Sexism and the city: how urban planning has failed women


Elizabeth Farrelly says “follow the artists”

In today’s SMH Elizabeth Farrelly says, “follow the artist”. My thoughts are: should we take it a step further and get the artistic, the creative, the visionaries to design and plan our cities, our suburbs, our regional centres? Or at the very least to lend a major creative hand? We need to do something to stop the engineering, tick the box blandness.

Here is what Elizabeth Farrelly has to say:

… From a kilometre up, Sydney looks sweet. Flagged by a tiny shaving nick in the vast flank of Australia, the city snugs into the green saucer of the Cumberland Basin, bounded by one coast, three rivers and a corset of ragged mountains. The Great Western Road poked a pin-hole in that corset, through which a million sheep could first trickle, then flood. My eagle’s eye sees them fan out across the vast savannah, scenting new grass. What’s surprising is how few humans have been similarly lured.

It’s beautiful out there. The mountain crossing, defying the Roads and Maritime Services’ best 10-lane efforts at blandification, is exhilarating – and from there it’s a different world. Air, sky, palette, people; all change. It’s big sky country. I, for one, love it.

Because I love it, I’m stunned that so many Sydneysiders still regard “out there” as some kind of punishment. And because I love it empty, I’m mildly reluctant to share this core real-estate truth. But here it is: follow the artists. If you’re wondering where will be edgy now, fun in a decade and overpriced in two, do it. Follow the artists.

But first, back story. Australia is a vast canvas dominated by two large cities, both gripped by frantic inequality crises, surrounded by a diaspora of dying towns and much red dust. This is the general perception. But really? Is that it?

The population debate, as currently framed, pivots around density, development, unaffordability, congestion, transport. It focuses almost exclusively on the cities, and then only Sydney-Melbourne, as if we’re some double-yoked Singapore-style city-state.

When we do bother to discuss “regional centres” (and honestly, could there be a more uninspired term?) it’s like, maybe we could send refugees out there, as a five-year quid pro quo? After all, they should be grateful, right? And, like, it’s not a war zone.

The rest is thoughtless, careless. We nuke our agriculture lands with petro-chemicals, trash our fields and forests with mines, abandon our sweet little country towns, let the few big ones sprawl uncontrolled and compete like fiends over every square centimetre of Sydney-Melbourne. Is this inevitable? Somehow built into the continent? Or is it just the long shadow of the penal paradigm, whispering that Australia’s only truly habitable parts are those that could conceivably, at a squint, be Europe?

The recent Q&A on population growth was grim. Carr banged on about halving immigration, Tim Flannery insisted we don’t have enough water for anyone else and the Grattan Institute’s John Daley said all efforts to create country employment have failed. The End.

Only Dr Jay Song, a Melbourne policy academic and recent immigrant, was energised to paint an imaginative, intelligent and vivid Australian future. In so doing, she showed precisely why immigration is such a plus.

Diehard anti-populationists typically argue limits to space, food, jobs, transport, water. The argument goes essentially like this. They come here, they take our jobs, crowd our cities, inflate our house prices, clog our roads and take out train seats. They drink our water and eat our food.

But this is slavish. A job needn’t be something someone gives you, clock-on clock-off. Limits are not self-evident, or fixed. Jobs can be created. Food can be grown, transport can be built. Water can be re-used, desalinated, cleansed, sequestered. Rain can be encouraged. We can get clever. Cities and towns are inventions; the best ones put the art back into artificial.

The core of creativity is energy, and most of that originates with the sun, of which Australia has lashings. We waste far more than we could ever use. So consider this.

Australia’s small towns are famously “dying”, but only because we accept that the entire hinterland is good only for primary industry, which is increasingly depopulated: fly-in-fly-out mining, and industrialised agriculture. But both models are petrochemical-dependent, unsustainable and oafish.

Sustainable farming is inevitably more human-intensive, substituting ideas and elbow-grease for chemicals. This is good, because this is jobs. It is towns, cities, life.

America has hundreds of cities. We have a handful. Sure, they need water. But it’s funny how much more hydro-creative people are in thinking about colonising Mars than inhabiting inland Australia.

As Song notes, our immigration intake is now 60 per cent skilled and educated; people likely to start businesses, create jobs, invent enterprises. This new human energy could plant massive rain-generating forests, create huge solar arrays, work sustainable agriculture and exploit the new, $10 billion inland rail from Melbourne to Brisbane via Parkes, Dubbo and Moree. The opportunities are endless.

You might think this fanciful. But it’s already under way. Don’t believe me? Watch the artists. Artists are thought-leaders, but because they go where it’s cheap, they’re also 15 years ahead in where and how they live.

In the early sixties, artists colonised slum-Paddo. Then came architects. They didn’t just make art. They made pockets of a new and intense culture. Fifteen years later, the rest followed.

Now it’s the same but opposite. Artists are pouring out through that mountain pinhole to Cowra, Moree, Narromine, Wagga Wagga, Cooma and Orange; Dookie, Brim and Benalla. Phoebe Cowdery’s Corridor Project in a Cowra sheep-shed and her husband, architect Dylan Gower’s CLEAN Cowra project, generating community energy from bio-waste, are two examples of dozens.

They may be refugees from Erko and Bondi, not Iraq or Aleppo, but just the same, they flee places that offer their kids no future, and bring an energised desire for new beginnings. They don’t just go there to paint. Artists make place, reshaping tired old towns into buzzing villages. The countryside is being rethought, and artists are in the lead. Follow them.

From SMH, March 24, 2018

Elizabeth Farrelly

Elizabeth Farrelly is a Sydney-based columnist and author who holds a PhD in architecture and several international writing awards. A former editor and Sydney City Councilor, she is also Associate Professor (Practice) at the Australian Graduate School of Urbanism at UNSW. Her books include ‘Glenn Murcutt: Three Houses’, ‘Blubberland; the dangers of happiness’ and ‘Caro Was Here’, crime fiction for children (2014).

Please don’t feed the wildlife – plant natives instead

Keep wildlife wild: please don’t feed the animals

Office of Environment & Heritage (OEH) and other conservation bodies generally advise against feeding native animals, for a good reason.

Why can’t I feed native animals?

Screen Shot 2018-03-02 at 11.27.27 AMWhen you feed native animals you’re giving them the wildlife equivalent of junk food. Instead of eating a wide range of natural foods, they depend on processed seeds, bread and other foods that are not part of their natural diet. This can make them very sick.

Animals that expect to be fed by people can become aggressive, harassing people for food when they are hungry.

Once the animals you’re feeding know that you are a reliable source of food, they may converge on your home or campsite, potentially disrupting their migratory patterns and displacing other species. If wildlife flock to be near you, their newfound population density may encourage the spread of communicable diseases between them.

They may also lose their ability to forage for natural foods.

Think twice before you feed wild animals – a moment’s pleasure for you may lead to the animal you feed becoming addicted to junk food.

What about kangaroos, possums and goannas?

Kangaroos and wallabies eat a range of native grasses and herbs and are adapted to chewing and digesting these grasses. Other foods just aren’t the same! Roo pellets can also be harmful.

When kangaroos and wallabies become used to being hand-fed, they sometimes attack people in their quest for food. Remember, they have sharp claws and a strong kick.

At night, possums and gliders come out to forage among the treetops for leaves, fruits and flowers. If they get used to being fed by humans, they spend less time foraging and more time raiding your tent or kitchen.

Goannas find it difficult to distinguish between your hand and the food in it. A goanna bite or scratch is very painful and prone to infection as these animals are scavengers. Never feed a goanna – they are dangerous animals.

Remember that kangaroos, wallabies, possums and goannas are wild animals.

Not even birds?

  • Hand-fed birds become a nuisance – you may start feeding one or two birds but, within a short space of time, great flocks can descend. This can be a frightening experience, especially for small children. Hand-fed sulphur crested cockatoos like to chew cedar houses when the occupants are not around to feed them.
  • Hand-fed birds are susceptible to illnesses that can be transferred to other birds. Young birds lose the ability to forage for food and when not fed by humans may starve. Hand feeding can also affect bird breeding cycles.
  • Hand-fed birds take over – populations of some birds such as crimson rosellas increase, displacing other birds and mammals that shelter in tree hollows. When currawongs and ravens are hand-fed they breed up and prey on smaller birds, causing an imbalance in bird populations.
  • Find out more information about the dangers of feeding lorikeets.

So, how can I attract wildlife to my garden?

The good news is that there are responsible ways to attract wildlife to your backyard without endangering yourself or the natural order. Plant trees such as hakeasexternal link, acaciasexternal link, casuarinasexternal link and eucalyptsexternal link to provide natural foods for visiting birds. Create flowering habitats for honeyeaters with banksiasexternal link, bottlebrushesexternal link and grevilleasexternal link. Include some prickly shrubs for smaller birds to hide in.

If you’d like to observe birds up close, install a bird bath or water feature. A water feature may also attract frogs. Nesting boxes can help to attract possums and birds.

To avoid scaring the wildlife away, be sure to keep any cats and dogs inside the house at night.

More information

Village Homes, Davis California – developments can be beautiful

Screen Shot 2018-02-28 at 1.29.31 PMVillage Homes is a planned community in Davis, Yolo County, California. It is designed to be ecologically sustainable by harnessing the energies and natural resources that exists in the landscape, especially stormwater and solar energy.

The principal designer of Village Homes was architect Mike Corbett who began planning in the 1960s, with construction continuing from south to north from the 1970s through the 1980s. Village Homes was completed in 1982, and has attracted international attention from its inception as an early model of an environmentally friendly housing development.


The 225 homes and 20 apartment units that now are the Village Homes community use solar panels for heating, and they are oriented around common areas at the rear of the buildings, rather than around the street at the front.

All streets are oriented east-west, with all lots positioned north-south. This feature has become standard practice in Davis and elsewhere since it enables homes with passive solar designs to make full use of the sun’s energy throughout the year. The development also uses natural drainage, called bioswales, to collect water to irrigate the common areas and support the cultivation of edible foods, such as nut and fruit trees and vegetables for consumption by residents, without incurring the cost of using treated municipal water.[2]

Grass lined swale collects rainwater, which then slowly percolates into the soil, where it is protected from runoff and evaporation.

Village Homes

Village Homes is a seventy-acre subdivision located in the west part of Davis, California. 

It was designed to encourage both the development of a sense of community and the conservation of energy and natural resources. The principal designer was Mike Corbett.

Construction on the neighborhood began in the fall of 1975, and construction continued from south to north through the 1980s, involving many different architects and contractors.

The completed development includes 225 homes and 20 apartment units.

A number of design features help Village Homes residents live in an energy-efficient and aesthetically pleasing manner:

Orientation — All streets trend east-west and all lots are oriented north-south. This orientation (which has become standard practice in Davis and elsewhere) helps the houses with passive solar designs make full use of the sun’s energy.

Street Width — Our roads are all narrow, curving cul-de-sacs; they are less than twenty-five feet wide and generally aren’t bordered by sidewalks. Their narrow widths minimize the amount of pavement exposed to sun in the long, hot summers. The curving lines of the roads give them the look of village lanes, and the few cars that venture into the cul-de-sacs usually travel slowly.

Pedestrian/Bike Paths and Common Areas — Alternating with the streets is an extensive system of pedestrian/bike paths, running through common areas that exhibit a variety of landscaping, garden areas, play structures, statuary, and so on. Most houses face these common areas rather than the streets, so that emphasis in the village is on pedestrian and bike travel rather than cars.

Natural Drainage — The common areas also contain Village Homes’ innovative natural drainage system, a network of creek beds, swales, and pond areas that allow rainwater to be absorbed into the ground rather than carried away through storm drains. Besides helping to store moisture in the soil, this system provides a visually interesting backdrop for landscape design.

Edible Landscaping — Fruit and nut trees and vineyards form a large element of the landscaping in Village Homes and contribute significantly to the provender of residents. More than thirty varieties of fruit trees were originally planted, and as a result some fruit is ripe and ready to eat nearly every month of the year.

Open Land — In addition to the common areas between homes, Village Homes also includes two big parks, extensive greenbelts with pedestrian/bike paths, two vineyards, several orchards, and two large common gardening areas. The commonly owned open land comes to 40 percent of the total acreage (25 percent in greenbelts and 15 percent in common areas), a much greater proportion than in most suburban developments. Thirteen percent of the developed land area is devoted to streets and parking bays, and the remaining 47 percent to private lots, which generally include an enclosed private yard or courtyard on the street side of the house.




External links

Documentary videos about Village Homes

We need to Love the place we live

Opinion piece by Elizabeth Farrell, SMH

Sometimes I think you Sydney natives don’t deserve this gorgeous town. You don’t appreciate her properly. Certainly you don’t treat her nice. Sometimes I think we newbies are your Gaugins, here to point out just how drop-dead sexy the joint is. And how desperately she needs your protection.

Strangely it took a surprise ticket to Monday’s Paul McCartney concert to remind me of this. All you need is love, belted the maestro from somewhere deep inside the Homebush wastelands – as if to note that our callow instrumentalism, destroying everything for speed and money, isn’t the only approach to city-making. Love? How completely (I thought) we’ve expunged such romantic idealism from our city, our lives. And what a profound loss it is.

“Sydney’s a wonderful city!” McCartney yelled to a packed house. “Glorious, unique. But then” – the grand Beatle tossed the next bit over his shoulder – “you knew that.” Everyone roared. Oh boy did we know it. Sydney? Glorious.

There was much roaring that night, several pyrotechnic encores from the 75-year-old who refuses to act or sound over 50 and much rapturous, 20,000-strong singing along. We were all letting it be, giving peace a chance, waiting for the moment to be free. Then, fully peaceniked up, we poured out into the sultry dark. Out into the war zone that is Sydney.

It was a gradient of depacification. Past the Olympic stadium to be demolished for fewer seats than it had when new, into an extraordinarily inadequate train system, through a city in the grip of a massive knock-down rebuild. Back to our private wealth and public squalor, the exploitation of everything for purposes of nothing, and the acquiescence that has settled on us like smog.

Romantic idealism? When E.F. Schumacher wrote Small is Beautiful, when Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring, when Jane Jacobs wrote The Death and Life of Great American Cities, they were warning against a world of aggressive bigness and sameness. Warning of globalism. Yet here we are – eating synthetic food in synthetic buildings, increasingly obese, depressed, excluded, unequal – living it out. We’ve forgotten their teachings as surely as 8th-century peasants forgot the Romans.

It’s not that we don’t crave romantic idealism. Every grainy horse-drawn tram image that cloaks some vast mean-eyed resi-development, every bearded hipster, craft beer, farmer’s market, maker’s movement, pickling party and broth bar reveals this need for lost belief. Every shoe-shop muzacking its way to higher sales with Janis Joplin, Mick Jagger and Leonard Cohen evinces this loss.

But somehow the trappings don’t translate into purpose. When the kids go to work, the beliefs stay home. Indeed, if you Google “romantic idealism” it’s all about expecting perfection from your lover, which shows just how far we’ve schlepped down the road of solipsistic narcissism.

The movement we now know as “the sixties” – for all its hedonism, sexual silliness and love-not-war-ism, for all its foibles and contradictions – yearned to change the world. It wanted principled change – love, fairness, freedom, respect. It wanted to reinstate history, revere truth, collaborate with nature. Most extraordinary of all, its empowering medium was poetry.

Dylan and Cohen, Hendrix and Joplin, Jagger, Simon, Lennon and McCartney were prophets and poets, singing us to a better world. Today, they’d likely sink without trace. Even when they sang about sex, it wasn’t about sex – it was about a new world order, a radicalism so close to Jesus’ as to be indistinguishable; a world where last is first, where the times are a’changing, where small is beautiful and beauty is revered; where the Mercedes Benz is known as a self-satirising commodity.

To extend this romantic idealism to the ground of the city is to recognise our planetary dwelling-place, as humans have since the earliest times, as the locus of sacred meaning. This respect for place is essential to our humanity. Continuing to desecrate it, trashing our home-city and home-planet, can only yield, in philosopher Roger Scruton’s words, “not hatred, but an ever-expanding heartlessness”.

Which returns us to Sydney. Our city is in danger. As neighbourhoods are demolished, parks sliced, avenues moth-eaten by the development juggernaut that delivers wealth to the few and slums to the many, we are losing the very texture of the place. The lanes and alleys, the knotted, clotted, nature-gnarled fabric of the place, the layered story that animates this fabric: this is the city’s soul. Now, for the first time, it’s under threat.

The Planning Department – presiding withal – says we’re suffering “development fatigue”. This is like telling a person with invasive cancer they’ve got life fatigue. No, we’re not tired of development. We’re tired of a regime that hears no one, respects nothing, desecrates everything for ends that are strictly cynical.

Despite four years of record housing approvals, a further 69,700 dwellings were approved in the year to October. With the 725,000 they propose in the next 20 years Sydney will be unrecognisable.

I’d be less upset if it had a chance of being beautiful; vertical gardens, leafy streets, zero carbon, traversable towers, cooperative communities a-thrum with energy.

But the awful irony is that, even in its own reduced terms, it won’t work. It won’t make housing cheaper. Three reasons, all products of neo-liberal dogma. One, a global market means that mum-and-dad purchasers – “vertical families” – must compete with international investors who see a rental market with virtually no tenant protections as easy pickings. Two, if prices do drop, developers stop building.

Three, because let-rip development exacerbates geographic inequality, rather than relieving it. A recent report co-authored by US Nobel laureate Edward C. Prescott found that strict development control, often thought to worsen inequality by restricting supply, in fact reduces it. By dampening building activity in the most sought-after locations, it spreads economic energy around. The alternative is “winner-take-all urbanism” which concentrates wealth where it already exists and stuff the rest – as in Britain after Thatcher.

Forty thousand Australian children sought help from homelessness services last year. This is a disgrace. But letting developers destroy our city and its meager public housing for profit will make it worse, not better. Love? Perhaps it’s true. Perhaps love is all you need, but you gotta follow through.

The tiny home revolution told in pictures and floorplans – from ABC

Could cohousing work in Pittwater

From Cohousing Australia’s website:

Cohousing and ecovillages are a significant part of the solution to Australia’s housing crisis, addressing the crucial issues of affordability, ecological impact and community building.

Cohousing and ecovillages are small, mainstream, residential projects facilitating an intentional way of living together and doing it better. They include the following features:

  1. individual, private homes, space and ownership
  2. community relationships and generous, multi-use common facilities
  3. a healthy balance between community and privacy
  4. elements of self-management, trust and familiarity
  5. stronger sense of neighbourhood

Layout of Illubunda Village, in Sydney

These communities are often in higher density residential contexts and can be designed by residents. They use less resources, whether they are completely new construction or retrofits of existing buildings. It is a way to maintain liveability on a smaller, tighter, physical place.

What is cohousing?

Cohousing aims to design a neighbourhood which is more like the village of the past. A place where neighbours know and trust each other. This is achieved by greater cooperation between the neighbours. This cooperation begins when the project is conceived and continues once it is completed. As mentioned below there are many benefits of this cooperation.

Benefits of cohousing can include:

  • Mix of residents from rural, suburbanites/inner urban dwellers, old & young, professional & blue collar.
  • Single parents can rely on and trust neighbours to watch their children.
  • Older folk receive much-needed company and a little help around the house.
  • Everyone feels more secure against crime.
  • Car pools can be organised.
  • Positive environmental impact on the community.
  • Imagine not having to worry about the evening meal after a busy day’s work, but relax and join in the community meal whenever you like!

There are some other benefits such as security. If you know your neighbours you are less likely to steal from them. In addition, neighbours can watch each others house if somebody is out. If a stranger enters the development neighbours will notice and will watch to see they are not burglars.

History of Cohousing

Cohousing began in Denmark (see video) in the early 1970s. People were looking for an environment with more community than the suburban neighbourhoods being offered at the time. It was a reaction to the suburban neighbourhoods we all know where each household lives on its own island, many people do not know their neighbours and the motor car is king.

The first cohousing developments were public housing developments. Denmark had built tower blocks of flats for public housing just has most European countries did. These developments were designed around the philosophies and ideas of early 20th century. The result of these projects were large tower buildings containing many, often hundreds, of flats. These developments were also build in Victoria and many of them still remain. There are examples of this type of architecture in Carlton, Collingwood and Abbortsford.

The tower buildings were not a success. People found them isolating and they had an institutional feel to them. Living in one is like living in a shoebox in a big stack of other shoeboxes. These factors as well as some of the other issues surrounding public housing led to these buildings becoming undesirable places to live. There were crime problems which contributed to the bad public image of these places. In Melbourne they are sometimes described as “vertical slums”.

The experience in Denmark was similar. Therefore, in the 60s the Danish authorities held meetings with those who were to live in new public housing developments. They asked people what they would like in a house and the surrounding neighbourhood. The future residents then became involved in the design process.

There were two positive outcomes from the Danish initiative. The first was a new way of designing neighbourhoods to create more community. The other was that involving people in the design process helped to create a sense of community which continued once the development was completed. The model they created is now known as cohousing.

What do cohousing developments look like?

Pittwater suburbs are dominated by the street. We approach our neighbourhood, usually by car, via the road. The road extends all the way to our house. At the house the road becomes a driveway. Once we are in the driveway we can get out of the car. By the time we do this we are already at home. As a result a huge portion of our suburbs consist of roads and driveways. In addition the road occupies the central position in the neighbourhood. The neighbourhood has been designed for cars not people.


Illabunda Village – Cohousing in Sydney

Cohousing turns suburbia inside out. Car parking is at the edge of the neighbourhood and the centre is open space, a pedestrian walkway or the common house. Cohousing does not have to be this way but when people design their neighbourhoods this is overwhelmingly what they choose.

There are a number of other features which cohousing groups have come up with to improve their neighbourhood. These include post boxes in the common house. This means that people need to come to the common house to collect their mail. When they do this they often meet and interact with neighbours.

Other strategies include placing the kitchen at the front of the house, facing the other houses. People spend a lot of time in the kitchen. If the kitchen faces the public area and all the other kitchens, there will be greater opportunities for people to interact. The kitchen then becomes a semi-private space. There is then a graduation from public space at the front of the house, through semi-private spaces such as the kitchen through to private spaces such as bedrooms. The bedrooms are placed at the back of the house to ensure privacy and because there are no opportunities for social interacting with sleeping people.

Examples of Cohousing in Australia:

More information is available from the websites and books listed below.



  • Hanson, Chris, Cohousing Handbook, The, 1996. (Amazon)
  • McCamant, K & Durett, C., Cohousing: A Contemporary Approach To Housing Ourselves, 2nd edn, 1994. (Amazon)
  • Meltzer, Graham, Sustainable Communty: Learning From The Cohousing Model, 2005 (Amazon)