What is Town Planning Rebellion?
Town Planning Rebellion is currently an Australia wide organisation that was set-up to highlight the critical role that land – use planning must play in combatting the climate and ecological emergency. We share the same three demands as Extinction Rebellion (XR).
Why have a Town Planning Rebellion?
“The global construction and real estate industry is often referred to as the 40 Percent Industry – as they are responsible for roughly 40 percent of emissions, 40 percent of waste, and 40 percent of energy, materials and water expenditure.”
This does not factor in the environmental impact of building on farmland and natural habitat. It also does not factor in the short lifespan of many of the buildings that are currently under construction and that will not be fit for purpose in a few decades time. Moving our focus away from ‘development’ ( and an economy that is reliant upon pouring endless concrete) must therefore be a central part of our urgent transition to a low carbon society.
Urban and regional planning must play a critical role in mitigating the climate and ecological emergency and TPR intersects beautifully with movements around green energy, regenerative farming, reducing car usage and biodiversity preservation.
For example, food miles are increasing due to development on the food bowls of our urban fringes. Urban development is also encroaching into habitats of iconic native animals such as the koala. Sustainable planning will play a crucial role in mitigating many of these issues in combination with reducing food miles and ending old growth logging.
Our organisation is dedicated to ensuring that changes to the way we approach urban and regional planning is placed as a matter of priority and that Citizens Assemblies or other similar forms of direct democracy are put in place to ensure that there are fundamental changes to the way we approach planning.
We have a list of ten focus points that we will take into these assemblies (and beyond). These come with the understanding that any outcome will be much more nuanced and far reaching than the focus points we are putting forward. We understand that we are one part of a much larger conversation.
Holistic Activism, Extinction Rebellion and a Movement of Movements
Town Planning Rebellion recognises that a holistic approach to activism is required – one that understands we will not reverse the climate emergency with the same behaviour that led us into it.
We also recognise the importance of systemic change and that as long as we continue to operate under an economic system that is driven by development, we can only ever make cosmetic changes with negligible long term results.
Town Planning Rebellion therefore follows the Holistic Activism approach and this includes being part of a wider movement of movements that has behavioural and systemic change needs at it’s core (feel free to check out the rest of the Holistic Activism website to find out more).
Town Planning Rebellion Ten Points of Focus
We firmly believe the role that sustainable town planning should play in mitigating the environmental emergency has been understated and that this needs to change as a matter of urgency.
It is critical that we return to localised decision making processes while ensuring that those processes are non-discriminatory. Importantly, the mantra of think globally, act locally (as well as sharing knowledge and resources through mutual aid) is essential.
There are ten points of focus that we are carrying forward. These points are general summaries. The finer details will need to be determined through citizens assemblies and other points of focus will likely emerge in those assemblies.
Our ten points of focus attempt to accommodate a number of different approaches to urban living within the context of reaching net zero missions in the fastest time possible. Importantly, they cover a number of different housing needs to suit different demographics. This, combined with a strong emphasis on low-cost housing, coupled with a wider strategy of de-growth (and beyond) will ensure that we properly tackle homelessness as well as any fluctuations in population. We need to work towards an outcome where nobody is left behind.
Our principal focus is to ensure that uninhabited houses and units in our cities and towns are inhabited. In Melbourne alone, there are currently up to 82,000 empty homes. It is essential that the process of filling our existing uninhabited living spaces is in place when considering future development.
Our second focus is to end all housing development on or beyond the urban fringes of our towns and cities. Exceptions should be made for developments that are part and parcel of a wider project to draw-down carbon into the soil, either through regenerative farming practices, re-wilding (in cooperation with First Nations people), biomass planting projects or bush regeneration.
Housing projects of this nature would endeavour to use recycled materials as well as carbon neutral and/or carbon negative building materials such as hempcrete, as part of the wider carbon drawdown project of which they are a part.
Our third focus is to embrace David Holmgren’s retrosuburbia model as a means of accommodating increased densities and increasing food security in the existing built form. The idea is that existing buildings and gardens are predominantly re-purposed rather than being demolished or destroyed to make way for new structures.
Our fourth focus is about taking a new approach to the construction of higher density housing within residential areas our cities and towns. This is known as urban consolidation and it does have benefits if it is done right. In other words, if it is not used as a green light to raze entire neighbourhoods to the ground or to build sub-standard developments for the investment market.
Such developments should therefore not occur at the expense of buildings that are robust and retrofittable (see the third focus). Housing stock that is not deemed salvageable can be replaced, but only with higher density co-housing style developments that are preferably run as cooperatives.
This is very different from the current model where entire neighbourhoods are zoned for higher density development. This forces up land prices, pricing people out of neighbourhoods while enabling robust housing to be demolished.
By removing the policy of zoning and replacing it with selective, well designed densification projects across all areas for the purposes of affordable housing, we can help to prevent the gentrification that comes with up-zoning. Additionally, we can avoid the environmental expense of losing housing stock that can be retrofitted and better utilised.
Existing gardens would (as much as possible) be incorporated into any new developments and those gardens could be a resource for the new communities that are created.
Our fifth focus is that all existing proposed new road building projects will not proceed unless there is very good reason. The focus from hereon should almost entirely be on improving walkability, public transport networks and bicycle pathways as well as ensuring that they interconnect.
Our sixth focus is to look at retrofitting the existing built spaces that are currently not used for housing, such as converting double garages into habitable units (there are a lot of them in the relatively low- dense outer suburbs) and converting disused office space. This will help to increase densities without the need for additional development.
Our seventh focus is to embrace the growing demand for alternative types of living such as yurts and tiny houses. These have the advantage of being able to be slotted into existing communities with minimal impact on the land and on surrounding flora and fauna… and a growing number of people are choosing this lifestyle choice.
Our eighth focus is on redeveloping ex-industrial land (and land that was once utilised for other purposes). This is known as brownfield site re-development. It is a slow process but it can have positive net benefits. Many brownfield sites are currently owned by land speculators who hold onto sites in the hope that they will go up in value. This practice will have to end. If done well, this kind of development can re-introduce nature into urban areas as well as being a showcase for the utilisation of recycled materials and carbon neutral building techniques.
Our ninth focus is to ensure that passive solar and energy efficient design as well as the utilisation of carbon neutral or carbon negative building materials is intrinsic to all future developments.
Our tenth focus is to reduce future development in high bushfire risk areas by compensating people who own vacant lots with a plot of land in a what will be a small number of newly built eco-townships. These townships will be built to be easily defended in bushfire scenarios and will be built around permaculture principles.
This will protect large areas of bushland from future development while providing security to people who would otherwise live in high bushfire risk areas. The offer will also be extended to people who have lost their house in a bushfire.
Our role in a broader global movement
Our response to the climate emergency must involve working both at the local level and at the international level. Of course, radical town planning policies will need to be a central component of that approach.
What is important is that we share our knowledge with the rest of the world as part of a wider program of mutual aid where ideas, resources and knowledge are shared freely across borders. This will enable communities across the world to be best equipped to create resilient, regenerative communities that draws down carbon and enables the re-wilding that is required to help reverse the sixth great mass extinction.
We will share our ideas on sustainable town planning as part of an ongoing conversation on the global stage. It is essential that the world works together by sharing ideas and resources but it needs to be very different to the way it was done in the past.
In other words we need to de-colonise aid and instead approach it as a sharing of ideas that will lead to the creation of ecologically resilient communities across the world that can fully embrace everything from regenerative farming, First Nations approaches to re-wilding, and permaculture through cooperation and not coercion.
How TPR will intersect with other movements
TPR’s ten focus points intersects with many other movements in the broader movement that is required to create a degrowth based post-carbon society. This is why town planning is such an important component of reversing the climate and ecological emergency and why we hope to connect with many other campaigns as part of a broader movement for change.
For example, our focus on ending sprawl and its encroachment onto wildlife habitat feeds into the movement for preserving biodiversity and it therefore fits nicely with campaigns to end old growth logging.
Ending sprawl together with embracing David Holmgren’s retrosuburbia movement will also help to ensure that we reduce food miles by preserving the food bowls on the fringes of our cities as well as growing more fresh easily perishable food items in the long established gardens across the suburbs.
We also intersect with the green energy movement with the knowledge that green energy can only have net benefits if it underpinned by sound town planning and design and that solar panels are not a cosmetic afterthought in a growth based development driven society.
First Nations Sovereignty
Town Planning Rebellion recognises the sovereignty that First Nations people have over the lands that we call Australia and we recognise that those lands were never ceded.
We strongly recognise the need for treaties to be signed with First Nations people, not only to start to heal the immense traumas perpetuated through colonisation but also to ensure that First Nations culture is central to the path that we collectively take forward.
TPR recognises that indigenous culture and knowledge is crucial to healing the decades of damage caused by colonisation. We also understand that what we have to say is one part of a wider conversation that must include the representation of First Nations people and for it to be on their terms.
It is disingenuous to discuss the future of development and town planning without making reference to population growth. In Australia, around 40% of our population growth comes from births minus deaths and the remainder is from migration.
Migration is the least equitable and proactive way of dealing with global issues around poverty and high fertility as far more people are left behind when people are forced to leave their homeland in search for a better life. This is not to criticise migration, only that it is one component of the much more holistic approach towards population that is required. Therefore, a post-growth approach to the population issue must be underpinned by international collaboration through proactive/mutual aid that creates resilient, empowered communities across the board.
The goal of helping to create socially and environmentally resilient local communities across the globe through mutual aid (one of our key policies), will over time, likely reduce the need for people to migrate. Also, the empowerment of women that happens through this process will enable couples to make informed choices about the number of children that they wish to have.
In our current neoliberal society, the driving force behind migration is primarily to grow the development-based economy so we must ensure that it is not the development lobby that directs who is allowed to move from one place to another’. Instead, we will focus on a different kind of development based around retrofitting empty and under-utilised buildings and appropriately redeveloping pre-developed spaces. This will include everything from filling the 82,000 empty homes in Melbourne (and potentially hundreds of thousands of empty bedrooms) all the way to filling entire ghost cities in China.
We will also look towards housing any short to medium term increases in populations through all ten of our points of focus. Based on this premise, we also expect that any migration policy would positively discriminate in favour of refugees and in favour of people who feel that their role in healing the earth can be better served in Australia. Due to Australia’s low fertility rate, this will not prevent Australia’s population from stabilising or even shrinking over the medium to long term. We see this as a good thing because in a post-growth society, our economy will be a caring one and many growth based activities such as construction (especially for new builds) will make way for roles that can better accommodate an older demographic.
In conclusion, migration policy should not be tied in with a ‘development’ driven agenda as it is now. Instead, it must be tied in with creating low carbon communities based primarily on utilising existing built infrastructure and this should be accompanied by a program of mutual aid that works to empower communities across the world. This will lead to the global population plateauing at below the ten to twelve billion that is currently forecasted.
As time goes on and as populations stabilise across the world, the need to construct new dwellings to accommodate more people will reduce and the emphasis will be on which ones to preserve. Migration will be less a catalyst for new construction and more of an opportunity to renovate and improve existing houses and communities across the world.
Joining Town Planning Rebellion
If you connect with what we have to say, we warmly invite you to join us and to play as large or as small a role as you see fit. We really want to grow this movement and we are at the very beginning… and time is short. If you strongly connect to this movement, feel free to embrace a larger role.
We are an ongoing conversation and there are many ways that it can be carried forward. We have no time to lose. If we do not change the way we approach planning and development we will not stand any chance of overcoming the ecological emergency.
The role of TPR is to share our ten points of focus with as many people and groups as possible, so that we can add to the ongoing conversation. This includes our approach to Mutual Aid and the need for treaties with First Nations people as well as our adherence to Holistic Activism principles.
There are three ways of connecting with us:
The first is for people who connect with all of our approaches and who wish to set-up their own branch of TPR. Existing branches provide assistance and ongoing support and collaboration in order to make that happen.
The second is for existing activist groups who wish to discuss and/or incorporate some or all of our ideas with the intention of broadening their scope.
The third is for individuals. This is for anyone who would like to help TPR spread the word about some or all of its ten points of focus and to help work towards initiating and participating in Citizen’s Assemblies.
Individuals may also want to join because they would like to set-up their own group that would incorporate some or all of TPR’s ten points of focus.
TPR’s services to members:
We provide one-on-one support, give talks and run interactive workshops on a semi regular basis and travel around the country to do so. We also work with all of our members to set-up and participate in Citizens Assemblies, workshops and other avenues of collaboration.
As a holistic activist based organisation, we recognise that it is a movement of movements that is required and not a single movement as that would be susceptible to division, so our work is involved in building on areas of intersection.
We can also provide support to individuals and groups in countries other than Australia to set-up a Town Planning Rebellion movements.
To join us please go to https://holisticactivism.net/contact and put TPR at the top of the message.
We also have a facebook group: Town Planning Rebellion (TPR)
We look forward to hearing from you and we value your feedback 🙂