Less of ‘me’ in planning would help rest of us

Check out this excellent article from the Age on development that captures the key debates very well. Good to see Fremantle at the centre of Australian and international debates on density and sustainability.


Less of ‘me’ in planning would help rest of us

by Elizabeth Farrelly

Had I 10 wishes for the planet, one would be to take the ”me” out of planning. You might think there’s no me in planning. I’d be forced, respectfully, to disagree. As a rule there’s nothing but.

Call it, if you prefer, urbanisme. But virtually all that passes for planning debate in this country is a mere jousting of self-interests: government, developer, resident.

I might not care – it’s hardly new – except that me-ist planning of this kind could split green thinking asunder. Greenwars. Brown versus Rhiannon will look like play school.

“Where I live in Fremantle,” asked an audience member after a talk I gave last week in Adelaide, “the Greens council is supporting a 10-storey building. Everyone is very upset, including me. What can be done?”

The questioner – whose words I paraphrase but you get the gist – was Carmen Lawrence. Professor Carmen Lawrence would, I still think, have made a very decent PM. And although her question sounds like classic nimbism, it’s both more interesting than that and more inscrutable – not only because Freo is one of the Earth’s sweetest towns.

Traditional nimbism pits developers against residents and other locals (who, be they stockbrokers and bank managers in their out-of-home hours, for these purposes wear the ”ratbag” hat).

Most of our planning debate is of this kind, driven by the host community’s fear of built mass or ugliness, their distrust of both government and developer, their sense of being unfairly imposed upon, their protectiveness of their investment and their determination to shroud their (perfectly legitimate) emotions in rationales of traffic, heritage or sustainability.

A less common nimbist variation pits residents against political bastardry. Ku-ring-gai springs agilely to mind.

But a third kind, the nimbism of the future, will be both more nuanced and more damaging. It’s this that could split green from green.

The greenwar of the future has two fronts, both largely unacknowledged, both needing to be fought. These are the fight over green space, and the fight over density. Two flanks, but one war, which will pit old, agrarian, hippie-based green-think against urbanists like Edward Glaeser.

Traditional green-think has a survivalist hinterland; the sense that when things really arc up, you can always grow your own food and generate your own energy from your own waste. Many critics of globalism, like Helena Norberg-Hodge, take this view. Their future settlements are low-rise, low-density, field-based – not unlike Hodge’s beloved Ladakh, the mediaeval European village, or sprawl. Call these the radish-growers.

Opposing them are the urbanists. Glaeser argues that, in carbon terms, more is squandered by urban agriculture than it saves. “All that’s grassy is not green,” is his summary position; Manhattan is the greenest settlement on earth.

Myself, I imagine – and believe we can invent – a middle way, yet unbuilt, that combines food production and intense city dwelling. Of this idea, all those ”green walls” and productive rooftops and tri-gen schemes currently in construction, as at Central Park Broadway, will constitute a preliminary test.

But as Carmen Lawrence noted the other day, urban imagineering is far more fraught when dealing with existing communities.

This is because existing communities mix emotion, ego and money into a lethal potion. It’s called nimbism.

I sometimes fantasise about a world where people engage in hive-shaping discussions from a loftier viewpoint – not intellectual, necessarily, but as though they had no personal stake.

This of course was John Rawls’s advice about politics in general; we should think and vote as though we are not ourselves affected by the outcome. But in planning, as in politics, the invasion of the overweening ”me” takes such higher thought further from our reach.

Most people, most communities, get sufficiently fired up to ”do something” – rant, rage, rally – only to protect their own corner. Views, amenity but, above all, property values.

Governments, accustomed now to their abandonment of the public good, do likewise. So a planning stoush often comes down to resident self-interest versus government self-interest. My dollars versus your dollars. No moral content at all.

Of course, you say. Of course you must fight for your own.

But two contingencies underpin this feeling. One, the sense that if you don’t protect your interests, no one will. And second, the fear that whatever comes next is, almost by definition, worse than what exists now.

Both are real, reasonable and demonstrable, but they are still contingent. Mutable.

Sharing the stage at that same talk in Adelaide was Colombian Enrique Penalosa, who is celebrated for his New Urbanist reforms as mayor of Bogota.

Penalosa may be a politician, but he resisted telling Dr Lawrence what at least part of her wanted to hear, which was that the Freo Greens were behaving badly and should stop it at once. (I mean no insult to the good doctor. She’s smart enough to know that, may her heart plead, there are harsh collective realities here, in particular climate change).

“The first principle of democracy,” Penalosa said in his charming Spanish accent, ”is that where there is a clash between private good and the public good, the public good must prevail.”

Certainly it’s easier to start from scratch, but good governance is a tough-love exercise. “Manhattan is Manhattan because things were knocked down and rebuilt. Houses were knocked down. That’s how it goes.”

Fremantle mayor Brad Pettit’s argument is not just a climate-change drive to density. His motives are also cultural, urban and economic.

A cyclist who famously sold his mayoral parking bay for charity, Dr Pettit believes bringing the masses to live and work in central Fremantle will save it.

“I don’t want to see us keep sliding down a slippery slope where in a decade’s time all you’ll be able to buy in Fremantle is coffee, ice-cream and tourist T-shirts,” he said.

I myself would be very sad to see Freo destroyed, or Surry Hills, Woollahra, Fortitude Valley, Carlton. Not because they’re mine, but because they are unique and lovely and vitally of their place.

When Michelle Obama starts growing vegies in the White House rose gardens it’s clear the war between density and open space must come. But Australia, with its warmth and wealth, is ideally placed to invent a new model, combining intensive building and intensive greenery. We just have to lose the me from urbanisme
Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/politics/less-of-me-in-planning-would-help-rest-of-us-20120530-1zjga.html#ixzz1wPbOcU1p


I’m going to be on ABC720 this afternoon around 3.45pm with Russell Wolf on the question: IS CYCLING AN INEXPENSIVE SOLUTION TO PERTH’S TRANSPORT NEEDS?

An article I put together on the topic is on the C2030 website (which by the way is really worth a look if you are interested in planning better cities) :

Fremantle Mayor Brad Pettitt talks bikes, cycleways and relaxed helmet rules.
Cycling has up to now been the neglected tool in the chest of solutions for Perth’s transport problems.Far greater investment in bike lanes and liberalising our helmets laws could see Perth become a more sustainable and less congested city.Perth is undergoing unprecedented population growth. Around a 1000 people are moving into WA each week putting increasing pressure on our already straining transport network. So, what are our options to keep us moving efficiently around our rapidly growing city and deal with traffic congestion that is expected to cost Australia’s capital cities over $20 billion annually by 2020?Perth could of course take the Los Angeles approach and keep building more and bigger highways and freeways but these are extraordinarily expensive. The recently announced Gateway WA airport roads package alone is expected to cost more than $1 billion.

History also shows that that building more roads simply attracts more cars to fill them – holding off congestion only momentarily.

Perth instead needs to be making alternatives to the private car the focus – to both limit congestion and tackle sustainability concerns.

Without a doubt, WA will need a major investment in public transport especially extending train lines and rolling out light rail. But rail is also expensive. For example, light rail costs between $20 and $50 million per kilometre and as a result is likely take many decades to be rolled out to a wide range of suburbs.

Looking to more affordable options, cycling is perhaps the cost-effective response to traffic congestion.

Cycling rates in WA are some of the lowest in the world with the number of people commuting by bicycle falling from 1.8% in 2000 to 1.2% in 2009. By contrast in many western European countries have 10-30% commuting on bikes.

In Copenhagen the bicycle, with a modal share of 36%, is the most used form of transport for trips to work.

A great thing about cycling is not only is it a healthy and sustainable form of transport but it is also supported by cost effective infrastructure.

Dedicated cycle ways and on-road bike lanes (which are essential to make cycling safer and more appealing to a wider range of riders) are a fraction of the cost of road and rail per kilometre.

But perhaps the most effective way of getting more people on bikes is to relax the mandatory requirements for adults to wear helmets on cycle paths and low-speed roads.

Manfred Neun, the president of the European Cyclists Federation, believes the number of cyclists in WA would treble if helmets were not compulsory.

While this leads to the obvious safety question, the evidence across many countries is that an increase the number of cyclists actually makes cycling safer.

As the number of cyclists doubles, the risk per kilometre falls by 34%.

Cycling has up to now been the neglected tool in the chest of solutions for Perth’s transport problems. Far greater investment in bike lanes and liberalising our helmets laws could see us become the Copenhagen of the South yet.

On your bikes!

A bike that neatly fits under your desk

One of the great things about being mayor is the range of interesting people you get to meet. I recently got to meet Jaime (pictured) who has invented what is possible the world’s smallest folding bike. It fits under your desk, under your arm and has even been allowed onto Perth buses. All this but it is still amazingly good to ride. Great for those who commute but need to beat Perth’s frustrating no bikes in peak hour rule on the train. I am looking forward to production.

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Voices from the West End and Fremantle and War

Today I had the pleasure of speaking at the launch of two great projects as part of the Fremantle Heritage Festival

This first was a great new book called Voices from the West End edited by Paul Arthur and Geoffrey Bolton

Voices from the West End provides both a wide-ranging overview from many well known Fremantle names into the influences that have shaped Fremantle’s colourful history and heritage since colonial settlement in 1829.

The second is a new website called Fremantle History put together by Deborah Gare (Associate Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame Australia) with assistance from the City of Fremantle amongst many others


Its opening blurb says:

The story of Fremantle begins in two places: in this country called Walyalup, which was home to Whadjuk people; and in London, where the British imagined a new frontier of their empire on the isolated coast of New Holland. These two worlds collided in 1829 when Stirling’s first British migrants arrived at the place he called Fremantle. Since then, our town’s history has been rich with stories of war and peace, boom and bust, and love and loss. As one of the principal gateways to Australia, the face of Fremantle has changed time and again, shaped by the experiences of many new people.

Its first project is called Fremantle and War which uncovers some of the nation’s most precious images of Fremantle’s war history including the colonial frontier, departure of troops, home front experiences, dissent and refuge.  Both are worth a look.

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Preparing our Community against Disasters – a workshop invite

Being prepared is clearly the best defence against disasters

Many of us are still learning the lessons of the past and rely on others to respond in time of need.

However, there is a growing number of people and community organisations that are working together to be better prepared for the times disaster threatens our homes, loved ones and neighbours.

Please help us.

In your community on Saturday 16 June 2012, your local government and the members of its local emergency committee will host a workshop that provides historical incident information which will be used to establish our risk and vulnerability from established hazards such as plane or road crash and fires in structures/buildings for example. This workshop is open to the public and you are welcome to be part of that decision making process.

If you wish to attend, please RSVP to Margaret Woodthorpe by : woodm@jlta.com.au or by telephone 0894838815.

The community survey is still open online by following the link below.


Your participation will help us save lives and protect our homes and livelihood.

BE RESILIENT NOT RELIANT – you can help and make a difference.


Acknowledgement – This community project is proudly supported by your Local Government and its local emergency planning committee, the Western Australian Local Government Association, Emergency Management Western Australia. Funded through the Natural Disaster Resilience Program. 

Fremantle Heritage Festival kicks off this weekend

The 2012  FREMANTLE HERITAGE FESTIVAL runs from today May 25 to June 4th.

It is a varied array of event form   Aboriginal Heritage Toursto Tram Tours to Workers Club Crawl and Arthur Grady motorcycle ride and display

The Fremantle Society is running Fremantle’s own  Amazing Place Race,

Download the program at  http://www.fremantle.wa.gov.au/festivals/Heritage_Festival

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The Magic Hour at Deckchair Theatre

Last night I had the pleasure of seeing the new Deckchair Theatre production The Magic Hour

This show is quite impressive and powerful and Ursula Yovich’s performance was extraordinary

The Magic Hour is a clever and original twist on fairy tales. It takes familiar stories – Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Rumplestiltskin, The Frog Prince, Rapunzel and Jack in the Beanstalk – but tells them from the perspective of their supporting female characters: one of the ugly sisters, Jack’s mother, the witch who locks Rapunzel in the tower. Very clever and even thought provoking in places. Some reviews are below too.

It is worth checking out. The season runs until Sunday 3rd June.

Subiaco Post: Ursula is a masterful storyteller of great humour and charm, embracing an art as old as time.”

The West Australian:”a stimulating evening with a fine new work and a performer at the top of her game…I was as entranced as any kid being read a bedtime story.. [Yovich] delivers a potent, nuanced performance that had the Deckchair Theatre audience on its feet at the curtain”

Theatre AustraliaA show to see over and over again, it could travel and run for years. Could this be the ‘Production of the Year’? The enthusiastic, standing ovation certainly suggested that this could be the case.”

PS For those of you that don’t know Deckchair Theatre is in the historic Victoria Hall on High St in Fremantle (a City of Fremantle owned building) which we hope is about to include a small (and narrow) bar called Hobbs Bar in the near future.