Green Rebellion Goes West – the QandAs

Following are some answers to questions our readers sent in to our competition to win tickets to our Green Rebellion Goes West event. Our respondent “AB” preferred to remain off the record.

If you have some further answers to add, post these in comments, with the question number and we will add them to the list. Deadline is COB Wednesday 11 October.

Greater Sydney Commission environment commissioner Rod Simpson, our lead panellist for The Green Rebellion Goes West event, thought these questions submitted for our ticket competition were excellent.

And one reader, who asked to remain off the record, has submitted the following answers. We thought the answers were pretty good to, and figured they are worth a post.

If you have some further answers to add, post these in comments, with the question number and we will add them to the live list.

  1. Andrea Spencer-Cooke, One Stone Advisors:

Question: The struggle for sustainability will be lost or won in cities, so what do we need to do today to raise Sydney’s game on Sustainable Development Goal 11 – Sustainable Cities and Communities and the New Urban Agenda to ensure real progress by 2030?

Answer: Best question ever. Change will only come about through digital-led activism (think transparency) and a return to citizen rights to the city. Most Sydneysiders are boiled frogs in terms of rights-based policymaking. For inspiration look at the Superiles [superblocks] in Barcelona. Copy that. And fight the smart city hubris, which can erode all of 17 SDGs.

  1. Rebecca Pierce:

Q: With the rapid growth, expansion and sprawl of our towns and cities, do you feel that the process of compulsory acquisition, by many state and federal bodies in their efforts to link growth areas by major transport routes, should be made a transparent calculable formula for residential and commercial landholdings and businesses that will be acquired and affected?

A: Unfortunately those making the decisions are rarely the occupants impacted by the decisions (think educated elite, generally on the north east side of the Red Rooster Line). Sydney has little regard for citizen rights in those areas impacted by major projects, and certainly plans are loathe to be too explicit about those areas most effected. The fear of an angry community is now handled in more nuanced “consultation” plans.

  1. Francine Pavkovic, Waste Management Association of Australia:

Q: How do you create spaces for community and accessible housing with the vertical intensity of the recent public power partnerships, particularly as social housing providers and councils are at the wrong end of the power imbalance with developers?

A: Interesting question. Perhaps the imbalance is less than first seen? Again, “communities” is shorthand used by the elite to attract capital investment with motherhood statements. Sydney hates the “other” gaining equality too quickly with the incumbent landholding cohort, so amenity is always meanly provided, plus the developer has no skin in the community, despite design parameters implicit in the project. We may see some changes when developers take up a more holistic buy in – a la Burwood Victoria.

  1. Alex Paton, Jacobs:

Q: It seems that with most of the developments on the horizon in Sydney, they quickly become a political football. The decisions that will be made over the coming years will truly reshape the way in which Sydney evolves. And we need to get it right. How can we possibly elevate discussions so they become truly bipartisan?

A: Provide more transparency to the GSC [Greater Sydney Commission] and the decisions being made to fund the developments. Also, the state does not have the funds that it previously had pre-GST. So now we have top-down plans, favouring public private partnerships, cherrypicking winners. This is beyond partisanship; this is a budgetary reality. Have you looked at the health budgets of the federal and state governments lately?

  1. Marg Black, Silenceair:

Q: What are the roadblocks to using Passivhaus design principles to build low cost housing in Australia to provide comfortable living and reduce the need to use energy to cool and heat these homes?

A: Wrong climate. Passivhaus is not accepting the limitations of the current construction industry. If temperatures drop 10 degrees in Sydney (year round) – maybe, but this is a temperate climate. Passivhaus has not dealt correctly with condensation, or the climate, which favours indoor/outdoor living. Sorry, nothing to see here [Ed: as a counterpoint see Is Passivhaus suitable for warm climates?].

Q: How can the architecture profession convince building companies to prioritise low-cost building stock that is environmentally sustainable to assist with reducing the cost of building houses in lower income communities?

A: Ha. It’s called social housing when the market fails.

Q: We know the architecture profession can provide more and better designs for low-cost housing. How can we assist these architects in prominent positions in state or local government to facilitate these projects?

A: Ask Tone Wheeler. He is on to this. “Low cost” housing is a euphemism for those who don’t understand the mechanics of land values as a determinant of developments’ financial viability viz banks and current lending practices.

  1. Zoe Neill, Cundall:

Q: Allowing for a sustainable, better designed and more equitable growth towards the West of Sydney is a critical issue. This is even more relevant with immigration and tourism rising; and tourism becoming a more crucial part of Australian economy as carbon becomes riskier and riskier. With this in mind, I wonder what role events play in moving people towards the West. If the main attractions were no longer Bondi Beach and the Opera House, could we move the newcomers and even current residents to Parramatta?

A: Ask Tropfest 2017. Next contestant please. Perhaps Penrith’s Torin factory is an interesting development to watch.

Q: I also ask this question about events and what’s on, based on the drastic shift from Kings Cross to Newtown after the lock out laws were introduced. This had a huge shift in where people go out, encouraging them to discover new suburbs. In doing so this may take away from some unfounded and unfair stigma associated with these areas and open up more ideas for people to move to these places. Greater interest, greater population in Parramatta might naturally lead to a holistic development of its businesses, lifestyle and infrastructure.

A: Well observed. Vanessa Berry’s “Mirror Sydney” is proof of the delight to be found in Sydney’s diaspora.

Q: Finally, to what extent have successful cases like Bondi and Santa Monica been looked at to understand the root of their success? Some of the drivers for moving the population to these spots included:

  • the move of a specific migrant or type of person, creating a distinct culture
  • the opening of theme parks, theatres, etc.
  • hosting events, such as tournaments and fund raisers.

A: Although “success” is questionable/debatable, the investment in marketing the “vibe” has struck a chord with backpackers and incumbent landlords alike. Plus, pretty decent public transport. Thankfully, Bondi is too grotty to emulate.

  1. Amira Hashemi, Frasers:

Q: To what degree do you see cultural influences coming through in the design and architecture of buildings to reflect the diversity of people in Western Sydney?

A: This is not a new phenomena. Post-war migration and overseas architectural trends have always been expressed by those seeking to find a home-based asset class “to remind themselves of home”, or their honeymoon in the Bavarian Alps. Those who seek “style” as a property development marketing niche eventually regret the decision.

  1. Catherine Byrne, Explorer of the built environment:

Q: Can hot-desking in suburban hubs solve the problem of reduced socialisation and ideas exchange which too often arises among work-from-home employees?

A: The city is more than just workers. It should express culture and inclusiveness. The full range of expression. Work is but one of these. So the hot-desking is only addressing one aspect of poor participatory citizenship – maybe explore/observe how migrants work? Cabramatta is more than just food, as is Auburn and Fairfield.

  1. Joshua Zoeller, CHROFI:

Q: What is Sydney’s upper population limit if planned effectively?

A: Cities rise then fall when a plutocracy is allowed to flourish. Sydney is becoming a plutocracy, despite an increase in population. See other answers on inclusive citizenship. If we don’t share and promote an active citizenry, hell could be as little as a 100 NIMBYs.

  1. Greg Campbell, DesignOz:

Q: What are the best ways to lower carbon emission footprints and redesign ideas for existing buildings that are by far the largest proportion of all buildings?

A: Promote active travel (for those that can), more permissible uses in existing zones, less conferences requiring airline travel, remove cars as much as possible (except AV Uber and taxis),  repurpose carparks for other uses. Stop designing for a commute-in commute-out workforce, design for all citizens. Demand change from all elected officials. Poorly performing buildings need to be incentivised to upgrade – tax concessions need to change from like-to-like to favouring increased star rating.

  1. Jennifer Crawford:

Q: How do we address a “bigger is better” culture in housing to a “small is beautiful and sustainable” mentality for the majority of people building new homes.

A: Educating these “bigger is better” purchasers to making more informed choices is a great approach, and many are working in this space now. However, current tax and developer synergies favour bloated dwellings for a whole range of marketing and aspirational reasons. Until we become fully aware of our actions on others we will continue to believe “our” contribution to negative environmental impacts are negligible.

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