NIMBY Psychology: What Can a Planner Do?

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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!

Social Planner’s Distress Call: The NBN Information Session in Nimbin

 

Promise: Yes Delivery: Nada!

Promise: Yes
Delivery: Nada!





A vibrant community event!

A vibrant community event!

 




The inappropriate dress and exposed breasts of the woman from Ericsson were the best (or the worst, depending on your perspective) features of the NBN Information Session in Nimbin Town Hall today.

 

Oh dear.

 

Social Planner’s Distress Call.

 

Again.

 

It’s been a hard week and it’s only Monday.

 

I’ve already had a massive rainbow chuckle as the Queensland Government wheeled out an American consultant who’s supposedly an expert in “community visioning” to say how great their State Government community engagement has been.

Visiting Overseas Experts

These Visiting Overseas Experts (VOEs) are swarming all over the offices of right-wing governments in Australia at the moment. It’s a min-plague! We have Canadian planners from Vancouver crawling all over NSW and Melbourne.

And now the boy from Portland is in Brisbane. Offering his ‘testimonials’ for Campbell Newman. (I wish they’d keep their testimonials to themselves. They have NO IDEA of ow much damage they are doing to our fragile democratic fabric here.)

 

I am thoroughly sick of it.

 

But as a local and a businessperson who needs good Internet connection, I thought I’d better wander down to the Nimbin Town Hall and see how things were going with the ABN.

 

Oh dear.

 

Again.

 

My visit to the Town hall reminded me of a recent visit to Telstra in Lismore. When I complained, I was told that they weren’t actually Telstra at all – they were just a shop that sold Telstra things.

 

Something’s gone wrong in sales and service in recent times (if ever it was good). In Myers in Adelaide last year, when I spoke to the woman behind the greeting cards counter (in my distinctive Canadian accent-that-has-been-here-45-years), her first reply was “Well, you’re definitely not one of us, are you?”

 

Unreadable text

Today, in the Town Hall, when I asked the woman with the exposed breasts if she thought that the large blocks of dense text on the displayed AO panels were easy to read, do you know what she said to me?

 

Charts and tables -- designed to bewilder

She said, first, that she did not actually work for NBN, but rather for Ericsson, so she was not responsible. (That always comes first.)

 

And second (this always

comes second), she claimed that I was the first person to complain.

 

I am always “the first person to complain”.

 

Good thing I live in an anarchist community where complaining is always on the agenda.

 

The woman in the silly dress said that what was displayed on the easels was also in the handouts (nearly clipped together and sitting in tidy piles on the table).

 

I explained (oh, sigh, how many times have I explained this”¦?) that what you read in the comfort of your own tepee on an A4 sheet is different from what you read standing up in a group of people.

 

Easy-to-read and accessible information for all ages

Easy-to-read and accessible information for all ages

Dense text and complex graphics just do not do the job.

 

I asked if anyone had designed the panels and she told me that they were standard ABN templates.

 

I wandered out and had an ice cream across the road.

 

Too much for one day.

 



So why am I banging on about this, you might ask?

 

It’s because the panels – with their charts and tables and statistics and government disclaimers about EMR and so forth (just like Alice’s Restaurant) – are inscrutable.

 

And I expect that’s exactly how they want them to be.

 

To obfuscate.

 

No bugger can understand them (well, maybe that’s not true – there are some smart cookies in Nimbin who probably can”¦).

 

But they are far, far from user-friendly.

 

If I can't read -- or can't read fast -- a friendly facilitator will explain it all to me!

If I can’t read — or can’t read fast — a friendly facilitator will explain it all to me!

Far from it.

 

What we need in community engagement is an engaged citizenry. To get there, we need to come to public judgement. Not just atomised public opinion – with charts and tables and statistics you could shoot a cannon through. We need genuine opportunities to build and strengthen our literacy, knowledgeability and capacities, learn what we need to learn and have grown-up and authentic conversations about what’s proposed.

 

I want good Internet, don’t get me wrong.

 

And I’m frightened at where the technology seems to be going − very near my house.

 



But what I really want is a CONVERSATION.

 

Not to stand   bewildered and increasingly   dismayed– in front of sheet after sheet full of dense text and charts and tables.

 

I want to talk about things – not with a woman from Ericsson who’s not really responsible, in any case (and who is not even holding a piece of paper to record my comments).

 

I want to talk with my neighbours. And to people whose views I respect — about technology.

 

How about a few panels on the easels from the Nimbin Environment Centre?

 

I’d trust THEM.

 

But when you come right down to it, this is a political matter. Not a technical one.

 

I want a meeting.

 

A political meeting.

 

In the Town Hall.

 

And if we can’t have another of those, how about a properly designed and facilitated “Information Session”?

 

I know just how to do it.

It’s called a SpeakOut.

SpeakOut_Visuals_4cover



We have books, checklists, models and training available about this effective and innovative community engagement model.

 

And it never obfuscates.

 

See: https://sarkissian.com.au/publications/inspired-books/speakout-the-ultimate-workshop-guide/

 

 

I’m from Nimbin and I’m here to help you.

 

And Marnee has some nice, modest dresses in her Nimbin shop.

 

+++++

 

Finer professional process point:

In community engagement practice, we always make the point that dress is important.

 

It’s important to blend in with the local community. Don’t wear a suit in Woop Wooop, etc…

THIS IS MERELY A VERBATIM REPORT (not my words):

 

A member of the non-distaff side, reading the above, commented wryly, Well, if you’re going to let yer tits hang out, it might as well be in Nimbin.

Maybe this is company policy? A subtle attempt at fitting in with the locals?

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!!!

 

NIMBY psychology at Harvard University February 2013

 

NIMBY psychology comes to Harvard — from Australia!

 

February was an exciting month for me. I spent it teaching in the Graduate School of Design (GSD) at Harvard University and giving lectures and classes at MIT and Tufts University.

 

It was exceptionally cold for a person who lives in the sub-tropics. A huge blizzard dumped 20 inches of show on Boston days after I arrived.

 

 
Harvard in February. Brrr!

 

The highlight of my month-long visit was a   lunch-time lecture for the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University on 22 February.

 

I spoke about the relationships between environmental psychology and community resistance to housing density increases to an audience in the iconic Gund Hall, which houses the Graduate School of Design.

 

See: https://www.gsd.harvard.edu/#/events/what-s-psychology-got-to-do-with-nimby-with-wendy-sarkissian.html

 

Gund Hall, Harvard University

 

NIMBY

 

Throughout the Western world and especially in Australia, we are seeing strong initiatives to increase housing density to achieve sustainability initiatives. Paralleling these types of initiatives are concerns about the social impacts of higher density housing, confirmed by a widespread Australian research and a recent visit to Canada. Even in Hong Kong, there are community concerns about housing density increases. Where governments have mandated housing density increases, the results have not always been positive.

 

The much-lauded CityPlan community engagement process in Vancouver, Canada, resulted in a strong support for housing density in the late 1990s and early years of this century, (with planners believing that they had converted NIMBY to YIMBY (“Yes in My Back Yard”). However, currently a strong community backlash in Vancouver reveals that these gains were short-lived. After tens of millions of dollars spent on community engagement about density increases, residents and others are strongly opposing further housing density increases.

 

In many Western cities, the early optimism of what community engagement could deliver with respect to housing density increases has faded. The irony is that success in this arena is much more important that it was in earlier decades as the pressures of Peak Oil and climate change begin to be felt more powerfully by communities and governments.

 

So, if density increases are needed and resistance is increasing, what is the answer? What really is at the core of peoples’ concerns? Which approaches might work to engage communities with the issues of housing density?

 

What if we could achieve our sustainability and housing density goals without causing community unrest, dissatisfaction – even uproar?

 

Could communities respond positively to density increases under the appropriate conditions?

 

I believe that all of that is possible. But we must understand more about the psychology of housing to be effective.

 

We need to appreciate why governments must continue to campaign for increased housing density. It’s as though these two initiatives are at opposite ends of a spectrum. Yet they are connected by the very concerns that seem to place proponents of density increases at loggerheads with community members.

 

Caring

 

The issue that unites them is caring. Governments who care about the future of communities are alert to the many signs that automobile dependence and urban sprawl are expensive and ecologically unsustainable artefacts of a bygone era. We can no longer afford low-density suburbs. (Actually, we never could but we thought we could.)

 

Similarly, community members who care about the future of their communities are concerned that clumsy and ill-considered initiatives will make neighbourhoods unliveable cauldrons of noise, traffic congestion, parking problems. They will have no environmental quality. Some even say: `the slums of the future’.

So, if everyone cares, where’s the problem and what is the secret?

 

A key to understanding these conflicts (occurring in our communities today) is to understand more about housing. It’s not merely `product’, as some developers say. It’s more than a `commodity’ as economists would say. For some, it’s everything: a haven, a nest, protection, security”¦ many qualities that have little or nothing to do with density, tenure or whether one’s name is on the mortgage document”¦

 

Home is a deeply archetypal concept. Humans aer animals and, like other animals, we are hard-wired to protect our territory, the “territorial core” of our home. It’s complicated and that’s partly why people’s responses to a threat to their housing often get so very `complicated’. Our Homing Instinct is a deep-seated desire to protect what is personal, precious and `home’.

 

The psychology of place and housing

 

 

Here’s a link to the Harvard lecture and the PowerPoint presentation:

 

https://www.jchs.harvard.edu/event/what%E2%80%99s-psychology-got-do-nimby-exploring-deeper-meanings-community-resistance-proposed-housing

 

Social planning was having a good month!   The lecture was also picked up by the real estate blog, The Fifth Estate: Our Planet, Our Real Estate:

 

https://www.thefifthestate.com.au/archives/45397/

 

Here’s the lecture in a Word document:

 

Sarkissian Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies lecture 22 February 2013_revised for web

 

Many sincere thanks to Eric Belsky and his colleagues of the Joint Center for generous support and hospitality and to Professor Ann Forsyth of the GSD.

 

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

“Realising the Revolution”: Medium-Density Housing in Queensland by Bridget Rogan and Fran Toomey

First posted June 8, 2012 – 3:21 pm

 

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).

 

https://www.planning.org.au/documents/item/3246

 

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”.

(See https://www.pps.org/great_public_spaces/one?public_place_id=369)

 

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

 

https://www.jchs.harvard.edu/event/what%E2%80%99s-psychology-got-do-nimby-exploring-deeper-meanings-community-resistance-proposed-housing

 

 

The Fifth Estate: Our Planet, Our Real Estate

 

https://www.thefifthestate.com.au/archives/45397/

 

To contact these authors and hear more about the revolution they propose:

 

Council of Mayors (SEQ)

Level 6, Hitachi Building,
239 George Street, BRISBANE QLD 4001
PO Box 12995, GEORGE STREET QLD 4003
Tel 07 3040 3460
Fax 07 3211 5889

 

Better Together? Let’s Get Practical!

 

Better together senior mgmt

 

 

 

 

 

 



Better Together

 

Last week, an Adelaide-based colleague gave me a copy of Better Together: Principles of Engagement, just published by the South Australian Government.

 

 

You can read about it at:

 

https://saplan.org.au/yoursay and

https://saplan.org.au/better_together

 

You can also comment. I tried to do that but could not understand how to do it.

 

A good idea

Still, a good idea and a tick for trying.

 

As I was  preparing a public lecture on community engagement in South Australia, I opened it with great enthusiasm and read it with care. In it, the Premier spoke about breaking down barriers to genuine engagement and that public servants feel that they don’t have permission to engage. They need to try new ways. My shoulders relaxed: a very promising start.

 

I needed to remind myself, as a person who hasn’t lived in Adelaide for many years, that this is an initiative of a state government eager to remedy many of the community engagement weaknesses of the previous state government. And yes, there is a lot of catching up to do. All my South Australian planning and engagement colleagues admit that. And there’s considerable embarrassment − verging on shame −in the planning profession and in government circles about some of the high-profile debacles of recent years.

 

It’s like a Leviathan

Gustav Dore, 1865

Gustav Dore, 1865

It’s also easy to attack a large target. Bringing the Leviathan of state government in line with leading practice of community engagement is a formidable talk.

 

But it’s not rocket science, either.

 

We must remember that it’s 2013 now and community engagement is a well-established field internationally, with its leading practice, methods, principles, discourses, territories, philosophies and gurus. Australia leads the way in much of this professional work. There is also a lot of expert help around, especially in South Australia. In my view, most of our best engagement practitioners are in South Australia.

 

It’s important to be up-to-date with community engagement. Policies and approaches no longer need to be brainstormed or invented from first principles. That’s sort of a waste of time and suggests that there may be nothing local or relevant to build on…

 

There is a frontier. We know where it is.

 

 

It’s long and many of us — and many excellent people in South Australia — are working at the growing edge.

 

Back to Better Together

 

I read with satisfaction that lots of people have been involved in the workshopping and design of this publication. Big tick.

 

However, as I read on, I wondered where the engagement specialists in South Australia were when this work was being undertaken”¦ Were they consulted? I doubt it, from the somewhat simplistic approaches in the document, contrasting markedly with the sophistication of much of the on-the-ground work being undertaken in South Australia.

 

Members of the Senior Management Council (pictured: one lone woman) spoke of their desire to foster a debate-and-decide approach, which, I guess, is a step up from the ever present “DAD” (“Decide-Announce-Defend”) approach that characterised much of previous state government engagement. They want to ensure that the public service has the skills to undertake high-quality engagement processes. Tick.

 

It was encouraging to see a distinction between communities and stakeholders, as many people confuse the two terms.

 

IAP2 Spectrum

 

This document aims to assist in engagement with those who are directly affected and who have personal and professional interests in an issue. The model uses is the IAP2 Spectrum. Again, a tick for a respectable, respected and commonly used model.

 

The aim is continuous improvement. Unfortunately, some old-fashioned words (such as “audience” and “expectation management”) slipped though the editing net. Perhaps, in the next version, “audience” will become “partners”?

 

I heard a hopeful tone to the emphasis on reaching community leaders and influencers. And a plea not to “forget local government”. (As if we’d dare!)

 

Importantly, one should know the history and backgrounds of any engagement situation before starting out. Be wary of over engagement and engagement fatigue. Another big tick, even if it’s somewhat stating the obvious.

 

Being genuine

 

Being genuine is one of the guiding principles. Personally, I think it’s safer to specify behaviour than character traits. As an ethicist, I find that virtue ethics is hard to evaluate. And being genuine is very hard to do in some situations. But it’s an admirable aspiration nonetheless. Another tick.

 

Being creative also gained a guernsey although it was hard to say how that might occur. The literature on creativity in community engagement is clearly yet to be mined by the authors. Next step, I guess.

 

But a tick for effort. I am looking forward to examples of creativity in the next edition.

 

For some guidance on what to read, see: https://sarkissian.com.au/publications/community-engagement-books-by-wendy-sarkissian/creative-community-planning/

 

Social media gained a look-in as it should, as did evaluation, but with little mention of the complex and ongoing discourses regarding evaluation in community engagement. Still, it’s good advice to get in touch with people and be part of a regular mailing list. Medium-sized tick.

 

Even Better”¦

 

I was hungry for more when I came to the last page, relishing the stylish graphics and lots of white space.

 

Maybe in the next version of this promising publication, we could hear something about what’s missing.

 

Children and young people

 

pk camera darlene 2

I could find not a single word about engagement with children and/or young people.

 

Cultural diversity did not get a look-in.

 

 

 

 

Influence

 

Matters high on the agendas of communities and practitioners (and dominating professional journals and conversations of practitioners like me, as well as in local government), such as inclusion, influence and representativeness, were missing entirely.

 

The path-breaking, evidence-based work by Roz Lasker and John Guidry on influence by marginalised groups in community engagement (Engaging the Community in Decision Making, 2010) deserves a mention.

See: https://www.amazon.com/Engaging-Community-Decision-Making-Participation/dp/078644312X

 

There was no consideration of governance issues, including accountability and the structures needed to incorporate communities and their precious local information and local knowledges into decision making. People want more than having their “input” taken “on board”.

 

National and international polices with which the contents of this publication might align are yet to be identified. Sophisticated approaches to evaluation are yet to come, including the simple (but powerful) notion of using formative as well as summative evaluation.

 

Resources

 

Community planning.net

It’d be good in the next edition to have links to some leading-practice websites, such as Nick Wates’s generous community planning handbook and website, community planning net:

https://www.communityplanning.net/

 

Another great source is People and Participation.net:

See: https://www.involve.org.uk/people-and-participation-5-years-on/

It’s changed after five years and is now www.participationcompass.org

 

 

 

peopleandparticipation.net

 

And where to go for help?

 

That’s yet to come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As is advice about tying this approach to local government plans and polices.

 

So, from a practitioner looking for guidance: some middle-sized ticks for beautiful graphics, a smashing video and clear, plain language.

 

And a deep sigh of disappointment that in this day and age − with such urgent planning problems facing us − the wisdom of practice appears to be ignored. Not consulted.

 

The community of practice

 

If you’d like to join the community of practice, you can email David Speirs: [email protected]

 

I’ve done that already.

 

A modest proposal

 

In the next edition, I’d like to see more respect paid to the existing community of community engagement practice in Australia and especially in South Australia. I’d like to see the next edition acknowledge the wide community engagement literature from practice and theory and the range of professional discourses. A wise approach would be to embed this work in leading practice and align it with the work of community engagement professionals. And it’d be helpful to offer more practical advice. A bit less spin and a bit more substance could work well.

 

I can think of dozens of people who’d be willing to help get it right, me included.


Postscript: a bouquet

After an excellent discussion with the Deputy Premier, Minister for Planning, John Rau, about this matter in late May and a meeting with Department staff, I am encouraged. I feel as though the Government is now listening — and especially listening to the voices of engagement specialists in South Australia.

I promised no more brickbats.

Oil Painting tulips



Consider this a bouquet!

Wendy Sarkissian on Nimby Psychology at The Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Centre, Adelaide, 29 May 2013

HawkeCntr_Ownlogo_col_12_01-1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NIMBY psychology is coming to Adelaide!

 

On 29th May at 6 pm, I will be presenting on NIMBY psychology at a free public lecture at the Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Centre at the University of South Australia.

The lecture is free but seating is lmited so you must register to attend.

 

Details

 

Please click here for details:

 

https://w3.unisa.edu.au/hawkecentre/events/2013events/Wendy_Sarkissian.asp

Allan Scott Auditorium,  UniSA City West campus, Hawke Building level 3, 55 North Terrace, Adelaide

5.30pm for a 6pm start

 

To register

To register for this free lecture, please follow the links above.



Abstract


Here is the abstract of the presentation:

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

NIMBY responses to higher density housing: It’s all in your mind

Why is there such strong community resistance to proposals for higher density housing in Adelaide’s neighbourhoods?

Aren’t people just being unreasonable and ignoring the need to make our cities more sustainable?  

Isn’t Adelaide’s 30-Year Plan what we must have to be sustainable – despite community resistance?

 

Australian social planner and ethicist Dr Wendy Sarkissian, who has lived and worked in Adelaide for many years, believes that so-called NIMBY responses to housing density increases are both reasonable and helpful. And she’s been testing her theories in workshops in Canada, the USA and Australia. Recently, she spoke about this topic to the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University.

 

Dr Sarkissian argues that neighbours are resisting proposed higher density housing because humans, like all animals, are hard-wired to protect our territories. Further, the `core territory’ of home is one to which we have the strongest place attachment. It has strong symbolic as well as psychological importance.

 

Naturally, instinctively, we will defend our homes and neighbourhoods at all cost.

 

That means that unless planners, designers, governments and developers understand and respect this `instinctive’ response, the battles will continue. And unless community engagement approaches are sensitive to the deeply emotional nature of these responses, those processes will fail to support sustainability initiatives.

 

Proposing her “Homing Instinct” approach to housing design and community engagement, Wendy argues that two things need to change. We need housing that is more `home-like’.   And we need community engagement processes that reflect greater emotional intelligence than the processes we currently employ.

 

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

 

For further details, please contact me at 0402 966 284 or at [email protected]

 

Media coverage:

https://www.adelaidenow.com.au/news/south-australia/social-planning-expert-wendy-sarkissian-to-speak-on-state-governments-30-year-plan-at-hawke-institute-forum/story-e6frea83-1226622388277?from=public_rss

 

NIMBY psychology image

Criticisms of community engagement

Ach, du Schreck!

 

It’s a worry!

 

I’ve explained before that community engagement – especially with sustainability – is not an easy task.

 

Many people argue that it is problematic and can actually hurt those it most intends to benefit.

 

So let’s just have a quick look at some of the major criticisms. I’d love to hear comments back and maybe we can prepare a good list of responses.

 

And then figure out how to make better processes happen in our communities.

 

Please make a comment in the box below or contact me at [email protected]

 

Thanks!

Valid criticisms of community engagement include:

  • Lack of political and technical prowess among community groups makes them easy prey for co-optation by politicians or bureaucrats;
  • In engagement situations, a non-representative interest group may be able to manipulate the decision-making process towards its own ends;
  • Lack of expertise, inertia and fear of the results of new or novel ideas may induce opposition to whatever is proposed and only preserve the status quo;
  • Interest groups may veto each other’s proposals because it is always easier to organise resistance than to reach agreement;
  • The short-sightedness of local groups may prevent or delay formulation or implementation of broader plans; and
  • Non-participants will always form the bulk of the population. On these grounds, radical planners suggest that engagement is a diversion from the primary goal, that of changing society’s institutions.

 

What do YOU think of this list?