Opinion: Community King in the Development Game

More than two-thirds of people believe Sydney is “full” according to new polling released yesterday by Fairfax Media.

In a ReachTel poll 66.4 per cent of NSW residents opposed more development in existing areas, whilst 22.8 per cent supported development, and 10.7 per cent were undecided.

These findings and broad sweeping statements like “the city is full” aren’t new – they are the types of statements we hear consistently in the planning world.

What is at the heart of this issue is not whether people want more development but what they want as they grow older or their children have families of their own.

Do they want to live near family and friends? Do they want the big house with the sprawling yard? Do they want to be able to have amenities close by?

Because if these were the questions asked, I would argue the broad sweeping statements would quickly change tact.

The challenge is that we are using development figures as political jousting poles rather than communicating the challenges of our cities and bringing the community on the journey as to how we resolve these. Development is a critical part of this, but it is actually the how, where, and what that beg the question.

For years’ community consultation has been a core part of the planning strategy of both the public and private sectors alike.

Often though, this consultation has been led by those trying to pull community along, rather than partnering with them on the journey. The challenge with this traditional form of consultation is that we have city experts trying to “dumb down” their technical talk which amounts to the same outcome as someone trying to achieve a medical diagnosis from google – worst case scenarios and “the sky is falling in” positions are assumed.

But what if consultation took a different approach?

Combining insights from our planning and design realm, and communicating in a way which clearly outlines the challenges and how we can overcome them would enable us to break the “Utopia” model so expertly displayed by the ABC.

By listening first and acting second it would allow our city-shapers to gather insights into the heart of our community issues and create plans which not only were supported by community – but led by them.

Sounds obvious, but the reality is we need to go back and realise that community is king. Political parties no matter the side, must take a position on development. But at the end of the day, no matter which position this is, they will not determine the outcome — communities will dictate what succeeds.

Development, no matter how we look at it, will continue to be a critical component to the growth of our cities and regions. Based on the 2017 Global Cities Index which gives merits based on strong business environment, access to top talent and the world’s best cultural experience, Sydney is ranked 17. The top five cities averaging a population of 7.238 million — 1.8 times Sydney’s population.

By 2036 Sydney is estimated to grow by another 1.74 million, so with this population boom, development growth is not a question that needs to be answered – it is simply a reality.

As we move forward we need to stop asking if community want more or not. We need to start partnering with them to determine how to deliver development that not only supports our growing population effectively but also ensures these communities thrive.


Contributed by Beth Toon.

As general manager and director at Place Design Group, Beth has 15 years industry experience and was awarded the 2017 women in leadership excellence award (UDIA QLD) and the national emerging leader in Architecture and Design (Women’s Agenda).

The Urban Developer will occasionally publish opinion pieces written by outside contributors representing a wide range of viewpoints. 

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