Supersized cities: residents band together to push back against speculative development pressures

 Thousands of co-housing projects in cities  
around the world have shown how people can get together to create diverse 
homes that suit them & their community – this one is in Portland, Oregon.

Across the world’s cities, the over-reliance on speculative, developer-led urban renewal models is clear. This imbalance is now challenging the liveability of our cities.

The risk of financial loss means speculative developments tend to churn out standardised, expensive and “franchised” urban landscapes. Unsuitably tall glass towers grow around us like weeds, choking the life out of cities and contributing to a lost sense of place among residents.

When it comes to cost of living, environmental impacts and social segregation, speculative development has pushed cities into the red.

There is a silver lining here. As if an immune response to the disease of unaffordability, citizens, architects and civic leaders in many cities are taking matters into their own hands and delivering projects that are not driven by developers.

Known as intentional or deliberative development, these models offer a way to provide more diverse and affordable ways to live, work and play in our cities. They are aiming for more inclusive, human-scale cities where residents can still feel they belong.

How did cities get to this point?

Many forces traditionally gave rise to cities of diverse shapes and characters. In more modern times, however, newer forces emerged to dominate the shaping of urban landscapes.

Property development became an “industry”. Land came to be seen as a “commodity”. Our homes became “assets”. With this transition came a suite of financial mechanisms, tax systems and other incentives that enable enormous wealth to be made from land development and ownership.

There is just one hitch with this model: developable land is a finite resource. There is only so much land to support housing and the needs of a growing global population. This puts tremendous pressure on the value of urban land.

Speculative development models seek out “highest and best use” for this land. The aim is to extract the highest profit possible from any given site. This nearly always leads developers and investors upmarket – luxury apartments, premium office buildings, higher-end retail chains and so on.

Speculative property development is a high-risk business, so high profit margins are needed to offset the risk. What such calculations do not consider is how this approach can:

  • fundamentally alter the culture and character of urban environments;
  • displace long-standing residences and local businesses; and
  • tear apart community bonds.

In this current speculation cycle, housing is the clear investment of choice. And when developers and planning agencies target an area for renewal, the shovels go in and out go the artists, essential workers, established communities and small local businesses.

This is the recipe for gentrification and this pattern has played out for decades in the world’s major cities, but right now we are experiencing the biggest gentrification feast the world has ever seen.

With cashed-up investors dumping ridiculous sums into the global housing market, our cities are being divided between haves and have-nots, those who are in the market and those who will never have the chance.

We are seeing a reverse form of ghettoisation, “ghettos of the rich”, which has prompted progressive Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo to enact new housing policies for her city.

The loss of urban identity

The globalisation of the property industry and the “mega” scale and style of urban development have created a very franchised approach to citymaking. An apartment building or office tower in Sydney or Brisbane could be picked up and dropped into Boston, Vancouver, Shanghai or any other city and none would be the wiser.

Too often, the development focus is solely on the marketability and saleability of apartment towers to buyers who could be from anywhere, rather than on local integration and community impact.

The scale, height and exterior make-up of buildings collectively form the “outdoor rooms” of our cities that shape our urban experience and provide our emotional connection to place.

If we think of our cities as never ending novels with new chapters continually being written to inform their story and identity, right now we are losing the plot.

The urban story is now being rewritten at such a dizzying pace that people are suffering from solastalgia, a term coined by Australian philosopher Glenn Albrecht. It describes the phenomenon of feeling homesick without ever having moved home because your environment is changing so rapidly around you.

With forests of homogenous, placeless towers springing up around us, cities are beginning to lose their individual character and brand. This in turn can impact their ability to attract and retain key workers, tourists, next-gen entrepreneurs, artists and other creatives who make our cities unique, culturally enriching and diverse.

Combine this with property inflation, and large segments of society risk being squeezed out of their city of choice.

The co-housing alternative

This is where co-housing comes into its own. With many projects across North America and Europe, this has been the main form of intentional development over the past 50 years.

The Baugruppen model is about building a community as well as housing. Initiative für gemeinschaftliches Bauen und Wohnen/flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

In addition to owning a private home, co-housing residents typically have access to shared common elements such as kitchens, gardens, recreation space, lounge areas and laundry facilities.

Whether projects are directly managed by the co-housing buyer group or a fee-based development management firm, these not-for-profit, citizen-led communities offer an alternative means to creating more affordable, socially connected and sustainable ways of living.

While such housing models are not new, there has been resurgence in demand and a growing portfolio of projects in cities around the globe in response to the crisis of affordability. Most have historically been low-rise (one to three levels) village-style projects in rural and suburban areas.

Newer models are trending toward dense, multistorey apartment buildings in city centres such as those being delivered in Berlin through the Baugruppen model.


In Australia, the Nightingale model emerged as an architect-led, limited-profit variation of deliberative housing in Melbourne. It has since spread to Brisbane and Fremantle.

Whether deliberative projects are citizen-led, architect-led or developer-facilitated, the buyers are directly involved in designing and planning their home and community. On Nightingale projects, architects work directly with a group of local buyers to craft a unique design that offers greater affordability and delivers the urban lifestyle they desire.

Nightingale projects originated in Melbourne – this development is in Brunswick East – but have spread to other Australian cities.Nightingale/ClarkeHopkinsClarke Architects

With deliberative models, market and settlement risk is greatly reduced. This means profit margins may be reduced or altogether eliminated. Deliberative projects also eliminate the need for and costs of estate agents, sales offices and expensive marketing.

All these savings flow through to buyers. Purchase prices typically vary between 10% and 40% below the local market.

Hence these models could help meet the needs of people who do not qualify for subsidised social housing but cannot afford market-rate housing.

Urban environments should not solely be derived from the unilateral vision of “expert” developers. Local communities and residents can help balance out speculative development models and give shape to their neighbourhoods as well.

If globalisation and speculative development tend to erode diversity, deliberative development is adaptable to people’s needs in different contexts.

From the hundreds of precedent projects across North America and Europe, we can see what’s possible: innovative, sustainable, affordable housing where people feel strongly connected to place and community.

This article was written by:




Christmas 2017 – The Message is simple . . .

Christmas 2017 will mean many things to many people.

Not everyone in Australia will celebrate Christmas as a religious observation. It may be because it is not part of their religious beliefs or it may be, that they have no religious beliefs at all.

Yet it is a time of the year where we should all celebrate for it is a moment when we can reflect upon ourselves, our families and our relationships. We can reflect on our own journey and how we have connected with others and the wonderful moments this has created.

Fortunes come and go and for some of our fellow Australians their fortunes may be down. For some Christmas as a time of the year, brings about stress and sadness when they are reminded of what they have never had or may have had and lost.

This is a wonderful country, and sometimes we struggle to make it a country of equality and fairness when forces that seem unmovable, work against creating that equality and fairness.

There is much injustice and most of it we seem powerless to overcome. However, I am reminded of a quote from Calvin Coolidge, the 30th President of the United States. He said, 

Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas.
Our thoughts and beliefs are very powerful. There is a belief that we create the reality around us through our thoughts.
So the message is simple.  Think goodwill, embrace with joy and love those who you care for.  But share a little of that love at this time of the year for those who you may not know, but who are in so much need.
We don’t change the world through massive intervention, we change the world one person at a time.
Christmas is indeed a fine time to remember that despite the ills and woes that surround us, each of us does have the power to reach out to one person, to share a kind word, to share a kind deed to even share a kind thought.
Who will you reach out to?
A Merry Christmas from all of us that work at and through the Toorak Times and our Arts mag – TAGG.
Rob Greaves – [Senior Editor, Toorak Times]


Young people want walkable neighbourhoods, but safety is a worry

 It’s important to young Australians to be able  
to walk and feel safe while doing so. Victoria Walks ©Author provided (No reuse)

We all know physical activity is good for us; that most of us should do more of it; and that walking is a cheap and convenient physical activity. So, all those people we see out there pounding the pavement are doing it to get healthy, right? Well, no, especially the young people.

When you ask people aged 15 to 20 why they walk, they’ll likely tell you it’s to get to places cheaply and independently, or to relax or calm down when stressed or angry. They largely see health as a byproduct of walking, rather than a reason for walking.

It is, however, a very valuable byproduct. Walking for transport alone accounts for 48% of total physical activity time for 18-to-24-year-old Australians.

Creating the sorts of spaces and places that encourage otherwise inactive young people to be physically active “incidentally” through walking is a classic example of Richard Thaler’s Nobel prize-winning concept of nudge. So, what sort of neighbourhoods encourage young people to walk for transport and recreation?

What do young people want?

In a recent online survey, 1,089 young Victorians (aged 15 to 20, 76% of them female) shared their views on walking, independent mobility and the type of community they want to live in. I conducted the VicHealth-funded study for Victoria Walks and the Youth Affairs Council of Victoria (YACVic).

Young people strongly preferred to live in walkable communities rather than car-dependent areas. That means having shops, services and other common destinations nearby, as well as safe, natural and green spaces and walkways.

Young people highly value safe, natural and green spaces, like Flagstaff Gardens in Melbourne. Apiq Sulaiman/Shutterstock

When asked where they would like to live in future, most (84%-89%) opted for living close to shops, services, entertainment, work, study and public transport; being able to walk to these destinations; and not “having to drive everywhere”. Living in an outer suburb “with lots of space” was less appealing (35%).

The dual requirements of living in a pleasant green, walkable environment with good access to services, facilities and public transport might invite the question: “Do young people want it all?” Perhaps. But, if so, they share these preferences with the developers of countless plans and strategies for 20-minute neighbourhoodssustainable cities and communities and healthy spaces and places.

Further reading: This is how to create social hubs that make 20-minute neighbourhoods work

However, the sad reality is that in Australia we talk the talk while often failing to provide good access to green spaces in higher-density developments. We continue to invest in hugely expensive freeways and toll roads with questionable benefit-to-cost ratios. At the same time, we fail to invest in walking and cycling infrastructure with benefit-to-cost ratios that road-builders can only dream of – a median ratio of 5:1 based on a systematic review.

Fear for safety deters women from walking

Personal safety is another key concern, which prevents many young women from walking in public places after dark or alone. They feel highly constrained in their walking, use of public transport and participation in community life.

In my study, only 15% of young women felt safe walking at night, compared to 54% of the men. These findings are consistent with surveys by The Australia Institute and Plan International Australia and Our Watch.

The recent OECD Better Life Index shows this level of fear is not “normal” in wealthy developed countries. Only 64% of Australians feel safe walking alone at night, well below countries such as the US (74%), UK (77%) and Canada (81%). This relatively low level is largely due to women feeling unsafe.

Tellingly, Australia has the greatest gender difference in feeling safe among the 35 OECD countries. Australian men (77%) are close to the OECD average (79%), but Australian women (50%) are well below the average (61%). Only women in Chile, Mexico and Hungary feel less safe walking alone at night than women in Australia.

So why do Australian women, and young women in particular, feel so unsafe walking alone after dark? Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics Personal Safety Survey show that while men experience higher rates of violence overall, women are twice as likely as men to experience sexual harassment.

Young women in the Victoria Walks/YACVic survey made comments like:

CAT CALLING SUCKS!! I hate just spending time with my friends walking around in public places and being cat called. It’s disgusting and makes me feel greatly violated.
Very common to have people call out to you from their cars. Makes you feel like shit and vulnerable.
I look to see if anyone is ahead or behind me and cross the road if they are. I hate that I can’t feel safe to walk alone at night.

These forms of harassment are not permitted in organisational and institutional settings, and should not be tolerated in public places.

Further reading: Safe in the City? Girls tell it like it is

What makes an area safe?

Further insights emerged from the responses when asked to complete the sentence: “I think a liveable community is one where…” In the 713 responses, safety was the key theme.

Key words that featured in responses when asked to complete the question, ‘I think a liveable community is one where…’ Author supplied.

Many survey participants also expressed a strong desire to live in a place where people are friendly, kind, caring and engaged in community life; where the community is inclusive, tolerant and respectful of diversity; and where people are both trusting and trustworthy.

For young people, these qualities appear to be important indicators of a community that is safe to live in and to move about freely. Public safety concerns often lead to calls for increased law-enforcement measures, but it appears much can be done to create safe communities that also feel safe by fostering social cohesion, community engagement and good old-fashioned neighbourliness.

Walking has many benefits for community health, sustainability, transport efficiency and liveability. Despite walking being widely promoted, progress towards establishing walkable communities in Australia has been slow. We can help accelerate much-needed change if we act on what young people are saying.

This article was written by:
Image of Jan GarrardJan Garrard – [Senior Lecturer, School of Health & Social Development, Deakin University]




This article is part of a syndicated news program via


Thinking of taking up WeChat? Here’s what you need to know

 Australia was one of the first offshore 
markets targeted by WeChat Pay.

WeChat is the most popular social media app in China. Since 2011, it has transformed from a messaging tool to an all-in-one super portal, with more than 900 million monthly active users. Its parent company, Tencent, is one of the most valuable technology companies in the world.

WeChat’s success has been powered by the platform’s mobile payment service, Wechat Pay, which assists with every aspect of a user’s life – from shopping for clothes and hailing taxis, to organising hospital appointments and ordering food deliveries.

Now, demand from Chinese tourists is increasing its uptake in Australia, and Australians are using WeChat too. Here’s what you need to know if you plan to use it.

A WeChat promotional video.

China is the market leader in mobile payment

recent study shows that 84% of people in China are willing and able replace cash with mobile payment. In 2016, 38 trillion Yuan (A$7.5 trillion) was exchanged via mobile payment – a sum 50 times larger than the United States, the world’s second biggest market.

As Chinese President Xi Jinping vows to make China a cyber superpower, Chinese tech companies are extending their ambitions to build a cash-free economy beyond the border. To date, WeChat has successfully launched its payment service in 15 countries.

Australia is a popular destination for Chinese tourists and students and it was one of the first offshore markets WeChat Pay targeted. In 2016, Chinese tourists spent A$9.2 billion in Australia, and this figure is expected grow to A$13 billion by 2020.

Figures from China-Australia Year of Tourism 2017. Tourism Australia

Recently, nine Australian cross-border payment service providers have partnered with WeChat Pay to connect Australian merchants to Chinese consumers. WeChat Pay allows local merchants to receive payments to their Australian accounts within a shorter time frame and at a lower transaction cost than credit cards.

Chemist Warehouse’s online store in China (Screen Shot December 14, 2017 at 9:30am)

More than 10,000 shops and restaurants in Australia are using the WeChat Pay system. Most early overseas adopters of this service are duty free shops and Chinese restaurants, but in Australia it is also common to see the WeChat pay option available in pharmacies.

Due to the high demand in China for Australian-made baby formula and health supplements, a visit to a pharmacy to stock up is often on a Chinese tourist’s “must do list” when visiting Australia.

Exporting mobile payment to the world

At this stage, only customers with Chinese bank accounts can use WeChat to make payments, so the global push still largely relies on Chinese consumers. However, the app’s latest venture in Malaysia suggests the company is now planning to target overseas domestic users.

In late November, WeChat obtained an e-payment license in Malaysia that will allow locals to use Malaysian banks to pay. This will make Malaysia WeChat’s first offshore market whereby all of the platform services can be made available to local users.

Concerns about censorship and surveillance

Although the Chinese Communist Party urges its firms to expand into global markets, the party’s intimate relationship with China’s tech sector has made overseas consumers wary.

Tech products from China, such as affordable smartphones, are regularly accused of having security flaws and even claimed to be tools for government spying. In Early December, the Indian government reportedly blacklisted WeChat, together with another 41 apps, categorising them as spyware.

Although there is no firm evidence to prove that these products have actually been used for government spying, such suspicions are not entirely groundless. Beijing has a dark history of pressuring tech companies to assist with information surveillance.

One famous case was Yahoo’s complicity in Beijing’s persecution of two dissidents in the early 2000s. More recent reports suggest that private conversations on WeChat are sometimes monitored by the Chinese police.

Lately, under pressure from Beijing, Apple removed 674 VPN applications – tools that can be used to circumvent censorship – from its Chinese app store.

It is not unusual for internet companies to conduct censorship according to local law, but in a country like China the law can be used to persecute dissidents and activists. Arguably, tech companies are as much victims of the system as users. But as long as the party state controls their right to operate in the Chinese market, they will continue to make profit at the cost of users’ freedom of speech.

Tips for using WeChat in Australia

According to WeChat’s own claims, user data is not monitored or stored by the company, as long as there is no requirement from the Chinese authorities. However, Australian users should keep the following in mind:

  • Once you register your account in China, your communication on WeChat is always censored – even if you connect your WeChat to an Australian number. The most common method of censorship on WeChat is keyword blocking, which means messages containing sensitive words, such as “Tiananmen June 4” and “free Tibet”, won’t be received.
  • WeChat accounts registered outside China as an “overseas account” are not censored according to the same strict standards that apply to Chinese users. However, when you use WeChat to communicate with a Chinese user, it’s a different story. A recent study from the Citizen Lab suggests that messages containing censored keywords will still be banned if they are sent to a Chinese account.
  • In September 2017, China launched new regulations for online chat groups that make the group chat admin liable for the information shared by its group members. Content violation on Wechat can include information identified as rumour by Chinese authorities, messages mentioning politically sensitive topics, and information related to organising protests. Keep this in mind when sending information to a WeChat group hosted by your friend in China.

Until tech companies are willing and able to stand up for the rights of their users, it’s important to educate yourself about what you’re signing up for.

This article was written by:
Image of Meg Jing ZengMeg Jing Zeng – [PhD candidate, Queensland University of Technology]




This article is part of a syndicated news program via

People love parklets, and businesses can help make them happen

 The Wray Avenue Solar Parklet by Seedesign 
Studio is in Fremantle. Jean-Paul HorréAuthor provided

As councils across Australia strive to enhance their liveability, parklets are proving popular among city communities. A poll of 300-plus citizens gathered for the inaugural Perth City Summit in August found parklets are the street activation people would most like to see. But why are they so desirable?

San Francisco is central to the parklet story. In 2005, the design collective Rebar turned a parking space into a “park” for two hours as a comment on the use and control of public space in the city. This was followed in 2006 by the installation of more than 40 temporary parks for PARK(ing) Day, now an annual international event.

By 2010, San Francisco had introduced a policy to help create parklets. This has set an important precedent for parklet policies in Australia and internationally.

There are now more than 50 parklets across San Francisco. According to its Pavements to Parks program, these parklets have “appeared … under the sponsorship of nonprofits, small businesses, neighborhood groups, and others”.

This account conveys a strong sense of democracy and accessibility: anyone can install a parklet in their city, and apparently many do. The Deepistan National Parklet (aka “the Deeplet”), the parklet installed by Deep Jawa outside his home in the Mission District, is a celebrated example.

The Deepistan parklet is a celebrated example created by a community-minded individual. Steve Rhodes/flickr 

Mark Hogan/flickr

The neglected role of business

We hear much less about the businesses behind parklets. Cafes, bakeries, bars and pizza shops have installed almost all of the 50-plus parklets in San Francisco. Deepistan is exceptional not merely for its topiary dinosaur but for its non-commercial nature.

This is not surprising, since the proponent pays for installation and maintenance. And the costs are significant (typically these can be well over A$20,000).

The term “parklet” can be traced to San Francisco (it was coined by City planner Andres Power as a catchier name for Rebar’s proposed “walklet”). But there are many other precedents for the intervention itself.

Rebar’s temporary parklet in 2005, the first of many to show vividly how much space we set aside for private cars.

Perhaps the most obvious, given the strong connection between parklets and cafes, is the long-standing use of footpaths and roadways as restaurant dining areas. The parklet outside Vans Cafe in Cottesloe, for example, was approved under an alfresco dining licence. Converting a parking space into a sitting space is hardly revolutionary.

Yet advocates of parklets rarely make this connection. The story of parklets as entirely new, stemming from Rebar’s DIY park, is far more appealing, suggesting a bottom-up, creative and democratic remaking of the public realm. The link to one of the world’s most innovation-rich cities doesn’t hurt, either.

The reluctance of planners and policymakers to connect parklets to business also reflects concerns about the commercialisation and commodification of the city. The problems of privately owned public spaces (“POPOs” – provided by large developers in exchange for variations to planning rules) are well documented, particularly the issues of high levels of management and surveillance.

Parklets, however, are not privately owned public spaces. Parklets are installed on public land, are temporary and cannot be controlled by the business that installed them. Each bears a sign proclaiming the public nature of the space. Anyone can use parklets, whether they buy something or not.

Parklets are only temporary structures paid for and built by the proposer. SDOT Photos/Flickr

One might critique parklets for their scale, their distribution or their use. They are tiny and do very little to meet important needs for play, exercise or engagement with nature. Some appear a little neglected; many are in areas that are already leafy.

San Francisco’s Parklet Manual gives detailed instructions on creating a parklet. City of San Francisco

In San Francisco, some parklets have been rejected for fear they will contribute not to community empowerment but to gentrification.

Why so popular?

So how can we explain the popularity of the parklet? Perhaps because parklets support, and build off, the kinds of places people like – and these aren’t just green spaces.

As US urban activist and writer Jane Jacobs explained so powerfully, cities need more than parks and plazas: commercial activity is a crucial component of public life. Cafes are increasingly important sites for community interaction as other places for local exchange disappear, including banks, post offices, corner delis and newsagents, on top of the local hardware, haberdashery and other specialist shops lost to competition from larger retailers and the digital marketplace. Parklets present some hope for walkable, local commerce.

Or perhaps their popularity has more to do with the lack of options for public participation in shaping the city. Parklets may be led by businesses, but they are local businesses, sometimes supported with public or crowdsourced funds, and parklet policies mean that the spaces cannot be private. Opportunities for participation are often much greater than for the larger public spaces created by professionals. They also show vividly how much space we waste on private cars.

North Perth’s Angove Street Off-cut Parklet, designed by NOMA. NOMA, Author provided

After parklets, the second-most-desired street activation, according to the Perth City Summit poll, was “creative installations”, followed by street events and murals. In comparison, parklets offer a more tangible and accessible option.

Clearly, we can’t rely on businesses alone to provide adequate and appropriate public spaces. The role of local and state governments in providing a high-quality public realm continues to be important. But parklets show that businesses are not all seeking to play the system. As we think about public life, parklets might provide a useful model to build on.

This article was written by:
Image of Amelia ThorpeAmelia Thorpe – [Senior Lecturer and Director of Environmental Law Programs, UNSW]






This article is part of a syndicated news program via

How the same-sex marriage vote will impact on human rights and democracy

 Supporters of the ‘yes’ vote celebrate the 
result at a street party outside the Victorian Trades Hall in Melbourne. AAP

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s promise of same-sex marriage by Christmas will almost certainly be honoured. We will continue to argue for some time whether the long, expensive and emotionally charged process that’s delivered this change was worth it.

The postal survey basically reaffirmed what opinion polls had made clear for some years. It also introduced certain dilemmas for MPs, who were asked to cast a conscience vote while acknowledging the wishes of their constituents.

Before the poll several MPs said they would follow the vote of their electorate. Some opponents of change, like Matthias Corman, felt bound to vote for the legislation. Others, including Pauline Hanson, abstained.

The dilemma is most acute for Labor members in the lower house, as all but four of the electorates that recorded a “no” vote are held by Labor members. Three senior Labor figures – Jason Clare, Tony Burke and Chris Bowen – who represent the electorates with the highest “no” vote all support change.

The Labor members who are opposed are seemingly united by their connections with the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association (SDA), the last bastion of the Catholic right in the Labor Party.

Labor is managing its divisions smartly: clearly the handful of anti-marriage MPs were told they could vote no provided they did nothing to delay or water down the legislation. The same is not true of the government parties, where the marriage debate is caught up in the increasing febrile battles for control.

There will be further attempts in the lower house to introduce “religious freedom” protections into the legislation, despite the fact that it already exempts religious institutions from having to perform same-sex marriages.

In fact, the amendments the right seeks are largely attempts to water down existing anti-discrimination provisions.

Focus on human rights

Much of the discussion has invoked “human rights”, not a concept that is often central in Australian political debate.

There’s a certain irony in members of a government that has long been engaged in rancorous debate with its own Human Rights Commission suddenly wanting to incorporate sections of international human rights law into domestic legislation.

“Human rights” are an abstract notion, which are created, protected and destroyed by political action. Most countries do not recognise human rights as encompassing sexual orientation and gender identity. This has been the subject of increasingly heated debates within United Nations forums.

Australia, like most of what we used to call “the Western world”, is committed internationally to the position Hillary Clinton articulated when she pronounced that “gay rights are human rights”.

Achievement of marriage equality is a further step towards recognition that discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is unacceptable. Symbolically, this is a victory that goes far beyond marriage, even if it is not the support for political correctness that Turnbull’s predecessor, Tony Abbott, foresaw.

But the process has had significant costs, both for the principles of parliamentary government and for thousands of queer Australians, who felt abused and harassed by attacks from the “no” campaign.

As “yes” campaigner Magda Szubanski said:

The LGBTQI community were used as unwilling human guinea pigs in a political experiment. We may never know the exact human cost of this experiment. The truth is some of us did not survive this process.

Magda Szubanski addresses the crowd following the announcement of the same-sex marriage vote result. AAP

New political challenges

Szubanski may be exaggerating, but there is considerable evidence that many people found the protracted campaign very difficult.

Calls to help services for LGBTI people increased considerably. Material and emotional resources that could have gone into other issues were consumed by the marriage debate, although some newly energised young queers may now engage in broader political advocacy.

But most LGBTI Australians are very much like the rest of the country. The week after the poll result the Perth Pride committee banned refugee advocates from their parade.

Although the ruling was retracted under criticism, it was a reminder that the coalition around marriage was often born of immediate self-interest. Despite the language of rights and equality, many marriage advocates have little concern for broader issues.

In the fortnight between the announcement of the poll result and the Senate vote we saw both the forcible removal of men on Manus Island from one makeshift camp to another, and a long parliamentary process establish limited right to die laws in Victoria.

The latter was achieved without a poll or a plebiscite. This showed that parliaments can resolve difficult moral questions through their own processes. The former raised much more intractable questions of human rights than a change to the Marriage Act.

Marriage equality caught the public imagination, in part because despite the fears of the right there are no real losers if marriage is extended to more people.

As former British prime minister David Cameron said, he supported same-sex marriage because he is a conservative. Unfortunately, his Australian counterparts have a less generous vision of conservatism.

David Cameron speaks in support of same-sex marriage legalisation.

This article was written by:





This article is part of a syndicated news program via


More and more older Australians will be homeless unless we act now

 A homeless man sleeping rough in the city. 
More and more older people will be homeless on current trends.

One of the most pressing challenges older Australians face is finding secure accommodation with suitable amenities. And as the numbers of older Australians grow, the pressure to provide housing that meets their needs is increasing. We may be facing a crisis of ageing homelessness in coming years.

A new report from Mission Australia has called on all levels of government to act immediately on the critical shortage of appropriate housing and support services for older Australians at risk of homelessness.

A look at the trajectory of Australia’s ageing population gives a clear sense of the urgency of this issue. Today, 16% of our population is over 65 years of age. By 2101, 25% of Australians are likely to be over 65. People over 55 already make up around 17% of the homeless population – and this figure is likely to grow.

Affordable housing and related aged care services are already in short supply. Evidence of this is the increasing numbers of older homeless people seeking help from specialised homeless services.

Why are older people more at risk?

Older Australians face the same risks of falling into homelessness as everyone else. But they also face extra challenges related to ageing. These include physical and cognitive changes, reduced earning capacity and family changes, on top of the lack of suitable housing alternatives. All these factors can put older people at greater risk of becoming homeless.

Self-funded accommodation is simply not an option for many older Australians. Many depend on social security or social housing to cover accommodation and living expenses. Age Pension payments are modest – a maximum of A$407 per week for single people and A$613.60 for couples – which might be enough if people have adequate superannuation and own their home by the time they retire. Many do not.

The combination of low incomes and rising living costs is a significant factor in older people’s homelessness. The supply of private rental housing or social housing for people on very low incomes is limited.

Even if social housing is available, many of the complexes are poorly maintained or have mixed tenancy. This can cause older people to feel intimidated and isolated.

As rents continue to climb, private renting is beyond the means of many older people. Age discrimination further narrows the restricted market of affordable housing. Landlords may prefer tenants who are receiving a regular income from employment.

People with health problems, including mobility and cognitive impairment, and who require greater support may become unable to maintain their present living arrangements. However, they may also be unable to find or afford accommodation that caters for their needs.

Older people who have suffered elder abuse, in particular financial abuse or failed family accommodation arrangements, are especially vulnerable. Elder abuse is commonly inflicted by close family members. This can both impoverish an individual and isolate them from family support networks.

Which groups are most vulnerable?

Older women are especially at risk. Many women who have raised children and not been in secure paid employment have little or no superannuation in later years. This leaves them with reduced capacity to support themselves, particularly if they have fled family violence.

Traditionally, support services are aimed at younger women with children. Mission Australia has called for investment in housing tailored to the needs of older women experiencing family violence.

Mission Australia has also identified disproportionate numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders among the homeless population. Overcrowded housing is a key factor here. In 2011, 74% of Indigenous people were living in severely overcrowded dwellings.

What needs to be done to reduce homeless?

Significant funding is certainly needed to overcome the ever-growing problem of homelessness in our ageing population. Older Australians are not a homogeneous group. Housing options need to be provided that meet the needs of people with different financial, social, physical and cognitive capabilities.

Funding is also need to put support in place not only to allow people to move from homelessness to permanent accommodation, but also to counter the factors that lead to homelessness. These include the shortage of affordable rental accommodation, lack of accessible support networks, and financial insecurity for older people on low incomes.

Alternative housing options could include congregate housing. In this model, tenants live in units but support staff are on site. Another possible model is campus housing where villages contain housing with different levels of care. If tenants’ level of care changes, they can move to other housing in the village.

Alternative housing for those who are more independent include share housing models, which aim to provide low-cost accommodation to homeless women. Government financial incentives for alternative housing such as granny flats and co-ownership would also help ease the demand on government-run housing facilities.

The need for appropriate housing for our ageing population is urgent. The rise in homelessness among older people is sad but clear. Governments must prioritise research and implementation of a range of accommodation options to better prepare Australians for the challenges of finding suitable housing as they get older.

This article was written by:
Image of Teresa SomesTeresa Somes – [Associate Lecturer, Macquarie University]






This article is part of a syndicated news program via

This is how to create social hubs that make 20-minute neighbourhoods work

 Highton Shopping Village in Geelong. 
Leila FarahaniAuthor provided

Successful neighbourhood centres are important as places to meet and for social activity. People’s access to neighbourhood centres and the diversity of buildings and commercial uses found there can significantly influence how, and to what extent, we interact.

Developing successful neighbourhood centres is at the core of Plan Melbourne’s strategy to create 20-minute neighbourhoods. These are neighbourhoods where people can access most of their needs within a 20-minute walk, cycle or public transport trip.

We recently studied the impacts of having diverse shops, businesses and eating places in suburban neighbourhood centres. Recently published in Urban Design International, our study looked at three such centres in Geelong, Australia.

Good planning can reduce suburban isolation

Often in today’s suburban communities, their only direct connection to cities is through roads and freeways. Immobile residents and people without access to private vehicles, such as teenagers and the elderly, can feel trapped in their homes. Even mobile residents can feel isolated when social interactions depend on using their cars.

Evidence suggests the design and planning of neighbourhoods have impacts on the sense of community and social life in them. Ensuring people have opportunities to interact with others, improving liveability and encouraging a sense of community are now key objectives of government agencies like VicHealth.

Neighbourhood planning and design can encourage face-to-face social interaction in various ways. Promoting diverse commercial uses in local centres is considered to be effective.

Diverse uses promote social activity

Our study mapped users’ activities through observation of how they socialised. The study explored how the arrangement and diversity of commercial uses in neighbourhood centres might better promote or affect the social life of neighbourhoods and reduce isolation. The goal of such strategies is to generate a sociable atmosphere, attract a diversity of users and create more vibrant places at night.

Pavement dining was found to play an important role in generating social activities in neighbourhood centres. Several socialising activities – such as people chatting, having a coffee or meal together – happen around cafés and restaurants. These are also the longest-lasting social interactions.

The areas of greatest social activity on pavements are the ones claimed by café chairs and shades. To encourage social activities on streets, local councils should promote the use of pavements by eateries and other traders.

Food stores and other convenience stores attract many visitors to local centres and enhance the chances of interaction among residents. Besides diversity of uses, the number of stores allocated to each group of uses is important. The right mix of stores and services provides the balance neighbourhood centres need to successfully meet local requirements.

Diversity of uses – rather than housing multiple traders in single-tenant “super” markets – can also enhance the character of a street. Diversity can give a street or a local centre an attractive, sociable atmosphere. Pakington Street, crowded with bars and restaurants, is an example of a vibrant social hub in Geelong.

Pakington Street in Geelong
Pakington Street in Geelong. Leila Farahani, Author provided

Diversity of uses also leads to a diversity of users. Co-locating different commercial uses, such as boutiques and clothing, specialty food shops or gaming parlours, can make streets more appealing to various groups of people. Planning neighbourhood centres that appeal to a diverse range of people in terms of age, gender, physical ability and cultural background can guarantee the vitality and success of local centres.

As well as planning, it’s vital that these social hubs are close to the homes of the people who use them. Suburbs can still be isolating environments if people have to get into their cars to visit their nearest social hub.

Diversity is also important in determining a street’s nightlife and evening economy. This is because certain uses are more prominent in the evening, and enhancing social activity on streets creates a safer night-time environment.

More social, happier and healthier

Why should planners work to promote social interactions? The suburban lifestyle is associated with weaker social ties and increased social isolation. The lower the density the greater these associations.

Social isolation is a major risk factor for morbidity and mortality. Socially isolated people are at risk of low self-esteem and higher rates of coronary heart disease, depression and anxiety. So people living in low-density suburbs are at particularly high risk.

Feelings of isolation in low-density suburbia are harder on some residents than others. People who spend much of their time at home, such as the elderly or those with debilitating disability, are more vulnerable. The story of Natalie Wood, found in her home eight years after her death, is a sad example.

While communication technology sometimes can reduce isolation, this does not replace the value of face-to-face interactions. By analysing and understanding the diversity of uses needed for a local centre and carefully planning a balanced mix of functions, planners can help encourage these interactions and social cohesion in suburbs.

This article was co-authored by:
Image of Leila Mahmoudi FarahaniLeila Mahmoudi Farahani – [Research Officer in Urban Studies, RMIT University];
Image of Cristina Garduño FreemanCristina Garduño Freeman – [Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Australian Centre for Architectural History, Urban and Cultural Heritage (ACAHUCH), University of Melbourne];
Image of David BeynonDavid Beynon – [Senior Lecturer and Architect, Deakin University]
Image of Richard TuckerRichard Tucker – [Associate Professor and Associate Head of School (Research), Deakin University]






This article is part of a syndicated news program via

How do we turn a drain into valued green space? First, ask the residents

Stony Creek drain: untidy and often slightly  
threatening,informal green space still has value for residents,which 
appropriate intervention can enhance. Author provided (No reuse)


This article is based on a paper being presented at the State of Australian Cities Conference in Adelaide, November 28-30.

The green infrastructure of our cities includes both publicly owned, designed and delineated areas and less formal, unplanned areas of vegetation — informal green spaces. These spaces account for a large proportion of urban green areas. However, they are often among the most overlooked and neglected urban spaces, which contributes to negative perceptions, a recent study has found.

Yet informal green spaces represent a largely untapped opportunity to improve liveability and residents’ health and social well-being. Especially in lower socioeconomic areas that lack formal green spaces, improving the condition of informal green spaces can promote their use and enhance neighbourhood liveability.

We can’t afford to waste green space

Green spaces are important indicators of quality of life in cities and suburbs. They are shown to have a wide range of positive impacts.

For residents, the benefits include physical, mental and social health and wellbeing. The multiple environmental benefits include ecosystem servicesimproving microclimate and reducing air pollution, alongside biodiversity conservation.

Owing to such benefits, governments invest a lot in greening projects or improving green spaces. Sometimes these interventions include informal green spaces to increase their accessibility, use and potential benefits to residents.

Picture of a concrete waterway
The researchers surveyed residents about the Upper Stony Creek channel area. Author provided

Upper Stony Creek, an urban waterway restoration in Melbourne’s west, is a good example. Work will soon transform the concrete drainage channel, now separated from the residential area, into an accessible urban wetland and park.

Further reading: How Melbourne’s west was greened

Residents’ perceptions and uses

Clean Air and Urban Landscapes (CAUL) Hub researchers from RMIT University investigated residents’ perceptions and uses of Upper Stony Creek and the adjacent informal green space before the start of the intervention.

Interviews with residents showed overall impressions of the site were negative. An overwhelming majority of them commented on the site’s undesirable features.

Lack of regular maintenance, lack of access, feeling unsafe and litter were among their main concerns. Safety concerns included natural hazards, such as the presence of snakes (encouraged by a lack of regular maintenance), crime and local drug trade. These concerns affected when and how often residents used the site.

The negative perceptions suggested residents were looking forward to the intervention. They believed it would improve the informal green space and their neighbourhood.

Picture of a concrete channel with green open land beside it
Residents do use the informal green space alongside the concrete channel.

In spite of their misgivings, residents found value in using the area for practices typically found in formal green spaces such as dog-walking. They also used it for less typical practices such as motorbike riding. The lack of restrictions in these spaces allows for uses that might not be acceptable in more formalised urban spaces.

In fact, residents appreciated the sense of exploration, informality and feelings of being away from urbanisation that the site provided.

Informal green spaces are filling a niche not met by more formal green spaces. This means interventions to transform informal green spaces should, where possible, take into account residents’ current uses of these areas.

Further reading: More than just drains: recreating living streams through the suburbs

Ensuring work improves these spaces

Our findings highlight the importance of considering and understanding residents’ perceptions and concerns about informal green spaces for informing work on these spaces.

Our case study suggests small interventions, which aim to resolve the main concerns such as lack of maintenance and safe access, can increase the use of informal green spaces without resorting to entirely formalising the space. In fact, understanding residents’ needs and expectations could result in more cost-effective interventions that won’t jeopardise the informal character of such areas.

Each informal green space will be unique in its features and characteristics, as will residents’ perceptions of it. Therefore, understanding these sites and residents’ lived experiences and concerns more completely through in-depth consultation will be important to ensure interventions meet community needs and expectations.

A sound knowledge of how informal green spaces are used, or of why they are not being used, can inform planners and decision-makers when intervening in such spaces to increase the liveability of urban neighbourhoods.

The authors welcome collaboration with local councils and other organisations to help understand residents’ uses and perceptions of informal green spaces when undertaking improvements or waterway restorations.

This article was co-authored by:
Image of Leila Mahmoudi FarahaniLeila Mahmoudi Farahani – [Research Officer in Urban Studies, RMIT University]
Image of Cecily MallerCecily Maller – [Vice Chancellor’s Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Urban Research, RMIT University]






This article is part of a syndicated news program via

Social media study points to a close result in the same-sex marriage vote

 An Australian Bureau of Statistics postal  
vote for marriage law reform, yes or no. AAP

With just a few days to go before the postal vote closes on the same-sex marriage issue, there are plenty of strong opinions on all sides of the debate.

Our detailed study of the opinions expressed on Twitter shows the result could be a narrow defeat of the Yes campaign, with 49.17% support.

That figure is at odds with early opinion polls, some of which predicted up to 60% support and more for the Yes campaign. So how did we reach this lower figure?

Big data

We used advanced data analytics, developed at Griffith University’s Big Data and Smart Analytics Lab, which have proven uncannily accurate at predicting the outcomes of hard-to-call polls. Despite strong polling to the contrary, our method predicted the outcome of the US presidential election.

We looked at the publicly available data from 458,565 anonymised Australian Tweets making reference to same-sex marriage over October 2017.

We gauged the sentiment of these tweets with a rule-based model that combines a domain-specific lexicon (a dictionary of terms with assigned sentiment weighting) with a series of intensifiers (the punctuation, emoticons and other heuristics). Together, this makes it possible to know which side of the debate the person sits on, and how strongly they feel about it.

Going beyond the sentiment of the Tweet, machine learning determines the gender, age and even educational level of the sender, along with the general intention of the Tweet. All of this is deduced from the person’s writing style, vocabulary and various other factors.

Digging deeper

On the face of it, when all the captured Tweets were considered, there appears to be overwhelming support for Yes, with 72% in favour.

But digging deeper, we see that some individuals sent more than 1,000 Tweets in support of Yes. Of the 458,565 Tweets we examined, the number of unique users came down to just 207,287.

Taking the sentiment of the unique users into account, the adjusted figure in support of Yes comes down to 57%. It is acknowledged that the campaign Tweets will have influenced public opinion to some degree.

Over-55s under-represented

Looking carefully at the demographics, it emerges that less than 15% of the total Tweets were sent by people over the age of 55. Of these over-55s, only 34% expressed support for Yes.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), which is conducting the postal vote, from the total number of people in Australia eligible to vote, around 36% are over 55.

If we consider that the same proportion of over-55s and under-55s do not vote, then based on the opinion of the 207,287 unique social media users, the total support for the Yes position comes down to 49%.

So it is likely to be a close-run result, much closer than the earlier polls suggested, and leaning in the direction of No.

How reliable is the result?

One of the problems with predicting poll outcomes is that people are often reluctant to say out loud what they really think about issues. What people say online can often be more accurate than what they say to each other in this age of political correctness.

In the lead-up to the recent US presidential election, the polls pointed to a Hillary Clinton win because many people were publicly saying “No” to Trump when asked by pollsters. But in the privacy of the booth, people quietly voted according to what they actually thought.

Improvement in big data analytics are made possible through cheaper, faster computers, exponentially greater volumes of data, and more advanced deep learning algorithms. This winning trifecta is creating possibilities and value that did not exist even a few years ago.

The Big Data and Smart Analytics Lab uses the “human sensor approach” that has greatly improved prediction quality. This takes the whole person into consideration, including the ways they create the meaning that is transmitted on the web.

Privacy concerns are paramount, so all data are legally required to be anonymised.

So how accurate is our result? We will know on November 15 when the ABS announces the result of the postal vote.

As of October 27 the ABS said it had received around 12.3 million survey responses, amounting to 77% of the 16 million eligible voters.

Forms must be received by the ABS by 6pm (local time) November 7 to be included in the count, so there is still time to cast your vote.

This article was co-authored by:
Image of David TuffleyDavid Tuffley – [Senior Lecturer in Applied Ethics and SocioTechnical Studies, School of ICT., Griffith University]
Image of Bela Stantic Bela Stantic – [Professor, Director of Big data and smart analytics lab, Griffith University]






This article is part of a syndicated news program via