The 80’s introduced us to the mullet, leg warmers, spandex and …. the NIMBY. Fast forward to the 2010’s and we’ve seen the battle in our suburbs reaching fever pitch, with poor community perceptions of process, players, outcomes. There’s a battle playing out, and it feels like our industry, whether working in the private or public sector, and the consultant or developer role, has lost community trust.
It might feel like we’re Up ‘Ship’ Creek without a Paddle. But is it that we’ve got the wrong tools? Have we set ourselves up for failure, for example with our language?
When we reflect on where we are at, the challenges we have faced and the changing community values, it’s no wonder many of us are wondering how we got here? 2020 has had arguably one of the most depressing starts to a new decade for a very long time. Droughts, fire, floods, pandemic outbreaks and personal tragedies have been the headlines since the very first day of the year and have yet to let up. It certainly isn’t a rosy start by anyone’s standard.
It would be hard to find anyone who doesn’t believe we need a new vision to inform the changes to our policies and land use strategies and approach to our environment needed to ensure we don’t end up as fill-in actors in bad b-grade, end of the world type Hollywood blockbuster. But how do we do this when the community believes, because we keep telling them, that change is bad? Change is all about the “impact” on their lives and how, if at all, this impact might be mitigated, and worst case we now talk about “banning” certain outcomes. We have become very black and white in such a complex and varied world.
In a decade that has seen the me-too movement pushing forward social injustices and basic human rights, will we now see movement to start to change how we approach development, one that is truly inclusive and doesn’t just reflect the “squeaky wheels” and Facebook thumbs-up as the key indicators. Change is on the cards, and perhaps 2020 will be the decade for us to break some of the past shackles.
Can we make 2020 the Age of Awareness? And Fairness? And Positivity? Imagine if we could start 2020 again with a positive outlook, an approach that rewards the positive, supporting a community that embraces words such as ‘quality’, ‘design’, ‘well considered’, over ‘impact’, ‘banned’ or ‘constraints’. Surely it’s our prerogative to diffuse tension and concern within our communities by identifying a vision that will lead us into a positive future?
It’s time to change the narrative. And our language. Let’s challenge whether the language within planning rules set us up for failure. The use of the word ‘impact’ kills good intentions of a positive development outcome (such as design merit or community benefit) from the out-set, by generating negative connotations, affecting, confusing and potentially misleading community perceptions about the development. Communicating without bias or negativity must be key to the future of our community conversation.
It’s time for change.
Do you think the language ‘Impact Assessment’ should be changed? Click here to vote.
Co-written by Natalie Rayment and Brent O’Neill.