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Video: Mark Allen workshop on Population, Planning and Permaculture

This population workshop took place in Melbourne's strongly multicultural northern suburbs, at a Community house open day in Thornbury. It deals with Australia's population and planning problems from the point of view of socially and ecologically sustainable future. What is causing Australia's very high population growth? How to preserve Australia's established multicultural communities? How to limit growth. Democracy and planning. Relocalisation and planning. Interactive with audience. Mark Allen studied town planning at the University of South Australia and has worked as a planner in three states. His frustration at the planning system's inability to deliver sustainable outcomes led him to leave the profession in order to concentrate on spreading awareness about the important role that town planning can play in mitigating climate change, biodiversity loss and social isolation. Mark's approach to sustainable planning is heavily influenced by two of his mentors, permaculture co-founder David Holmgren and labor MP Kelvin Thompson who advocates for a slower more manageable rate of population increase.

Melbourne's population is increasing by 100,000 a year and the population of Melbourne as a whole is set to double in just a few decades. So how will this be managed? Will there be new Prestons and Fitzroys where you can walk to a local baker or cycle to the library? Will there be new ethnic cultural hubs like Footscray and Richmond whereby new migrants can express their culture in meaningful communities while adding to the rich tapestry of our multicultural society? No, these people will be scattered like ashes in the wind to far off housing estates while facing the prospect of increasingly longer daily commutes. Alternatively they will be crammed into tiny flats and squeezed onto an ageing and already over-stretched public transport network. This is because the same ponzi-economic scheme that demands a massive rate of population growth cannot provide resilient sustainable communities. A new permaculture/ urban ecology approach is required.

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A qualified town planner who actually criticizes population growth instead of worshipping and celebrating it makes for a rare breed. There is a lot of pressure and expectations on town planners these days, and it's assumed that there can be massive "population pressure" that can be smoothed out by these miracle workers! It all comes down to "planning", not forethought and logic! They are expected to have the silver bullet and be able to protect our living standards, accommodate population explosions, promote the industry of unlimited urban growth, and keep everybody happy!

Urban sprawl is threatening our market gardens and local food supplies in Melbourne. How can planners actually produce more food, with less land and resources? The Cornucopopia myth is well and truly entrenched into the minds of our politicians, and because of their wealth, they and their families will be immune to the squeeze! Surely when the "brick wall" of limits to growth are reached, then it's time to rethink the growth era! Unaffordable housing, joblessness, homelessness, infrastructure deficit, and food IN-security - the growth stage is over!

I believe that policies and planning need to be primarily about and considerate of the people living in a given place right now, today and their children rather than about people who may come to the country from overseas tomorrow or any time in the future.
Whether urban density is increased by covering more of the soil with dwellings or making buildings higher to fit in more people, densification must make it increasingly difficult to practice permaculture in our cities. As i understand it, permaculture requires soil, water and sun. The closer people in their dwellings are squeezed together the less possibility there is to grow anything. Your neighbour's 2nd storey extension on your north boundary will most likely be be the end of your plans to grow corn and green vegetables. The only possibility I can think of to mitigate something as devastating as lost sunlight, blocked by a high building is a system of mirrors but ultimately the mirrors will, themselves block out sunlight.
The effects of blocked sunlight extend to the generation of electricity with solar panels installed on the roof of your house. Once you get a 3 storey block of apartments next door, the sunlight will be blocked from the panels on the roof of your single storey house. In any multi storey building it is only the top floor that actually has a roof on which to put solar panels.
I conclude that population growth needs to be slowed right down with a major cut to non-refugee migration (by far the largest part of Australia's intake from overseas) in order for planning for sustainability to have any hope of making sense and achieving its goals.

Don't people realise that many other cultures come from areas where high densification is the norm? Where it is more tolerated? Where our townhouses and shoddy units would be welcome?

Do these people not travel? Do they not actually speak to migrants? Do people who like our "rich tapestry" actually bother to listen and find out what "new Australians" expectations actually are?

It is self defeating to argue for sensible planning and multiculturalism at the same time. OUR culture likes space, others not so much. If it was, then groups arguing for sustainable population would resemble Melbourne in terms of cultural mix, but they don't. I think I'm the only one who's noticed this.

The future of Melbourne is suited to many on the planet. Even if it is high rises and no yards or green space.

What you will tolerate is relative to what you started with, what you are used to and what your peers have. Any step up will be welcome, I would imagine if one's main reason for re-locaing is economic. (For some refugees , re-locating for other than economic reasons could conceivably be or have been actually a step down in economic and living circumstances compared with what they had originally.)
So with high economic migration to Australia it is a case of someone's gain being at the expense of the incumbent population. Those who live in Australia especially in the bigger cities see a constant decline in their lived environment. Eventually it will all seem normal and no-one will remember the way it was in the year 2000 or even in 2015. There will be a new "normal" with far more concrete , far less green, far less space, far fewer trees, hardly any native animals or birds in the urban and suburban environment. What people hate is to have their well- being, their amenity, their wealth stripped from them. The pain will go away when there is no-one left who remembers and if change is slow enough not be in -your -face every day.

Yes Megan, this is what I think is happening. Our "standard of living", or state of civilisation is being liquidated for profit and power. Kind of like inheriting a house, then tearing it apart to make some money. But what is happening, is the system is geared so a few beneficiaries benefit from the liquidation and everyone else pays. Housing is one of the big ways it is done, but not the only.

We are in the "deconstruction" phase, where we pull apart what others have built with blood, sweat and tears. Almost all of it is done by people who have no right or mandate to do so. You can also see it with respect to vital freedoms, culture, civic rights, they are all being deconstructed.

Listen to the way people talk about migration. It often invokes ideas of sacrifice, dealing with unwanted change, etc. In the past, migration was considered to be only for our benefit. Now, it is used to create laws to limit freedom and lower living standards due to some obligation.

So essentially, the future standard of living for the young and future generations is being quite literally taken from then, for profit today. Their space is being torn apart and divided, and the economic system is altered to cater for this.

The politicians struggle to understand why they cant balance the budget, or why there is a constant state of economic crisis...

It also therefore indicates it is NOT just a planning issue, as some seem to suggest. The planning issues exist because the new normal created by the elite permits it, recommends it, and considers it factually sound.

We will see more and more "extreme" groups emerge, like Reclaim and the newly minted ALA, because of this.

There is another factor though, many will simple leave. Australia may suffer a brain drain as people will find better opportunities elsewhere. I am considering this seriously myself.

I think to suggest that town house living is purely the domain of new migrants is an oversimplification. The colonial-era town houses of the inner suburbs of Melbourne for example are mainly inhabited by white, educated middle class residents. I do understand your concerns however because the problem is that most attempts at town-house development and higher density living in the past few decades have been very shoddy indeed. This is in part due to our planning system being too accommodating to profit-driven developers and because our population is growing at too fast a rate to enable well considered planning outcomes. This is why, on the current trajectory, the future of Melbourne is indeed one of increasing high-rise and ever diminishing green space and of course suburban sprawl. I believe that sensible planning and multiculturalism can go hand in hand but it requires sound planning and a manageable rate of population growth.

I did not mean to imply that townhouses are the domain of migrants. My argument is that other cultures, based on my observation, are less perturbed by denser living arrangements. This is evidenced by living standards overseas, and the demographics of people in Australia who show political concern about crowding.

This is also based on discussion at my very diverse workplace, where there is a clear division.

Why this is so I wont speculate on.

I also note fewer younger people are worried, so there is a generational aspect as well, though young people today fight for nothing unless explicitely authorised and told to anyway.

Coming Up on Q&A

Population control, education and diversity could be on the agenda this week. Joining us on the panel in our Sydney studio:

Internationally renowned ecologist and biologist Paul Ehrlich; Minister for Education and Training Simon Birmingham;
Shadow Finance Minister Tony Burke; Comedian and Broadcaster Wendy Harmer; Businesswoman, Diverse Australasian Womens’ Network Dai Le;

Please register for the audience now or submit a video question by 9am Monday.

Watch Q&A Monday 9.35pm on ABC, streamed live 9.35pm AEDT on ABC iview or on our website

Paul Ehrlich was a refreshing blast of intellect, especially compared with rest of the dull and predicable guests on the ABC's "Q and A" panel last night. So, he may have been a few decades out in some of his predictions of last century but it's not as though the "population bomb" is NOT in the process of exploding. It is. Britain may not be full of hungry people as apparently predicted but surely it is well past its best in terms of well-being for all? Likewise, Australia where quality of life and well-being are falling as the population rises.

When about a billion people on the planet don't get enough to eat, the world's wild life is in an utterly precarious position due to human overpopulation, and the world population has doubled since Ehrlich’s book came out it's not as though he was wildly wrong or that the opposite has come to pass. As Ehrlich pointed out last night , it's hard to predict the future and not get some things wrong. One needs to look for themes in past writings about the future for what the writer was able to foresee even if it isn’t a replica of the actual present.

George Orwell's dystopia of "Nineteen eighty four" was not recognizable as having arrived that year but it would have been premature to say, as one did on January 1st 2000 re the Y2K problem "Phew , we got past that and it didn't happen."

Surely elements of what George Orwell portrayed in his 1949 work are recognizable in today’s world are elements of what Paul Ehrlich had to say?

The study as outlined in a recent article in The Conversation compares the recent pattern of dwelling approvals by housing type in Sydney and Melbourne and concludes 'that there are too few separate houses being approved in both cities and too many apartments, especially in Melbourne.'

This backs-up what I have been saying at workshops for the past several months; that the current high-density apartment building boom in Sydney and Melbourne will have no meaningful impact upon slowing urban sprawl in the medium to long-term. This is because more than 90 percent of new apartment approvals in Melbourne 'are predominantly tiny 60 square metre or smaller dwellings with no access to protected outdoor space' and 'are totally unsuitable for raising a family'. Furthermore they are tiny because 'investors prefer to buy at prices below $600,000'.

This raises two important points. The first is that we need to be clear that the vast majority of Public Transport Orientated Development (TOD) in Melbourne and Sydney is aimed at property investors and secondly that it would likely cost more than 600,000 dollars to purchase a unit that is even remotely suitable for raising a family. This means that it is highly unlikely that the people who are currently forced to live in the car dependent outer suburbs could ever afford to live in the TOD that is being built today.

The author of the article calls for a sharp increase in detached dwellings to make up the shortfall but doesn't specify how this can be achieved without increasing development on the urban fringe. He also doesn't question the high rate of population growth that is greatly exacerbating the problem.

Interestingly he does say that migrants may eventually end up by-passing Australia altogether and that those who choose to stay will have to make adjustments to their lifestyle such as delaying starting a family. This feeds into another point that I often raise; that if you have a population policy based upon raising GDP and stimulating the property market, the town planning outcome is such that it becomes increasingly more difficult for new migrants to feel part of a community. This has a profoundly negative impact upon refugees and other people who come here in order to feel part of meaningful and supportive society.

Fortunately the issue of population is discussed in the comments section which is well worth a read.

The root of Sydney and Melbourne’s housing crisis: we’re building the wrong thing (2/11/15) | The Conversation

The study, on the housing crisis in Sydney and Melbourne, which was conducted by founding director of the Centre for Population and Urban Research at Monash University Dr Bob Birrell and former Deloitte Analytics partner David McCloskey, estimates that Sydney and Melbourne will receive around half of the 240,000 people expected to migrate to Australia every year until 2022, which will require Sydney to build another 308,000 dwellings and Melbourne another 355,000, if they are to accommodate both overseas migrants and a growing local population.

The authors note that although current urban policy is aimed at housing a growing population, based largely on immigration levels. It's a deliberate policy, based on great favoritism for the housing industry, and real estate.

The report notes the strain that an increasing number of older people living alone in detached houses will have on the market, especially as data shows that the share of older households living in detached dwellings does not start to decline significantly until people reach 75 years of age. It's an admission that our living standards won't be maintained, but downgraded. It's a cruel way of dividing the community against older people who are "hogging" the market and stalling "progress". The inner and middle suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne, as of 2011, has 50 to 60 per cent of the separate housing stock was occupied by older households… They are meant to shove-off and allow young people to move in, by building apartments and towers.

The divisive policy will create tension and pressure on the community, but the fact that more than half of the new home occupiers will be from overseas will be ignored. It's all about a stagnant, non-productive shallow economy, addicted to construction and housing, and little diversity!

Population, Planning and Permaculture - On The Radio

Tune in to City Limits on 3CR and hear what DIO member Mark Allen has to say about thestate of urban development in Melbourne and why we need to transition to a permaculturebased method of town planning.

When: 10 Feb, 9am - 10am

Where: 3CR Community Radio (855 AM)

Population, Permaculture and Planning Workshop 

Is it possible to accommodate a growing population without unacceptably 
high density 
living and urban sprawl? If so, what rate of population growth 
should we be looking at and 
what types of community should we be creating? 
Join Mark Allen to This discuss the 
merits of village style living in combination 
with permaculture principles and asks the 
question, where do we go from here?

When: 14 Feb12-12.30pm

Where: Under the Gum, Birrarung Marr

More Details...

Sandra Kanck, President of Sustainable Population Australia, writes:

Hello my women friends and compatriots!

I encourage you to sign the petition "The Hon Julie Bishop MP, Minister for Foreign Affairs, The Hon Steven Ciobo MP, Minister for International Development and the Pacific: Increase the proportion of Australian aid spending on family planning to 5%".

There's much talk of providing education to women in developing nations to help bring about gender equality, but nothing empowers them more - and quicker - than family planning and contraception.

Go to where you can sign.