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Urban Renewal – it’s coming your way!

By Paul Costigan 10 February 2016 10

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There’s a talk at the Albert Hall here in Canberra on Tuesday 16 February. The title for this session definitely sounds as though a focus group of bureaucrats have signed off on it.

The title is: Urban Renewal – a partnership with the community.

These words are meant to be harmless, non-threatening and inoffensive (well not too much). The more significant thing is what is avoided and what is the real meaning behind these so-called user friendly phrases.

Unfortunately, whatever committee settled on the term ‘Urban Renewal’ overlooked the usual online entries on the meaning and background to this phrase. Even more amazing is that Canberra’s Chief Minister has put himself in charge of Urban Renewal and naively boasts about this on his ‘vibrant’ website (that happens to be headed with a photo of an urban failure).

As anyone with any experience in planning matters knows – ‘Urban Renewal’ has become one of the most threatening titles one could have come up with – and signals trouble to any resident who happens to have invested in a household and is enjoying a reasonable amount of amenity within a well settled suburb.

To be called the Minister for Urban Renewal – is like being called the Grand Poobah of a property development mob that is about to destroy peoples’ lifestyles and their precious local communities!

For some suburbs Urban Renewal has come to represent the new ‘clearances’. Urban Renewal is currently the bureaucratic cover for policies to over-ride the aspirations of pesky residents (and not just here in Canberra!). In the view of those who run Urban Renewal programs, residents are classed as a single entity (rather than a load of complex communities) that simply fails to understand the bigger picture and the urgent need for the renewal of the suburban areas and the construction of loads of new residential opportunities – to provide ‘choice’ (and probably something ‘vibrant’)

The linking of Urban Renewal with the other title – Partnership with the community – is to say that the Government is setting out to change your suburban way of life and it is going to do so by making you a partner in the process. What residents have learnt over the years is that their role in such partnerships is subservient to the greater needs of those who set the property development agenda for this and many other government jurisdictions.

One does not have to look far to see who gains most from Urban Renewal. And you can also guess which suburban areas tend not to be subject to Urban Renewal.

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By now anyone reading this may have formed an opinion that I am against any form of change across settled suburbs. That would be incorrect.

Any honest and transparent government can bring about change. The word that goes missing in such exercises, or gets badly misused, is ‘community engagement’.

Community engagement is so much more than just fake and imposed ‘partnerships’. It is about governments forming real and realistic networks and close relationships with local residents. It is based on maintaining equity in the manner in which discussions and negotiations are held — no matter how difficult such processes may be.

In the end the government definitely needs to make the final decisions (that’s why we elect them). If these final decisions are based on a transparent approach and about ensuring that the many layers of the communities have ownership of the processes, then anything is possible.

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It is definitely not about what happens now in Canberra. It is not about spin-doctors (community liaison officers/ media managers) producing loads of facile arguments in glossy documents explaining why residents just need to acquiesce and accept the clearances in their areas as proposed.

Several years ago I sat down with a visiting international scholar who was in town to talk to politicians and to deliver a paper or two. She quickly agreed that the basics of the older parts of Canberra were sound enough to be built on to bring about a world class city – that produced good design and addressed all the contemporary climate and environmental issues. However she was amazed at the lack of design and environmental issues being addressed in the newer areas and within the new redevelopments within more established part of Canberra. It was that obvious to someone making her first visit to this city. Why is it not obvious to our politicians and the development bureaucrats?

It is with this background to how Urban Renewal is being interpreted for our city that could make the meeting at the Albert Hall a fascinating spectacle.

I am sure that many residents, who have been subject to the unwanted incursions into the suburbs, will have a lot to say.

I urge you to register for Tuesday 16th February 6.30pm at the Albert Hall – click here – to ensure you have a seat.

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10 Responses to
Urban Renewal – it’s coming your way!
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Zed 12:44 pm 16 Feb 16

What a crock of XXXX!

Urban renewal sounds great and yet Giralang which has now had abandoned shops/ a stalled half built monstrosity FOR OVER TEN YEARS is still going nowhere.
The only renewal in Giralang is the replacement of the suburb sign which was covered in eye height weeds for 5 years.

Government data shows that we get bugger all trees planted- unlike surrounding suburbs of Evatt and Kaleen. We got one new bus shelter and the rest were used/ broken at instalation.
The suburb has been neglected and left to degrade. Government data recorded within TAMS documents this!

Ive spoke with representatives in TAMS and off record and they all agree, we get crap service and there’s no use in asking for any renewal because there is no budget.
How about fixing the numerous park lights that have been out for 10 months?
How about removing the obscene grafitti that has been in place for 8 years?

To further rub salt in the wounds, there is now private discussion between developers and the government that an amended shops development including approx 55 flats is in the pipeline.

The idea of urban renewal in Giralang is a joke sent down from the XXXX at the top. I’m not laughing.

LostProfit 5:47 pm 15 Feb 16

theres a simple answer to this, blanket changes. the nimby’s and Bnana’s (build nothing anywhere near anyone) cant complain when everyones getting the same deal.

all property in the inner north and inner south should be rezoned from RZ1 to RZ2 overnight.
with 10 and 15 year plans to do the same in woden and then tugg/belco.

let the residents decide what kind of suburb they want to live in.

the government can toot its own horn about providing low cost housing all they like,
but the reality is, theyre running the drip feed land monopoly making this city the most expensive in the country, and that could all be changed with a penstroke.

the lowest cost housing is always going to be the the housing that requires no new roads, sewers and services.
it would mobilise billions of dollars in new finance for construction as residents are able to releverage their existing assets. create thousands of new jobs,
and slow the flow of new home buyers funds going only to the pockets of the bloated development industry.

and people building in their own back yard dont build the cheapest nastiest defect ridden GARBAGE the property developers are creating today. when its your house, quality is much more of a priority.

and the reality is the suburbs of this city would be simply returning to the desity that they were intended to have. 50 years ago your average house held a 4- 5 person family, now we have retirees and childless power couples living on a quarter acre in a 5 bedroom empty nest.

Arthur Davies 3:28 pm 15 Feb 16

In addition item has to do with pollution. Both Australian & overseas studies have shown very strongly that people living along a major traffic route have far worse health than others living away from such places, especially lung problems. Northbourne Av is a classic case of such inappropriate development.

Some of the reasons are:-

The obvious danger from being close to moving traffic, especially for children & the frail aged.

The gaseous pollution from vehicles, CO, NOX, sulfur compounds, unburnt hydrocarbons etc.

Fine dust from exhausts, brake & clutch linings, rubber & road surface wear etc. And if we win the wooden spoon, from steel wheel & track wear along with corrosion dust from the dreaded trams.

Lead in the adjacent soil from the past use of lead in fuel. This lead is present as fine insoluble particles in the soil & as lead atoms bonded onto soil particles. While this is not good in general, it is particularly a problem with little kids who ingest it along with soil as they play, if their parents live along such a corridor.

Long term noise is well known to cause serious stress problems in residents.

And this is where the ploys want to create “active vibrant spaces” such as between the Melbourne & Sydney buildings. I can just see everyone in their footpath cafes having cake & coffee, with the waiters offering “would you like a dust mask & earmuffs with your coffee?”, does incessant coughing & wheezing count as active & vibrant?

While the NCDC did not get everything right, they did site everyone’s living spaces away from major traffic routes, now the poly’s & their developer mates want to reverse this very good policy which worked.

james_gibbo 4:48 pm 12 Feb 16

IdlePeasant said :

I think everyone would rather prefer we live in giant McMansions, but we need to be realists. The “golden days” of Australia are over and we can no longer afford to build sprawling suburbia

This is the common line, it is sold as “invetibable” that everyone will eventually be crammed in like sardines into high-rise apartments. It is, however, not true. In the United States’, they continue to build mostly single detached homes, with no price rises in markets without constrained land release like Houston and Atlanta. In fact, despite growing at a faster rate than any Australian city, Houston’s home prices have not risen at all. There was no bubble in Houston, and no crash. Their model is one of unconstrained greenfield development.

Suburbia has not got any more expensive. In fact, with smaller lots and smaller roads, suburbs in Australia have never been cheaper to build. The only reason it costs so much to buy a detached home is planning and zoning restrictions that make it illegal to build on all but a tiny sliver of land zoned ‘residential’. This tiny amount of land is bid up to herculean prices, and these prices are inevitably then passed down ot the consumer.

The solution is not complicated. We need only go back to the situation that prevailed in Australia twenty years ago. We must totally abolish laws that aim to restrict greenfield development, and instead re-orient them into facilitating it. Land rationing and zoning must be abolished.

IdlePeasant said :

The truth is that the government is drip-feeding the market because they’re terrified of a market crash if they release too much land. The real-estate situation in this country makes all other issues (even the rising federal expenditure vs tax base) look like chicken feed. The amount of private debt this country has amassed in real estate due to easy access to credit is insane… No government wants to be responsible for initiating the bloodbath that will result in the greatest economic catastrophe that Australia has ever seen.

It may be true that the government is afraid of a housing price crash, but the longer they leave it, the worse the inevitable crash will be.

IdlePeasant 3:01 pm 11 Feb 16

james_gibbo said :

It’s amazing that tearing up tree-lined suburbs and replacing family homes with Soviet-style apartment blocks is somehow sold as a good thing..

I think everyone would rather prefer we live in giant McMansions, but we need to be realists. The “golden days” of Australia are over and we can no longer afford to build sprawling suburbia and spend money we do not have to maintain them. Future generations will simply not enjoy the wealth that previous generations have experienced. Young people have resigned themselves to the fact that the lower & middle class will be stuck in high density apartments apartments for the rest of their working lives.

Is it sad? Sure. Unfortunately it’s necessary and there’s no possible future that would result in the continued existence of suburbia. Canberra is going to have to deal with this situation sooner rather than later, least we become the Detroit of Australia.

james_gibbo said :

This is not because of any inherent shortage of land; there is virtually limitless amounts of it. It is because the government controls what land is legal to build on, and they artificially constrain that supply to promote an ideology of “urban densification”unfortunately, this ideology has massively driven up the price of homes in Canberra to the point where they are unaffordable for young families..

I’m not sure if you’ve looked at a map recently, but there is NOT a limitless amount of land in the ACT. The whole talk you did about the government constraining land is only a half-truth too. It has nothing to do with trying to artificially push developers to build high-rise buildings – that’s going to happen regardless of how much land is released to the market.

The truth is that the government is drip-feeding the market because they’re terrified of a market crash if they release too much land. The real-estate situation in this country makes all other issues (even the rising federal expenditure vs tax base) look like chicken feed. The amount of private debt this country has amassed in real estate due to easy access to credit is insane… No government wants to be responsible for initiating the bloodbath that will result in the greatest economic catastrophe that Australia has ever seen.

PS: Mass scale high density housing such as apartments does not raise house prices – it lowers them. The fact you said that highlights the fact you don’t grasp the very basic concepts of economics.

Nilrem 12:25 pm 11 Feb 16

henryans said :

Urban Renewal = more stamp duty, more rates, more money for the obsessed green social engineers in ACT Gov.
Imagine what your rates bill will be when the light rail white elephant happens!

Mate if, the level of competence of your “green social engineers” is indicated by the success of Minister Rattenbury’s Bunda Street Shareway, you can sleep easy at night.

henryans 10:06 am 11 Feb 16

Urban Renewal = more stamp duty, more rates, more money for the obsessed green social engineers in ACT Gov.
Imagine what your rates bill will be when the light rail white elephant happens!

james_gibbo 11:24 pm 10 Feb 16

It’s amazing that tearing up tree-lined suburbs and replacing family homes with Soviet-style apartment blocks is somehow sold as a good thing.

The ACT government has massively restricted greenfield development, driving up the cost of primarily single detached homes. It now costs about $500,000 to buy a small block of dirt on the edge of Canberra. This is not because of any inherent shortage of land; there is virtually limitless amounts of it. It is because the government controls what land is legal to build on, and they artificially constrain that supply to promote an ideology of “urban densification”.

Unfortunately, this ideology has massively driven up the price of homes in Canberra to the point where they are unaffordable for young families. It has created more traffic congestion, and study after study shows Australians would prefer to live in a home with a backyard, not a small cramped apartment.

It is time this government abandoned this disastrous ideology once and for all.

miz 12:56 pm 10 Feb 16

Excellent summary of how communities are treated – our street community had a refuge foisted on us with zero prior consultation, despite it being against their own guidelines to put it anywhere other than near a group centre. We were just supposed to suck it up for the greater good (and the lolly from the Feds). Its presence has effectively destroyed our street community and the peaceful and quiet amenity we previously enjoyed. Just another decision in a day of the life of Ms Burch, who signed off on it.

Acton 12:10 pm 10 Feb 16

Good article Paul. Genuine community engagement is simply not occurring. By that I mean actually listening to and acting on community concerns. As the ongoing Yarralumla Brickworks debacle shows, ‘Urban Renewal’ is simply a term for ‘Urban Densification’, which is sticking as many multi-storey apartment blocks into as small an area as possible, so as to give the greatest benefit to the pleonectic industry of planners, architects, builders, estate agents etc lining up to take their cut. The concerns of local residents to preserve bushland, walking trails, birdlife and local recreational areas are dismissed or ignored with patronising contempt and glossy brochures of banalities. Opponents to densification are labelled nimbies. The chief cheerleader should be asked, ‘Just how many more cheaply rendered apartments do you intend to cram into our suburbs?

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