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Empathy from bureaucrats a rare thing

By Paul Costigan 29 July 2015 14

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It was during a recent North Canberra Community Council meeting that I realised I was hearing something very rare. The presenter was talking about fairly matter-of-fact issues to do with changes to local traffic lights and footpaths and it sounded as though she identified with the issues being dealt with.

Then she said it. She commented that she lives in Downer and talked of her experiences with some of the traffic issues along Antill Street.

This small revelation explained why her presentation had that unusual touch of relevance and empathy that rarely comes across from planning agencies whenever they address residential groups.

I have had encounters with planning bureaucrats from various agencies across the government for several decades. In that time, I cannot name one other local planning bureaucrat who has been able to identify with the urban planning and development issues as experienced by local residents.

Sadly the experience is that presentations and workshops over the years have had the tinge of a patronising approach. There is always present the attitude that they, the bureaucracy,  know what is best for all of us.

If residents state their aspirations, then these are somehow mashed up into pre-arranged recommendations that then no longer reflect the core of the wishes of residents.

Over the years I have quietly observed from where the bureaucrats have travelled to make their planning proposals known to Dickson residents. It seems that the bureaucrats, and their paid consultants, live in suburbs way across town, several live in villages just outside Canberra and others live in older heritage houses or in apartments closer to Civic. None have demonstrated that they have taken the time to understand this suburb, its history or have been able to see the issues under discussion from the perspective of local residents.

There is one other strange quirk to this tale. Several years ago the ACT Minister for Planning attended meetings in Dickson. He made it very clear that the residents of Dickson and surrounding suburbs were mainly an older generation that they, the old folks, had to accept the questionable proposed changes to the suburbs and possibly should think of moving on to allow the necessary change to happen.

As was reported at the time, his approach to local meetings did not go down well with residents who as a result formed the obvious opinion that this Minister was out of touch with Dickson residents. This was then reinforced when in the days that followed the ABS stats on the suburb were circulated that showed just how low the average age was in Dickson (mid 30s).

The odd twist to this story is that the Minister was then identified as being a Dickson resident himself. He is now the Chief Minister and Minister for Urban Development and he still known for having no real empathy with the aspirations of local residents. To further reinforce people’s view of him, he recently made further not very complimentary comments about Canberra’s older residents.

This is why the woman from Roads ACT was a refreshing change. She was a local and understood the local issues.

There is one thing residents across Canberra agree on, that most of the present planning and development processes work against the residents and seem to favour others.

I do not pretend to know how we get professional planning bureaucrats to be more open to listening and to being able to empathise with and acknowledge the aspirations of local residents, whether here in Dickson or any other suburban area.

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There’s a new series of ‘consultations’ due on the Dickson Parklands /section 72 (pic above) and residents are keen to be engaged in debating the possibilities around this important inner north Canberra green space.

Residents in Dickson and elsewhere wish things would change and that ACT politicians would step forward to do what voters expect of them.

Our local politicians need to bring about significant changes to the ACT’s planning and development agencies to make the discussions and decisions around urban development far more accessible, relevant, transparent, honest and democratic.

Is all this really too much to ask?


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14 Responses to
Empathy from bureaucrats a rare thing
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milkman 6:39 pm 30 Jul 15

VYBerlinaV8_is_back said :

chewy14 said :

The residents are OK with change, as long as that change involve s the government spending more and more money on their areas to improve their quality of life and amenities. They love having other people’s money spent on improving their lives.

“A government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul”

Which is why Canberra is a Labor town.

VYBerlinaV8_is_back 1:15 pm 30 Jul 15

chewy14 said :

The residents are OK with change, as long as that change involve s the government spending more and more money on their areas to improve their quality of life and amenities. They love having other people’s money spent on improving their lives.

“A government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul”

JC 10:13 am 30 Jul 15

rommeldog56 said :

chewy14 said :

The problem is too many residents are absolutely against change in any form but they don’t want to pay the resulting costs that no change would necessitate. It’s always someone else that should be paying more.

Again, wrong. The residents have actually said the opposite. In fact, I have never heard anyone say that they are “absolutely against change in any form”. Quite the contrary in fact. Change is good. It’s just the type of change the ACT Gov’t is ramming through, the justifications for that, the lack vision by the ACT Gov’t of integrated planning (especially for transport) & in particular, lack of real/effective consultation with affected residents, is what residents talk about.

The core issue with public transport in this town is the layout of the town. Two issues the burbs are for the most part low density, meaning buses need to meander through the suburbs to pick up passengers. Secondlly no one lives along the major transport corridors.

The only way to fix this is to change planning rules to increase density in the burbs and to increase the number of residents along the transport corridors.

So new suburbs are designed with a higher than traditional density along main roads, and especially around shops/focal points. Existing suburbs they are increasing density where they can. Obviously this Dickson development is one of these.

And lastley they are placing higher density residential developments along new intertown transport corridors, think Flemmington Road and John Gorton Drive.

Change like this will take years and years to come to fruition, but to say the government has no clear plan is actually false.

Likewise whilst there is a casual link between increased density along the light rail route and light rail, but even without light rail the density will and needs to increase. So a very long bow to blaming light rail for these new developments and changes.

chewy14 9:37 am 30 Jul 15

rommeldog56 said :

They are already paying for that in Annual Rates & purchase price for properties there. Its about the lifestyle they brought into. Just because the ACT Gov’t can not manage its budget or set reasonable fiscal priorities, does not justify the increases in Annual Rates that have been programmed in. And to go on trying to justify the infill and increases in Annual Rates by claiming that Dickson is “close to the CBD” is just plain wrong. It’s not like there is 6-7 million people in Canberra competing for space in or near the CBD (ie. Civic).

You’re assuming that the annual rates you currently pay are sufficient to run the territory to the standard of living you expect. You’re wrong, they aren’t.

As I said, outline a program for how we can pay for the lifestyle YOU expect the government to provide for you. Of course there are areas where the government could be more efficient but there are large costs and infrastructure investments that need to be made that we simply can’t afford with current revenue.

The government has outlined a vision for the future of the city that involves infill developments along major transportation routes, such as Northbourne corridor. Whether you like it our not, they’ve been elected by the people. We’re expecting another few hundred thousand people in this city in the next couple of decades and they simply cannot be accomodated through large scale greenfield development.
Where do they live? How do they get around? Where do they work? You can’t put your head in the sand and ignore the issues for where our city needs to move to.

And once again, I don’t know how you can possibly claim Dicskon isn’t close to the CBD. it has one suburb between it and the city down Northbourne ave, less than 2km at it’s closest out to 3-4km at it’s furthest. You are not seeing the big picture here because you are too focused on what you personally have, yet you don’t want to pay the real price for maintaining that low density, high amenity lifestyle so close to the city.

chewy14 9:11 am 30 Jul 15

rommeldog56 said :

chewy14 said :

The problem is too many residents are absolutely against change in any form but they don’t want to pay the resulting costs that no change would necessitate. It’s always someone else that should be paying more.

Again, wrong. The residents have actually said the opposite. In fact, I have never heard anyone say that they are “absolutely against change in any form”. Quite the contrary in fact. Change is good. It’s just the type of change the ACT Gov’t is ramming through, the justifications for that, the lack vision by the ACT Gov’t of integrated planning (especially for transport) & in particular, lack of real/effective consultation with affected residents, is what residents talk about.

Sorry, ill take that back.

The residents are OK with change, as long as that change involve s the government spending more and more money on their areas to improve their quality of life and amenities. They love having other people’s money spent on improving their lives.

rommeldog56 10:48 pm 29 Jul 15

chewy14 said :

How about a congestion tax for those who drive cars withing 5km of the city centre?

Why not indeed. The ACT Govt’s own EIS for the Tram clearly states that the infill & densification will increase traffic congestion along Northbourne Ave and surrounds, not solve it. Therefore there will be even more traffic heading into/through Civic.

So, a congestion tax in some way, shape or form, representing the ultimate example of the poor decision making to build the tram in the 1st place, is probably inevitable and would be a fitting epitaph to this ACT Labor/Greens Gov’t and their rusted on supporters.

rommeldog56 10:34 pm 29 Jul 15

chewy14 said :

The problem is too many residents are absolutely against change in any form but they don’t want to pay the resulting costs that no change would necessitate. It’s always someone else that should be paying more.

Again, wrong. The residents have actually said the opposite. In fact, I have never heard anyone say that they are “absolutely against change in any form”. Quite the contrary in fact. Change is good. It’s just the type of change the ACT Gov’t is ramming through, the justifications for that, the lack vision by the ACT Gov’t of integrated planning (especially for transport) & in particular, lack of real/effective consultation with affected residents, is what residents talk about.

rommeldog56 10:26 pm 29 Jul 15

chewy14 said :

I would love to see the current residents in these areas actually outline a program for how they would pay for the lifestyles they want to lead and the city they want to live in.

They are already paying for that in Annual Rates & purchase price for properties there. Its about the lifestyle they brought into. Just because the ACT Gov’t can not manage its budget or set reasonable fiscal priorities, does not justify the increases in Annual Rates that have been programmed in. And to go on trying to justify the infill and increases in Annual Rates by claiming that Dickson is “close to the CBD” is just plain wrong. It’s not like there is 6-7 million people in Canberra competing for space in or near the CBD (ie. Civic).

JC 9:01 pm 29 Jul 15

chewy14 said :

I would love to see the current residents in these areas actually outline a program for how they would pay for the lifestyles they want to lead and the city they want to live in.

I’m assuming that suggestions such as instituting even larger rate rises for inner city residents wouldn’t go down too well?

How about a congestion tax for those who drive cars withing 5km of the city centre?

The problem is too many residents are absolutely against change in any form but they don’t want to pay the resulting costs that no change would necessitate. It’s always someone else that should be paying more.

Governments problem isn’t it? Never an individuals. Its easy to whinge, but not easy to find solutions that BALANCES the needs of EVERYONE, not just meet the specific needs/demands on individuals or individual self interest groups.

chewy14 2:58 pm 29 Jul 15

I would love to see the current residents in these areas actually outline a program for how they would pay for the lifestyles they want to lead and the city they want to live in.

I’m assuming that suggestions such as instituting even larger rate rises for inner city residents wouldn’t go down too well?

How about a congestion tax for those who drive cars withing 5km of the city centre?

The problem is too many residents are absolutely against change in any form but they don’t want to pay the resulting costs that no change would necessitate. It’s always someone else that should be paying more.

JC 2:57 pm 29 Jul 15

sepi said :

That rabid self-interest group ‘the community’!

A small section of said community. You, nor do ‘residents associations” speak for the whole community.

Notice in my post I owned my comments and views and nowhere did I sawy they reflected the views of the community. Simply because noone knows what the community really thinks, because for the most part most people just couldn’t give a toss.

sepi 2:42 pm 29 Jul 15

That rabid self-interest group ‘the community’!

JC 1:49 pm 29 Jul 15

Knew this would get back to these supposed parklands. They are in reality part of the Salvo’s lease and was used for overflow carparking. You make it sound like these are the last bit of grass and trees anywhere in North Canberra, but right next door is a massive green space, and right next to that is the wetlands.

But getting back to your gripe, just because your demands are not met doesn’t meant the pollies are not doing what is expected of them. I for one agree with the general approach to planning, and feel that inner areas and other larger group centres such as Dickson do need an increase in density etc. Not saying I agree with all planning decisions, but overall they are doing what I expect of them. Which is mainly not pander to self intrest groups.

Evilomlap 12:41 pm 29 Jul 15

Interesting that you put ‘consultations’ in inverted commas. Public consultations are presented with the very altruistic notion that they are being offered to gather public feedback on a project or plan. This carries an expectation that public feedback has the power to alter that plan. In my experience, this is not the case. Consultations are often about gauging potential media issues and ‘flashpoints’, ie what may generate negative publicity down the track. This allows pre-emptive damage control and the development of handling strategies to get on the front foot if/when these issues do arise. What’s been planned will go ahead as planned. The only consultations government listens to or cares about are from those with vested interests. Public outrage may get a few lines in a Canberra Times article but thinking a Joe Blow member of the public has any influence in these matters is deluded at best. It’s amazing how accessible politicians become when they see a chequebook.

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