3 June 2011 – Two new State Governments in Victoria and NSW, two sets of peremptory statements about what the new regime will and won’t allow to happen with development and planning. Two sets of Sir Humphrey-style briefings about the reality of life in the political trenches, you can bet. Result? Not much action.

At least that was the story until Victoria made its dramatic announcement on Thursday morning that it had ditched its land development authority VicUrban and created a new body (mostly from the parts of the old) that would tackle, head-on, the stalemate that has frozen development in our cities and sent it hurtling towards the farmlands.

It must be some strange relief for VicUrban, whose staff has been in suspended animation since last November when the Coalition took over. Previous head Prue Sanderson took a holiday followed by resignation almost immediately after the handover, and everyone else has been wondering which rumour about their future proves to be correct.

It’s too early to know if this new body, the Urban Renewal Authority, will work, or even if it has the skills and back-up to break through the quagmire of staunch community opposition on almost anything that involves a hammer. And whether, by the way, it’s any different to the power/tools that its predecessor had.

Major sites it will likely deal with include remaining swathes of Docklands, Fisherman’s Bend and areas around Richmond Station. The first two … OK … but Richmond Station? That’s akin to Newtown station in Sydney: both inner-city locations populated by the type of feisty residents who know how to wage a political campaign.

The mere suggestion of putting some medium density development above and around the railway station in Newtown saw a government planning bureaucrat almost keel over at the thought at a recent Sydney event.

In your dreams, he said. Yes, it fits exactly with the metropolitan strategy and just about every bit of sensible planning objective you can think of, but as to implementing this? No way.

The thing that needs to be done is to come up with the kind of authority that has the clout to bring a reasonable outcome without bully boy tactics and freaking out the local residents. Good community engagement is the starting point and it can work, we’re told. But you need talent and loads of energy.

As an exemplar, you can’t go past City of Sydney’s chief executive officer Monica Barrone in action. At a recent community meeting in inner-city Chippendale where Michael Mobbs (yes, our Bathurst Burr) is trying to create a template for a sustainable suburb that could be replicated around the country, Barrone was poetry in motion. The enthusiasm, the patience, the calm understanding that the more pressures people have in their lives, the more they will resist change. You need to consult again and again, she said. You need to doorknock every house in the street: that’s how you do it.

Good luck with Richmond Station.

Which brings to mind a recent comment by the Property Council’s chief executive officer Peter Verwer: Landcom might be exactly the sort of body that could tackle some of the bigger urban development challenges in the inner and middle ring suburbs.

He could have something there. As developers turn away in droves from urban development because it’s so hard and so expensive, perhaps such a body could tackle the tough master-planning and community engagement that seems increasingly beyond the realm or patience of individual developers, and then hand the prepared sites over to the private sector, as they did at Victoria Park.

It makes sense. The development industry used to not trust this developer that was government-owned, but not government-funded; that needed to go out and compete with every other developer in the private sphere and then deliver a dividend to the government. (A concept surely concocted in those loony economic rationalist days when governments were bullied into getting rid of debt and acting like listed companies rather than the providers of infrastructure so that the rest of us could get on with it.)

But times need to change, even with how the development industry thinks and operates.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is about to visit our thought patterns again soon, this time through COP 17 from November 28 in Durban, South Africa. With it has come an invitation from the International Union of Architects, or UAI, extended to Elena Bondareva, KnowChange networking coordinator and principal of strategic consultancy Thinc Beyond, to design and facilitate the two-day UAI program that will run alongside COP 17.

There is a catch, however: the job is pro bono, and so far does not have funding, so the opportunity to discuss an architectural agenda and the impact it can have on the state of global carbon is tenuous at best. Sponsorships or donations will be most welcome  … in fact, probably essential.

Eric Noir, board member of the Green Building Council of South Africa, is running the event and will be in Sydney next week firming up connections.

In the meantime Elena Bondareva will be seeking out the kinds of conversations and lines of thought designed to thrust the architectural profession more front and centre of the sustainability transformation underway in the built environment. So contact her for both ideas and thoughts on funding: ebondareva@thincprojects.com

Poles and wires
WA is facing the same “poles and wires” energy joke as other states, with rising prices to pay for neglected electricity infrastructure blamed on renewable energy.

Chief executive of the Sustainable Energy Association, Ray Wills, said that while energy minister Peter Collier said the “State Government believes WA should become a world leader in low-emissions technologies,” the only mention of the word “renewable” by the WA Treasurer in his State Budget speech was to say that the “tiny three per cent share of renewable energy generation that this state has managed to encourage has somehow contributed significantly to the electricity price rises in Western Australia”.

In line with other moves to kick the renewables sector, the WA  Government has also halved feed-in tariffs to 20 cents per kilowatt hour for all applications received from July 1, 2011.

Our readers

Following is an interesting insight into how long readers spent on average last month reading articles in The Fifth Estate

Article Average time reading article

Hr: Min: Sec

Bathurst Burr: How to secure Australia’s food00:27:15
Demand grows worldwide for BlueGen gas-to-electricity cell00:22:34
How much hot or cold air in green houses?00:22:02
Stockland’s new Lockerbie estate to be a sustainable community00:19:40
Stormwater – the sustainable low cost solution00:19:24
What People Think Of The Word Sustainability00:18:50
Medical Centre |00:18:42
News from the front desk: Issue No 48 | The Fifth Estate00:17:01
The Chippendale project could be about to grow | The Fifth Estate00:16:26
Dans le monde Patrick Blanc de jardins verticaux il n’existe pas de substituts00:15:32
Mike Rann – a premier with impact00:15:27
Tri-gen may not be best way to go for Sydney00:15:16
Melbourne to host global leaders of retail00:14:46
Workplace6 wins Property Council award for sustainability00:14:07
GBCA releases green building agenda for 2010-201300:13:52
Michael Green on why he wants to build a timber skyscraper00:13:41
The power of plants for good indoor air: Part 200:13:11

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