Harbinger Consultants

Creative Sustainability :: Place, People, Product, Potential, Partnership + Pollinating

LOCAL | Active Aspley

The BCC’s Active Aspley initiative was mentioned in the previous post outlining our current involvements. Linda has been voluntarily participating in the Community Planning Team (a local reference group) with a handful of other locals, who are interested in improving the amenity and accessibility of the area by contributing to planning and design processes targeting active transport (walkability and cyclability) in our local area. During our meeting this week, a number of potential projects were flagged to improve infrastructure and enhance mobility, especially to enhance access to schools and other destinations, and these will be presented to the public for comment in the near future.

Such initiatives play an important role in stitching the urban and social fabric back together. After decades of sporadic and fragmented development based on low density and car use, suburban areas suffer in terms of health and wellbeing. Linda has completed walkability and cyclability tests on the locality using found surveys online which revealed a need for improvement. It’s important, however, to not just address places in terms of their lack or deficit. It’s important to recognise and build on existing strengths and recognise that simple solutions, like tree planting, can often have a big impact. At the level of urban structure, transport and land use, including mobility, commuting, zoning and infrastructure, have an impact on social connectedness. Many cities ‘build in’ social isolation through their housing options, transport accessibility and other features – urban structure can connect or separate the city. A common feature of Australian cities is the separation of housing from retail, services and employment resulting in greater distances between destinations. Lack of access and car reliance can inhibit the ability of people to connect.  Even where transport infrastructure exists, there is a tendency in planning decision-making to prioritise movement of people and goods for employment and commerce rather than social connection and participation. In particular, corridors have a tendency to emphasise this.

One of the more perplexing questions – described by one participant in the Community Planning Team as the ‘elephant in the room’ – is Gympie Road. As a road corridor, it works as it was intended in transporting people in vehicles while eschewing pedestrians and bicycles for the two kilometre stretch from my place to Chermside. However, it’s ‘connected disconnectedness’ is particularly frustrating as pedestrians and cyclists struggle to find agreeable routes to get from here to there. While the road connects points along it, it also disconnects at a local level – cleaving the locality – as it is not easy to cross, especially for those with mobility and agility issues.

Australia’s low density development means that outer suburbs are particularly vulnerable to social exclusion and disadvantage due to transport access and inequitable distribution of economic and social opportunities. Those residents tend to be car dependent and make more trips per day than residents of areas closer to the CBD or other centres. Many urban planners and urban critics propose that density and walkability are related factors for improved social connection and health. There is a clear link between population, density, services and accessibility; population triggers establish viability of local shops, facilities and services. Walkability is increasingly regarded as more important than density in achieving liveable, viable and sustainable places. The smallest, lowest-order Activity Centres should assume greater significance when viewed through this lens. If localities are walkable – taken to mean they are also mixed use, well designed and compact – people are able to access goods and services without driving. When successful, a place can develop a social and civic life out of pedestrian life, contributing significantly to quality of life and health of the community.

There is a clear need for governance and policy attention to such social and health ends through urban design, planning, regulation and programming. This can require new approaches to social planning and local area planning as well as addressing the social dimensions and linkages of infrastructure and transport. Initiatives like Active Aspley demonstrate how public health and urban planning intersect. The challenge is to prioritise this in the planning and design decision making that will be remaking our cities and suburbs into the future.

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