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QLD Article

Planning and the Battle for the Soul of Our Communities

By Laura Bos, General Manager SCAQ

Diversity, equity and inclusion are all things many of us are more cognisant of than ever. We try to practice them in our workplaces and social life more consciously than ever. But how well do we practice them as a society when we construct our cities and neighbourhoods? I would argue not to a standard we would accept in other settings.

What do I mean by this? Well, I will quote Dr Michael Fasher- a respected physician and clinical lead on these matters as they pertain to health. “A young Australian’s chance in life is predicted, at the population level, by their postcode. This is inequitable.”

This may not be news to some, but it does give pause for thought.

Your postcode determines the physical ease with which you can access social and economic opportunities, particularly jobs and training.

All this information would lead most people committed to an equitable and inclusive society to ask- how can we help more people live in postcodes where they have better opportunities? This may also prompt bigger questions perhaps of how we can make our children’s chances in life less about where they grow up.

Unfortunately, despite the sloganeering some of us engage in, those of us who live in postcodes where people have the best chance of success in life often don’t have the best record of being equitable and inclusive about who lives in their neighbourhood. NIMBY sentiment runs deep in many of us; and many of us also have equally deep pockets.

A pertinent example of this is ironically playing out on the national stage now – given how housing policy is on the tip of everyone’s tongue it seems only natural.

In well-heeled Lilyfield (just six kilometres from Sydney CBD with an average house price of over $2million) a local residents association is fighting a project to convert a run-down former factory and bakery into “89 apartments and small public square with rental space for local arts workers.” Sounds like development done right in every sense of the word. Despite this, arguments drummed up against the project include ‘more homes undermining community safety’ and ‘sun shadows’. Flimsy arguments at best and disingenuous or conceited ones at worst.

Allowing more young people, and people of diverse backgrounds to live in Lilyfield would help their educational and employment opportunities, given the easy access to the CBD, a major University (UTS) and the State’s largest TAFE Campus.

Unfortunately, it seems people in well located suburbs don’t want to share the benefits of living there with others. Whilst the example I have used is obviously Sydney focused, anyone in a large city on the East Coast of Australia can think of a similar example in their backyard.

In my own backyard of Yeronga (just 5km from Brisbane CBD and in an infrastructure rich – schools, transport, and hospitals - suburb), The Paint Factory project that will rejuvenate an ugly old paint factory and industrial area into a vibrant, culturally rich arts and dining precinct with medium density living is experiencing a similar community backlash.

To fix big community problems we need to think big. Solving housing problems and encouraging social inclusivity will not be solved by small thinking.

When we preach equity and inclusion, none of us are going to get there 100% of the time. We are all human. But shouldn’t the simplest method of inclusivity simply be doing nothing by not opposing development that would allow a more diverse range of people to live in your neighbourhood? Isn’t making housing more affordable the epitome of equity given its status as an incontrovertible human need?

I don’t write this to badger people or proselytise, but to give us pause for thought. Most of us would welcome meeting new and interesting people from different backgrounds if they turned up on our doorstep with good intentions. Ironically, this is what most people do when they move into new developments in our neighbourhoods.

So, lets welcome considered development in our suburbs, the kind that inevitably leads to vibrant new precincts that creates more housing and business opportunity and gives us more activities locally. Who wouldn’t want more exciting stuff to do within a walking distance or even a short drive?

And as a happy by-product, lets welcome the opportunity for a diversity of people, culture and experience in their neighbourhoods. This can only come if they embrace diverse housing. Diversity, equity, and inclusion isn’t just a slogan, it’s something we should practice right on our doorstep.

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