Development Dilemmas

Part one – When the Property Council Talks

this will be the first in a long series on this topic – also note that images are sourced from research papers that can be accessed by clicking on the image.

This is a cautionary tale on the dilemma faced by those who embrace the idea that our cities and suburbs are going to change and redevelopment is to happen.

The expectation of the citizenry is that they elect local, state and federal governments and that part of the remit for government is to provide built environments for the present citizens and future generations. The housing and associated amenities thus provided should enhance the residents opportunities to have a good life through being housed in healthy, sustainable and livable urban environments.

This remains the expectation despite the evidence to the contrary. Unfortunately the number of planning and development agencies around Australia that would be listed by residents as being ones that work for and on behalf of the residents would be few and far between. I am sure there is one out there somewhere but right now I know of none.

This is not to say that many, if not all, of these government agencies would not have a suite of relevant policies to guide their planning and development. But as any resident who has been involved in dealing with debates with these agencies, the reality is something else.

Go to any new development proposal in its initial stages and you are guaranteed to see wonderful positive words about how the re-development or new development is to deliver sustainable and livable housing that addresses the climate change and environmental needs of contemporary society. All these early proposal look so wonderful.

Research shows that as these developments progress, the priorities change and the economics of delivery take over. At these later stages the developers and the architects usually make all sort of compromises to ensure that the outcomes are economically viable. That is, economical viable for the developer and their prime contractors, usually the architects. As for the needs of the planet and any landscape requirement, they remain optional in most cases from the planning to the delivery.

The professions have been talking up livable cities for decades. Their conferences and seminars and workshops are endless and you could attend one of these almost daily somewhere in this country. In the end you have to ask: Have the citizens noticed any difference to the new developments and the re-development proposals that come their way through their local government agency.

To be honest there have been some positive changes. These changes are usually minimal and around the edges. We are still building suburbs that are future heat island traps for the residents of the future. The inner city apartments vary greatly. Most are atrocious when you apply real climate change and sustainability measures.

The nature of our society is that such developments are undertaken by those who specialise in this, the property developers. They influence the guidlines, they influence the proposals, they set the benchmarks and then they deliver what is required. And the people must love the product because they keep buying them.

The development lobby is ahead of the game as the larger developers have set up agencies, such as the Green Building Council of Australia, to set standards that deliver measures that the property industry can use and benchmarks that they can meet. Welcome to the world of green star buildings. The Governments, local, state and federal have no real choice as these are the ‘industry’s’ own star ratings so they must be as good as they get! And we believe that don’t we?

The issue is that in most precincts within Australia such redevelopments have been dominated by property developers who deliver something less than acceptable (that would be my spin for crap). Not all mind you, as I do not of some exceptions. But while the bar is held low by planning authorities, who in turn are influenced in their processes by the developer and building lobbies rather than their citizens, the developers deliver to the authorities, and therefore to the community, the lowest requirements. Forget the ambitions of dealing with climate change or human health and livability.

The property lobby is great at lobbying and creating a problem that they then need to solve. For example there was an opinion piece in today’s Canberra Times by the ACT Property Council.

and note the beautiful positive image that accompanied it.

Bring on the brand new day!

Anyone who has dealt with ACT Planning and Land Authority (ACTPLA) has learnt the hard way how totally frustrating and unbelievable it is to negotiate with a separate authority that is not linked to the will of the people and the needs of future generations. ACTPLA several years ago, under the former CEO,  even had the hide to publicly tell the ACT Government to get stuffed over a decision on supermarkets development as the Authority believed it was separate to government and did not need to follow government policy.

Civic, built to be the main commercial centre in Canberra,  desperately requires radically different development proposals than those that would most likely be offered by the usual suspects who have dominated Canberra’s development.

The former Civic is no more thanks to decisions that delivered the mall and destroyed the former ambience of Civic’s open spaces. Let’s go with Walter Burley Griffin original ideas and plans for housing and get back to intense development. I suggest that we declare all of Civic and surrounds as a special intense development zone with a mix of residential and commercial styles driven by a broad set of aesthetic and environmental guidelines.  This zone would go from Braddon to the lake. The Mall is probably here to stay so let’s work around it.

Think the best of Paris streets, small and large shops, apartments above, a range of building heights, a variety of open spaces including village greens, think solar, think healthy housing for all ages, and radical climate change adaptation measures. Then we could have a new 21st Century model for intense city living.

Civic development must to be directly overseen by a new formal arrangement answerable to the ACT Government and one that local politicians must engage in and not play the silly game of leaving development to ‘separate market driven authorities’ such as ACTPLA.

The Property Council has spoken about an important issue. In this case, let’s keep them out of it till the time comes to involve the developers. It is time for creativity, future thinking and working out what the community wants for the next generations. Let’s not worry today what the property council can do for its members.

Bring on this debate as a matter of urgency.  Likewise around the country, let the community needs and the needs of the planet come well before we worry about the property industry. They have their place. Just not first as has been the case till now.

The dilemma for the community is that they wish to progress with development and making our cities and suburbs better places. Change is a good thing. We seek better places with enhanced green infrastructure; better places that will undergo changes now to be able to actively adapt as climate change becomes even more serious; better places for the future generations; better places for us all to grow old in and enjoy; better places where work and home can be handled without stress; and better places that we can be proud of and the rest of the world should admire (along with our economy and lifestyles).

Sadly the local government authorities like to have business as usual whereby they leave development to market forces. this being the force of our property council members who are here to ensure their 30% profit margins and obviously up to now have not put the community first.

The dilemma remains to embrace change while not trusting at all those who manage the change on our behalf. The developers will do what they can as long as they are allowed to. Time for change within our planning and development agencies; time for our politicians to see these issues as a priority. It is our health and our planet we wish to be addressed.



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