under people to get them going — to get them involved.

 

Stories in a Park in Eagleby, Queensland

 

We’ve done that in a now-famous project in Eagleby in southeastern Queensland. And the results were transformational!

 

Here is a summary of some aspects of that creative approach to community engagement and community development:

Stories in a Park final journal article 2005   Please email me for more details about the Eagleby project.

 

The Energy Wheel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can read more about the Energy Wheel in my book, Kitchen Table Sustainability.

 

See:  https://www.amazon.com/Kitchen-Table-Sustainability-Practical-Engagement/dp/1844076148