Have a conversation – but get to the point

Have you noticed? The word-du-jour is “conversation.” Suddenly everyone is talking about starting a conversation. From architects to councils to planners.

The Built Environment Meets Parliament conference in Canberra this month was all about conversations. NSW Planning Minister Kristina Keneally was on a similar tack, as was the Sydney office of Allen Jack + Cottier who recently staged a  jam-packed “conversation” about greening the city streets.

Now the built environment’s Gang of Five who organised BEMP – the  Association of Consulting Engineers, Australian Institute of Architects, Green Building Council, Planning Institute and Property Council –  are going to thrust the conversation out to the broader field.

Within days you will be able to log on to the wonderfully named bangthetable.com and have your two bob’s worth on how you think the future of Australia should pan out. Planning wise. And using the BEMP document, Principles for Planning Sustainable Communities, as a starting point, with its 10 point plan for the construction of plan to battle climate change.

And just as well. Noises from delegates at BEMP indicate there will be some firery debate both about the principles and the process of devising the principles.

In an age of arch cynicism from the community that thinks the words “planning” or “development” are a call to arms, this new-found democracy might be seen as a way to allow people to let off steam and then go ahead with the original plan. Or it might actually work.

It’s a very seductive idea to be asked what you think – and to hope that the listener pays attention. Even if your idea doesn’t get up, you will tend to feel some ownership of the outcome. And revolutions are all about feelings.

In Sydney, where planning has been gridlocked for a decade or more, planning minister Kristina Keneally is already using Bang The Table for the feisty residents of Balmain and it seems not all them want a park on potential development sites – some want development. Keneally says it shows that the residents of Balmain are “much more diverse than the Sydney Morning Herald would have us believe,” and another benefit is that “they debate each other instead of the proponent.”

Elizabeth Farrelly, SMH columnist more than a decade ago called Sydney a feral city. She was right. You might think this a vaguely sexy or at least provocative notion, but the price being paid now is painful to behold – newspapers featuring the daily gridlock of roads and cars, citizens ready to go to war on any more housing in well serviced inner city areas, while they call themselves greenies, and new public transport and other planning initiatives announced and dropped with annoying regularity.

At a private meeting between some planning leaders this month, also in Sydney, the consensus was that much of the public distrust of new development is because of the poor treatment of the public spaces.

Ask Rob Adams, the man from Melbourne City Council who has attained almost cult-like status for they way his Postcode 3000  plan to encourage residents back to the CBD and which turned the city into a thriving living place.

“Give me a good street and I will show you good development,” he told The Fifth Estate in a recent interview (to be posted soon).

Now Adams will really test his skills by asking Melbourne’s entire metropolitan area to adopt his plan for how to grow the population to more than 5 million people.

Read our story for how he thinks that will happen. The plan won his team one of the two prizes awarded by the Australian Award for Urban Design, announced at BEMP.

MUST READ

Highlights this issue include Lynne Blundell’s fascinating piece on a man who debunks the myth that we don’t have enough water for our cities to survive.

There is plenty of water according to Melbourne academic Chris Walsh, it’s just a matter of harvesting it. And through the management of storm water, it’s not only possible but a very good plan that will be more viable than Victoria’s desalination plant once the carbon pollution reduction scheme comes in, when the plant will have trouble finding enough renewable energy to keep going.

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