13 July 2012 – Highlight of BEMP, the Built Environment Meets Parliament summit held on 27 June, was undoubtedly social researcher Rebecca Huntley, who stole the show talking about everyone’s favourite subject, ourselves.
Huntley took a leap in her national profile when she appeared in the Q & A session on ABC television after the Nick Minchin, Anna Rose documentary on climate change, and seemed to explain a whole set of conundrums about our attitude to this. (Key in Huntley in our search engine to find our articles on this.)
Interesting was that while the asylum seeker debate was raging somewhere not far away under the same parliamentary roof, Huntley was calmly making a connection between asylum seekers, refugees and Australia’s population.
In research for the annual Mind and Mood report produced by Ipsos, of which Huntley (pictured above) is a director, conversations about these issues inevitably segue into talk about traffic congestion, overcrowding and poor public transport.
“Issues about immigration and population are intimately connected to infrastructure,” Huntley said.
“We consistently find that the population and asylum seeker debate comes up with ‘where’s the vision for our cities’.”
There is “deep satisfaction with the quality” of public transport.
[There’s food for thought: an urban planning solution to racism and xenophobia. Along with the newly popular/discovered thought that urban planning can also alleviate health and obesity problems, social disconnection, crime and so on. (Just get rid of the car- centred planning.]
Huntley was hugely engaging in sharing the candid views that she becomes privy to while sitting a room listing to talk by like-minded people and trying to be invisible.
For developers and planners trying to work out how to deliver what the population and market wants, it’s gold.
It didn’t take long, says Huntley, to realise that even the most innocuous questions were not needed. All you need is to gather like with like and turn the tape on. Ordinary people, not experts.
“It’s qualitative. We do people of same gender, same age and in their homes or somewhere [familiar].”
And what the respondents think?
Following are some samples, with comments.
- “City living is getting worse. Especially in Sydney and Melbourne: the traffic, the cost of housing; it can’t go on like this.”
A year later [after the GFC] you’re still hearing this conversation, Huntley said. Issues around cost of building and the cost of petrol come and go for Australians but the cost of getting around remains, Huntley said.
“Tolls are a very big issue in some cities.” The same for parking fines.
- “Should I be taking public transport?”
- “Should I get rid of the old bomb or keep it going for a while?”
Ipsos has been going 35 years, Huntley said, so it’s interesting to compare and see that instead of “mum” getting the “shitty car”, it’s “dad that gets the bomb and is thinking about alternative modes of transport – motorcycle and bicycle, perhaps”.
A common refrain for people in far flung suburbs:
- “We’re on the road to nowhere and we have to pay $3 to get there.”
There’s toll rage out in those suburbs.
Worse is that in outer urban areas for some families the idea of both parents working is impossible because the male (usually) has to leave home so early and gets home so late from a trek to the city, for instance, that it’s impossible to share pick up and drop off duties with the kids.
A dream job in those areas, even for well-educated middle class women, is being a check-out out chick.
- He leaves at 6 am and gets home at 7 pm. He’s never going to be able to pick and drop off. At least if I’m a check-out check I get reasonable hours and discount groceries.
“Often it’s not the cost but the reliability.
- One thing goes wrong and it’s chaos.”
There are very narrow margins for families.
- “If I leave at the right time, I’m on time, but if it’s 15 minutes later, I’m 40 minutes late.”
People underestimate the impact that this congestion has on families, Huntley said.
Suburbs or city?
There’s a strong sense of choice – sacrificing space, and in some cases disposable income, for a lifestyle in the inner city that was as much a moral and ethical issue as financial one.
Interestingly people in inner city areas talk “far less of what they wanted in a home as what they wanted outside of the home,” such as parks or a beach.
“There is extraordinary snobbery from these groups about the social and cultural desolation of suburbia,” Huntley said
- “There’s not a single restaurant in the suburb I grew up in. Even if I have seven kids I would not live there.”
Many did not have kids but they were still making housing choices on the basis of My School results.
They wanted the best public school for primary. It was the single most important decision about where they would buy their apartments.
In one research survey the aim was for people to focus on what they did in everyday life that impacts on environmental benefit.
“We talked to people about the payoffs of say, a small car, even if not about saving carbon.”
- “If money was no object I’d have everything in the household green.”
Recycling was a huge theme, Huntley said. And it’s felt that everyone is better than they used to be. Especially in the home.
- “You can even recycle computers now.”
- “We all recycle in our bins every week, with the newspapers and things. I feel like when I’ve put something in the recycling bin I’m doing something for the environment.”
- “Of allof the green things water is the big one for me.”
- “We just put the lamp on now and turn the other lights off. I’m fairly conscious of electricity use.”
Community and consultation were big themes at BEMP in what seems a marked shift from the preoccupation of past years with speeding up the development approval process and enticing the federal government into a cities agenda.
One of these objectives, on cities, has been achieved, though it’s not sure how long it will last if there is a change of government at the federal level.
And on the other, the faster development approval, it seems the property industry’s leaders, who join together in this umbrella leaders’ gig every year, have embraced the newfound wisdom of community and consultation.
Dealing with communities and fostering dialogue is not an immediate invitation to shackle up the bulldozer and sell it for scrap metal. Development can still happen. As Stockland’s former chief sustainability consultant Siobhan Toohill told The Fifth Estate some time back, if you consult with the community before you turn the first sod, if you ask them what they want, deliver it and then ask them to buy in, well it’s a no brainer. It’s doing your risk management and marketing all in one hit.
Here are some of the comments that emerged in one session
With Peter Verwer, Property Council of Australia (facilitating), Ben Hewett, South Australian Government Architect, Ben Guy of Urban Circus, Matthew Crozier of Bang the Table and Matt Cooperrider from CollabForge.
- Consensus is not a good result
It’s the spiritual feeling of a city [that’s important] not, “I will create 50,000 apartments. Tick…”
- You don’t need technology, you can use pen and paper
- What about the problem of dumbing down? (from Bill Chandler in the audience)
- Talking to people in plain language is very visceral, very real, it’s not about dumbing down at all, it’s about language
- It’s not about letting go of the process to go online, it’s about improving it.
- It’s a slippery word, culture. Culture is moving slower than we like.
- Technology is only as good as the culture and that’s about practising what you preach.
- You won’t find anyone responding to a project unless they have an interest in it.