Speak up for better planning!


Since moving back to Sydney, I have been taking my children to ‘Bush Kids’ events. As well as introducing my children to the wonderful nature of Australia, these events give me the opportunity to meet other like minded parents and carers.
One of the people that I’ve met has been Corrine Fisher a passionate environmental advocate and mother of two. Because of this personal connection, I’ve come to know about the Bette Planning Network and their important work in light of changes to legislation being introduced in NSW. These legislative changes may have gone unnoticed if it wasn’t for people like Corrine and her colleagues at the Better Planning Network who have been working to highlight what these changes will mean.
In essence, the change being introduced in two bills is to remove your right as a citizen to comment on developments in your local area. Currently all developments must undergo a ‘neighbourhood notification’ period, whereby all affected residents have an opportunity to view plans and put forward comments or objections.
In some instances this notification is given to neighbours for purely process reasons (as I recently found out when I put in a fence application) and it has been attributed to the ‘NIMBY (not in my backyard) syndrome where people feel the need to object to everything, and therefore any development is likely to get tangled in ongoing consultation and ultimately never go ahead.
Despite this however, providing the people of a community the opportunity to have a say in developments that have a direct impact on them is a very important way of creating a sense of cohesion within a community. Who better to provide developers and local government with knowledge than the locals?
When I lived in the UAE, there was pretty much no community consultation on developments. Some strategic plans would have very high level and minimal consultation, but on the whole it was certainly my observation that developments were government sanctioned and as a result the UAE has grown considerably in the last 30 years. When I moved back to Sydney, I recalled how things seem to take so long to get off the ground and this is largely due to the political processes that are in place and well…democracy.


While the model of the UAE may work for it as a country, I am concerned with removing the right to comment on developments altogether. My local area for example is going through considerable change at the moment. There are apartment buildings being developed left right and centre. While as a concept I believe in urban renewal and building in already developed areas, I am concerned about a few things like traffic and services. In none of these plans were there any commercial shops – not even a corner store, so everyone will be forced to drive to Lane Cove.
The beauty of Lane Cove and one of the big reasons that I bough here is the community village feel. It is on most days already at full capacity and I cannot imagine how horrible the trip to the local shops will be once all of these apartments come on line. I’m certainly hoping by that stage to be less car dependent and cycle and walk more with the kids when needing to do some shopping. But in the context of these bills, at least with these apartment developments, the local community action group was able to comment on the scale of the apartments and to negotiate a design that is more in keeping with the surrounding environment and bush setting.
The removal of this local voice altogether will give a green light to developments to be fast tracked with reduced consideration to the environment and the heritage and character of an area.
Since the campaign by the Better Planning Network the government has highlighted that residents will be given an opportunity to comment at the strategic planning level. However I wonder how informed people will be when they are commenting in a 10 year strategic plan and to what level these consideration will inform that strategic document. Additionally, the government has said that even if these strategic plans include resident concerns, they have the right to amend them without any further consultation. Now I may not be an expert, but that doesn’t sound particularly democratic to me and I believe more and more that local action is a very important form of democracy.
What can you do?
So if you a NSW resident and concerned about these changes, there are a few things that you can do to have your voice heard before the bills are put to parliament:
• Tell your friends and colleagues about it;
• Go to the Better Planning Network site and send an email to your local member (it’s easy, it takes like 10 seconds as they give you a template to follow!). The site also gives you other tips on how to get your message to the politicians in power http://betterplanningnetwork.good.do/nsw/email-your-state-mp-3/;
• Sign the petition for exhibiting the Draft Metro Plan for Sydney which calls for great community participation http://www.change.org/en-AU/petitions/please-exhibit-metro-strategy-for-sydney-under-the-new-planning-system;
• Like the Better Planning Network’s facebook page; and
• Attend the rally on Wednesday 26 June 12:15 – 1:30 pm at 1 Farrer Place, Sydney- next to Governor Macquarie and Governor Phillip Towers and not far from the NSW Department of Planning and Infrastructure.

Changing the world?

My daughter enjoying her ‘Babes in the Bush’ adventure through Bush Kids Lane Cove


A few weeks ago, I was invited to a friend’s house for lunch as part of the Dinner Party Project. As some of the people attending were parents, rather than dinner, we arranged lunch (so much easier!).  The aim of this lunch was to encourage people around Australia to engage in a dialogue about the issues that are important to us and to provide the powers at be, our ideas on how to make this country a better place (for more information on the Dinner Party Project, go to http://www.thedinnerparty.net.au/about).

The people who gathered at this lunch party were what one could say – left of the mainstream political spectrum. They were intelligent, passionate and great cooks.

As we enjoyed our vegetarian lunch, my friend started to ask questions to get the dialogue started.  Firstly we were asked what our ideal society would look like.  We responded similarly in saying that it would be a just society where the arts, culture, public healthcare and education were recognised.  I added that safety was important, because if you don’t generally feel safe, then it’s hard to engage in society.  Another guest added that they felt housing and the lack of affordability was important, so a ‘good society’ would have greater equity in housing.

As the conversation continued, it was apparent that we were all good at identifying problems.  These problems ranged from a lack of appreciation for arts and culture, greater emphasis on ‘jobs’ at universities over theory, difficulties in getting real information in the age of information, disengagement from politics and politicians, cynicism at the world at large and the inability to ‘switch off’ from social media.  Interestingly, the internet was seen a source of a lot of this evil, by demanding a 24 hour news cycle where we receive snippets of information and more and more sensationalist headlines to get our attention.

Something else that we as lefty, activist people identified was our exhaustion – we simply had no time. No time to get up and do something, no time to get the whole story and too tired to bother with much political engagement.  As parents, our children take much of our attention and energy and rightly so. By night time we’re so tired, we’d rather watch something ‘light’, than a serious documentary or ‘depressing news’.

I think this is something that we were struggling with, well it is something that I struggle with. Have my ideals waned? have I become softer?

I am the child of parents who were activists. Even when I was a baby I was going to rallies with my parents who were protesting the Shah of Iran (in the US!) and I remember going to Iran at the time of the revolution. I grew up around politics. We Iranians love to talk politics and having lived through the Iran and Iraq war, there was a lot to talk about!

I remember before I was passionate and pissed off – at a lot of injustices in the world.  My friends at school will remember me as the girl who wrote anti-war messages on paper and then sticky taped this to my school shirt (I think to my peers, I was a bit of a ‘weirdo’ at school). I went to rallies with my parents and continued this on until I was in my early 30’s. Stop the Jabiluka Uranium Mine, Stop deforestation, Anti-Nuclear War, Palm Sunday Peace Marches, Refugee rights, Anti-Iraq War…..

Now what? nothin! I see posters for rallies – marriage equality, refugees etc, but I’m no longer attending.  I too am tired and after negotiating with my 4 year old all day, I prefer a good comedy over a serious ‘depressing’ film too.

So after this lunch, as I drove home, I thought to myself – what practical things can one do? I mean politicians probably realise the problems too, but it’s very hard to ‘fix’ things.  I am a practical person, and these are the ideas I had to remain active, albeit in a different way.  You never know, I might start attending rallies again too!

  1. Pick your issue – there are a lot of terrible things going on in this world and it can get very overwhelming. Accept that you can’t fix it all, but pick something that you’re especially passionate about. For me that’s the environment.
  2. Try and find local action groups that you can get involved with. Or just ones you want to be in contact with to see what events, if any they run. There is a huge sense of achievement and satisfaction in getting something done and seeing the fruits of your labour. I think that is where a lot of people get disconnected. They don’t SEE the impacts of their positive actions.  I have found that there are so many people and groups through my local Council and community groups that are doing great things, and rather than going it alone and starting from scratch, I try to tap into these existing groups and resources.
  3. Live your life in accordance to your ideals. This is a lot harder than it sounds. It means changing the way you live. Put your money where your mouth is. Don’t just advise or tell others the way it should be done – do it yourself first. If people see that, then they will follow your good example.
  4. Break down the ‘big issue’ into bite size chunks, that way it won’t seem so overwhelming and impossible.
  5. Accept your limitations – whether that is time, finances, whatever it is.  You’re less likely to become disengaged if you realise that you  only have so many hours or minutes that you can dedicate to your issue.
  6. Share you ideas, ideals and information with your children, family friends and if able, the wider community.
  7. Take care of your health. It is something that we take for granted when we’re healthy. Keep it that way.
  8. Love life and remain positive. It’s very easy to get caught in a negative cycle, but think about the things you have been able to do.

So that’s my checklist. I’d love to hear from anyone with any more ideas and while  most of this is not able to be forwarded to the politicians of the world, it is something that I can control in my life and that makes me feel good.