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A response to Dr Bob Murfet’s planning articles earlier on Tasmanian Times.

Planning – Environmentally Sustainable Development HERE:

Who Controls the Supply of Land in Tasmania? Nobody? HERE:

Taking Planning Seriously HERE:

Is Tasmania Closed for Business? HERE:

Dear Mr Murfet,

I have been reading your series of articles with some interest.

Tasmania’s forte for me, lies in its beauty, its infinite amount of scenic variation, its diversity, contrast, (eg weather, topography, vegetation, built form, the age, type, structural materials, design, context, of that etc) its wonderful aesthetics, its evolved landscape (s) whether these are at the broad landscape scale or in smaller localised areas.

To dumb these landscape features down to conformity, uniformity, sameness, bland, monotonous, soulless environments by ill conceived land use policy will be a tragedy of proportions.

Urban landscapes are one issue, town and village landscapes another, rural countryside issues another, forestry landscapes another, heritage landscape(s) a major issue to overlay all the others. Your post appears to be about our urban landscapes. My response is about green open space in urban areas.

I’m not a fan of a one model planning scheme scenario, the one-stop shop planning that has now emerged in Tasmania. Or of Interim planning schemes which will now emerge in this state as per the Land Use Planning and Approvals Amendment (State and Regional Strategies) Act 2009 and its Section 30 clauses. Checks and balances of former RPDC planning scheme formulation (with public input) have by and large disappeared.

We’ve had one stop-shop forestry regulation for four decades in Tasmania and we can all see where that has ended up.

I have some questions or issues which might be considered.

1. I agree that urban sprawl is a problem, but in Tasmania, population growth is not the problem that it is for large Mainland capital cities. We could do “growth” with considered sensitivity, imagination and “balance” (see below). With confidence in who we are, this would NOT copy doing what the Mainland does and has done. Why is Tasmania so slavishly following the uniform small lot parcel sizes, (the 400m2 urban block size mentioned in your post) with multi unit titles at less than 250m2 (come and have a look at Kingston a peri-urban suburb). Is this really the urban landscape we have to have? Or want? Is it your ESD? Haven’t we more imagination?

2. Is the imagination so bereft that the only model of subdivisions occurs? Where lot sizes are more or less all the same size? That is those without flexibility? Why not variable sizes, with the larger lot sizes NOT being taken up by multi unit development? And with some stringent covenants which balance house size, lot size and quality soft green space?

3. Currently the practice in Greenfield urban new subdivision is to raze what was there formerly. Out goes every blade of vegetation, every tree, often the topsoil, biodiversity, all birds, all wildlife etc. Edward Relph (Place and Placelessness) spoke about this way back in the 1970s and its gotten worse; technology is quicker, bigger, and the result more destructive. Why can’t we be offered subdivisions where the best of the vegetation is retained?

4. East-west road patterns will simply give more standardised outcomes, and greater uniformity in the aggregated pattern. Orientation of dwellings would be possible if there was a range of urban lot sizes.

5. Do we want standardized ‘products’ which is what we’re being delivered? Current planning “products” favour uniformity, lack of diversity, contrast, are minimalistic, result in standardised colours, materials, structures, design, open space, etc. Aggregated, they add to the ‘anywhere’ landscape; one found “anywhere” in urban Australia. Retired high profile lawyer/ planner John Mant raised the ‘anywhere,’ zone versus parcel format issue in 2006 (1) ; Tasmanian has ignored what he said. Mant again noted earlier this year, (2)

This reinforcement of standard zoning, as well as standard design codes, confirms the belief that, besides developer efficiency, the main objectives of planning today are to separate land uses and ensure every place looks the same as every other place.[Sheridan italics].

Perhaps Mr Murfet you might like to comment?

6. What emerges too with new subdivision, as well as with “infill” is the question of the “value” of, significance of, balance of, green open space. New South Wales is grappling with what it calls ‘deep soil zones’ in urban development but loss of, or non provision of, green open space has physical component considerations (loss of ecosystem services in the urban environment), heritage considerations (loss of old gardens, old trees, the curtilage of the property as per the Burra Charter) loss of aesthetics (green space contribution), health and quality of life considerations, (social, psychological issues), self sufficiency considerations (growing one’s own vegetables) and more.

In my time, I’ve seen a woeful lot of “plans” (individual DA plans), in which “open space” on the plan is a joke. It’s the left over “stuff’ after all the built form detail has been drawn in.

7. Where can we find in Tasmanian planning strategy documents or in planning scheme documents, a consciousness that balances green open space (private or public) with built form, (roads, houses, multi units etc). Rather it appears that open space, gardens, trees are to be condemned in modern urban Australian and Tasmanian society. (3) The endemic disease of getting rid of gardens in older established suburbs (called “infill”) or of establishing totally inadequate ones in new subdivision small parcel lots is NOT the pattern overseas (p. 33 Hall). A lot of perceived “loss” hangs off current planning realities (see above, point, 5, 6).

8. Christopher Alexander (4) his groundbreaking Nature of Order, (Book 3) determined that the percentage of green space allowed should balance more or less with built form.

Any suburban neighbourhood comprises four interlocking elements. (5) These are the Pedestrian space (eg paths, ) Gardens (private gardens), Space for cars (parking and streets), Buildings.

It is the geometry and pattern, the spatial interlock of these four elements which defines the kind of neighborhood it is , its human character, its working or not-working. Above all, its in the arrangement of these four and their interlock which defines the wholeness of a neighborhood. (6)

Thus for example for a development, 28% of the land might be buildings, 30% might be private or community gardens, 17% pedestrian pathways, etc. (7)

Does ESD encompass this sort of visionary thinking and execution in reality?

9. Frances Kuo in a thought provoking area of research travelled the path of what NOT providing green space in urban areas means. Kuo presented an overview of how social health and wellbeing (social, psychological, physical) and green space are interlinked but her 48 page executive report for the National Recreation and Park Association can be found online. (8) In Tasmania, there are no guidelines on this question where urban “infill” is mandated, so how and where exactly will ‘space’ to walk the baby, walk the dog, enjoy passive recreational pursuits be found? If it’s not being thought out for the public sphere policy, and it’s also not being thought through in the private planning scheme standards it will be ignored. Come and have a look at modern Kingston, west of its main shopping centre. Where are the concomitant quality spaces for a multitude of ‘passive’ non organised recreational activities? Ones relatively close to where people live.

10. Where can we find in Tasmanian planning at senior government levels a deep commitment for community involvement in urban planning to give an equitable, quality of life outcome? (9) It was Vancouver in Canada that came up tops in the Kelly research, due to the fact that the community had been vitally engaged at deep levels across a two year process in the planning. They had come to own the outcome.

11. My perception is that we are paternalistically delivered up what the building industry and government see as desirable rather than what is truly sustainable, equitable and most importantly what will result in healthy environments for our children and grandchildren.

Currently there is an end result that diminishes us all. We see it all around us in new urban development. That’s what has to change.

We have to learn to grapple with the complexity of what planning means, and the integrity of what it could thoughtfully produce, and we all need to become involved.

Yours,

Gwenda Sheridan August 2011.

I’ve been a corporate member of the PIA for some years. I’m an internationally accredited member of ICOMOS and a member of their Australian sub committee on cultural landscapes. For 15 years I’ve been engaged as a heritage landscape consultant in Tasmania.

References:

1. See John Mant. Australian Planner 43 (1) 2006. Formatting development controls. Other Mant articles appear online.

2. John Mant. One size fits all is a shoddy way to plan; Sydney Morning Herald. 2 February and January 31. 2011. John Mant is a retired lawyer, planner and administrator.

3. See for example, Tony Hall. Where have all the gardens gone? Australian Planner. 45 (1). 2008.

4. Christopher Alexander. www.patternlanguage.com The Nature of Order. Book 3. A Vision of a Living World. 2005. See Chapter 8. People in a Neighborhood Form a Collective Vision of their World.

5. These ideas are taken from Christopher Alexander. Book 3. Vision of a Living World: From the Nature of Order. Centre for Environmental Structure. 2002. Berkeley. California. For further details see www.patternlanguage.com See Chapter 9. 288-310. Oxford University Press described the Alexander Nature of Order as possibly amongst the most influential books it has published in 500 years.

6. Ibid. 290.

7. Ibid. 294

8. Put into search Frances Kuo and Parks and Other Green Environments; Essential Components of a Healthy Human Habitat.

9. See Cities who decides. Jane Frances Kelly. October 2010. Grattan Institute.