The best laid plans

I have been getting increasingly frustrated with the planning debate in this city. Over the past few weeks the debate has taken an unexpected twist and become framed in generational terms: old versus young. Those in the older group accuse the planning minister of stirring this up, but from what I can gather, I suspect they hold just as much responsibility. I’ve been to more than my fair share of community groups and residents association meetings. I’ve also learnt more than I ever thought I’d know about planning. It’s the lot of a community journalist. And I’ve found that some groups are much better at getting heard than others. Now how can that make for a fair debate?

The main problem, in my opinion, is that this city needs to change to cope with the future. A future with more people but less resources. A future with pressures to consume less stuff, less energy, less land. A future where maybe you won’t be able to drive to work because you’ve got to choose between buying fuel and buying food. Where you can’t rely on having an airconditioner and heater to make you comfy, you have to use natural resources like the sun. I expect this future will be higher density with reliance on public transport or bicycles. And there seem to be many who agree.

But this sort of future for our city is going to take a massive shift in mindset. There are many who live here who figure it’s done okay over the past almost-century, why change things. They can’t see why everyone can’t just live in a house and garden (personally, I can’t see myself owning a house anytime soon purely because of the financial inhibitions, not a lack of desire). They might already be using public transport and bikes, but that’s largely because they were here first and able to establish themselves in those nice inner suburbs close to the city and most workplaces. They, like me, love this city’s green spaces and openness. And this means you can’t possibly knock down houses to build apartments or town houses. So would these people who want to protect their suburb’s character prefer to see the parks disappear and new homes in their stead? I suspect not — especially given the outcry when the government touches even one tree in said parks.

Like it or not, the city is growing and the new residents have to live somewhere. That most sustainable somewhere is in those older, inner suburbs. And that means change.

(As an aside, I currently live in a house out in the suburbs. It’s where I grew up, and I loved having the garden and the cul de sac as a child. But when — if — I get my own place with my partner, I think it will be an apartment or a townhouse, just like those opposed by the inner suburb residents. Because we have busy lives and can’t maintain a whole house, let alone garden. Because I like to be close to facilities. Because I don’t want to have to jump in the car to visit friends since that’s expensive to me and the environment. And when I have kids, while it’s hard to know exactly, my current thinking is I’d feel much the same. As long as there was a park nearby — which is only possible if we build in and up, not out.)

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