Friday, December 15, 2006

More on "End of Australian Dream: Bring it on?


by Wendell Cox

Elizabeth Farrelly of the Sydney Morning Herald may have revealed the ultimate urban consolidation (smart growth or anti-suburban) agenda in a December 13 column entitled The End of the Great Australian Dream Cannot Come Soon Enough. The Great Australian Dream is the "down under" equivalent of the American Dream of home ownership. Farrelly is clearly outside the mainstream of Australian thought on the issue of home ownership, though may well be expressing the views of many in the urban planning community.

Home Ownership and the Democratization of Prosperity

In Australia, as in the United States, Western Europe, Canada, New Zealand and Japan, the suburbanization for which Ms. Farrelly and those of her ilk have such contempt has been associated with the greatest expansion of broadly distributed wealth in the history of the world. In short, for the first time, prosperity has been democratized.

Before World War II, most people in these countries lived in conditions that would qualify as poverty by today's standards. The less expensive houses built on suburban land made it possible for millions of households in Australia (and elsewhere in the high income world) to enter the mainstream of economic life. Instead of paying rent to landlords, they paid down their mortgages and accumulated equity. Their cars gave them access to employment virtually everywhere in the urban area, instead of to the few locations where there were decent mass transit connections. Australia would be a poorer nation today if its home ownership rate were at the 40 percent pre-war level instead of the current 70 percent.

Australia: Broad Consensus in Favor of Home Ownership

Home ownership has strong support throughout Australia. Through the years, the federal and state governments have enacted a number of plans to make it easier for people to buy their own homes.

Wealth Destroying Urban Consolidation (Smart Growth)

PoliciesHowever, problems have developed, as urban planning interests sharing Farrelly's views have taken control of land use policy in the states. The culprit is urban consolidation policies (called smart growth in the United States) and related urban planning policies. These have created severe land shortages in all Australia's state capitals, as state governments have banned development in large areas or allowed development only at rates that are much less than the demand. Of course, this rationing has led to much higher prices for housing, as land prices have skyrocketed. Before urban consolidation, land in Sydney accounted for one-third of the cost of a new house. Today land accounts for more than three-quarters of the cost. In contrast, the cost of constructing a house has barely changed over the same time (inflation adjusted).

The irony is that this government stinginess in land is in a country with less than 0.25 percent of its land in urban development. It is laughable that there should be a shortage of land in Australia. The land shortage exists only because of government contrivance, which has occurred because there is a shortage of economic understanding among planners and politicians.

The price of the median house in Sydney and Perth has risen to approximately three times the those of many US and Canadian urban areas, including fast growing as Atlanta, Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston. A typical Sydney or Perth household can expect to pay 10 years more of their earnings to buy a house than a household in Atlanta, Dallas-Fort Worth or Houston (including additional mortgage interest charges). The cost inflation has been experienced throughout the nation. Median house prices in Melbourne, Brisbane, and Adelaide are more than double the prices relative to incomes in Atlanta, Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston.

In short, state government urban consolidation (smart growth) and urban planning policies have destroyed housing affordability throughout Australia. The same situation has occurred in some Canadian and US markets, such as Vancouver, San Diego, San Francisco-San Jose and Portland. However, many markets in both countries continue to have housing affordability ratios consistent with historic norms, with a median multiple of 3.0 or less (median house price divided by median household income). All of this seems likely to place a drag on the Australian economy in the longer run.

"End of the Australian Dream: Bring it On?"

In a rant bubbling over with elitism, Ms Farrelly dismisses Sydney's suburban houses as chook (chicken) shacks. She concludes with "End of the Australian Dream? Bring it on." Ms. Farrelly may have emerged as the "Marie Antoinette" of urban consolidation or smart growth. "Let them eat cake" is her message and it appears to be the message (wittingly or unwittingly) of those who favor urban consolidation (smart growth).

Farrelly's prescriptions will mean fewer homeowners in the future, less household equity (wealth) and more money paid to landlords. Even those households lucky enough to purchase their own homes will find their lifetime purchasing power eroded by hundreds of thousands of dollars just to pay the artificially inflated housing prices that are the result of urban consolidation and smart growth. This will mean that, for the first time in decades, middle and lower income households are likely to live at a lower standard of living than before.

The Issue: Home Ownership, Not Urban Form

However, there may be a silver lining. Ms. Farrelly provides a welcome call to changing the terms of debate. The issue is home ownership, not urban planning.

Until recent years, the principal issues surrounding urban consolidation and smart growth were about cities, their shape and form. More recently, especially in Australia, the issue has become housing affordability, with the then Reserve Bank Governor, Prime Minister, Treasurer and other public officials pointing to land supply restrictions as the culprit. Now, Ms. Farrelly puts the issue squarely where it belongs --- home ownership.

Farrelly's opposition to home ownership message may be shared with some urban planners and some residents of eastern Sydney's luxury high-rise condominiums. However, few in politics and few in the real world share this elitist view. As a result, opposition to home ownership is electoral suicide in most constituencies.

Now comes Elizabeth Farrelly, saying that less home ownership would be better. That is exactly the issue that should be the focus of public discourse.

These issues are discussed in greater detail in my new book War on the Dream: How Anti-Sprawl Policy Threatens the Quality of Life
International housing affordability data for 100 urban areas is provided by the Second Annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey . -- Wendell CoxDemographia Wendell Cox Consultancy - St. Louis Missouri-Illinois metropolitan regionVisiting Professor, Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers, Paris +1.618.632.8507 +

More letters not published

To Sydney Morning Herald 13 December 2006

Dear Editor,

"The end of the Great Australian Dream can’t come soon enough" – Elizabeth Farrelly – 13 December 2006

It is pleasing to see Elizabeth Farrelly realizes now that there is a great coalescence of agreement between the left and the right in Australia (and elsewhere for that matter) in that land must be opened up to allow people affordable housing.

By "affordable" we mean that people should not be required to spend any more than three times their annual income to house themselves. Not the absurd and artificial six to nine times their incomes, inept politicians and planners are forcing them to pay at the moment.

Amazingly, Ms Farrelly bemoans this and suggests instead that we should experience the "joy" of living with the Germans within their urban environment. Ms Farrelly and her supporters should seriously consider migrating to the one million vacated East German Soviet style slab developments. Following reunification in 1989, the East Germans couldn’t get out of them fast enough.

Yours sincerely.
Hugh Pavletich
Co author - Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey
18 Jane Deans Close
New Zealand
Tel ++64 3 343 9944

To Sydney Morning Herald 23 November 2006

(Not printed. However similar letter sent to other papers as a test were printed)

Energy Australia is stretching credibility by suggesting that the cause of the wide-spread power failures on the hot Wednesday was a small grass fire ("Power jitters as heat bites", Herald 23 Nov).

The reality is that the State Government has been forcing high-density into suburbs originally designed for lower density living. The infrastructure of our suburbs was designed for the density of dwellings then built. Higher density and power-hungry multi-unit structures must overload infrastructure. Energy use per person in high-rise is double that in detached houses due to lifts, airconditioning, common lighted areas and clothes driers.

We can look forward to more and more breakdowns as infrastructure spare capacity is eaten away.

Tony Recsei

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Porkies and Paris

We hear more and more frequently the outlandish claim made by the high-density fanatics that high-density is good for our health. Naturally no proof has been provided for this assertion. For me the most memorable performance of this type was the seminar in September featuring Professor Howard Frumkin and Professor Anthony Capon.

SOS member Adrien Krebs writes as follows:

Due to my experience of living in both high and low density cities, I have to disagree with density advocates who argue that higher density promotes physical exercice, thus better physical and mental health.

When I was living in Paris where population density is 20 000 inhabitant per km2, I was doing less exercice. The reason is high density means your building is not by a park, but by another building, which is near another building and another and another...There are less parks in where one can jog, less fields to play ball games. When you are lucky enough to live next to one, it is most likely saturated and overcrowded. Roads are jammed with traffic and polluted so biking becomes impossible in town. The only way to go for a sane and healthy bike ride is to take your car and leave town to go to the forest. Footpaths are cluttered with people and going for a simple run around the block becomes a crowd dodging game. Sometimes you may not even pass as cars will actually park on the footpath since it is the only spot they can find close to their appartment. So even if you have the will to do sports, the only thing higher density will do to your health is build up frustration. Perhaps your best chance at exercising is to belong to a costly private club and exercise indoors.
Australia manages to rank 4th at the olympics with only 20 million people, just behind huge countries such as USA (300 million people), China (more than 1 billion) or Russia (150 million), because sports has become apart of our way of life. One of the reasons is that we have provided ourselves with a sport friendly environment in which to live. Other countries such as India which has cities of huge densities do not seem to be as sporty. I believe there are two main reasons to the amount of physical exercice people do: will and infrastructure. If ever there is a link between density and exercise, it is that density generally provides a less sport-friendly environment with less appropriate infrastructure and ultimately encouraging people to exercise less. If urban congestioners are not kicked out they will have succeeded in creating communities where youngsters do not meet for a rugby game anymore, but for a coffee and cigarette just downstairs from their box-unit.

Success with anti political donations campaign

The Save Our Suburbs anti political donations campain has travelled along a long road but we are getting there.

The newspapers have been full of the NSW Taskforce calling for a blanket ban on political donations "to tackle public concerns that money is corrupting the planning process". The misleading name of this organisation tends to hide the fact that it represents some of the biggest developers including Meriton, Multiplex, Macquarie bank and Hardie Holdings. So the situation now is that developers are asking for a ban on their political donations!
Six years ago the public were not generally aware of the issue of political donations by developers. However I spotted an article on the subject in the Weekend Australian, 5-6 February 2000. Having noted the undue influence developers exerted on the NSW Government, Save Our Suburbs began making donations a major issue, demanding a ban on developer donations. Our big chance came when I appeared in Quentin Dempster’s Stateline program of 30 March 2001. I criticised the policy of Urban Consolidation with the then planning minister Dr Refshauge defending it. After Dr Refshauge had said his piece Quentin Dempster said "But Tony Recsei smells a rat" and featured me bringing up the developer donation issue.

That program caused the facts to hit the fan, so to speak, and the next week Paul Keating and others took up the topic.

Save Our Suburbs subsequently organised a demonstration outside a fund raising dinner being held by Dr Refshauge for developers. In the "Naked City" column of the Sun-Herald by Alex Mitchell and Candace Sutton the following report appeared:

Fishy business

PROPERTY developers were thick on the ground at Aria Restaurant, No 1 Macquarie Street at Circular Quay, when Deputy Premier and Planning Minister Andrew Refshauge hosted a $1,200-a-plate fundraiser for the Labor Party last week. Tony Recsei, president of Save Our Suburbs, who is standing for the upper house at the State election in March on a ticket opposing overdevelopment staged a picket on the night and was on hand to offer guests a taste treat.

"We offered guests tins of sardines because the Carr Government is packing people into Sydney like sardines, " said Recsei. "No one accepted our gifts."

Subsequently the Greens took up the donations theme and organised similar demonstrations in which Save Our Suburbs participated. The Greens also conducted further research on the subject, the results of which can be seen on their website.

So now, six long years later, the topic has become so hot that the State’s biggest developers themselves want an end to the practice. It has been worth the effort.

Wendell Cox on 2 GB 30 October 2006

Wendell Cox was interviewed by Alan Jones who started off by saying we hear rents can go up by 40% as the number of homes being built drops to its lowest level for 30 years, proving Wendell Cox’s previous predictions correct.

Some quotes from Wendell’s reply:

"This is happening because, you have got, really I must say to be charitable, some of the most stupid public policies ever conceived of by mankind that are being undertaken by the New South Wales Government; not allowing growth on the periphery of Sydney by claiming there is a shortage of land in Australia, in a country that has less than 0.3% of the land area urbanised. They have created a shortage of land for houses and every time you create a shortage you have an increase in prices.

"Your government has destroyed the future of hundreds of thousands of young households. This is absolutely immoral."

He went on to say "while public transport is great for journeys to the CDB, but no good for anywhere else (87% of peoples destinations now are outside the CBD). The incredible myth that you can get people out of their cars into public transport (something that has not occurred anywhere) needs to be discarded. What needs to be discarded as soon as possible are these dreadful anti-child anti-prosperity landuse policies of your government.

"This unbelievably arrogant policy of the government that takes planning policy away from municipalities that don’t follow its rules for urban consolidation. Talk about anti-democratic. This should not be happening in a democratic nation like Australia.

"You have created a child-hostile city and I suggest a child-hostile city is a future hostile city.

Alan Jones quoted Wendell Cox previously saying we are "stealing the futures from hundreds of thousands lower income Australians because they can't afford to accumulate equity in a house".

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Professor Bruegmann's visit

Robert Bruegmann, professor of art history, architecture and urban planning at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and author of an incredibly successful book, Sprawl: A Compact History has just spent a week in Sydney. While in Sydney he addressed a luncheon for the Housing Industry Association, participated in the "Rethinking Suburbia" discussion at UNSW, spoke at a meeting of the Urban Development of Australia in the Hunter Valley and spent two days with me looking at what is happening in Sydney.

ABC presenter and SMH columnist Michael Duffy joined us on one of the days we spent touring Sydney. Picking up on a remark I made about the difficulty in getting people across Sydney united in opposing government planning policies, Michael wrote the opinion piece in today's Sydney Morning Herald which I find most interesting and challenging. Please let me have your ideas on what he says - see the article below.

The "Rethinking Suburbia" discussion at the University of New South Wales was packed with developers, council officials and academics. People had to be turned away. Robert Bruegmann gave a masterly lecture in which he discussed the pros and cons of "sprawl" versus "consolidation" . His overheads made quite clear what we have been saying all along - the benefits claimed for "consolidation" do not happen. For example he showed pictures of roads in normal cities compared to roads in dense cities - the latter are congested while the former are not (which is the opposite of what the Department of Planning is claiming).

Professor Brendan Gleesan of the School of Environmental Planning at Griffith University in Brisbane was the second speaker. To my astonishment, instead of presenting an opposing viewpoint, Professor Gleeson, in the role of a sceptical urbanist, praised Bruegmann's book.

During question time I applauded Professor Gleeson's sceptical approach. Developing that theme, I said that for seven years I have been questioning successive NSW Ministers of Planning, Department Heads, Directors and the Sydney Sustainbility Commissioner why the Dept of Planning is forcing high density onto unwilling communities under the threat of taking away the planning powers of their councils. I said in spite of all efforts I have never received an anwer from them. I asked what possible reason can they have for doing this. Professor Gleeson replied that at the time the government had to be seen to be doing something about a problem. He also said he is under the impression there will be a change in the approach. If so, this is very encouraging to hear.

Robert Bruegmann's book, Sprawl: A Compact History in the paperback edition is available over the internet for about US$12 plus shipping (eg It should be added to your library.

Tony Recsei


****************** Michael Duffy's Article *******************************

Just so many villages without a heart
Michael Duffy
Sydney Morning Herald October 21, 2006

SOMETHING I've realised after writing about Sydney for years is just how few people have a sense of the city as a whole. Instead, it's a collection of villages. This can be positive, as in the sense used by the Lord Mayor, Clover Moore. The problem, though, is that those in one village don't care much about what goes on in the others. There's little sense of shared interests, or of being part of a whole.
Not all big cities are like this. I spent Wednesday travelling around the inner west with Robert Bruegmann. He's a professor of art history, architecture and urban planning at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and author of a wonderful history of cities called Sprawl: A Compact History.

Bruegmann has visited Sydney before and has friends here. He loves the place, but noted how hard it was to buy a good map of it. He also observed that we tend to navigate across the city by using the individual pages in our street directories, rather than (as often happens elsewhere) by looking at one big map. He found this symbolic of something that's struck him about us: the way we tend to think of the city in terms of our own little corner.

At the time of the Cronulla riots, many commentators disparaged the "insular peninsula" of the Sutherland Shire. Often coming from people who'd never left the north or eastern suburbs in their lives (apart, maybe, from a youthful sojourn in the inner city), this was pretty funny.

The last survey I saw on the subject did suggest people in Sydney move house fairly often, once every five years on average. But from talking to people over the years, I suspect most of us don't move very far. The main exceptions to this would be immigrants, and those who move in response to immigration.

Another American observer of Sydney is Bruce Wolpe, Fairfax's corporate affairs director, who's lived here for many years. He thinks that compared with many cities in the US, Sydney is a collection of hamlets. "Due to the climate and the ocean, there's an incredible mix of work and play here," he says. "That produces a laissez-faire approach to life, a lack of shared identity. We had it briefly during the Olympics, but it went quickly. Sport does unite the city, especially in grand finals, but it fades away in the off-season sunshine. Unlike the Broncos in Denver and the Redskins in Washington, it's not a bridge to a civic culture for greater Sydney."

It strikes me one of the reasons for this lack of identity could be that there's no political entity to represent all or most of the city, as in places such as Chicago and New York. Sydney's politics is a dispiriting mess of endless disputes between the state government and dozens of local councils. But Wolpe is not so sure this is the reason. He thinks Melbourne, with a similar set of political arrangements, still manages to have a very strong civic culture.

Could Sydney's sense of itself be changed? "The state government is the ultimate governing body and I think the right premier could bring greater Sydney together," Wolpe says. "It'd have to be an exceptional figure, very charismatic, like Rudi Giuliani in New York in the 1990s. The political system doesn't produce such figures at the moment."

As a result of this state of affairs, it's hard to get people interested in the problems of others, or problems that affect the whole city rather than just one part. Chris Hartcher, the state MP for Gosford, captured this sense of localism in a speech I heard him give a few months ago, in his capacity as Opposition spokesman for planning. He said if he held a meeting in his electorate about state planning issues he might get a few people. If he held a meeting about Gosford he might get 20. But if he held a meeting about something like the positioning of a local pedestrian crossing, 200 might turn up.

To some extent this is natural and present everywhere, but Sydney takes it to extremes, as the example of urban consolidation shows. Most people all over the city hate the imposition of medium high-rise apartment blocks by the State Government. Most councils don't like it. It's a genuinely unpopular policy that has produced many community resistance groups across the city, such as the Friends of Ku-ring-gai Environment, the Belmore Residents Action Group and the residents fighting the redevelopment of the Royal Rehabilitation Centre in Putney.

But despite the existence of an umbrella resistance group, Save Our Suburbs, generally these local groups have been more interested in trying to save their own areas than in banding together to form a politically effective resistance movement. (The Opposition's decision not to oppose urban consolidation hasn't helped.) This means that, as the policy has been gradually imposed on one area after another, the State Government has had little trouble crushing local resistance.

This is regrettable. Urban consolidation has now been intellectually discredited, by publications including Bruegmann's book and the recent report The Tragedy of Planning, from Alan Moran at the Institute of Public Affairs. Bruegmann told an audience at the University of NSW this week that Australian state governments have embraced the policy just as its early enthusiasts, such as Britain and the Netherlands, are abandoning it.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

More on health

In an attempt to counter some of the official propaganda on health and high-density, I wrote the following to the Sunday Telegraph. This was responding to a report in the issue last Sunday that the State Government has secretly axed the air quality monitoring program. Five air quality monitoring sites have been shut down and the staff sacked. The letter was printed in the edition of 8 October 2006 of this high circulation paper.

I don't think the State Government wants to know what is in the air (Watch on air toxins axed S/T, 1/10).

Its urban densification policy crams more people into our suburbs.

This concentrates the sources of pollution, including cars. The smaller area available for dilution and dispersion results in a greater intensity of poisons in the air we breathe, contributing to the death of 1500 people per year.

High density is not good for our health.

Dr Tony Recsei

Save Our Suburbs

Friday, October 06, 2006

The latest furphy is High-Density is good for our health

I realise the term "Orwellian" is becoming an overused cliche but there is no better term to describe our State Government's actions. The writer George Orwell is famous for his books Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm. He originated the phrases "Big Brother" and "thought police". "Orwellian" has come to refer to government oppression, particularly to euphemistic and misleading language originating from government bodies with a political purpose. I experienced a really chilling example this week.

As part of the SmartGrowth campaign a seminar billed as Creating neighbourhoods, streets and parks that keep us healthy was held in in Angel Place on Monday evening. It featured two "leading experts on public health and urbanisation", Professor Howard Frumkin Director, National Center for Environmental Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, USA. and Professor Anthony Capon, Visiting Fellow with the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health at the Australian National University.

True to the form of high density advocates, Professor Frumkin portrayed what we all agree are desirable characteristics of cities:
clean air;
opportunities for physical activity, roads should be for walking and not cars, sprawl is "associated with lower physical activity";
safe from injury;
opportunities for social engagement (which is declining);
aging in place - prevent older people having to leave a community;
income equality - new suburbs segregate people according to income;
freedom from road rage;
need to retain greenery - opportunity for physical activity, cooling, rain runoff, air quality (How this equates with higher densities was not explained. The opposite in fact occurs).

But he was always implying and never providing any evidence that high density will meet these requirements. He also claimed that high density is good for combating obesity. All this was accompanied by misleading images projected onto the screen, in a manner reminscent of TV advertisements for tooth paste, cars or breakfast cereals. Try to buttress what you are saying with an agreeable image, irrespective of any justification.

Professor Capon's presentation focussed on criticizing public transport.

During question time, of the 500 or so strong audience I was the only one who was critical. I asked, in relation to the constant implication that quarter acre blocks cause the obesity epidemic, why during the seminar not one word was said about food consumption? I pointed out the suburbs have been with us for 60 years whereas obesity only really started to become a problem from the 1980's. What is compelling is from that time the evidence shows a substantial increase in the average number of calories consumed by people. Why has this not been mentioned, I wanted to know. Is it houses or hamburgers, I asked. What is more, why was nothing said about the fact that high density is bad for mental health, one of our most serious problems*. I also said that, completely contrary to what Professor Frampton implied, social engagement (participation in community groups, family gatherings etc) is greater in low density than high density (I proved this in a paper I wrote for the journal People and Place).

The speakers were quite ready for this type of question. I am absolutely correct, I was told. People should not be driving to the supermarket and filling the back seats of their cars with food. The audience was left with the impression that my question in no way contradicted what the speakers had said.

It has not taken long for a new line of spin to come out. On Thursday the government started a campaign to encourage exercise to improve mental health (was this as a result of my question?). The implication is that if we all live in high density, we will have to walk to public transport and so solve the mental health tragedy and the obesity epidemic!

We in Save Our Suburbs of course know that the State Government's policy of high-density is completely altruistic and has nothing to do with donations from developers! I suppose we can only say we get the politicians we deserve.

Tony Recsei

* In decades past high-rise developments were also called suicide towers. A study of over 4 million Swedes has shown why. The researchers found that the rates for psychosis were 70% greater for the denser areas and there was a 16% greater risk of developing depression. In confirmation, Professor Cummings in his comprehensive Australian Unity Well-being Index, reports that the happiest electorates tend to have a lower population density.

Friday, September 22, 2006

"Yes Minister" live

On 12 September 2006 I attended a research seminar at the Sydney University Institute of Transport and Logistic Studies. The well-attended seminar featured one of the directors of NSW Department of Planning. The presentation provided a sobering real life example of the the BBC TV comedy series "Yes, Minister".

The speaker told us about the plans, strategies, committees, subcommittees, objectives, targets, performance indicators etc etc of the strategic planning section of the department but not one word about what the results of all this are likely to be in practice. During questions my upraised hand was ignored for 25 minutes but eventually had to be recognised when there were no others raised. I asked what realistic benefits can the public expect from the deparment's strategies, bearing in mind that after 15 years of urban consolidation we have suffered horrific high-density impositions, slower and less frequent trains, increased traffic congestion, higher housing costs and an economy going backwards. With regard to a centres policy, I referred to the seminal Stockholm failure of the 1950s and asked whether the department can point to a successful example anywhere in the world. Without a blink the question was non-answered by saying that the public have an opportunity to input their opinions at public briefing sessions. The implication is they have no idea and do not care what the results will be. I might add that I had been prevented from attending any of the briefing sessions referred to.

Thus was I reminded of Sir Humphrey Appleby, the senior bureaucrat in the "Yes Minister" series. To him and like-minded bureaucrats the results of government policies are completely irrelevant. It is the bureaucratic creations themselves that are important. In one "Yes Minister" episode Sir Humphrey enthusiastically described his department's magnificent achievement of a new hospital with all its staff and up-to-date equipment. It was pointed out to Sir Humphrey that the hospital still had no patients. He was most pained at this observation - whether the hospital had patients was completely unimportant.

So it is with the NSW Department of Planning. Staff are running around creating a bureaucratic edifice, buttressed by an opaque wall of spin. They can provide no example of a successful result of their policies. They can provide no shred of evidence to show that traffic will improve or the environment will be better. In fact all the evidence I have come across points to the contrary. But to these bureaucrats the outcome for the public is completely and utterly irrelevant. All that matters is the process.

Tony Recsei

Letters printed - September

Daily Telegraph 14 September 2006

Clean air sacrificed in the crush

Your article on smog is a withering indictment of the Government’s urban densification policies ("City smog kills 1400," The Daily Telegraph, September 12).

Concentrating more people in a given area means more cars in that area and more congestion. This will cause more air pollution than would be the case with low density.

The smaller area available for dilution and dispersion will overwhelm any increase in public transport usage. High density is not good for our health.

Tony Recsei, Warrawee

Letters printed - September

Daily Telegraph 14 September 2006

Clean air sacrificed in the crush

Your article on smog is a withering indictment of the Government’s urban densification policies ("City smog kills 1400," The Daily Telegraph, September 12).

Concentrating more people in a given area means more cars in that area and more congestion. This will cause more air pollution than would be the case with low density.

The smaller area available for dilution and dispersion will overwhelm any increase in public transport usage. High density is not good for our health.

Tony Recsei, Warrawee


St George and Sutherland Shire Leader 19 September 2006

Density dispute

V Giammarco asserts that lots of neighbours in higher urban densities automatically produce more shops near stations, more frequent train services, more housing choice and so on (Your Say, September 5). Clearly this isn’t so. If it were, Calcutta would be a great place to live.

In the forty three years that I’ve lived in the Shire, there has been considerable population growth. But during that time, Jannali has lost all of its four butcher shops and only one bank remains where there were five. And the train services are slower, unreliable and overcrowded during peak hours.

V Giammarco’s theory is a dud.

Gordon Hocking, Oyster Bay

V. Glammarco imagines the delights of a high-density city. The only problem is – where in the world, outside of Cloud-cuckoo-land, can one find a high-density city that does not exhibit the exact opposite of these dreams? The facts are that real-world high-density cities suffer overloaded infrastructure resulting in higher council charges, acute traffic congestion and longer average journeys to work. In spite of more than a decade of urban densification in Sydney, public transport percentage share is significantly down. The number of services is decreasing and the trains are slower than they were in the 1940s.

High-density cities have overcrowded facilities, more pollution, less housing choice, higher housing cost, exacerbated mental illness, wholesale destruction of green open space and no gardens for children to play in.

What is more, the effect of high-density on the area of Sydney’s urban footprint would be negligible. Don't believe the spin doctors: get the facts at

Tony Recsei, Warrawee

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Letters to the press not printed

Sent to Sydney Morning Herald 14 August 2006

Professor Capon implies that increasing residential density will alleviate the epidemics of obesity, depression and asthma (Finding a cure for our sick cities, August 14).
Our suburbs have been with us for 60 years, yet obesity is a new phenomenon. Also, in Sweden it has been shown that the rates for psychosis and depression are greater in denser areas. The Australian Unity Well-being Index reports that the happiest electorates tend to have lower population densities.
Achieving a healthier environment needs to be based on something more substantial than unproven aspirations.
Tony Recsei

Sent to Sydney Morning Herald 4 September 2006

In his advocacy for high-density living (letters September 4) it is Douglas MacKenzie who is stuck in the past. He advocates that children be brought up in units and play in parks instead of being able to play in a backyard with their friends. In highly populated dense areas it is now just too risky to allow these children go to a park unsupervised or to join gangs that roam inhospitable streets.
What is more, backyards are multipurpose. We grow fruit and vegetables. This provides us with fresh produce, educates our children about sustainability and saves the large amount of fuel that otherwise would be required for its cultivation and transport.
Tony Recsei

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Wendell Cox on Radio 2GB 28 August 2006

On 28 August Wendell Cox, one of the speakers at the SOS forum of 19 August was interviewed by Alan Jones on prime time on Sydney's most popular radio station, 2GB (673,000 listeners).
You can see the illustrations from Wendell Cox's presentation at the SOS forum on the SOS website
or on this Blog
These illustrations will substantiate what he said in the interview.
For those who missed the radio interview or were not able to attend the forum, here follows a precis of some of the points covered in Alan Jones' interview from when I started listening this morning:
Alan Jones - What is the correlation between high house prices and urban consolidation?
Wendell Cox – around the world only places where housing affordability has been destroyed, where it does not retain its traditional historical relationship to incomes, is where there are urban consolidation policies. Atlanta sprawls 3 times as much as Sydney and yet people spend less time travelling in Atlanta than in Sydney because traffic moves better. The Atlanta median house price today is $175,000 – relative to incomes that is 1/3 what it is in Sydney.
Jones – that was just fascinating was’nt it. We have this debate – we have got these experts and it is no good having them in the country if we ignore them. Remember how many times I have been saying to you - we need to be able to access land at Goulburn* and everywhere else which will reduce the price of land in order to enable these people to get to work in areas where they want to go in a time which is reasonable.
We have got this stupid policy of urban consolidation – we talk of Meritonising our city …. You say there is a strong correlation in USA, Ireland, Canada, Australian and New Zealand between high prices for residential accommodation and urban consolidation policies.
Cox - Exactly. You don’t have high prices where they don’t have urban consolidation policies or other kinds of land rationing.
Jones - We have got land rationing here. We have released fewer new blocks of land than other Australian capital cities and house prices have gone through the roof.
Cox - You now have the first city of Australia (Sydney) growing slower than the second city of Australia (Melbourne), probably for the first time since the 19th century.
Jones - You say there is a link between prospering the suburbs and dispersing wealth?
Cox - If Australia had had urban consolidation policies in 1946 you would be a much poorer country. People would be stuck in flats that they would be renting. There is nothing wrong with living in high rise if you want to do that except that no government should be requiring you to do that. There is no question that prosperity in USA, Ireland, Canada, Australian and New Zealand is tied up with the suburbisation of those societies, the home ownership that occurred, the fact that people can get anywhere in the urban area by car. Just try living in the Western suburbs or for that matter the Eastern suburbs and getting to work anywhere but downtown.
Jones - You say that government policy, urban consolidation is stealing the future from many lower income Australians?
Cox - Precisely. And middle income as well. And you think about this. The average householder buying a house is going to pay $500,000 more than they would have 5 years ago. That is $500,000 that is not going to new jobs, it is not going to new consumer products. We are talking about something very significant for the economy. The Reserve Bank Governor was absolutely right to suggest that this is a very significant problem.
Jones - You are saying that there are people who won't be able to accommodate these prices and therefore they will be paying rent to landlords for ever and a day.
Cox - Exactly. By government policy you are undertaking a reverse Robin Hood effect that will distribute money from lower income people to higher income people. That does not strike me as the legacy of Australia.
Jones - The urban consolidation policy has come from politicians whose ideological disposition is anti car.
Cox - The urban planners just think they can go moving people around like pieces on a chess board and not have any impact but their impact on the market is destroying the future of many in the Sydney area.
Jones - People should be free to live and work where they choose when economic growth would be greater than otherwise would be the case.
Cox - Latest US census data shows that about 2 ½ million people in just 5 years have moved out of the high cost metropolitan areas of the US such as Los Angeles and San Franscisco. This have been unprecedented. For 60 years people have been moving West in the USA, now they are starting to move in the other direction. If it is a choice between living in a rental unit in the beach or living in a house in Kansas City, Kansas City that all of a sudden looks better.
Jones - In 1988/89, the NSW government here released 10,000 new blocks of land. In the last financial year ¼ of that – 2,500. What is the consequence of that?
Cox - That basically drives prices through the roof. House prices relative to income is three times what it should be in Sydney and the principal reason for that is the government’s stingyness in releasing land on this false premise that mankind is a scourge on the Earth.
Jones - Where should we go on transport.
Cox - In the new suburbs you can provide sufficient capacity. You need to forget extending the rail system to these new release areas where only a small percentage of the people will be riding the trains to downtown which is the only place you can get onto on public transport. 87% of the jobs in the Sydney statistical division are not downtown. Indeed what you need to make the transportation system better is more decentralisation of jobs not centralisation of jobs in places such as Chatswood where I see stories of sewer systems failing**. Downtown Sydney is a wonderful place and public transport is great to there but it is only 13% of the whole.
Jones - If you have already built freeways that are only 2 lanes each way – has the horse bolted?
Cox - If you go to the M7 you have room to expand it to 8 lanes most of the way. The best way if you do not have sufficient capacity is build the capacity in the new areas. I don’t think anyone is going to get away with building a freeway system that should have been built 40 or 50 years ago. In a sense you are sort of stuck. But you should not make it worse by cramming more people into this area that was not built for a population anywhere near what you now have.
Jones - Anyone in government spoken to you?
Cox - I have spoken to people in government but not to anyone in NSW government.
Jones - Well they have probably got all the answers Wendell, that is why they have not asked you.
Cox - The real issue is to recognise the long term economic impacts of this and the impacts on the future of Australia.

A subsequent caller to the radio station, Rolf Clapham from Ryde referred to Frank Sartor’s wife's objection to the four storeys 74 unit block proposal next to their house. He compared this to the Putney 795 unit 6 storey proposal that Sartor is pushing through in Rolf's area (we have advised members about this) . Rolf questioned who wrote Mrs Sartor's objection. A ballet dancer (which she is) is not likely to know much about the technical matters such as transport nodes referred to in the objection she ostensibly sent.
Jones The public don’t have to put up with this totalitarian stuff. It is all very well to say we consulted the good people about the bus timetable. Everywhere where people express a view, whether it is at Beacon Hill High School or at the Ryde Rehabilitation Centre and there is a stack of others. Then Frank Sartor says "you might have a view but my view’s superior. I know better". And in relation to Wendell Cox he said " Ah well, that is just another opinion". It just happens to be more superior. Frank Sartor needs to mend his ways or he won't be here next election.

I phoned in the next morning and criticised government and opposition policy on urban consolidation. I said pressure must be put onto the politicians at the next state election.

*SOS intiated the suggestion of building satellite cities along the road to Goulburn in 1999.
** I mentioned the sewage system failures in Chatwood in my address

Sunday, August 27, 2006

SOS Forum - NSW Planning - Off the Rails?

The SOS Forum NSW Planning – Off the Rails? was held on Saturday 19 August at the Sydney Mechanics’ School of Arts, 280 Pitt Street, Sydney.

Speakers at the forum included:-

  • Mr Wendell Cox, a controversial author from the USA described as the world’s foremost opponent of urban consolidation, who is concerned about the high rise epidemic hitting major cities across the world and laments the tragedy of people no longer being able to afford to buy their own homes

  • Dr Tony Recsei, a community advocate, who outlined the myths and furphies characterising of the NSW planning policies that force high densities onto communities

  • Dr Garry Glazebrook from the University of Technology, Sydney who outlined his work on sustainable transport and land use planning

Forum Transcripts - please click below to read the transcripts of what was said:

Forum Photos:

SOS Forum 2006 Speakers

    Monday, July 31, 2006

    High-density units not the choice of empty nesters

    One of the many invalid justifications promulgated by the NSW Department of Planning for forcing high-density onto communities is that empty nesters wish to move into these constructions. We all know this is mostly not the case. Empty nesters tend to prefer to remain in their own home or move to a smaller stand-alone house. A report issued by the Victorian Department of Sustainability and the Environment confirms this common sense.

    Here's an overview of the report's main thrust, as included in the Department's 'Research Matters' newsletter:

    "The reality is that they (Empty Nesters) now have a house with no kids. The question is - are they ready to move on? To down-size? The answer, at this stage, is no. There are many empty nesters who have decided to remain in the family home. The reasons essentially revolve around emotional attachment, security and finances.

    Some are happy to sell up, but invariably want to stay in the same area unless there are compelling reasons to move to another area. Most can visualise their ideal new home and there is a strong consensus on the key features of their new home. It will be as maintenance free as possible, will be modern, on one level, with a small rear garden, three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a main open-plan living area plus a second smaller living area and good security. For most, an apartment is not in the consideration set, nor is a retirement village. A 'sea-change' is not on the list for many..."

    For more details see

    Saturday, July 15, 2006

    Names for East Darling Harbour

    The Sydney Morning Herald (13 July) reports that the State Government has initiated a contest to rename Darling Harbour East where the current working harbour container wharf is being "redeveloped" into what will mainly comprise high-rise development.

    Under the heading Heights is right - of spin and greed letters in today's paper (15-16 July) suggest names such as "Darling Harbour Heights", "Spin City", "Franks Fort" and "Morris Manor".

    Click "comments" below to make your further suggestions.

    SOS Planning Policies

    NSW People deserve better

    Letter published in North Shore Times, Friday, July 14, 2006, Page 31

    Contrary to Peter Sinclair’s assertions (NST 30 June) Save Our Suburbs offers practical solutions to New South Wales’ planning debacle.
    We advocate a viable decentralisation policy drawing on international experience, particularly that of the European Union.
    Whole of state development would include imaginatively designed satellite cities and the repopulation of declining regions. SOS offers state-of-the-art transport networks and solid environmental protection policies.
    The Commonwealth Government - being responsible for immigration - would also be involved, helping to fund the necessary networks and regional concessions.
    Other parts of the world do not rely on just one large city for growth.
    China’s decentralisation policy, with sophisticated infrastructure, is reported to be going to plan and is helping to spread the nation’s growing prosperity.
    Why then do New South Wales politicians have to cram us in like chooks in battery cages?
    The people of NSW deserve better.
    In a democracy politicians suckling the teat of donations from high-density developers can be kicked out.
    There is a big picture view here.
    One that Mr Sinclair has so far failed to appreciate due to an overly narrow, short-sighted and obsessive focus.
    We can only hope that people like Mr Sinclair succeed in seeing the big picture in time before our much envied and hard-won Australian way of life is irretrievably extinguished.
    Tony Recsei
    Save Our Suburbs

    Thursday, July 06, 2006

    In Victoria too

    Hi SOS Members

    We have frequently brought to your attention that the planning strategies for our suburbs submitted by local Councils to the Department of Planning are not really assessed by that department. The Department gives these strategies to a "Residential Strategy Advisory Committee" to assess. This committee is comprised of developers and bureaucrats who cooperate with the Department. There is no representation from the broader community in these closed-door processes. These developers frequently then build high-rise in that suburb. Such arrangements must present a conflict of interest. Developers who will build the high-rise in our suburbs decide how much high-rise there will be and the applicable planning rules! Never mind the public.

    It seems the conflict of interest problem does not only occur in New South Wales. In its major front page article yesterday's Herald Sun reports as below. (For your information "VCAT" is the Victorian Civil and Administration Tribunal which is the body that hears planning appeals and is the Victorian equivalent of the NSW Land and Environment Court).


    VICTORIA'S top planning judge has a major financial stake in a multi-million-dollar suburban housing deal, sparking questions of conflict of interest.

    The Herald Sun can reveal Justice Stuart Morris, president of VCAT, is moonlighting as a property speculator in blue-chip real estate in East Ivanhoe. Justice Morris, QC, and his wife Jennifer own eight lots that are being sold to Queensland property developers to build a 92-apartment retirement village. The blocks make up a hectare of land near Ivanhoe Park and, based on recent house sales in the area, could be worth at least $8 million....................

    Developers Rathmines Investments are expected to lodge their formal application with Banyule City Council next week. ........................

    The Herald Sun believes Rathmines wants to develop an aged-care centre, with gymnasium, medical centre and day rooms, and 92 apartments. Justice and Mrs Morris and their companies Statstar Pty Ltd and Sacavic Pty Ltd own the eight prime titles in an area bordered by The Boulevard, Wamba Rd, Cedric St and Wilfred Rd.

    The Herald Sun editorial also features this subject and reports that: "Justice Stuart Morris was appointed president of the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal in 2003 as part of a new broom designed to make processes more efficient, fairer and democratic. His term as VCAT head coincided with the State Government's 2030 strategy."

    For many year the New South Wales Department of Planning have been telling us their urban densification policies will improve Sydney's transport problems as everyone will use public transport. Never mind that after a decade of "urban consolidation" public transport percentage share is down by 12%.
    The Daily Telegraph of June 29, 2006 reports:


    Faster than a locomotive

    "The luck came and it was a dream run but I was surprised that it was possible to keep up with a train in Sydney. I'm not sure you could do that in Melbourne.

    "I was glad when the train seemed to wait a bit longer at Petersham, which gave me the chance to consolidate a lead as I powered uphill and then down into Stanmore."

    Excruciating waits at stations not only paved the way to victory for the runner, from Ballarat in Victoria. They are also emerging as the biggest headache for train drivers. They say leaving ahead of schedule is a bigger problem than lateness because they have too much time on their hands from one stop to the next.

    A Campbelltown to Circular Quay service takes an extra 8 minutes than a year ago. Train journeys take longer today than they did when the first electric-powered red rattlers hit the tracks in the 1930s. Off-peak passengers have been hardest hit under the new schedule, which ripped 270 services from them and increased trip times in line with peak services for reasons best known to RailCorp.

    The State Government has never acknowledged that the slower schedule was designed to improve on-time running statistics.Transport Minister John Watkins has consistently blamed recommendations out of the Waterfall inquiry. The judge who presided over Waterfall recently torpedoed those claims, saying none of his 127 safety recommendations mentioned slowing down ordinary suburban services.

    The reduction in services has also created a glut of drivers who are being paid to do nothing. About 150 CityRail drivers on full pay are stuck with nothing to do but watch DVDs and hope for a shift.

    Money in the pockets of high-rise developers. People packed into units like sardines. Train services worse than in the 1930s. 150 drivers sitting with nothing to do. How does the Government get away with it?

    Tony Recsei
    President, Save Our Suburbs