The Year of the Built Environment is a whimper, the election year Budget offers little more, with practically no leadership for sustainable infrastructure and communities. Despite the rhetoric, recent road allocations well outpace public transport, and Australia’s response to the international Kyoto Protocol expectations for reduction of greenhouse gases is mostly smoke and mirrors.
But if that sounds like an endorsement of non-government parties, think again. Mark Latham, before his elevation to Leader of the Opposition, spoke words of hope to the 2003 Planning Institute of Australia Conference in Adelaide. In 2004, does he remember those words, and will he do anything to make those ideas happen? Does Labor have policies which will support better urban design? The minor parties? Who knows?
Overall, politicians at Federal level have little to say about how we design our cities and towns. The frequent retort that it is a ‘state’ responsibility does not carry much credibility. Urban Design Forum invited readers to submit key issues, or questions they would like to see answered before they vote in this coming election. The responses are summarised, and perhaps you could use them to, first, stimulate your own thinking, and then ask your local candidates to give their thoughts on the matter. UDF would be interested to report any such responses in future editions.
Cities and towns: the economy
- Do you think the structures and efficient functioning of our cities, towns, and links between them are important for our national economy?
- Given the very high percentage of Australians living in urban areas, do you think the future expansion of our major cities and the development of efficient transport links between cities should be given direction at the national level?
- Do you agree that the quality of our urban areas and our city centres is not only vital for the social well-being of residents, but is also vital in the competition to attract business, education and other activities to Australia?
Cities and towns: the environment
- Australian cities contribute well over half of our nation’s world-worst carbon dioxide emissions profile, measured on a per-capita basis: urban power is largely coal-generated and individual transport relies on oil. The fossil fuel addiction of our urban system has major environmental effects, and stifled innovation costs our industry and employment base dearly. What are you doing to introduce a national urban de-fossilisation strategy, and what are its elements?
- Recognising that the major environmental challenges facing us (water quality and availability, energy alternatives and pollution, land degradation and protection, coastal protection) do not fit neatly into state and local government boundaries, how do you envisage a national government taking up the challenge?
- Do you think national government regional policies and directed assistance could achieve a settlement pattern in Australia which is more socially and environmentally responsible?
- National, state, and local governments each have a role and must work together in establishing and maintaining the efficiencies of cities and towns. What initiatives should a national government commit to? What urban concerns will be considered when drafting the next Federal budget.
- Given the positive and negative benefits of national government policies (immigration, environment, economic, fiscal, transport, defence), as well as extensive national government land ownership, development and occupation, what do you see as the role and contribution national government could make as a significant participant in the life of our urban areas?
- There are socially deprived areas of this country that require fundamental assistance in offering new direction and hope for these citizens. What role do you see for the national government in this task? These questions and issues are integral to the fields of planning and urban design. What initiatives do you believe a national govern-ment should take to foster an integrated planning and urban design approach?
- The demand for more sophistication and skill in the delivery of urban design services and ideas has risen dramatically in the past decade, but the skills base has not kept pace with this challenge. There is a massive vacuum of well-trained, talented, experienced and multi-skilled urban designers in Australia – in government and industry alike. What are you doing to help support the much-underfunded and all-too-limited urban design learning and training opportunities in Australia’s states and territories?
- Australia has experienced an urban development boom over the past decade. Many new and large-scale urban transformations have taken place – inner-urban, suburban residential projects, and very significant mixed-use developments. Some excelled, but many produced less than best outcomes – speculative, short-lived objects, photogenic but limited public spaces. What are you doing, or proposing that so that Australian cities, governments and industry learn from the experience in a systematic and policy relevant manner?
- Urban design and development professionals still regard highly the work initiated by the Keating government’s Prime Minister’s Urban Design Taskforce. Is your party likely to resume some of that valuable work?
In Australia’s interest, there is every reason why, and no reason why not, we should have:
- National commitment to a central goal of urban sustainability, including efficient urban form, transport choice, promotion of good design at every level, and ‘joined up’ decision-making.
- Practical programs to support and encourage change – with incentives for active public initiatives, pilot projects and experiments that are consistent with the policy goals.
- Funding to underwrite major ‘threshold’ and ‘stimulus’ initiatives (such as public transport infrastructure or catalyst projects), and then determination to pursue them with vigour and rigour.
- Integration of sustainability criteria into all policies and programs (eg tax arrangement for work cars, locating facilities and investment in diversified activity centres, ‘transport funding’ rather than ‘road funding’, and demanding good design through all tiers of planning and implementation).
Despite the current low point in Federal interest, the profession is optimistic and expecting credible and feasible responses from all of our politicians on these matters.