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.

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!

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.

 

NIMBY Psychology: Lunch-time Colloquium, Tufts University, 6 February 2013

6 February 2013

What’s Psychology Got to Do with NIMBY?:   Exploring the Deeper Meanings of Community Resistance to Proposed Housing Density Increases



tufts banner

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I spent several hours teaching and meeting with facultry at Tufts University during my month in Boston.

 

My hosts included Julian Aygeman, Weiping Wu, Penn Loh and Laurie Goldman PhD (pictured below), with whom I also taught a n evening class on community engagement and community visioning.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

This was my first Boston lecture and I was thrilled to be speaking in the lecture hall with its beautiful architectural features.

 

It was winter outside, to be sure, as you can see from the white light streaming in the windows.

 

Little did we know what was to come with the Big Blizzard that arrived that weekend with twenty inches of snow!

 

 

 

In this lunchtime session, I returned to my “psychological” roots to explore the social and psychological dimensions of housing, to ask what’s missing in higher density housing in North America and Australia and why NIMBYism might even be warranted in some cases.

 

Offering my Homing Instinct model, I proposed that if we are to design community engagement processes to address delicate, sensitive psychological issues about our core territories, we are going to have to start by showing a lot more love, care and emotional intelligence than we have in the past.

Jane Munro

I began my presentation with a powerful poem, “Grief Notes and Animal Dreams”, by a dear friend of over 60 years, Canadian poet, Jane Munro.

 

See: https://janemunro.com/biography.html

 

Jane Munro

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jane Munro

The poem is from a beautiful book by the same name.

 

See:   https://www.amazon.com/Grief-Notes-Animal-Dreams-Munro/dp/0919626823




Grief Notes and Animal Dreams

Jane’s father built a log house for his family in Vancouver and the fire that burned down the house killed Jane’s mother.

The grief and guilt associated with the fire killed her father.


I read Jane’ poem because artists speak to us about what we often cannot express ourselves about significant relationships.
In this case, relationships with home.



I offered Jane’s poem as an illustration of the passionate relationship we can have with our housing – exemplified by a poet’s words.

 

 

If you’d like to receive a copy of my PowerPoint to this colloquium, please email me, as it’s too large to put up here.

 

[email protected]

“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

 

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

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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:

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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.

 

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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

 

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