Planning and property
Nightingale seeks new towers
The Nightingale developer group has submitted a planning application to Merri-bek City Council for a new complex of apartment towers, opposite the existing Nightingale Village at 17–19 Hope Street in Brunswick.
The proposed complex of five buildings will have a total of 282 apartments: 36 studios and 88 one-bedroom, 144 two-bedroom and 14 three-bedroom apartments.
Nightingale’s CEO Dan McKenna has recently been on ABC Radio, whinging that Merri-bek Council has blocked a “social housing” initiative. In reality – like a lot of developer greenwashing – this is not quite the full story. Why did the ABC interview only the developer without allowing the Council to put their side of the story?
At their March 2023 meeting, Merri-bek Council issued a permit for a Nightingale project in Florence Street, Brunswick. The project is located in an area with a discretionary height level of five stories, but Nightingale had applied for seven storeys – the final Council decision allowed six!
Nightingale then launched an anti-NIMBY campaign through the media, attacking council restrictions on social housing.
The project had earmarked 10 per cent of the units to house single women over the age of 55. But would it really be necessary for the company to delete all three social housing units because of the reduction of the extra storey? If the developer is sincere about its commitment to social housing, why not reconfigure the 5th level to retain the same overall number of dwellings for older single women?
As we discuss in this month’s feature article (below), the property industry is mounting an anti-NIMBY campaign, seeking to mobilise legitimate anger about the housing crisis into the removal of planning controls that can assist in the development of well-built, quality housing.
YIMBYs, property developers & US think tanks
Across Australia, local resident groups are often abused as NIMBYs (Not in My Backyard), seeking to protect their own property values. In response, there’s a new network of YIMBYs (Yes in My Back Yard), who are arguing for a relaxation of planning laws – or their removal – to allow more housing densification in Australian cities.
Today, the issue of housing affordability is a central concern for many young people and their families, while the skyrocketing cost of rent and a lack of rental properties is contributing to homelessness, especially for older women. However some YIMBY networks in Australia are established or supported by property developers, consultancy firms and the planning industry. They co-opt legitimate demand for affordable and social housing to serve the interest of property developers, often blaming the wrong people for this housing crisis.
In a recent article in Brunswick Voice, Jonathan O’Brien of the ‘Melbourne New Progressives’ blames the lack of housing in Brunswick on NIMBYs and boomers worried solely about their property values, who are threatening the interests of millennials: “Brunswick is constantly turning these new community members away, in the name of sunlight and shadows and the spurious heritage listing of any façade that might once have been touched by a first-generation white migrant.”
O’Brien wants local residents to suck it up: “Change is hard, and having your life disrupted by a neighbour’s decision to sell up to a developer can feel unfair. After all, you didn’t agree to sell their land, but it still affects you. And they want to build how many storeys? Five, six? But this is the reality of living in the inner city.”
Formerly from Brisbane, O’Brien is now an organiser of the Melbourne New Progressives, which held a YIMBY Melbourne meeting on housing policy on 20 April. YIMBY Melbourne is now incorporated, and presents itself as “an independent, grassroots organisation advocating for housing abundance.” But social media for O’Brien’s Melbourne New Progressives openly acknowledges that they are supported by American think tanks, describing themselves as “Progressive pragmatists, building a YIMBY Melbourne for all. Melbourne chapter of the Center for New Liberalism @CNLiberalism, part of the Progressive Policy Institute @PPI.”
The Center for New Liberalism (CNL) is a US think tank, describing itself as “a public policy organization dedicated to forging a new path for liberalism in the age of populism.” CNL is in turn a project of the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI), a US think tank with offices in Washington DC, London, and Brussels.
The PPI Facebook page proudly announces that they are organising “down under” in Australia (for example, co-hosting a meeting in Sydney on 19 April with the Chifley Research Centre, the official think tank of the Australian Labor Party, “on building winning coalitions that last.”). However PPI President Will Marshall is no progressive – his social media is full of attacks on “lefty agitators” and other US Democrats.
Co-opting the language of “progressive” may attract millennials to your meetings, but there are real questions about the source of funding and support for these YIMBY groups and their gentrification agenda. As we document below, property developers are actively supporting the YIMBY network in other parts of Australia.
The YIMBY movement initially grew in California a decade ago and was exported to other countries through coalitions of developers, planning consultants and angry, unhoused millennials. In 2017, Clay Lucas of The Age newspaper tweeted: “There’s no YIMBY movement in Melbourne. Genuine question: why not?” He didn’t have long to wait. Around that time, YIMBY groups started sprouting in cities around Australia.
In Brisbane, the website of YIMBY Queensland is full of buzz-words: “Design Excellence” “Sustainability”, “Innovation”, “Community Dividend.” However, buried at the bottom of the next page is the fine print:
“The YIMBY Qld initiative is proudly brought to Queensland by leading Brisbane-based consultancy Wolter Consulting Group, who are spearheading the movement in Australia. Wolter Consulting Group is resourcing the start-up of this initiative in Queensland to establish the range of YIMBY Qld platforms.”
In 2018, YIMBY Qld co-founder Nathalie Rayment got a nice plug in the Brisbane Times – but with no mention of her day job. She is an executive director of the Wolter Consulting Group, the Queensland based urban planning and development consultancy. Rayment is a Member of the Property Council of Australia’s Committee for Cities and Olympics Roundtable, and Vice Chair of the Housing Industry of Australia Planning Committee. Great credentials for a grassroots YIMBY campaigner!
was originally founded by architect Jean Darling and University of Melbourne social policy lecturer Max Holleran. Darling reported that YIMBYVic soon “worked with YIMBYAustralia and QLD/WA/SYD founders across various design and construction industries
to develop governance framework and public awareness building” (our emphasis).
As the design and construction industries go about “public awareness building”, it’s no surprise that local YIMBY networks gets extensive promotion from media outlets like Domain, Australia’s second largest real-estate marketing business. Backed by ongoing investment from Nine Newspapers, Domain competes with market leader REA Group, which is majority-owned by Nine’s rival, the Murdoch subsidiary News Corp Australia.
From the start, Domain gave extensive coverage to the YIMBY movement in Australia – here’s a few examples:
Over recent months, as state governments propose new changes to planning laws, the YIMBY movement is getting wall to wall media coverage (especially in Nine-owned radio stations and newspapers like The Age and Sydney Morning Herald):
- Yes, in my backyard: inside Sydney’s fledgling YIMBY movement, Sydney Morning Herald, 16 February 2023
- The YIMBY movement is shaking up Australian politics amid the housing affordability crisis, Crikey, 17 April 2023
- Look out Melbourne NIMBYs, the YIMBYs are here, The Age, 15 April 2023
- How the YIMBYs plan to counter the NIMBYs when it comes to the housing crisis, Drive with Tom Elliot, 3AW Radio
In an essay drawn from his book
‘Yes to the City: Millennials and the Fight for Affordable Housing’, Max Holleran acknowledges the YIMBY movement is “unabashedly middle class, arguing that young professionals are also at risk of housing insecurity because prices have spiralled so far out of control. It does not advocate primarily public solutions of non-profit or state-managed housing, but rather trusts in the laws of supply and demand, arguing that addressing the lack of market rate dwellings by erecting more apartments will ease prices for everyone.”
Are YIMBYs representative of the most vulnerable young people who can’t find housing? A review of Holleran’s book points out that “YIMBYs are not the housing advocates who care about displacement, gentrification and vulnerable residents first and foremost, but solving those problems through supply. YIMBYs themselves are generally well-paid, well-educated and live comfortably. As he describes them, they’re ‘Young professionals who also felt squeezed by rent but not so catastrophically burdened that they are facing housing insecurity.’”
Closer to home, pollster and researcher Kos Samaras of the RedBridge Group – a former ALP campaign strategist – describes YIMBYs as “light greens”, who are often professional millennials: “You find them working in the countless professions right across the country from high-end law, medicine to IT, tertiary, the arts industry, health, media. They’re US Democrats, if you want to best describe them.”
So when YIMBYs talk about affordable housing, are they in it for themselves, or are they looking at ways to build better communities? Generational attacks on baby boomers by some YIMBYs divert attention from the profit motive that drives housing policy, and benefits the developers who dominate planning policy.
In the United States, housing justice advocacy groups have critiqued the YIMBY campaign in cities like San Francisco. The community organisers ‘Housing is a human right’ have documented how California YIMBY is funded by large tech corporations and property developers, noting: “The YIMBY agenda plays out this way: deregulate as much as possible, an apartment construction boom will follow, and sky-high rents will stabilize and drop since more units have come onto the market. It’s the old, possibly outdated, supply-and-demand argument.”
We certainly need more housing stock, but the laws of supply and demand haven’t met long-standing needs in appropriate places across our city. We can only hope that YIMBYs might turn their attention to landlords charging outrageous rents or take on the developers who build luxury apartments rather than affordable, quality dwellings. YIMBYs could also highlight the need for state governments to build more public housing and maintain already existing affordable-housing stock. How about a campaign to highlight the cladding scandal – driven by developers padding the bottom line – that left many young investors without a home? Then they might find more common ground with local residents who are working to address liveable communities.
There are plenty of property developers in inner-city Melbourne (often with a thick layer of greenwash on their façade) who see YIMBYism as a way of exerting pressure on governments to cut planning regulations in the interest of their own bottom line. The language of many YIMBY groups gives political cover to State governments to deregulate land-use protections, end investment in public housing and allow developers to build more luxury apartments – and generate huge profits – under the guise of solving the housing affordability crisis.
In Canberra, the ALP and Greens are at war over the National Housing Fund, and how best to address a crisis in public housing and shortage of 640,000 social and affordable homes. Meanwhile, the Andrews State Government is considering whether to strip local government councillors of their authority to approve planning permits, as a way of boosting housing density outside of existing activity centres.
As The Sunday Age reported on 14 May “ministers and senior Labor figures, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the government was hoping to tap into frustration, especially among young Melburnians, over a lack of housing close to jobs, public transport and entertainment. Labour strategists say the government has the opportunity to wedge Greens-dominated inner-suburban councils in particular, because the Greens are viewed as obstructions to larger apartment projects.”
At a time that the ALP is resisting calls for more investment in public housing, the YIMBY movement needs more transparency. Could the Melbourne New Progressives and other YIMBY groups let us know more about the role of property developers and US think tanks in their organisation and funding?
Transport and traffic
Hope for Hope Street traffic
Residents of Hope Street Brunswick are hoping to get Merri-bek Council action to lower the speed limit and slow speeding cars.
Hope Street runs west off Sydney Road, south of Albion Street. It’s a busy local street used by drivers, cyclists, pedestrians, people with disabilities and their pets, and provides essential access for the community. Locals are concerned that the current 50km/h speed limit along most of Hope Street is much too fast for such a busy and narrow street.
Safety issues caused by the 50km/h speed limit include vehicles traveling too fast to safely avoid cyclists and pedestrians crossing the street – especially children, who are shorter than parked cars. Merri-bek City Council data shows 2,500 – 4,500 vehicles travelling along Hope Street daily through Brunswick and Brunswick West, with more than average number of heavy vehicles.
Concerned residents conducted a survey to see what changes locals wanted, and are working with South Ward Councillor Mark Riley to draft a motion for the July meeting of Merri-bek Council, requesting a speed change to 40 km/h. They want a report from Council transport staff on what else can be done to make their street safer for all.
If you live in or use (or avoid) Hope Street, join the residents group via email@example.com and share this post with friends in the area.
Barriers to cycling for women
Compared to many suburbs across Melbourne, Brunswick is a haven for bike riders – though there’s a long way to go before people can safely ride around our neighbourhood. And there are particular barriers for women that discourage cycling – a new study from researchers at Monash University looks at perceived barriers and enablers to riding a bike for transport, for both women and men.
The study, published in Transportation Research, notes “Understanding of the barriers to and enablers of riding a bike is essential for planning of urban environments and development of interventions to promote accessible active transport. It is well established that there are differences in the needs and experiences of people of different genders in urban environments, however our understanding of the needs of women who are not yet riding a bike are limited.”
The study highlights low confidence in buying and maintaining a bike as a unique barrier for women. For example, women reported concerns about a lack of support from store staff and a lack of confidence to repair a puncture on their way to work. No men reported these concerns (see our report on a bike maintenance workshop in Brunswick, below).
While 45% of men reported not wanting to ride on the road with motor vehicles, the figure sat at 61% for women. Concern at being injured in a collision with motor vehicles was reported by 43% of males but 59% of females, while concern about aggressive behaviours from drivers was reported by 45% of males and 55% of females.
Women also reported unique concerns about falling off their bike in a narrow lane or path and into motor traffic highlighting the need for a “safe space to fall.”
Only females referred to lighting and visibility as a barrier to bike riding, in order to help prevent injury and ensure their personal safety. Many said lighting on bike paths was non-existent or inadequate and bike paths often involved underpasses away from the public eye.
Of the transport engineers implementing bike infrastructure in Australia, only 15% are women. Addressing the imbalance in this workforce could see the creation of more bike infrastructure that makes women feel comfortable riding bikes, the researchers say.
Bike maintenance workshops
We know that women, girls and non-binary people often face unique barriers when it comes to bike riding in our community. Recent research in Melbourne has highlighted many of the barriers women face, with knowledge and confidence in bike maintenance skills one of the key concerns. So this month, Brunswick Library is hosting two bike maintenance workshops for 13 year olds and older (teenagers to be accompanied by an adult).
On Wednesday 24 May, at Brunswick Library, a two hour demonstration will take you through all the essential skills to maintain your bike in good working order and save on costly repair bills. A week later, there’s a hands-on workshop where you can practice useful maintenance skills. Booking links:
WHAT: Bike maintenance workshop for women and girls
WHEN: Wednesday 24 May, 5.30-7.30; then Wed 31 May 5:30 – 8pm
WHERE: Brunswick Library 233 Sydney Road (enter via Dawson Street)
SUVs left, right and centre
A recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald asked “Why is everyone buying truckzillas that are too big for our streets?” And if you thought that vehicles on the roads were getting bigger, you’re not wrong.
In recent years, the passenger vehicle market has been decimated, while the number of SUVs have exploded, according to data from the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries, looking on trends in vehicle sizes in the Australian New Vehicle Market 2000-2022.
And they are getting bigger, including a boom in sales of huge US-style SUV pick-ups trucks, as recently discussed with some frivolity on The Project (big truck, little…?).
This trend has been observed in the United States as well. It has safety consequences for pedestrians and anyone who gets in the way of the vehicle in question (Thanks to The Transportist for graphic).
Space for bike lanes
Many motorists worry that there isn’t enough room to add separated cycling lanes to urban streets. But new research suggests space is in the eye of the beholder. Residents in the Netherlands, where cycle lanes are a common element of the road space, demonstrate 10% more recognition of having space to implement cycle lanes than the respondents in the UK and Australia, where cycle lanes are not as common.
The implications of this research into the recognition by the public of having space (or not) to implement cycle lanes demonstrate the importance of context and provides evidence to policymakers to address a persistent problem. As shown by the latest Merri-bek brawl over bike lanes in Kent Road, misperceptions can become public beliefs that are polarising. The belief there’s not enough road space could be represented by a strong position against cycle lanes, even though there is space to implement them without taking space from car lanes.
Slowing traffic to 30 k/ph
More people cycle in Canberra than in any other state or territory in Australia, and this is no accident. The ACT has historically boasted some of Australia’s best cycling infrastructure – infrastructure that is safe, protected, attractive, pleasant to use, and offers genuine convenience to riders.
However Pedal Power ACT – Canberra’s largest cycling organisation – wants to go to the next step, appealing to the ACT government to reduce speed limits to 30km/h in all suburban streets and town centres.
In a recent submission, Pedal Power recommends the ACT Government unlocks Canberra’s potential as an active travel city by:
• Investing funds to Design, Build, Upgrade and Maintain our Cycling Network.
• Supporting the development of cycle and pedestrian friendly neighbourhoods.
• Invest in recreational cycling, rebuilding Canberra’s image as ‘Australia’s Cycling Capital’.
• Build a highly connected, diverse, medium density, city that provides a wide range or living style options to best suit individual needs.
TAC funding for local safety initiatives
The Transport Accident Commission (TAC) has launched a new round of funding grants for community organisations seeking to address road safety. The TAC Road Safety Grant Program is designed “to support community groups and organisations to develop and implement effective community-based road safety projects.”
A range of non-profit community groups are eligible to apply for grants, including incorporated associations, charities, community trusts or social enterprises.
There are two categories of grants within the program.
- Support Grants of up to $50,000, to support the planning and/or delivery of community road safety projects.
- Collaboration Grants of up to $150,000, to support the planning and delivery of larger community road safety projects in co-operation with the TAC.
For further info on how to apply:
TAC Road Safety Grant Program
RACV surveys Melbourne’s roads
The RACV is collecting feedback about Melbourne’s roads. This is a great opportunity to highlight things that make you feel unsafe getting around your local area.
Need a crossing, or more time to cross? Is an intersection missing a kerb ramp for your pram or wheelchair? Are drivers going too fast on a local road?
- Head to the RACV map and zoom in on your local area
- Use your mouse to click on the yellow ‘Make a comment’ speech bubble, then drag it to a specific location
- Describe the problem by leaving a comment and suggesting improvements.
Page Against the Machine
Stig Wemys is the narrator of audio books like the Treehouse series and Trent Dalton’s Boy Swallows Universe. On Saturday 27 May, Brunswick Library will host a performance by Stig.
It’s a chance for young people to join him in the library to browse the shelves and get comfortable with a book of your choosing, perhaps an adrenalin filled adventure, something to make you laugh out loud or a fast-paced schoolyard drama. The choices are endless. Just be sure to turn off your phone or electronic device for a well-deserved digital detox. Afternoon tea will be provided.
WHAT: Page Against the Machine
WHEN: Saturday 27 May, 1 – 3pm.
WHERE: Brunswick Library, Dawson Street (next to the Town Hall)
Merri-bek Council stuff
Get the Council’s regular e-news.
Regular Council meetings – held on the 2nd Wednesday of each month – are normally held at: Council Chamber, Merri-bek Civic Centre, 90 Bell Street, Coburg (enter from rear).
Dates for the remainder of 2023:
- 20 June 2023 (Changed from 14 June by resolution of Council at 8 March meeting)
- 12 July 2023
- 9 August 2023
- 13 September 2023
- 11 October 2023
- 8 November 2023
- 15 November 2023 – Election of Mayor & Deputy Mayor, adoption of 2024 meeting dates
- 6 December 2023
Further meeting dates and more details are available on the Council website.
Council meetings can be watched online, either live, or later – you can find details here along with the agenda for the next Council meeting when it’s posted on the Friday before the monthly meeting. You can register there to receive an alert when the agenda is posted.
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