Why coronavirus must not stop Australia creating denser cities



Abdul Razak Latif/Shutterstock

Max Holleran, University of Melbourne

Stay-at-home orders have meant many people are happy to live in dispersed suburbs with free-standing, single-family homes. Quarantine feels less daunting with a backyard, plenty of storage space to stockpile supplies, and a big living room for morning stretches. Before the crisis, though, Australia was slowly moving toward urban density.

More apartments with communal amenities, rather than privatised space, were being built, creating less dependence on driving. It is easy to think these urbanites are now glumly looking out their windows towards the more spacious suburbs, wishing they had made different choices. Yet, despite the impacts of restrictions, Australia’s future is in urban density and not the suburban sprawl of the past.




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The benefits of density done well

Before the world changed and Australians were ushered inside en masse, the country was making great strides toward creating more compact, walkable cities. Denser neighbourhoods provided multiple benefits:

  • better access to transport alternatives to cars

  • the creation of vibrant commercial districts

  • increased ability to house more people during affordability and homelessness crises.




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Nationally, we were building almost as many apartment units as single family homes. In cities like Melbourne and Sydney, apartment construction even surpassed stand-alone houses despite lax quality regulations and design and construction flaws.

Density was achieved not just through towers for Asian investors in CBDs, but more subtle alterations such as townhouses and small blocks of flats. Residents moving into these neighbourhoods affirmed a sense of environmental consciousness, based on driving less, but also the belief in tight-knit communities with small businesses, parks and thriving street life.

Townhouses, like these in Hobart, increase urban density more unobtrusively than high-rise apartment blocks.
David Lade/Shutterstock



Read more:
Becoming more urban: attitudes to medium-density living are changing in Sydney and Melbourne


Beware the siren call of suburbia

With the onset of COVID-19, it seems Australia’s new-found love of city living might be over, reverting to the suburban norm. The suburbs always offered a sense of safety, now more than ever.

Yet much of this is illusory. People still have to go shopping and, in many cases, to work, where they could be exposed to the virus. People have just as much control over their physical space in an apartment as in a house. (The exception is the lifts, but distancing measures and gloves can easily reduce risk.)

Australians may be tempted to re-embrace suburbia out of nostalgia for pre-virus safety, but they should remember what brought them to cities in the first place. As the architect Robin Boyd bemoaned way back in his 1960 critique of suburbanisation, The Australian Ugliness:

… the suburbs’ stealthy crawl like dry rot eating into the forest edge.

With 60 years of government policy propping up sprawl through freeway construction and tax breaks like negative gearing, it continues to be its own kind of infection scarring the landscape.




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Move away from a car-dominated city looks radical but it’s a sensible plan for a liveable future


Don’t blame public health failures on density

Despite re-animated fears of living closer together, many countries that have successfully contained the coronavirus have some of the most densely populated cities in the world. These cities include Seoul, Hong Kong and Taipei. They have done this not by separating people but by increasing testing and contact tracing.




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What is needed during a pandemic is not panic but effective public health. Prosperous, well-managed city governments are often best placed to offer these services to the community.

Negative examples like the United States, where the Trump administration has devolved responsibilities to states and cities, provide even more proof of why cities have to be at the forefront of public health campaigns, whether or not they choose that role voluntarily. The same could be said of Australia, where state governments in Victoria and New South Wales took the lead on restricting gatherings as the national government dithered.

Now, more than ever, we are appreciating urban life from afar: making lists of our favourite restaurants, changing our Zoom background during “virtual happy hour” to the interior of our local pub, and yearning for social connections that have migrated online.

We should listen to our desires and use this moment to double down on urban density when the crisis subsides, by funding mass transit and providing incentives to construct apartments rather than free-standing suburban homes.

Low-density living is less sustainable, less affordable and less fun. We should all remember that, despite currently having to keep our distance from one another.




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Our cities fall short on sustainability, but planning innovations offer local solutions


The Conversation


Max Holleran, Lecturer in Sociology, University of Melbourne, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

If more of us work from home after coronavirus we’ll need to rethink city planning



Halfpoint/Shutterstock

John L Hopkins, Swinburne University of Technology

We have seen an unprecedented rise in the number of people working from home as directed by governments and employers around the world to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

If, as some expect, people are likely to work from home more often after the pandemic, what will this mean for infrastructure planning? Will cities still need all the multibillion-dollar road, public transport, telecommunications and energy projects, including some already in the pipeline?




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Flexible working, the neglected congestion-busting solution for our cities


World’s largest work-from-home experiment

Remote working was steadily on the rise well before COVID-19. But the pandemic suddenly escalated the trend into the “world’s largest work-from-home experiment”. Many people who have had to embrace remote working during the pandemic might not want to return to the office every day once restrictions are lifted.

They might have found some work tasks are actually easier to do at home. Or they (and their employers) might have discovered things that weren’t thought possible to do from home are possible. They might then question why they had to go into the workplace so often in the first place.

But what impact will this have on our cities? After all, many aspects of our cities were designed with commuting, not working from home, in mind.




Read more:
Coronavirus could spark a revolution in working from home. Are we ready?


Stress test for NBN and energy networks

From a telecommunications perspective, the huge increase in people working from home challenges the ways in which our existing networks were designed.

Data from Aussie Broadband show evening peak broadband use has increased 25% during the shutdown. Additional daytime increases are expected due to home schooling with term 2 starting.

Research by the then federal Department of Communications in 2018 estimated the average Australian household would need a maximum download speed of 49Mbps during peak-use times by 2026. If more people work from home after COVID-19, the size and times of peak use might need to be recalculated.

Another factor not modelled by the government research was the potential impact of an increase in uploads. This is a typical requirement for people working from home, as they now send large files via their suburban home networks, rather than their office networks in the city.




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Recent research by Octopus Energy in the UK has found domestic energy use patterns have also changed since COVID-19. With more people working from home, domestic energy use in the middle of the day is noticeably higher. Some 30% of customers use an average of 1.5kWh more electricity between 9am and 5pm.

Conversely, data from the US show electricity use in city centres and industrial areas has declined over the same period.

Less commuting means less congestion

Closer to home, new data from HERE Technologies illustrate just how much traffic congestion has eased.

Thursday afternoons from 5-5.15pm are normally the worst time of the week for traffic congestion in Melbourne. Last week the city’s roads recorded the sort of free-flowing traffic usually seen at 9.30am on a Sunday. Just 1.8% of Melbourne’s major roads were congested, a fraction of the usual 19.8% at that time.

All of Australia’s major cities are experiencing similar reductions. Transurban has reported traffic is down 43% on the Melbourne airport toll road, 29% on its Sydney roads and 27% in Queensland.

Passengers are also staying away from public transport in droves. For example, South Australian government statistics for Adelaide show passenger numbers have slumped by 69% for buses, by 74% for trains and by 77% for trams, compared with this time last year.




Read more:
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What does this mean for infrastructure planning?

With these trends in mind, future investment in roads, public transport, energy and telecommunications will need to consider the likelihood of more people working from home.

Prior to COVID-19, Melbourne research found 64% of city workers regularly worked from home, but usually only one day a week, even though 50% of their work could be done anywhere. While the changes we are now seeing are a result of extreme circumstances, it is not inconceivable that, on average, everybody could continue to work from home one extra day per week after the pandemic. Even this would have significant implications for long-term urban planning.

The most recent Australian Census data show 9.2 million people typically commute to work each day. If people worked from home an average of one extra day per week, this would take 1.8 million commuters off the roads and public transport each day.

Many road and public transport projects will be based on forecasts of continuing increases in commuter numbers. If, instead, people work from home more often, this could call into question the need for those projects.

Areas outside city centres would also require more attention, as working from home creates a need for more evenly distributed networks of services for the likes of energy and telecommunications. Interestingly, such a trend could support long-term decentralisation plans, like those outlined in Melbourne’s Metropolitan Planning Strategy. And if such change encourages more people to live away from the big cities, it also could help to make housing more affordable.




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Fancy an e-change? How people are escaping city congestion and living costs by working remotely


The Conversation


John L Hopkins, Innovation Fellow, Swinburne University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Before we rush to rebuild after fires, we need to think about where and how


Mark Maund, University of Newcastle; Kim Maund, University of Newcastle, and Thayaparan Gajendran, University of Newcastle

A primary school in East Gippsland was burnt down in the current bushfire crisis. While Premier Daniel Andrews immediately committed to rebuilding the school as it was, media reported the local CFA captain didn’t want it rebuilt.

Screen Shot from abc.net.au.
https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-01-15/bushfire-destroys-clifton-creek-primary-school-gippsland/11860490

Public support for rebuilding in the same disaster affected places is often high. But as fire-fighting agencies are aware, our bushfires are increasing in size, intensity and duration, and a warming climate will continue to worsen these factors. We need to start being more strategic about where we rebuild homes and facilities lost to fire, and how.

Rush now, regret later

As there are sadly many people without homes and many businesses that have suffered lost income from reduced tourism and other activities, urgency in such a response seems reasonable.

But there’s a risk that rebuilding the same buildings in the same areas may not mitigate the current risks or any future risks under new climate scenarios – existing and new communities will be vulnerable. Planning can assist with managing future bushfire risks by helping decide where homes, buildings and infrastructure should be located.

Importantly, we must not rush to rebuild the same buildings in the same location. We need to consider risks from natural hazards in these bushfire prone areas such as ember attack, radiant heat, flammable building materials and safe evacuation routes.

If homes and some community buildings, such as schools, are located in areas that are too risky and likely to be lost in future bushfires then we need to consider our options. These may include changing the land use zoning to allow only lower-risk buildings (for industrial rather than residential use), or increasing building requirements for bushfire protection.

Before commencing rebuilding, planning agencies need to plan how communities can be made resilient and if there is opportunity to use the affected land for houses designed with the highest bushfire attack level or shops or offices with higher fire ratings.

Alternatively, planning agencies can choose to use cleared land adjacent to high bushfire risk as parks or roads to provide additional separation between buildings and vegetation.

Organisations involved in planning need to focus on increasing the separation between buildings and vegetation, as well as additional fire safety measures for buildings.

How to rebuild

We need to consider increased construction standards for buildings to better protect them against bushfires — things like fire resistant walls, thicker glass and metal screens for windows, non-combustible roofs and access to water to fight fires.

However these provide only some protection. Buildings may continue to be lost in future bushfires, so what we construct in these areas needs to be reconsidered.




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Australian building codes don’t expect houses to be fire-proof – and that’s by design


Options to rebuild in high risk areas should include buildings that are seen as low risk to human life and livelihoods such as storage or warehouse-style buildings and light industrial buildings. Owners of these buildings may need to accept they may be lost to bushfire.

Buildings that contain large numbers of people that need assistance during bushfires such as schools, aged care and hospitals should be located with extensive separation from bushfire risk, as well as with increased construction standards with multiple evacuation routes.

High-risk areas could be used as parks. This could also increase the separation between vegetation and dwellings.
from http://www.shutterstock.com

The speed and intensity of recent fires shows there may be less time to evacuate under existing and future disaster conditions, so continuing to build in high hazard prone areas may no longer be appropriate.

A new national planning policy should guide the states in considering the exposure of communities to these hazards and their capacity to respond, such as evacuation routes, distance to refuge centres and distance from fire services.

A national policy

Before we rush to rebuild our homes, roads and infrastructure we need to review planning policies and bushfire hazard maps produced by state fire services and have their involvement in future decision making around this area.

We need a national bushfire planning policy to address risk that crosses state boundaries and to provide a consistent approach to identifying where communities can locate and what activities can occur in high risk areas.The Conversation

Mark Maund, PhD Candidate, School of Architecture and Built Environment, University of Newcastle; Kim Maund, Discipline Head – Construction Management, School of Architecture and Built Environment, University of Newcastle, and Thayaparan Gajendran, Associate Professor, School of Architecture and Built Environment, University of Newcastle

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

You can’t boost Australia’s north to 5 million people without a proper plan



Could Darwin one day be home to more than a million people?
Geoff Whalan/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Julian Bolleter, University of Western Australia

Any moves to greatly increase the population of northern Australian by 2060 could have a devastating impact on the local environment without long-term careful planning by all tiers of government.

That’s the finding of research that looked at several scenarios to increase the population of the north to 5 million people.

That’s an extra 3.7 million people, or an almost four-fold increase in the current population of northern Australia.




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But, given the potential impact of climate change on northern Australia, we could see population movement the other way as people in the north head south.

Northern exposure

The region of Australia above the Tropic of Capricorn covers an area of 3,500,000km² – about 45% of Australia’s landmass – yet it houses only 5% of its population.

Proponents of development envisage extreme population growth because of the region’s growing geopolitical importance.

Northern Australia has already been identified as a “gateway to Asia”.

It’s also described as the largest intact “savanna remaining on Earth […] with a rich biodiversity of international significance”.

Current federal government planning for northern Australia is in the Our North, Our Future white paper, released in 2015.

The report adopts a pro-development stance, seeing the north as a place of economic bounty and opportunity.

While it is mute on issues of settlement patterns, there are statements that allude to the government’s support for significant urbanisation:

We need to lay the foundations for rapid population growth and put the north on a trajectory to reach a population of four to five million by 2060.

The white paper also refers to “the development of major population centres of more than a million people”. Such cities would be around six times the size of the current largest northern city of Townsville, population about 180,000.

Three plans for growth

Given the existing city planning documents do not countenance the scale of population growth projected in the white paper, we developed three scenarios for how the federal government could distribute this northern Australian population of 5 million by 2060.

Scenario 1: Growth

Scenario 1: Growth.
Julian Bolleter, Author provided

Economic and lifestyle factors concentrate the increased population in the four dominant northern cities of Darwin, Cairns, Townsville and Mackay. Each would have populations of more than a million by 2060.

Scenario 2: Decentralised Growth

Scenario 2: Decentralised Growth.
Julian Bolleter, Author provided

The populations of Port Hedland, Broome, Kununurra, Darwin, Cairns, Bowen, Townsville and McKay will each increase by 462,000 people.

Scenario 3: Concentrated Growth

Scenario 3: Concentrated Growth.
Julian Bolleter, Author provided

Economic opportunities see northern Australia’s growing population concentrated in Darwin, which would grow by 1.5 million people by 2060.




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This figure is in line with the Australian government’s vision of northern cities with “more than a million people”.

The fate of the north

Irrespective of the scenario, our findings show population growth will not be good for the local environment without any overarching long-term planning frameworks to steer urbanisation.

This is particularly the case for scenarios 1 and 3 where the required increase in urban area either outstrips, or is only just commensurate with, the availability of cleared land adjacent to Darwin, Cairns and Townsville.

As such, population growth at the scale proposed by the white paper could result in substantial destruction, degradation and fragmentation of peri-urban ecosystems – where urban meets rural – by urban development and expanding road networks.

Scenario 1: Growth for Darwin.
Julian Bolleter, Author provided

In Darwin’s case, in Scenario 1 the additional 925km² of urbanisation required would sprawl south of the city in a corridor to as far as Humpty Doo (1) and down to Acacia Hills (2).

Scenario 1: Growth for Townsville.
Julian Bolleter, Author provided

In Townsville, in Scenario 1 for growth, the additional 925km² of urbanisation would result in sprawling along the coast and around the existing centres of Giru (1) and Woodstock (2), and around Mount Surround (3).

While Townsville has 957km² of cleared land and theoretically could just accommodate this growth, it is likely to cause extensive damage to the local environment through land degradation and fragmentation by urban development.

Scenario 3: Concentrated Growth for Darwin.
Julian Bolleter, Author provided

In Darwin, with Scenario 3 and concentrated growth, the urban expansion required for the city is 1,500km². This would dwarf the city’s 296km² of developable land and result in substantial clearing of remnant vegetation.

Proper planning required

Clearly then, if the scale of population growth envisaged in the white paper occurs without any comprehensive planning, the result will be harmful for the north.

To avoid this fate we need a bipartisan settlement strategy (most closely resembling Scenario 2) to steer the urbanisation of northern Australia.




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Policymakers and planners should develop this strategy based on a comprehensive landscape analysis of northern Australia. If the scale of population growth envisaged in the white paper occurs without such planning, the result will be ruinous for one of the world’s last great wildernesses.

But the federal government should also decide whether a population of 5 million in the north is something we should aspire to at all.

If the worst climate change projections are borne out, we could end up with migration from cities such as Darwin to cities further south, even into the southern states.The Conversation

Julian Bolleter, Deputy Director, Australian Urban Design Research Centre, University of Western Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Indonesia isn’t the only country planning new cities. Why not Australia?



File 20190501 136784 1vrb4zb.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Indonesia plans to relocate its capital from the sprawling city of Jakarta – and it isn’t the only country with plans to build whole new cities.
AsiaTravel/Shutterstock

Wendy Steele, RMIT University

The announcement that President Joko Widodo’s government will move Indonesia’s capital to another location, due to the severity of human-induced degradation in Jakarta, highlights a key tension for cities today. In the face of increasingly unsustainable urban environments, do we retrofit existing cities, or relocate and build new cities to achieve greater sustainability?

The answer is both. But each has its challenges.




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New cities? It’s an idea worth thinking about for Australia


Creating new cities

The goal of turning cities from sustainability problems to solutions is driving a suite of “future city” innovations. These include the planning and development of whole new cities.

An increasing number of countries are planning to build cities from scratch using technological innovation to achieve more sustainable urban development. Forest City in Malaysia, Belmont smart city in the United States and the Sino-Oman Industrial City are just some of the examples.

Forest City is Malaysia’s biggest development project.

The urban ambition includes creating carless and walkable cities, green cities able to produce oxygen through eco-skyscrapers, high-speed internet embedded in the urban fabric, the capacity to convert waste into energy, and reclaiming land to create new strategic trade opportunities.

However, striking the right balance between innovative ideas and democratic expectations, including the public right to the city, remains a challenge.




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The Minnesota Experimental City offers a cautionary tale. The aim was to solve urban problems by creating a new city. It would use the latest technology including nuclear energy, automated cars and a domed roof enclosure.

Despite significant government and financial backing, including its own state agency, the Minnesota project failed due to a lack of public understanding and local support for a top-down futuristic project.

Who gets left behind?

In 1960, Brazil moved its capital from Rio de Janeiro to the futuristic city of Brasilia. While the city was designed to accommodate both rich and poor, it quickly became unaffordable for the average family. Half a century on, it was reported:

The poor have been shunted out to satellite cities, which range from proper well-built cities to something more like a shanty town.

The Indonesian capital Jakarta is part of a larger mega-city.
Rainer Lesniewski/Shutterstock

In Indonesia, more than 30 million people – a fifth of the nation’s urban residents and more than a tenth of the 269 million population – live in Greater Jakarta. The capital city Jakarta is just one part of a larger mega-city agglomeration, the world’s second-largest after Greater Tokyo. This vast connected urban meta-region is known as Jabodetabek, from the initials of the cities within it: Jakarta (with a population of 10 million), Bogor (1 million), Depok (2.1 million), Tangerang (2 million), South Tangerang (1.5 million) and Bekasi (2.7 million).

A key reason for moving the capital is that Jakarta is prone to serious flooding and is rapidly sinking. Jakarta also suffers overpopulation, severe traffic gridlock, slums and a lack of critical urban infrastructure such as drainage and sanitation.




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Relocating the capital away from the crowded main island of Java offers the opportunity to better plan the political and administrative centre using the latest urban design features and technology.

Two key questions arise. If environmental degradation and overpopulation are the key issues, what will become of the largely remaining population of Greater Jakarta? At a national scale, how will this relocation help overcome the socio-economic and spatial disparities that exist in Indonesia?

Egypt, for example, is building a new capital city to overcome severe urban congestion and overcrowding in Greater Cairo. But there is no guarantee the new capital will resolve these issues if the emphasis is solely on technological innovation, without adequate attention to urban equity and fairness.

More of the same in Australia

The Australian population is projected to grow to 36 million in the next 30 years. This is focusing political, policy and public attention on what this means for the future of the nation’s cities.

Despite all the advances that have occurred in technology, the arts, architecture, design and the sciences, there is surprisingly little innovation or public discussion about what might be possible for 21st-century Australian settlements beyond the capital cities.

Future Australian city planning and development focuses largely on enlarging and intensifying the footprints of existing major cities. The current urban policy trajectory is in-fill development and expansion of the existing state capital mega-city regions, where two-thirds of the population live. But what is lost through this approach?

In Australia only two ambitious “new city” plans have been put forward in the last 50 years: the Multifunction Polis (MFP) and the CLARA Plan.

In the late 1980s the MFP was envisaged as a high-tech city of the future with nuclear power, modern communication and Asian investment. It failed to gain the necessary political, investment and public support and was never built.

The current CLARA Plan proposes building up to eight new regional smart cities connected by a high-speed rail system linking Sydney and Melbourne via Canberra. Each of these cities is designed to be compact, environmentally sustainable and just a quick train trip away from the capital cities.

CLARA has outlined a “value capture” business model based on private city land development, not “government coffer” funding. How these new cities propose to function within the constitutional framework of Australia is as yet unclear and untested.

The privately funded CLARA plan is to build up to eight compact, sustainable, smart cities connected via high-speed rail.



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High speed rail plan still needs to prove economic benefits will outweigh costs


A bipartisan challenge

Are we thinking too narrowly when we talk about future Australian cities?

The “future city” prompts us to rethink and re-imagine the complex nature and make-up of our urban settlements, and the role of critical infrastructure and planning within them.




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What’s critical about critical infrastructure?


The future of Australian cities will require creativity, vision (even courage) to respond effectively to the challenges and opportunities of sustainable development.

This will not be the remit of any one political party, but a bipartisan national urban settlement agenda that affects and involves all Australians.The Conversation

Wendy Steele, Associate Professor, Centre of Urban Research and Urban Futures Enabling Capability Platform, RMIT University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

With health assuming its rightful place in planning, here are 3 key lessons from NSW



File 20180412 549 1xplikd.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Health objectives are at last being integrated into all levels of planning in New South Wales, from cities and towns to local places and buildings.
pisaphotography/Shutterstock

Patrick Harris, University of Sydney; Elizabeth Harris, UNSW; Emily Riley, University of Sydney; Jennifer Kent, University of Sydney, and Peter Sainsbury, South Western Sydney Local Health District

The way cities are designed and managed has big impacts on our health. While Australia is considered a world leader in research on health and cities, nationally our planning policies remain underdeveloped relative to our knowledge base. To remedy this, healthy planning advocates need to better understand how urban planning systems can be influenced.

Several recent, mostly positive, experiences in the New South Wales (NSW) planning system provide insights into this process. Each represents a milestone for land-use planning in this state given extensive reforms have been on and off the table for the past decade.




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The mysterious disappearance of health from New South Wales planning laws


The connections between city planning and health are many and varied. Key aspects include environmental sustainability, pollution risks and liveable places. Being liveable means having access to healthy food, nearby employment and services, and opportunities for active lifestyles.

These issues are increasingly important given projected population growth pressures on urban infrastructure. Other areas facing similar pressures, in Australia and overseas, might wish to take note of what has happened in NSW.

Since 2014 we have used political science to investigate attempts in NSW to include health in legislative reform, strategic city planning and major urban infrastructure assessments. As well as scrutinising relevant policies and associated documentation, we have interviewed more than 50 stakeholders. This has provided insights into how and why recent developments came about.

How has NSW brought health into planning?

Healthy planning has always had champions in NSW, but really hit its stride during a major legislative reform exercise that began in 2011. This came to a head in November 2017, when the state parliament passed amendments to the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979.

This legislation now lists two objects of direct importance for health:

  • protection of the health and safety of occupants of buildings
  • promotion of good design and amenity of the built environment.

Also in 2017, the NSW Office of the Government Architect produced a policy of “design-led planning”. Known as “Better Placed”, this policy positions health as a top priority. It embeds health within design processes, methods and outcomes for different levels of planning from cities and towns to places and buildings.

In our view, Better Placed is an exemplary policy in demonstrating the importance of urban planning for health.

In another positive development, the Greater Sydney Commission recently released Metropolitan and District Plans that position health as a core objective (number 7). The plans consistently refer to health across the central themes of liveability, productivity and sustainability.

To their credit, the NSW government and the commission have developed plans concurrently with transport and infrastructure and released them together. The evidence suggests this integration should have public health benefits. The emphasis across the commission, transport and infrastructure plans on creating a liveable and accessible city increases our confidence in this outcome.




Read more:
A healthy approach: how to turn what we know about liveable cities into public policy


Three key factors in making health a priority

Our research suggests three crucial factors in elevating the status of health in planning.

1. A core group of non-government, government and academic representatives has led health advocacy for over a decade. The group’s messages and activities intentionally focused on collaboration across agencies in the public interest.

This advocacy has grown in sophistication since the early days of making submissions about “health” issues that risked being treated as peripheral to the main game of planning (infrastructure, for instance).

Within government, NSW Health (both state and local departments) has developed an increasingly effective response to urban planning opportunities for promoting and protecting health.

2. The previous minister for planning (Rob Stokes), the Office of the Government Architect and the Greater Sydney Commission have each provided vital policy mechanisms for including health. This illustrates the importance of particular agents in the right place at the right time.

The minister was essential in establishing the commission. This effectively created a respectful distance between strategic planning and the “economics trumps all” planning agenda seen in some policy environments.

The “design-led planning” emphasis came about when Stokes was planning minister. The starring role given to health in Better Placed gives healthy planning advocates, for the time being, unprecedented opportunity to influence strategies and plans.

3. Delivery now requires close attention, as these positive shifts alone have limited power. For instance, the commission’s plans emphasise collaborative infrastructure delivery to create an equitable city. Infrastructure has profound health impacts, costs and benefits.




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Shifting infrastructure funding to benefit the city’s West will be the core fault line for delivering on promises of equitable infrastructure provision. However, infrastructure project funding and appraisal are crying out for reform. Better indicators, transparent analyses to inform options, improved governance arrangements and greater accountability have all been identified as required reforms.

The ConversationThe NSW planning system has begun to recognise the importance of urban planning for health. These developments present a tremendous opportunity to influence how healthy public policy can be delivered for the benefit of the whole city.

Patrick Harris, Senior Research Fellow, Menzies Centre for Health Policy, University of Sydney; Elizabeth Harris, Senior Research Fellow, UNSW; Emily Riley, Research Assistant, University of Sydney; Jennifer Kent, Research Fellow, University of Sydney, and Peter Sainsbury, Adjunct Associate Professor, South Western Sydney Local Health District

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Gas crisis? Energy crisis? The real problem is lack of long-term planning


Kevin's Walk on the Wild Side

Image 20170317 6113 1aln8fl
The long view: energy policy needs to stay firmly focused on the horizon.
Mattinbgn/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

Alan Pears, RMIT University

If you’ve been watching the news in recent days, you’ll know we have an energy crisis, partly due to a gas crisis, which in turn has triggered a political crisis. The Conversation

That’s a lot of crises to handle at once, so lots of solutions are being put forward. But what do people and businesses actually need? Do they need more gas, or cheaper prices, or more investment certainty, or all or none of the above? How do we cut through to what is really important, rather than side details?

The first thing to note is that what people really care about is their energy costs, not energy prices. This might seem like a pedantic distinction, but if homes and businesses can be helped…

View original post 780 more words

India’s Anti-Christian Violence in 2008 Linked to Terrorists


Christians call for agency to probe anti-Muslim terrorism ties to Orissa-Karnataka attacks.

NEW DELHI, March 25 (CDN) — Right-wing terrorists played a key role in attacking and killing Christians in Orissa and Karnataka states in 2008, one of the Hindu extremist suspects in anti-Muslim bomb blasts has told investigators, leading to renewed demands for a probe by India’s anti-terror agency.

Pragya Singh Thakur, arrested for planning 2008 bombings targeting Muslims in west India, told the National Investigation Agency (NIA) that Lt. Col. Prasad Srikant Purohit had “masterminded” the 2008 anti-Christian violence in Orissa and Karnataka, The Indian Express daily reported on Wednesday (March 23). Purohit is accused along with Thakur for the 2008 bombings of Muslims.

Thakur had met with Purohit after the August 2008 Kandhamal attacks against Christians began and told her “he was into big things like blasts, etc., and had masterminded the Orissa and Karnataka ‘disturbances,’” the national daily reported.

The NIA, a recently formed agency to prevent, probe and prosecute terrorism-related incidents on a national scale, is investigating several cases involving right-wing terrorism aimed at the Muslim minority in retaliation for Islamist attacks. Both Thakur, formerly a member of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party’s student wing, and Purohit, who was serving in the Indian Army when he was arrested for his role in blasts in Malegaon city in western Maharashtra state, were part of the Hindu extremist Abhinav Bharat.

Thakur’s statement to the NIA came soon after a Directorate of Military Intelligence report said Purohit had confessed to having killed at least two Christians in Kandhamal and playing a role in violence in Karnataka and other states.

The revelation by Thakur was not surprising, said John Dayal, secretary general of the All India Christian Council.

“We have held that the military precision of the Kandhamal riots, which spread fast and raged for months, could not be a work of mere common people, and that higher brains were at work to ‘teach the Christians a lesson’ while sending out signals of their power lust to the entire nation,” Dayal told Compass.

The violence in Kandhamal began following the assassination of a Hindu extremist leader Laxmanananda Saraswati on Aug. 23, 2008. Though Maoists claimed responsibility for the murder, Hindu extremists blamed Christians for it. The violence began after the arrival of Indresh Kumar, an executive committee member of the Hindu extremist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and a suspect in blast cases, said Kandhamal activist Ajay Singh. Local media reports said Kumar was part of Saraswati’s funeral procession, which was designed to trigger the attacks, Singh added.

The RSS denies having played any role in terrorism. On March 12, Ram Madhav, an RSS national executive committee member, called the allegation against Kumar “a concerted political campaign.” Those who were dragging the RSS leader into blast cases “will stand thoroughly exposed,” The Times of India daily quoted him as saying.

Dayal and another Christian leader, Joseph Dias, said they had separately written to India’s prime minister and home minister seeking inclusion of the anti-Christian attacks in an ongoing NIA investigation. Sajan K. George of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) said he had petitioned the president for the same.

Dias, general secretary of the Catholic-Christian Social Forum, a Maharashtra-based rights group, recalled that violence in Kandhamal spread across 13 other districts of Orissa.

“In Kandhamal alone, more than 6,600 homes were destroyed, 56,000 people rendered homeless, thousands injured, and about 100 men and women [were] burned alive or hacked to death,” Dias said. “Among the women raped was a Catholic nun.”

In September 2008, as the violence continued in Kandhamal, a series of attacks on Christians and their property rocked Mangalore city in Karnataka state.

“In Karnataka, it was hundreds of churches that were desecrated, Christians brutally beaten up, over 350 false cases foisted on them, property held by the community taken over, and no relief to date [has been] received,” Dias said.

While the government of Orissa downplayed the violence as “ethnic tensions,” Karnataka officials blamed it on Christian conversions.

The RSS and outfits linked to it such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) and the Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram, which claims to work for tribal welfare, facilitated the Kandhamal attacks together with alleged Hindu nationalist terrorists, Dayal said.

“We want the truth about Hindu groups’ anti-national terror activities against minority Christians to come out,” said George, whose GCIC is based in Karnataka.

Dias warned that that the latest statement by Thakur must not to be seen in isolation, as the Military Intelligence report revealed that the Abhinav Bharat had targeted Christians in several states, including Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.

The “game plan” is to “cripple Christian religious places, property and institutions, besides eliminating its nascent community leadership at the grassroots,” Dias added.

The Abhinav Bharat was formed in 2007 by a few right-wing Hindus allegedly disillusioned with the leaders of the Hindu nationalist movement, whom they thought were too timid to make India a Hindu nation, rather than one based on religious pluralism.

Report from Compass Direct News
http://www.compassdirect.org

Christian Family in Bangladesh Attacked, Charged with Crime


Muslim neighbors fabricate attempted murder charge after beating them for their faith.

LOS ANGELES, October 27 (CDN) — Muslim neighbors of a Christian family in Bangladesh scheduled to be baptized last month beat them and filed a false charge of attempted murder against them and other Christians, the head of the family said.

Foyez Uddin, 62, told Compass that his neighbor Nazrul Islam and Islam’s relatives told him, his wife and his two adult children that as Christians they were “polluting” society and beat them on Sept. 17 in Joysen village in Rangpur district, some 300 kilometers (186 miles) north of Dhaka. Islam is a policeman.

Islam’s uncle, Abdul Mannan Miah, then filed false charges against Uddin, his family and three others, accusing them of trying to kill Miah’s niece, Uddin said by telephone after his release on bail on Oct. 8. The village is under Pirgacha police jurisdiction.

Uddin said his family was fishing at his pond on Sept. 17 when eight to 10 Muslim neighbors led by Islam appeared and began speaking abusively about their Christian faith.

“Nazrul told us, ‘You are polluting society by deviating from Islam. Come back to Islam, otherwise we will not allow any Christian to live here in this village,’” Uddin said.

He told them that his family would not return to Islam, Uddin said.

“I replied, ‘Invite Islamic scholars, and if they can satisfy us in light of the Quran, then we will go back to Islam. Otherwise nothing can affect our unshakeable faith in Christ,’” Uddin said. “They beat me, my wife and two sons for objecting to their proposal to come back to Islam.”

The angry neighbors then broke into his home and burned two Bibles, tore two others and ripped four hymnals, he said, and they also damaged some furniture and chairs. Their home serves as a worship venue, and Uddin said the villagers also hacked with a machete the sign board of their house church, Faith Bible Church of God.

The pastor of the church, Lavlu Sadik Lebio, told Compass that he went to a nearby police station to complain about the attack, but officers did not respond to him. He said he only went to inform police, not file a case, but even so officers were unresponsive.

“Intentionally burning Bibles was the most sacrilegious attack on our faith – how can a member of the police department do that?” Pastor Lebio said. “Those people should have kept in mind how an announcement of burning a copy of the Quran in the U.S. stirred up the anger, discontent and hatred of Muslims all over the world.”

Taken into police custody on Sept. 18, Uddin said he and his family were unable to be baptized as planned.

“We were planning to be baptized in the last week of September,” he said. “Somehow our neighbors came to know about the baptismal ceremony, and they became very rude to us. We have been living in faith in Christ, the mainspring of our life, but we were not baptized.”

 

Murder Charge

As part of the attack on Sept. 17, Miah, the uncle of police officer Islam, filed the charge of attempted murder against Uddin, his family and three others that day, the Christian said.

When handing Uddin over to court, police filed a report stating that he had collaborated with people within the Christian community and that he had made defamatory remarks about Islam, Uddin said.

“In the police report while handing me over to court, I was mentioned as a troublesome Christian, but in the case copy filed by my neighbor, nothing was mentioned about me as a Christian,” Uddin said. “I was hurt by the police role.”

The police report to the court said that area residents did not approve of his Christian activities, and that there was the possibility of a communal clash. On this basis police requested he remain in custody while the investigation was underway.

According to the case file obtained by Compass, Uddin and his companions allegedly attempted to kill Islam’s sister (Miah’s niece), Jahanara Begum, sexually harassed her, severely beat her and stole her gold jewelry worth 41,000 taka (US$570).

Uddin said that Begum – sister of police officer Islam and niece of Miah – had a boil on her head that her father lanced the day of the attack. When blood continued rushing out from the procedure, her father, Azizul Muhury, took her to a nearby clinic called Pirgacha Medical and admitted her there. Later her brother Islam filed the false case, saying one of the eight accused had hit her on the head in an attempt to kill her, Uddin said.

According to the case file, Uddin was fishing on Begum’s inundated land, though he says he was at his own pond. Furthermore, the case file states Uddin was on Begum’s land at 9:30 a.m. on Sept. 17, when according to Uddin he was worshipping at his house church. The service did not end until 10 a.m.

According to the police file, Begum objected to him catching fish on her flooded land, and after paying no attention to her he eventually became furious and allegedly beat her “in a pre-planned manner.”

Uddin’s companions were said to be hiding nearby with bamboo, knives and machetes to attack her, and at some point in a quarrel, they supposedly emerged and surrounded Begum. Nural Islam, 52 – known in the area as a recent convert to Christianity – allegedly struck her in the head with a machete on Foyez’s order, according to the case file. Uddin said Islam is a rickshaw driver who was working all day and was not present.

Uddin was then alleged to have hit her on the hand with bamboo, and when she supposedly fell down, according to the case file, his brother Iman Ali, 45, hit her with an iron rod on her back. Uddin said Ali could not have been present either, as he was suffering from tuberculosis and could not walk properly due to the debilitating illness.

Uddin’s son, Shahjahan Miah, 25, then allegedly snatched the 27,000-taka (US$375) gold chain from her neck, according to the case file, and 25-year-old Mohammad Sirajul Islam took her 14,000-taka (US$195) gold earring. Uddin said Mohammad Sirajul Islam – also known in the area as a recent convert to Christianity – had lost work due to his new faith and had been forced to relocate to Chittagong district, some 500 kilometers (310 miles) away from Rangpur district, and he was in Chittagong on that day.

His father, Mohammad Farid, 42, had also converted to Christianity, and the case file accuses him of trying to strangle Begum. Uddin said Farid also lives in Chittagong district and was there at the time. In the case file, Uddin’s wife, 47-year-old Mosammat Shahar Banu, is then accused of removing Begum’s clothes. Uddin’s other son, 28-year-old Shahdul Islam, then allegedly seriously wounded her by striking her with bamboo, according to the case file.

Thus the case file charges all members of Uddin’s family, as well as three people who were not present – two other recent converts to Christianity and Uddin’s brother, he said. Uddin said he has sent letters stating the falseness of the charges to the Rangpur district administrative chief, district police chief, sub-district administrative chief, home minister of Bangladesh, home secretary of Bangladesh, inspector general of police (Bangladesh police chief), president of the Rangpur district press club, member of parliament of that area, Rangpur divisional commissioner and commander of Bangladesh’s elite force (RAB-5), as well as to the Faith Bible Church of God chairman.

The case file mistakenly identifies Uddin as Foyez Ali, and also errs in listing his age as 50 rather than 62.

Since Uddin became a Christian in 2007, some of his neighbors have threatened to kill him or expel him from the village, he said.

“In threatening us, they have also said that the government will reward them if we Christians are beaten,” Uddin said.

The main weapon of Muslim villagers opposed to Christians is to withhold work from them, he said.

“Once I used to cultivate other people’s land for my livelihood,” he said. “When the local people came to know that we lead our life in Christ, then they stopped giving us their land for cultivation. Nobody talks with us, and we are outcasts here.”

Last Christmas, around 100 to 150 people went to Uddin’s house to protest their celebration of the birth of Christ.

“Police are deployed in all churches at Christmas,” he said. “Two police were deployed at our house to avoid any kind of unwanted situation. Those two police stopped the angry villagers.”

Report from Compass Direct News