Activism in Planning in Australia: A Delicate Balancing Act

I’m celebrating: 2013 was a great year for community activism in planning.

 

In New South Wales, concerted action by many forces, including the Better Planning Network (https://betterplanningnetwork.good.do/nsw/fund-the-better-planning-network-in-2014/), resulted in the State Government withdrawing the contentious and flawed proposed state planning legislation.

 

The Better Planning Network has more than 430 community groups and many more affiliated individuals (like me), and this number is growing every day.

 

Group-shot-Hazzard-office-protest-380x251

On 28 November 2013, the NSW Minister for Planning and Infrastructure, the Hon. Brad Hazzard, announced that he would withdraw the NSW Planning Bills until February/March 2014. The Minister made this announcement because of heavy amendments made to these Bills in the Upper House by the Labor, Greens and Shooters and Fishers parties.

 

Aside from some misguided planners and the developers’ lobby, nobody had anything good to say about the community engagement components of the Bills, which were my main concern.

 

I argued on a number of occasions that it was unrealistic – strategically and psychologically – to expect residents to be happy with community engagement limited to the strategic planning stage. Many people, including prominent lawyers, judges and local government, agreed.

 

We are all praying that the State Government will avoid the old trick and not undertake the next stage of consultation during January (as often people do!). It’s too late to put the plans on display on Boxing Day in a distant galaxy – but stranger things have happened to hitchhikers in New South Wales!

 

It was a big win, nonetheless.

 

Dear Manitoba

 

Blog image 2 Manitoba merge

 



On a smaller scale but equally as important, we had a major win in South Australia, What architect Ian Hannaford called his “Dear Manitoba” has been saved from demolition or redevelopment, as have two other inner city site with public housing tenants.

 

I cried when I heard the news from a Manitoba resident.

 

 

 

Big Win for Activism!

A Big Win for Activism!

 

 

 

I love Dear Manitoba; as a Member of the SA Housing Trust Board, I was involved in its planning and design in the early 1970s and even lived there briefly in the early 1980s. This year Manitoba will celebrate its fiftieth birthday.

 

All credit to Alice Clark and Shelter SA and the indefatigable residents of Manitoba and the other two sites.

 

And a compliment to Social Housing Minster, Tony Piccolo, who finally saw the light.

 

Brickbats to Renewal SA.

 

Brickbats to Renewal SA. Do you know that two years ago they hand-delivered their original letters to Manitoba residents on Christmas Eve?

 

Can you believe that?

 

The letters were very vague and contained nothing that could give anyone confidence; they created terror and anxiety at a time of year widely known to be difficult for vulnerable people (for all of us, actually)…

 

I find it hard to imagine that the Board of Renewal SA approved those sorts of heavy-handed and insensitive tactics.

 

There are experienced people on that Board who certainly should know better:

 

https://www.renewalsa.sa.gov.au/Latestnews/tabid/102/EntryId/17/URBAN-RENEWAL-AUTHORITY-BOARD-ANNOUNCED.aspx

 

I can’t imagine the experienced Renewal SA officers I know doing such a terrible thing.

 

How did this happen? Who approved it?

 

And, more importantly, how can we make sure that

vulnerable public tenants are not treated in such a manner again?

 

Let’s hope the corporate memory of Renewal SA survives into any new incarnation.

 

The message is clear: Do not do such cruel things! Just do not do them!

 

A delicate balancing act

 

Man walking tight rope illustration

So, it’s been a good year for activism.

 

And a challenging one.

 

At this very moment, with my only sibling, I’m co-designing a memorial for my mother who died in her hundredth year. She was a shocker, severely mentally ill.

 

So you can imagine that it’s a delicate balancing act  – emotionally and practically  – to create such an event – for the two daughters and our friends and families.

 

Similarly (a comparison in sharp relief during this highly charged week), it’s a delicate balancing act being a planner and an activist.

 



Punishments are routinely doled out.

 

Doors quietly close and invitations are summarily withdrawn. People sidle away at cocktail parties, eyes fixed on their shoes.

 

Activists know the price we pay for speaking out when others cannot  – or will not.

 

For activism is more than rubbing raw the sores of discontent, as the American activist Saul Alinksy would have it.

 

For planners with a conscience, activism is keeping the voices of marginalised people alive in public forums and debates about planning.

 

In tough economic times, I find (sadly) that some of my most respected planning colleagues simply ignore emails that ask them to speak out about ethical matters. They seem to have hardened their hearts against the plight of disadvantaged people. Or, at least, they’ve silenced their inner voice.

 

But, like finishing off the tiramisu at Christmas dinner, somebody has to do it.

 

And this year it was me. On both fronts.

 

I’m proud to have helped the courageous people (you know who you are), who really, truly, put themselves on the line for justice in planning and housing.

 

Here’s to 2014

 

Here’s to a 2014 with more planning and housing wins for vulnerable people in Australia.

 

And here’s to a 2014 with more respect for those planners who choose to support them in ways that push the envelope for our more conservative colleagues.

 

 

 

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.

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!

“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

 

Engagement without Borders, Melbourne, 2012

 

 

I was delighted to assist IAP2 with this forthcoming event at Abbotsford Convent on the 29th May in Melbourne.

 

Download the PDF of the program here: Engagement Without Borders _outline program

 

Personal, organisational, cultural, demographic or geographic; engaging with the full spectrum of our communities can be a significant challenge.

 

“Engagement without Borders” is an inclusive engagement feast   held at Melbourne’s renowned Abbotsford Convent.

 

I hosted the day and guided a whole day SpeakOut! session to help participants extend their reach and attract diverse people from all corners of the community to the conversation.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Afghan Tea SpeakOut Stall

 

Participants could forage and sample the best in innovative and successful community engagement projects and activities drawn from some of the leading lights in inclusive engagement from across Victoria.

 

The event involved an interactive panel session, concurrent workshop sessions and a marketplace with conversation circles to gain insights and tips about engaging our diverse communities from over 20 different practitioners.

 

Contributors to the event included representatives from local government, state government and community and not-for-profit organisations.

 

For further information, please contact Keith Greaves: [email protected].

 

Local Wisdom about Apartment Storage

transport cardboard boxes, relocation concept

 

When I lived in Vancouver in 2007, teaching and managing a housing research project at the University of British Columbia, I had several interesting accommodation experiences.

 

The first one was terrible: a chronically ill middle-aged couple with a dog who was dying of cancer. They slept with the dog and spent all day in their pyjamas with the curtains drawn. In Vancouver’s dark winter, that was too depressing. I had to escape.

 



Living with Tessie

Then I had a couple of months living with Tessie. What a change that was! A brilliant and bubbly Phillipina women who worked in the insurance industry as a senior manager. She was searching for an apartment and had a gaggle of female friends who worked in the real estate industry. Tessie was, herself, a qualified realtor.

 

So our conversations over dinner and glasses of wine always turned to the design of apartments. She and her friends knew everything about what was on offer in Vancouver and the weaknesses of different developers’ designs. Tessie said that lack of interior storage was a widespread problem. Especially in some of the housing we were about to study.

 

It might seem like a small thing..

How right she was! It might seem like a small thing but people moving to inner city apartments from houses in the suburbs always have problems with storage! Seasonal items (like fans and blankets, space heaters, blankets and quilts) take up a lot of space. (I know because I’ve spent the day sorting just those items in our new storage room as winter tightens its grip on our mountain locale.)

 

Bulky items

Residents also need places to store bicycles, exercise equipment, toys, ski equipment, golf clubs and all the paraphernalia that goes with a home office. That new printer may be compact but it still needs somewhere to sit. And that paper needs to be stored somewhere. Those tax files you need to keep for at least five years… I could go on.

 

And the modern Vancouver kitchen has lots of gadgets that need to be packed away: bread makers, blenders, grills, toaster ovens. Not all of them can stay on the counter top.

 

 

So the humble storage question was asked in our POE study and responded to with strong comments by apartment residents. Tessie was right. Her friends knew what they were talking about. In-suite storage certainly WAS a problem.

 

Window privacy

 

Floor-to-ceiling windows are all the rage in Vancouver apartments. But what about the things that have to be stored under the BED? Ikea makes those nifty boxes for just that purpose. But do we want the whole neighbourhood to see what’s stored there?

 

Bedroom Privacy?

 

After a long search, Tessie found a new apartment with adequate storage and the other amenities she sought. And I had to move again. And this time it was to the location of my dreams: Southwest False Creek. But that’s another story.

 

For more information

 

For detailed information about the False Creek North post-occupancy study, please go to another part of this website:

 

https://sarkissian.com.au/housing-services-by-wendy-sarkissian-phd/evaluating-vancouvers-high-rise-housing

Kitchen Table Sustainability launched in Adelaide 22 November 2008

Reflections on the Adelaide book-signing event, November 2008

 

When I emigrated to Australia in October, 1968, the second person I met was Hugh Stretton, now widely regarded as one of Australia’s foremost urbanists.

 

Ideas for Australian Cities

In his kitchen at 61 Tynte Street, North Adelaide, actually at his kitchen table, Hugh was putting the finishing touches to what was to become one of Australian planning’s classic texts: Ideas for Australian Cities (1970).

 

I remember him pasting an image of an “orphan” on his mock-up of the back cover because, as he explained that six professional publishers had rejected his book.

 

 

The Board of the South Australian Housing Trust

My friendship with Hugh continues to this day. We spent many fiery sessions on the Board of the South Australian Housing Trust in the 1970s nutting out housing policy and arguing about women’s shelters and homelessness.

 

I was the only woman on the Board and its youngest member.

 

Hugh was the powerful (and to me frightening) Deputy Chair.

 

They were feisty times, as South Australia grappled with a more enlightened model of social housing that had been proposed by the Trust’s 1936 enabling legislation.

 

So it was with great delight (and much surprise) that I found myself embracing my dear friend and former sparring partner at the Adelaide Kitchen Table Sustainability book-signing event, generously hosted by my colleagues at Urban and Regional Planning Solutions (www.urps.com.au) on 20 November 2008.

 

Hugh had a few criticisms

 

The first thing Hugh said, after a warm hug, was that he hoped I did not mind if he had a few criticisms of the book.

 

“It wouldn’t be right, “ I replied. “After all these years of disagreements – and agreements, it’s only fair.”

 

 

Hugh went on to launch the book with many anecdotes of our times together.

Population policy

 

In the book, we’d forgotten to discuss population policy, he complained. I had to agree.

Old Friends, November 2008

 

The generosity of my Adelaide colleagues, and in particular, Angela Hazebroek, a longtime planning colleague and dear friend, and the blessing of my forty years of friendship with Hugh, now 83, remind me of the importance of connections across the generations.

 

Our book has been written by representatives of three generations.

 

A member of another generation – and an eminent scholar– reminds us of what we have forgotten.

Gratitude to my colleagues

 

What I had not forgotten – and the warm smiles, laughter and good cheer of clash royale hack 2017 no human verification the URPS book signing-event bore testament to that – is the power of friendship.

 

And the great blessing of a professional community.

 

Thank-you, dear Hugh.

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  1. By board book on 05 Oct 2009 at 1:26 am

    board book”¦

    KTS launched in Adelaide | Kitchen Table Sustainability is an excellent post about the board book”¦.