Factors and Fallacies in Urban Consolidation:
As proponents of urban consolidation and consolidated living continue
to manifest in our society, we must ensure that our acknowledgment of
its benefits, and the problems of its agitator (sprawl), do not hinder
our caution over its continually changing objectives.
Like much urban policy, the potential benefits that urban consolidation
and the urban village concept seek to offer are substantially
undermined by ambiguous definition. This ambiguity, as expressed
through a general lack of inter-governmental and inter-professional
cohesion on this policy, can best be understood in terms of individual
* State Government^s participatory role in the reduction of
* Urban Professional^s recognition of the increased variability,
robustness, and interest in both the urban area and their work.
* Conservation Activist^s commendation of the lower consumption of
resources, and reduced pressure on sensitive environment areas,
suggestive of a reduction in urban sprawl.
* The Development Industry^s equations of profit established through
better and higher levels of land use.
Essentially urban consolidation proposes an increase of either
population or dwellings in an existing defined urban area
(Roseth,1991). Furthermore, the suburban village seeks to establish
this intensification within a more specific agenda, in which community
is to be centred by public transport nodes, and housing choice is to be
widened with increased diversity of housing type (Jackson,1998). The
underlying premise of this swing towards urban regeneration, and the
subsequent debate about higher-density development, is the
reconsideration of the suburban ideal and the negative social and
environmental implications inherent in its continuation (Johnson,
1994). In reference to this regeneration is the encouragement of
greater community participation, a strengthening and broadening of
urban life and culture, and a halt to physical, environmental and
economic decline (Hill,1994).
Myths and Misunderstanding
The relative successes of practical solutions to the urban
consolidation model are constrained within the assumptions underpinning
them. Appropriating community desire towards a more urban lifestyle
ignores the basic fact that people chose to live in the suburbs
(Stretton,1975). Suburbia as an ideal, is a preference based on
perpetual stability, be it though neighbourhood identity or the act of
home ownership ^ a view not reflected in planning models heavily biased
towards highly mobile societies.
Cost benefits deemed to be provided by higher-density living, in terms
of more efficient use of infrastructure, are realized primarily in the
private sectors (Troy,1998). A result inconclusive to State government
objectives towards reduced public spending.
Traffic reduction as an expressed direct result of higher-density
residential living is largely incorrect. A falsehood achieved by using
density as a substitute for sociological variables such as income,
household size, and lifestyle characteristics (Moriarty,1996). Traffic
reduction stems primarily from a decision to drive (Engwight,1992), a
contributing factor not easily adjustable by urban planning alone.
Overemphasis of the contribution inner-city urban renewal has towards
urban sprawl has allowed the prolongation of unchecked urban fringe
development. The recurrence of the ^parcel-by-parcel (Girling,1994)^
distribution of new suburban development has not received the same
amount of active participation, or concerted research and development,
as governments have generated in existing urban areas.
Solutions in Themselves.
Too often the priority of consolidated land use is defined solely by
density and cost analysis of infrastructure (Danielsen,1998). This
produces a lack in qualitative understanding of the initial, highly
humanitarian, aspects that consolidated living curtailed. It is in this
vein that consequential detriments such as physical encroachment and
overcrowding, unsympathetic housing styles (AIUSH,1991), and increased
gentrification of urban areas inexplicably occur. In such, planning
seems to produce solutions to symptoms, rather than address the issues
which cause them.
Critical design failure arises from superficial viewpoints on such
fundamentals as neighbourhood and community (Mack,1977). In such the
built form dubiously grounds itself on place making, removed from the
reality that people are the essential component of the place
The only way in which adequate understanding, of actual community
desires and obligations, can emerge is through active public
consultation, and heavy local government involvement. Public
consultation for the sake of public consultation is not only
insignificant, but unjust. Non-desirable political gains may include;
* Participation to inform (pre-warn) citizens of intended action.
* Participation to organise ^Ñvoluntary^Ò campaigns and work.
* Participation to stall and combat organised opposition.
* Participation to secure reliable feedback. (Kirk,1980)
It is often the case where public consultation is involved in the
plan-making process after a limited range of options have been
clarified. Consequently the beneficial possibilities arising from the
integration of the higher-density objective into collective public
attitude, where an autonomous solution can be reached, is denied.
Instead, objections towards urban renewal and consolidated initiatives
are easily allied due to counter-emotive arguments not resolved by
cooperative harmonisation of goals.
Economic rationale biased to higher-residential densities does not
recognise the potential for other (traditional) measures of
consolidated efficiencies (AIUSH,1991). Planning resolutions involving
such aspects as lot frontage, have been disregarded, and may provide a
far greater measure of public transport, and urban village success.
Who is to blame?
The articulation of blame is a misrepresentation of the problems
inherent with urban policy in general. Holistically, everyone is, in
part, responsible. However, the futility of the current organisational
strategies is not to be excused.
Governments and community response has generally been short term
(BCC,1996). The reasoning is simple and two tier; State and Federal
Governments are elected primary on short term contracts, whereas Local
Governments and community organisations maintain a more stable,
continuing set of goals and motivations (Petrulis,1998); Local
Government and community organisations have, as a rule, substantially
less authority over public policy, and a definite underrepresented
amount of public funding (Alexander,1998).
Policy that is continually directed top-down is to blame. The
misdirection of federally derived funds, through State legislature is
stretching the ethical margins, and challenging its moral obligations
as a public service provider not a provider for the public-service.
The State Governments were able to appropriate the rhetoric of social
justice and environmental sustainability that define ^Building Better
Cities^, and at the same time use this language and the funds provided
by the federal government to consolidate an agenda of market-led urban
development and the aggressive encouragement of property speculation.
Regardless of the reduction of the present day support we justify
government by, a shift explained by Stretton (1996) where ^Our
politicians have taught their electors to expect tax cuts, refuse tax
increase, and despise government^, the supposed fiscal difficulties
incurred by government do not impose urgent reductions in public
spending ^ this ^freeze (Jackson,1998)^ placed upon social
infrastructure is a strict resultant of choice.
In this constricted social environment, momentum must be gained
alternatively through essential partnership between the public and
private realms. The full extent of Frieden^s (1991) ^urban vitality^,
gained through these partnerships, can only be fulfilled if the
existing rules, regulations and red tape, that are non-descriptive and
non-defining to individual situations, are alleviated (Anderson,1998) ^
essentially we have too many rule making agencies (AIUSH,1991).
Critical factors in the reinforcement of the need for urban
consolidation to be established as a fundamental urban reality can be
seen in the alternative ^ the continuation of urban sprawl. Even if all
the assumptions are exaggerated, and the doomsday predictions are
dramatically fantasised, there is major collective apprehension towards
ANY further encroachment within the biological environment. Something
needs to be done.
Quality of life in all respects and purposes should be the ultimate
gain. Appraisal of this quality should be bound by no prejudges,
pre-conclusions, or a variable market value. If not planning will
instead deny equity (so proactively sought) and therefore careful
intent and design would be subtractive rather than representative of
community base. In exacting theoretical discovery, no matter how
publicly participated, citizens as part of a just a democratic society
should not be made the guinea pigs of experimental reform.
In terms of removing the faults from planning practice, it must be kept
mindful that just as increased public transport is not an answer in
itself, neither is physical and social planning. In as much by
continually educating the community, in all aspects of urban practice,
thereby facilitating a multifaceted participatory approach, will yield
solutions otherwise undiscovered by good planning practice
Practical applications must ultimately be ends tested. Public transport
and more efficient vehicles do nothing other than strengthen the need
to keep planning for roads. Urban density is to often confused with
housing form (Jackson,1998). The wholesale demolition of existing areas
for incredibly ^heroic (McLoughlin,1991)^ achievements in density are
not only non-proportionally effective, but also this new building
denies the creative possibilities of adapting existing environments.
The importance of preserving emotive neighbourhood character provisions
such as established trees, and corner stores, is pinnacle. When we
destroy the greenery and the individuality of a place we destroy the
justification for the suburbs, the mandate of the masses, which
ultimately means failed consolidation.
All of the aforementioned articles of increased sustainability expose a
greater need for radical social change. We must enact a fundamental
change, at both the individual and community levels to make sacrifices
for the common good!
Options for Action
What society needs is clear, valid and up to date objectives ^ a vision
^ from which a set of individualistic solutions can be consistently
derived (AIUSH,1991). These derivations shall be firmly rooted in local
government and other community organizations; an agenda that will
become increasingly pertinent as political environments destabilise,
due to minority parties and the likes, and less conductive to long-term
However, this is not to decline a multilevel and multidisciplinary
approach. Regional prospective must be applied so as to avoid periphery
degradation of local governments areas, maintain open space networks,
facilitate regional public transport and freight links, and to preserve
a greater regional identity (RCC,1998). Over this Government needs to
be organised in such a way that organisation in itself does not
interfere with the coordination of all efforts concerned (Hill,1994).
The must be an importance placed on professionally recognising and
supporting a broader cultural shift towards ^post-modernism, pluralism,
power and desire, small batch production, local narratives, indigenous
architecture and place (Stevenson,1999)^ ^ an environmental conscious,
and the inclination toward sustainability. For that reason, there needs
to be a more environmentally sensitive form emerging, a revolutionary
re-conception of the accepted urban components, that in itself can
bring a more eco-friendly suburbia (Girling,1994).
This could be achieved through positive research and development
towards, for example, the integration of the natural environment to
combat urban storm-water runoff, a multitasking of the essential
pathway provided by road networks, a rethink of the utility of the yard
(and what is the use of a lawn?), and the return of shopping habits of
corner store, home production, delivery and market (Engwight,1992).
There needs to be a cooperative rethink of present planning barriers
and regulations. With the current provisions for overly wide streets,
large setbacks, and minimum lot size regulations there are
unnecessarily restrictions on alternative, if not just exploratory,
ideas about the way communities can be structured, restructured, and
The benefits of urban consolidation will be achieved only if the
elements upon which it is composed seek to benefit all of whom it will
affect. Appropriating issues is clearly not a substitute for
participatory community involvement. It, and other such short-term time
and money conservation techniques, will ultimately cost the nation
dearly if community concern, communication, and faith are abandoned for
resentment and protest. We must avoid exaggeration, and prejudice over
questions involving social planning, and through the proponents of
ecologically sustainable development and a increased social conscious,
and actively promote the discontent towards ^knowing the price of
everything, and the value of nothing (Wilde)^. Urban consolidation may
well be the container of urban sprawl, but only if it rises above the
rhetoric and market-driven ideologies.
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