As active citizens, we must stop the onslaught of bad development that threatens our cities.
I know there is a lot in that sentence: what is bad; what is the threat? But before I address those issues, I want to make it clear that, as city dwellers, we cannot merely sit back and expect our governments to act on our behalf. We must demand to live in cities that we love. We must demand that our cities, as complex as they are, are shaped to serve their citizens.
Why? Because we are up against formidable forces. The property industry has enormous financial and political resources. That doesn’t worry me, per se. I believe in democracy (and capitalism when moderated by a robust social system). The property sector is entitled to fight for its own interests in my view.
The property sector is entitled to fight for its own interests
But the planning system needs a vigorous and effective response from us – the citizens those who live with the consequences of planning decisions – both bad and good.
The solution does not lie in just saying ‘No’ to every new development that comes along
Back in the late ’80s, I lived in St Kilda (it was cheap in those days), and the council received plans to develop the old ice skating rink and venue, The St Moritz. This exquisite building was burnt down during a contentious debate about demolishing it and redeveloping the area. Although no-one was ever charged with arson for the disaster, the tensions between the protesters and the developers deepened.
In the end, the financial crash of 1987 ended the issue. The proposed development couldn’t raise the finance and collapsed.
At first, it seemed like a victory for the protesters.
At first, it seemed like a victory for the protesters. But here’s the rub. What happened instead was that an infinitely worse proposal, the current Novatel, sailed through the planning process. Protesters were too exhausted to fight again. The council needed a solution. Novatel saw an opportunity and took it.
This was my awakening as an active citizen. I realised that ‘No’ is not the winning response to new developments. Why? Because development must occur. Was the council expected to leave the burned-out site empty? The first proposal had more benefits for the community than the Novatel (it would be hard to find a worse one). It offered more public space for example. Yes, it needed many changes: it did not respect the existing character of St Kilda, nor its residents. But the Novatel bulldozed through all such objections and left the community with a horrific result, out-of-character with both the community and the suburb’s architecture.
Today, developers continue to trample on citizen’s rights. There are hundreds of examples. (I’d welcome pics of atrocities in your suburb).
So what do we do?
The answer lies in getting educated about the principles we want to support and demanding that new developments meet them and measuring developments against these.
The principles of good development can be broken down into three broad categories
1. Fosters community and connection
• Fosters relationships between new and existing residents.
• Provides spaces for new residents to meet each other, formally and informally
• Enables existing residents to comply with new residents and build a cohesive community.
2. Generous to people and the environment
• Contributes to the beauty of the street because it considers what it is that is loved today, and what will be loved into the future. Of course, much is subjective in this principle, but examples include friendliness, innovation and greenery.
• Offers existing residents new public and semi-public spaces, such as shops or community meeting rooms.
• Doesn’t reduce greenery, but increases it and is carbon positive.
3. Contributes to a vision of the future we want for future generations
• Inclusive of people from all walks of life.
• Helps future generations to enjoy wealth, health and wisdom.
• Gives back more than it takes.
What I want to do about it
Our planning scheme is flawed. It’s hard to understand, time-consuming and is built on the principle of conflict: you propose (a development) and I oppose.
My goal with this website is to empower all visitors and subscribers to fight bad development using clearly enunciated principles. It is not about NIMBYism (not-in-my-back-yard). Because these principles build social capital and beautiful cities that we love, we act in our own self-interest. And create the planet of our dreams.