Really wanting my advice? The missing link in sustainable urban planning

So the Gold Coast city planners want my/our advice? And about how to make a sustainable vibrant city of the future?
Am not sure if they are really serious about this offer or whether it’s just another a public relations gimmick (1). In any case, I for one have signed up to this offer (2) and will immediately start giving them some general advice on various matters of concern – including flooding and drainage issues [the council has just spent over $5 million this last year fixing the drain behind my house, and I am sure that my advice could have saved them a great deal of this money on bettter communications, designs and general improvement or optimization of their methods and processes (i.e. how to avoid waste and delays at every point)].

They probably won’t like a lot of my advice on many topics. But I am going to give it to them anyway – taking them at face value that they really want it in promoting a vision of the Gold Coast as “a sophisticated young city boasting some of the world’s most innovative and well-designed buildings, streetscaping and urban parklands”. And as well as a list of some useful constructive suggestions I think I can come up with, I will be ready to also criticize bad policy and procedures where appropriate.

In fact, we have already got the ball rolling on some aspects of this in an earlier post on the questionable activities of some members of the GC council (3 ) as well as some new emerging cities in the region (4). I think we should now go further and give all members of the Gold Coast some homework to help them get serious about the splendid if challenging task of trying to ensure the Gold Coast city has a sustainable future which protects its great lifestyle for locals – and does not sell its future down the drain for ‘fast bucks’ going to a few self-interested individuals and corporations. For a start I insist they all are immediately required to read (and then be tested on) the lessons, advice and insights of Jonathon Rose’s brilliant 2016 book The Well-Tempered City (4). Its solutions as well as warnings about how “the kind of chaos we find when cities lose their ability to govern, often sprawling out of control , without clear goals and direction from a well-functioning government” (p.28). This should be foundational for all city planners around the world as well as anyone really serious about future survival or sustainable development (Cf. also 5).

And then to return the focus of GC local politicians to the future dangers of past local abuses (i.e. what can happen to an Australian city when it becomes ‘too late’ to do the right thing) they can read Elizabeth Farrelly’s insightful as well as scathing SMH short article (6) – its condemnation of the mentality that is making Sydney a still often beautiful but an increasingly awful city to live in terms of its world-class growing urban problems of traffic, overcrowding, and the great divide of emerging wastelands gobbling up ‘exclusive areas’. Farrelly’s penetrating comments about Sydney are a powerful warning to the Gold Coast (in fact just about every Australian and global city): “Let’s be clear. A city is not a product. Government is not a business, a building is not a phallic trophy and your life is not a reality show to be ranked, branded, advertised and sold into an insatiable, screen-saturated global market. It’s not a competition, stupid. And thinking it is will reduce this beautiful, gnarly, textured, voluptuous and vividly particular city of ours to a bland business playpen”.

There are some good GC city specific proposals being made but the danger is they could be undermined unless given wider support in terms of a sustainable rather than ad hoc, piecemeal, and counter-productive implementation of any overall plan. For instance, its proposal about preserving the “local village character” of Tugun (where I chose to live some time ago) – its “family orientated beach village” and also its unique “traditional high street”(both once common on the Gold Coast and now very rare and in need of protection) (e.g. 7). I am very happy to hear about this proposed commitment. But yet the plan does not indicate how they are going to keep under control the expansionary and mercenary plans of the private consortium which has been allowed to take over the adjacent Gold Coast airport – plans to make a small airport next to residential areas into a busy and unsuitable major airport. The Gold Coast council has thus been curiously quiet on the apparent plans of the airport to increase passenger numbers from 6 million to 16 million – which at least one honest and concerned local counselor has rightfully pointed out is an ‘outrageous’ and ‘incomprehensible’ plan (8).

Unlike many of the people also in neighboring areas who like to bitch and complain about the noise of increasing numbers of planes, I bought into the area accepting some noise as my ‘tax’ for living near the beach in paradise. However this projected ‘trebling’ of flights in and out of the Coast (at an airport never designed for this and so close to many residential areas) will serve to destroy the very village character at Tugun and nearby the GC council insists it is serious and intent on preserving (and also have a deleterious effect on the quality of life on the southern end of the GC). Even Blind Freddie can see that. Like many other airports around Australia privatised by companies, the Gold Coast Airport Authority has so far shown little regard for local communities (9). I have watched first-hand their recent performance in dealing with the growing scandal (yet another apparent coverup) of the fire-fighting foam used there in the past – which they initially failed to test adequately insisting all was safe, only for it to be now found that toxic poisons have entered the groundwater nearby and also Coolangatta creek going out on nearby beaches (10).

The Gold Coast Council is right about one thing. The unique character of ‘the family oriented Tugun beach village’ is a threatened way of life which is worth fighting for. So they had better start coming up soon with a more consistent general plan which includes further development of the airport and expansion of traffic there. If they don’t then they will be sabotaging their own Tugun beach village plan – and showing they are not really serious about either getting community feedback and ensuring a future sustainable city here. That would mean they need to be held accountable starting right now. So I yesterday exercised my opportunity to give the Gold Coast City Council some feedback along the lines of the above. I don’t plan on giving up on my own little bit of paradise in this world without a fight… and I suspect there will be quite a few others who feel the same way. Let the fightback begin.
– CKR 10/11/2017


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