By Natalie Rayment
A “tragic street lamp”, “ungainly skeleton” and “a hole-riddled suppository”. This is how protesters once described the proposed Eiffel Tower in the 1880s. There was even a lawsuit submitted by neighbours of the proposed structure. They wanted to stop construction. They feared the tower would dominate the park, may fall and could attract lightning bolts to the area. Today, the tower is the most visited paid monument in the world and has become a symbol of Paris itself.
This is an example of “place attachment”. Significant meaning has been attached to a physical place. We tend to attach meaning to the places that we live in. People can feel threatened when their places of meaning begin to change. Change is unsettling and it can make some people feel afraid.
But change can be a good thing, especially in cities. New housing can improve affordability. Density in the right areas can promote walkability, reduce our reliance on cars and improve our health. It can also increase the vitality of the neighbourhood as new businesses become established, adding life to the city.
With all the benefits that good development outcomes bring, why is the fear of change the leading voice in the urban development debate? It could be the way that new development is typically described in mass media.
Last year, researchers analysed how urban consolidation was represented in 456 newspaper articles published in Brisbane between 2007-2014. They found that the metaphors used to described urban consolidation in Brisbane media “were overwhelmingly negative”*.
In a particularly telling statement, the researchers identified that the Brisbane media personifies neighbourhoods as “ailing bodies being “choked” by high rises (Sunday Mail, March 11, 2007), having their “hearts ripped out by higher density development” (Courier Mail, September 28, 2009) and being “slowly crushed under the bureaucratic iron heel of high density” (Courier Mail, January 29, 2010). These metaphors serve to juxtaposition wholesome, ‘human,’ existing low-density communities with ‘inhuman,’ parasitic or robotic new high-rise developments. These metaphors draw heavily on the ideas of death or disease in an attempt to foster empathy for the plight of traditional suburbs and subjugate and dehumanise the dwellers of high density“**.
Maybe the real culprit is poorly designed development? But even the best designed, green, community focused and innovative development projects attract some opposition. Take the Nightingale 2.0 project in Victoria. It features all four of our YIMBY Qld qualities. Yet Council’s approval was appealed due to a handful of local residents making an objection. This is despite 200 letters of support from other members of the community.
How can we reduce the impact of the fear of change in an urban growth context? Canadian researchers surveyed residents of the growing city of Kelowna and tested their response to different messages about urban consolidation. The study showed that a NIMBY response drops if you use positive messages about the benefits of increased housing density***.
The way that new development is framed has powerful repercussions on how people feel about change in their cities. YIMBY Qld is trying to bring back balance to the urban development debate by highlighting the benefits of good development outcomes.
Can you imagine the Paris of today without the Eiffel Tower? A lack of balance in the urban debate means that iconic and landmark projects are not even being given the chance to become places of meaning. As John F. Kennedy said “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future”.
*Raynor, K., Matthews, T., & Mayere, S. (2015). Defining the density debate in Brisbane: How urban consolidation is represented in the media. In State of Australian Cities National Conference 2015, 9-11 December 2015, Gold Coast, Qld.
***Doberstein, C., Hickey, R., & Li, E. (2016). Nudging NIMBY: Do positive messages regarding the benefits of increased housing density influence resident stated housing development preferences? Land Use Policy, 54, 276-289. doi:10.1016/j.landusepol.2016.02.025