What we need is very fast train to more density and more detail

24 June 2011 – There was bad weather, ash clouds and no planes, but still 120 people managed to get to the Built Environment Meets Parliament “annual conversation” in Canberra on Wednesday to prove to the politicians that the property and development industry wants them to care about cities.

For five years now the pollies from both side of the House have been able to walk into a room and find it packed with people passionate about a huge range of looming issues that will impact on the whole country. At last, they are listening. The federal government recently announced a national urban policy. It’s just the start of what needs to be done.

After all, as we know, cities generate 80 per cent of the GDP.  The corollary is that they generate the bulk of our greenhouse emissions as so much more that can either make or wreck our quality of life, depending on how well the industry represented by the BEMP delegates do their jobs. First they have to care, as much as they want the pollies to care, about more than what butters their bread.

The issues now are immense. We are losing farmland to loosely sprinkled housing as if it was still the 1950s. There are massive issues associated with this car dependent design. The worry is that the property industry itself seems to have given up on density – at least that was the message related by attendees at the summit – because it is “too hard”.

But if the industry wants to be successful at its job and it wants the federal government involved in cities then it has to be likewise capable of big picture thinking. That means finding ways to creatively accommodate (not cram) all those people who are going to live in Australia, whether we have immigration or not. On the “not” side we will still have 35 million people by 2050.

This is no time to say we’ve got enough density.

Keynote speaker at BEMP Harvard professor Ed Glaeser is a firm proponent of density, because it creates not just better paying jobs but more jobs and endless other benefits that come from collaboration, including green. (See our last issue and this great video from Bloomberg in which dubs his book the “freakonomics of cities” or the one above).

Sadly, Glaeser couldn’t wing his way through the ash clouds and was beamed in via satellite instead.

According to delegates we spoke to (sadly too, The Fifth Estate could not make this year’s BEMP but not because of ash clouds; TFE usually takes the amazingly comfortable Murrays bus to Canberra ­– $15 if you book early) another big take home message from BEMP was about age. Even sadder. According to the new cities app that the Property Council of Australia is working on, most people don’t realise quite how soon the ageing baby boomer bomb is going to hit the wall.

Sue Holliday, who after her background in NSW planning does loads of strategic advisory work with government agencies and organisations, says the immediacy of this problem really made a lot of the delegates sit up and take notice.

“We don’t have long at all, ­ 2020 before, en masse the baby boomers start to reach a frail age,” Holliday says.

We all think we are going to live forever.  We’re not ready to say we are going to live in a nursing home but in only 20 years we will all be there.

It’s all a bit like climate change, Holliday muses ­– we’re all worried about it but it’s easier to put our heads in the sand.

Holliday said also interesting at BEMP was the discussion around whether a federal minister for cities was a good idea, as advocated by the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council in its recent call to action.

Holliday, playing devils advocate, said no, because the only minister capable of working across the different silos of power that would be would be the prime minister herself, she said.

More productive would be to better engage the states and local government into actively shaping our cities, Holliday reckons.

Another delegate at BEMP was architect Caroline Pidcock who has held several leadership roles in the sustainable development arena.

As with Holliday, Pidcock said it was good news that opposition climate change spokesman Greg Hunt promised that the coalition would also seize the cities’ agenda if it won power at the next federal election.

More specifically a coalition government would set up an integrated planning commission which would comprise elected representatives and experts and would make non binding recommendations, Hunt told delegates.

From the government side federal minister for infrastructure and transport Anthony Albanese outlined that since 2007 the federal government had spent more on infrastructure including rail than all governments since federation.

Given the ash cloud that was good news but many delegates wondered when a very fast train to the major cities would finally make the speeches.

It seems many people couldn’t make it to the summit and Pidock says that’s a great shame because what Canberra does is so important to all the members of the BEMP coalition – planners, property, green property, engineers and architects.

Come to think of it, she says, some architects in particular have made a great contribution to the public policy debate – and what the pollies are doing in the regulatory space is certainly critical to architects.

Pidcock spoke at the conference on the topic of resilience and wanted to hone in on the need for resilience in the every day needs of communities, rather than the big disasters.

It’s about building resilience in the community,” she says, “hum-drum things such resilient energy networks and making sure our planning doesn’t harm our capacity to feed cities, and in the water supply.”

A good place to start heading is the idea of “living small”, she says and points to another great book on cities.

Such as the ideas espouses by David Owen who in his book Green Metropolis “slays a few golden cows”.

“He argues that we have to live smaller and closer. By being smaller, and by being closer you don’t  have to travel so far to have an interesting life. And by doing that you can preserve the land around the cities for growing food.”

And yes the issue of how to feed ourselves made the BEMP conversation list.

Here is an excerpt from David Owen’s website:

My wife and I got married right out of college, in 1978. We were young and naïve and unashamedly idealistic, and we decided to make our first home in a utopian environmentalist community in New York State. For seven years we lived quite contentedly in circumstances that would strike most Americans as austere in the extreme: our living space measured just seven hundred square feet, and we didn’t have a lawn, a clothes drier, or a car. We did our grocery shopping on foot, and when we needed to travel longer distances we used public transportation. Because space at home was scarce, we seldom acquired new possessions of significant size. Our electric bill worked out to about a dollar a day.

The utopian community was Manhattan

Read the whole story

Not what but how?

Agreeing with Pidcock on the value the design professions in the public policy arena, Tim Horton, also an architect and now commissioner for integrated design for the  South Australian government, thinks bringing an understanding of design into the way our cities are planned and funded could be revolutionary.

He points to the emergence of unitised housing, or prefabrication, under way on a large scale in Victoria, led by architect Nonda Katsalidis (brought to you by here first) which he says is now changing the way financiers are assessing risk on a project, which then of course impacts on funding costs.

Horton had this in mind when he asked a question of Albanese at BEMP, on the make up of the new infrastructure and finance working group for the Feds.

Albanese had made this welcome announcement he says, “but not one person on group seems to know anything about cities or space at all. It’s all red lines on a map.”

Horton was a notable tweeter at the event (see below for a Twitter feed) and his own take home view is that it may well be time for BEMP Mark II, but mainly because it has been so successful at achieving its objectives.

“Everyone in the room had a high level grasp of the issues and for many of them it has become glib one liners.”

It could be time for more detail rather than the big picture objectives of getting the pollies to pay attention (now that they have).

His thoughts centred on whether it is now time to go to a project by project basis and concentrate on more detail.

“The last thing you want to do is insert the dreaded butchers paper but it is worth getting to the details, bringing it the floor for a slightly more raucous  ALP style conference; taking it to the next level. It’s not the ‘what?’ it’s the ‘how?’”

#BEMP – the Twitter feeds

timhorton_IDC Timothy Horton
In cab en route to airport. Moment of clarity; a ‘Ministry for Cities’ cld start w small win: sub committee of cabinet at Fed level. #BEMP

22 Jun Favorite Retweet Reply

pia_planning PIA
How do we develop the capability & capacity of the built environment professions to be effective advocates for change in our cities? #bemp

22 Jun Favorite Retweet Reply

gscommunities GreenStarCommunities
Community engagement needs to have a purpose, and we need to be committed to changing our decisions based on feedback. #bemp

22 Jun Favorite Retweet Reply

timhorton_IDC Timothy Horton
South Australia’s Integrated Design Commission works across design, planning & development. Can’t separate these. A great model, #BEMP

22 Jun Favorite Retweet Reply

timhorton_IDC Timothy Horton
Ed Glaeser on what fuels a successful city: small firms, smart people, globally connected #BEMP (see https://www.triumphofthecity.com/)

22 Jun Favorite Retweet Reply

pia_planning PIA
#bemp
Edward Glaeser “cities greatest asset is our ability to learn from people around us”

22 Jun Favorite Retweet Reply

RomillyMadew Romilly Madew
The PCA has commissioned a “nation building app of destiny” for calculating the needs of Australia’s growth https://j.mp/kInSQ6 #bemp

22 Jun Favorite Retweet Reply

RomillyMadew Romilly Madew
PCA CEO @pjverwer is speaking at #bemp about cooperation about future growth, the growing demand for development #bemp

22 Jun Favorite Retweet Reply

BuiltEnvirons BuiltEnvirons
There are a LOT of assumptions in this modelling! #bemp

22 Jun Favorite Retweet Reply

verdantflaneur Siobhan Toohill
Thanks #bemp tweeps @timhorton_IDC @pia_planning @gscommunities @RomillyMadew @BEMPSummit2011 – keeping those grounded by #ashcloud informed

22 Jun Favorite Retweet Reply

pia_planning PIA
#bemp
Hunt: opposition proposes an integrated planning commission for each city; plus national set of targets, differentiated for each city

22 Jun Favorite Retweet Reply

BEMPSummit2011 BEMP Summit 2011
Romilly Madew thanks Minister – notes Australia leading the way globally in developing national urban policy #bemp

22 Jun Favorite Retweet Reply

tonybrun Tony Brun
#bemp
Minister how about progressing a plan for western resource cities instead of cramming in2 mel. Syd and bris? Nothing in urban policy

22 Jun Favorite Retweet Reply

BuiltEnvirons BuiltEnvirons
@RomillyMadew
: we are not learning from past events. How do we embed resilience like we have sustainability? #bemp

22 Jun Favorite Retweet Reply

BuiltEnvirons BuiltEnvirons
Can we please call them something other than 1 in 100 year events? Perhaps big bad boo boos? #bemp

22 Jun Favorite Retweet Reply

gscommunities GreenStarCommunities
#bemp
community spirit was a key contributor to Bris getting back on it’s feet after floods. How do we plan for greater community spirit?

22 Jun Favorite Retweet Reply

EditorEDG EDG Tweets
Ash cloud means no #BEMP for @EditorEDG. For those who could make it, hope it goes well.

22 Jun Favorite Retweet Reply

verdantflaneur Siobhan Toohill
Hoping tomorrow’s sessions at #BEMP will be available online – especially for those of us caught by the #ashcloud

21 Jun Favorite Retweet Reply

thedeshman Pradesh Ramiah
@BEMPSummit2011:canberra atm – 5 deg, rain & #ashcloud but #bemp program makes it all worth it. We’re tweeting session highlights 2morrow”

21 Jun Favorite Retweet Reply

thedeshman Pradesh Ramiah
If only it wasn’t Canberra in winter, #BEMP would be on my conference calendar. What’s wrong with meeting in the Whitsundays?

21 Jun Favorite Retweet Reply

timhorton_IDC Timothy Horton
Out from under #Adelaide‘s #ashcloud to brief @AlboMP on #5000plus in Canberra ahead of #BEMP tomorrow.

21 Jun Favorite Retweet Reply

BEMPSummit2011 BEMP Summit 2011
Property Council of Australia to present new app at #bemp, predicting population trends & future needs of 41 Australian cities/towns

17 Jun Favorite Retweet Reply

BEMPSummit2011 BEMP Summit 2011
Lucy Turnbull, Rob Valentine, Lois Bosworth, Edward Glaeser, Sue Holliday put national urban policy under the spotlight at #bemp next week.

17 Jun Favorite Retweet Reply

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