Yet another round up of letters, mostly from The Age, on population and urban planning issues:
The Age, 17/12/2011:
Air belongs to all
IS THERE no limit to one developer’s hypocrisy in trying to buy the “air rights” (itself a questionable land use planning export from the US) to protect the view from his own (view-obstructing) 26-storey apartment (“A developer is trying to buy this space …”, The Age, 15/12)?
How much more evidence do we need that much is rotten in the Victorian planning system if those with money and friends in power (remember the residents of The Domain in St Kilda Road) can do a whole lot better at protecting their views and general amenity than the rest of the community, especially if you live in Moonee Ponds or Williamstown?
So much for “planning for all Victorians” and acting in the best interests of “present and future generations” as the Planning and Environment Act specifically requires. The added irony is that there is ample evidence of mental health and social functioning benefits from having attractive views, especially so for people on low and modest incomes, who typically can’t afford a holiday or weekend trip to the country.
– Bernadette George, Emu Park, Queensland
Big picture: saving species
IT’S commendable that Zoos Victoria sees itself as “having one role in the big picture, which includes Parks Victoria, aquariums and so on” in the effort to save vulnerable species (“Zoos a breed apart for species on the brink”, 8/1).
Being “saved” by zoos’ breeding programs is only a Noah’s Ark, not a long-term solution to our rampant extinction rate. It’s only when species are self-sufficient, living naturally in the wild, that they can be considered to be “saved” for any period of time.
The Victorian government is proposing a subtle circumvention of the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act so that timber operations in Victorian forests can continue unimpeded by the existence of endangered native species.
We need some big picture policies from our state government. On one hand they are funding zoos to save vulnerable species, but on the other hand they are clearing their habitats for urban developments, and propose watering down their protection.
– VIVIENNE ORTEGA, Heidelberg Heights
PREMIER Ted Baillieu claims managing Victoria’s economy is his biggest priority (The Age 17/1). Given his sustained enthusiasm for blocking wind farms, dodging carbon dioxide emissions targets, approving coal-fired power stations, threatening green wedges and trying to water down protection for endangered flora and fauna, I can only conclude his real priority is to undo the past 30 years of environmental reform.
– Warwick Sprawson, Brunswick West
Growth cannot be unlimited
NIGEL Farndale tries heroically to argue that the capitalist growth economy has a future, but he fails to convince me.
First, the idea that quantitative economic growth must eventually cease due to resource limits is not a recent invention. It was propounded by none other than Adam Smith in The Wealth Of Nations, and by other classical liberal economists. John Stuart Mill argued that when the limits to quantitative economic growth were reached, the focus of human progress would happily shift to qualitative development in terms of knowledge, creativity, cultural achievement and the quality of human relationships.
Second, as the recent literature on the coming “great transition” or “great disruption” makes clear, with the support of science quantitative economic growth will not cease because humans choose that it should cease. It will cease because it will no longer be physically possible. Then, to paraphrase former Israeli foreign minister Abba Eban, humans will start to act rationally and build a steady state economy because we will have exhausted the alternatives.
– Paul Norton, Highgate Hill, Qld
The system is failing us
WHY bother rebuilding capitalism? We are actually living through the best of it – we have no world wars, no colonial armies stealing other people’s lands, no planned slash-and-burn environmental policies and growing equality between workers and bosses.
If the above were true, we ought to rebuild and renovate capitalism because of its sound foundations.
Unfortunately, capitalism’s inherent contradictions produce instability and fear in all of us – especially the capitalist.
Capitalism evolved out of feudalism and colonialism, whose remnants remain. Most of us can see that capitalism is failing us, but most of us are not in a position to alter the state of affairs. People have tried to create other forms of trade, and suffered army invasions, covert government operations and regime-change puppet governments for their efforts.
Capitalism, and the Australian constitution’s modus operandi, is a sacred cow of private property rights over human rights, treating all living things as a commodity to be traded and exploited – even people, through wages and conditions.
If it took Marx, a communist, to name capitalism, then it will take a community of thinkers and activists to free society from capitalism. Capitalists are welcome to apply.
– Leon Zembekis, Reservoir
Steady state alternative
IN PUTTING the case for capitalism, Nigel Farndale accepts that capitalism is a means to the end of economic growth and says that the idea that we can get on without such growth is “naive”. The important question, not discussed, is what is the alternative to endless economic growth? We cannot have endless growth in a finite world and to persist with this idea invites disaster. There is a better way and it is called “the steady state economy”. Basically, it involves living within the earth’s means. How this can be achieved is, I suggest, a matter which deserves far more public discussion.
– Geoff Mosley, Centre for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy, Hurstbridge
22/1 – in order to maintain quality of life, we can’t afford to keep taking everyone who wants to come here:
Fix problems first
TIMES have changed since Ted Baillieu’s great-grandfather “jumped ship” at 17 to settle in Australia. Now there are limited genuine Australian business opportunities. Living costs have soared and housing is the most expensive in the world. We have outlandishly long queues for public housing.
If our Premier really wanted to be benevolent, he would ensure Victoria’s infrastructure and budget shortcomings are fixed, address our housing crisis and protect our food security by ensuring inappropriate development does not occur on good agricultural land.
Lofty ideals of offering Victoria as a new home to the world’s dispossessed are honourable but there are practical constraints. We must ensure we have all the resources they need: medical, social, educational, transport etc. Our fast-growing population is putting these things at risk for many Victorians.
– JENNIE EPSTEIN, Little River
We can’t cope with more high density
THOSE who call for high-density housing (The Saturday Age, 21/1) take a one-eyed view of planning policy. Melbourne has not been rated one of the world’s most liveable cities because of high-density housing. The opposite is the case. It is made up of green wedges, parks and a multitude of pollution absorbing trees.
Melbourne was built as a low-density city with low-density infrastructure. Planting a high-density city on top does not work. Examples of where this is failing include congestion on roads and public transport, increased pollution, overflowing sewerage systems and less open space. Does Melbourne need to expand by 1500 people a week? What about cutting immigration or regional towns taking more of the burden?
The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal approves buildings at great pace, but it does not have a say in the infrastructure needed to cater for them. Inspired leadership is required to preserve our city’s liveability.
– Mathew Knight, Malvern East
Critical heat factor
WITH regard to copying Paris-style development in Melbourne (Editorial, 21/01), it should not be forgotten that Paris has an “urban heat island effect” (where a metropolitan area is warmer than surrounding rural areas) of 2 to 3 degrees. That city is cited as an example of how deadly the effect can be: during the 2003 heatwave in Europe, when Paris experienced nine consecutive days with temperatures reaching 38 degrees, an estimated 4867 people died as a result. The effect is considered to have been an important factor.
The urban heat island effect also contributed to the death rate in Melbourne in the 2009 heatwave. Increasing urban density should not be sought without simultaneously requiring building and landscaping controls to mitigate the effect.
– Janet Russell, Blackburn
Clearing the land …
SO THE Baillieu government is not doing enough burning of public land to protect towns at risk of fire (The Age, 23/1)? One wonders what percentage of fuel reduction, of any sort, has been done on the private land within those towns. Given environmental academic Philip Gibbons’ comments – that prescribed forest burning is only half as effective as clearing vegetation around homes – that question ought to be the focus of your investigative unit’s attention.
Ian Symons, Cranbourne
… and caring for it
YOUR editorial asks: “The burning question is: is there a better way?” (The Age, 23/1). It is frustrating that there is no satisfactory strategy that can guarantee safety from bushfires for Victorians without further degrading our environment. A greater frustration is that the original Australians had the answers – a reverence for country and knowing how to manage the environment – that our forebears disregarded and derided. They insisted on a “better” use of the land. We have inherited the consequences of their presumption that mankind can control nature. I would like the fact that indigenous people understood the land to be included in the Australia Day celebrations.
– Rosalind Byass, Stawell
YOU put forward the idea that “greater density enhances the quality of city living” (Editorial, 21/1). While this could be true for inner-city areas and disused sites close to the CBD, it could cause problems for other suburban areas. These middle-ring suburbs need a cohesive plan that prevents opportunistic developers buying cheaper land in side streets. They then seek to erect higher-density apartments, sell, and go. Such proposals need to be directed to sites in areas that are serviced by transport, retail and business outlets.
If the current ad hoc higher-density development proceeds unchecked in Melbourne and its suburbs, without the creation of appropriate controls and infrastructure, the quality of living will deteriorate for many of us.
– Elizabeth Meredith, Surrey Hills
26/2 – the massive increase in overseas students has too often been a smokescreen for immigration. I have absolutely no sympathy for the education providers who are part of this scam, and they deserve to go out of business:
It was ever thus
SHRUTI Nargundkar, of Education Access Australia, says that changes in 2009 to the immigration policy separating education from immigration, and more stringent student visas, had left private education providers in limbo (“Policies ‘deter’ overseas students”, The Age, 3/2). Historically, immigration and the provision of education to international students have been separate policies.
The Colombo Plan is best remembered for sponsoring thousands of Asian students to study in Australian tertiary institutions. Some 40,000 people did so in the 35 years after 1950 and it fostered cultural and diplomatic relations between nations. We trained professionals who returned to developing nations to help alleviate poverty.
These international schools would not be in “limbo” if students were genuinely here to gain qualifications instead of assuming they would also be awarded permanent residence.
– Margit Alm, Eltham
NEW-fangled urban activity centres in prime heritage suburbs like Kew will leave a regrettable legacy – authentic community shopping villages will rapidly be replaced by ugly, low-quality, high-rise blocks, bringing transient tenants, and queues for car parks, supermarkets, doctors and schools.
For property developers, who fill their pockets with the fat profits and walk away, it’s exceptionally appealing. All they have to do is buy the land, fast-track the project and minimise the need to consult with the community by paying $5000 to go straight to VCAT, budget for a good barrister, and put some contingency in the design. It’s a case of David and Goliath.
I doubt the Planning Minister has to live next door to one of these centres.
– Felicity Koch, Kew
Herald-Sun letters, 18/1:
Only wealthy few want bigger city
PREDICTABLY Andrew MacLead, of the strangely named Committee for Melbourne, talks of a bigger and bigger Melbourne.
After all, he is the voice of big business that want more and more people so that they make bigger and bigger profits and more and more developments, and he talks of planning Melbourne for eight million people. Naturally, he wants Melbourne to go up and to go out. Well, Mr MacLeod, most of Melbourne people don’t want Melbourne to get so big. According to the last poll, that’s 70 per cent of us.
We are all suffering under the increase of nearly a million people in Melbourne in the past decade, with virtually no increase in infrastructure, which is why we have overloaded hospitals and schools and sewer lines and polluted rivers and overcrowded roads and public transport.
The State Government should put a stop to immigration to Melbourne until they catch up with these shortfalls, otherwise we will end up no better than a Third World City.
– Mary Drost, Camberwell
Immigration a numbers game
AUSTRALIA has a moral obligation to show the rest of the world how to live sustainably.
Our fertility rate is on the rise and we have had a record number of births in the last year. Australia’s population grew 1.4 per cent over the past year, nearly one-and-a-half times the global average.
Now is the time to implement a zero net migration policy, as immigration is the one thing we can control. We should not be assisting other countries like China, India and African nations to continue overpopuating by accepting their excess. Foreign aid should be tied to education and birth rates. The biggest lie Julia told was not the carbon tax, it was that that she opposed a big Australia and that she believed in a sustainable Australia
Growing a bigger population while selling off our finite mineral and energy resources and allowing foreign investors to buy up our food supply is anything but sustainable.
– Michael Collins, Forest Hill
We’re being plundered
SO Westpac exports Australian jobs to India and the bean counters take their bonuses and pat themselves on their backs. Meanwhile, our resources are plundered with no lasting visible benefit to the country.
I am reminded of this native American proverb: “Only when the last tree has been cut down; Only when the last river has been poisoned; Only when the last fish has been caught; Only then will you find that money cannot be eaten.”
Paul Worden, Portland