Sunday, July 22, 2007

Developers close ranks

The Housing Industry Association was one developer body that stood against higher densities, preferring the alternative of new homes on greenfield sites. No longer. In a press release today the organisation says there is an urgent need to increase the supply of affordable rental housing. That means high density.

Save Our Suburbs is issuing the following press release:

An Appalling Call says Save Our Suburbs

"Save Our Suburbs views with great concern the call by the Housing Industry Association (HIA) for the supply of rental housing to be increased (HIA press release 20 July 2007)" says Dr Tony Recsei, President of Save Our Suburbs NSW.

He asked "why is HIA promoting the investor rental market instead of home ownership? This can only result in yet more high-density being forced onto unwilling communities".

Dr Recsei asserted "The ‘Great Australian Dream’ has been home ownership, not home rental. Self-reliant home ownership, not dependant life time rental, has been Australia's overwhelming success story. It will be tragedy if the Australian way of life, the envy of the world, is to be abandoned."

Eastern Suburbs to get "their share" of high-density

The Sydney Morning Herald 20 July 2007 reports that 20,000 houses are to be "squeezed into some of Sydney's most densely populated areas". Botany Bay has to cram in 6500 more homes, Randwick 8400, Waverley 2200 and Woollarha 2900. This is a rude shock for some of the residents who were hoping that their current high densities would quarantine them from more impositions. They can now look forward to further overloading of the locality infrastructure - clogged roads, overflowing sewers, power failures and water reticulation problems. And of course vanishing gardens and open space.

SOS Adelaide - Patrick Troy addresses AGM

SOS in Adelaide report on some points made by Patrick Troy (Emeritus Professor and Visiting Fellow, Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies, ANU) in his address at their April 2007 AGM:

"Developers have inordinate influence"

"We must make the planning process public."

"Granny-flats were built in back-yards in the 1970s. Advocates said this would free up big houses for families. There never were enough grannies to go around. Dual occupancy has had a devastating effect with single houses replaced with six-packs. All the trees are gone and sites are concreted over."

"The replacement of trees and shrubs by concrete is resulting in the greying of Australian suburbs."

"The McMansion phenomenon is tragic. We’ve destroyed our own sporting capacity through the removal of back-yards where kids can play. And there’s not been a murmur about it."

"Developers almost never live in the developments they put up."

"The quite infantile idea that all you need to do is increase the density of the city and that everything will be all right is really quite bizarre."

Portland Fantasies

It seems like I encounter the fantasies preached by Portland missionaries on every shore. Unlike their 19th century counterparts, the Portland evangelists promise not a Paradise-in-the-Hereafter, but rather a Paradise-Now. In their zeal, they mistake their delusions for reality.

One of the more recent such Epistles is "Portland's Green Dividend," by Joe Courtwright . A verse-by-verse rebuttal is unwarranted; however, a few points may be of interest.

Portland: Less Compact than Los Angeles, Phoenix, Etc., Etc.: The claims that Portland is dense (or even compact) are absurd. According to U.S. Census data, Los Angeles is more than twice as dense. Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston are 90 percent as dense. Phoenix, Fresno, Bakersfield and Modesto are more dense. Among western urban areas with more than 1,000,000 population, only Seattle is less dense than Portland

Portland's Falling, Miniscule Transit Market Share: Portland's use of transit is not remarkable. Census data indicates that Portland's work trip transit market share is less than before the first light rail line was opened. Portland's overall transit market share is less than before the first light rail line was opened. Portland's transit market share is little more than two percent, which is not bad for the United States — somewhat ahead of Los Angeles, slightly behind Seattle and 80 percent less than New York. Portland's transit market share is 50 percent to 80 percent less than that of the five major Australian urban areas (Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide).

Driving More Inside the Urban Growth Boundary: The over-regulated Portland side (Paradise) of the metropolitan area uses cars more than the less regulated Washington side, according to Federal Highway Administration data.

Portland: Auto Trend Follows Austin, Atlanta, Etc.: Portland's comparatively stable per capita car travel, said to have peaked in 1996, is nothing unique. Atlanta's peak came in 1994, Austin in 1986, Dallas-Fort Worth in 1995, Seattle in 1992 and Washington in 1996, according to Federal Highway Administration data as reported by the Texas Transportation Institute. Portland's per capita driving has increased at among the greatest rates since data became available in 1982.

Planning Malpractice: Traffic Congestion is our Friend: Portland's traffic congestion has become legendary. No primary urban area (urban areas not sharing a metropolitan area with a larger urban area, such as Riverside-San Bernardino in the Los Angeles area and San Jose in the San Francisco area) in the 1,000,000 to 2,000,000 size classification has worse traffic congestion except for much more dense Las Vegas. It is, of course, to be expected that higher density urban areas like Las Vegas (and Los Angeles) will have worse traffic congestion. Portland's unenviable traffic is the direct result of policies that spend far too much money on the two percent of travel on transit and far too little on the 98 percent who travel by car. Residents of Portland's west side are witness to this, having long since learned how risky it is to get on the Sunset Highway in either direction at about any time of the work day. That particular freeway has a Travel Time Index worse than any urban area in the United States except for Los Angeles, according to Texas Transportation Institute data. Recent reports indicate that Portland's transportation short sightedness is hurting its competitiveness and there are moves afoot to begin expanding highways again.

Portland: Are We in Texas Yet? Despite the claim that Portland has among the lowest consumer expenditures per household on transportation, the latest US Department of Labor data indicates otherwise . In 2004-5, Portlanders spent more on transportation than the national average. Indeed, Portland sits right in the middle of Texas — transportation expenditures per household are less than in Houston, but more than in Dallas-Fort Worth. Perhaps the ultimate insult is that Portland households spent 40 percent more on transportation than households in Atlanta, the world's least compact large urban area.

All Job Growth Suburban: A census of downtown Portland shows declining employment levels. Since 2001, all new employment growth has been outside the downtown area.

Escaping the Urban Growth Boundary: Approximately 80 percent of Portland's net inward domestic migration has been to areas outside the urban growth boundary since 2000.

Avoiding the City of Portland: Approximately 90 percent of Portland's growth since 2000 has been to areas outside the city of Portland (read "suburbs").

Planners to Young and Minority Households: Rent!: Most importantly, Portland's planners are working hard to destroy the American Dream. They are succeeding. Portland's "smart growth" land rationing has driven median house prices up 60 percent relative to historic levels, even while forcing new houses onto postage stamp lots. All of this means that younger households and lower income households (which are disproportionately minority, even in elitist Portland) have less hope of climbing on the home ownership ladder of opportunity. Were it not for the safety valve of Clark County, Washington, beyond the jurisdiction of Portland's planners, housing affordability would be even worse.

In short, "Nirvana" it is not (….oops, got my religions mixed up).

Finally, Randal O'Toole's exceptional Cato Institute study Debunking Portland casts the shortcomings of "Paradise" in the light of sordid reality.

Wendell Cox
21 July 2007

Portland Myths

The myths of Portland (Oregon) which claims to be the archetype of "SmartGrowth" policies (termed "Urban Consolidation" in Sydney) continue to be propounded. In an opinion piece in the Sydney Morning Herald (13 June 07) Elizabeth Farrelly breathlessly writes about a visit from one of its ambassadors, Susan Anderson who raved that "Portland's remarkable achievements are expressed as savings in money, congestion, time and air quality".

Contrast this with Randal O'Toole's eye-popping report which can be accessed at:

Wendell Cox comments on the disappearance of Neil Goldschmidt, the former United States Secretary of Transportation (equivalent to a Cabinet Minister in Australia), Governor of Oregon and Mayor of Portland, who zealots give so much credit for the development of Portland's planning system. Public disclosure of the Secretary/Governor/Mayor's activities earned "Willamette Week," an alternative weekly newspaper, the Pulitzer Prize, while the establishment "Oregonian" appears to have revealed what it knew only after it was clear that the story would come.

A following posting on this blog by Wendell Cox provides a rebuttal of some of the claims made by Portland disciples.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Public Transport Losses Accelerate In Sydney

In spite of more than a decade of the State Government forcing high-density into Sydney communities on the pretext that people would use public transport instead of cars, Wendell Cox finds that the share of travel by public transport is not only dropping but this decline is accelerating. He discusses the reasons for this.

By Wendell Cox

For years, the New South Wales government has been hectoring residents to get out of their cars and get into public transport. For a variety of reasons, it just has not happened.

A review of data made available by the New South Wales Department of Planning shows not only that public transport’s share of travel is declining in Sydney, but that its decline is accelerating.

From 1999 to 2004, public transport’s share of person kilometers dropped from 16.0% to 14.9%, a minus 1.5% annual rate. Between 1991 and 1998, the annual rate of loss was less, at 1.3 percent.

Why is it that Sydneysiders do not use public transport more? The fundamental reasons are often lost in the public forum, but are clearly outlined in Department of Planning documents. The Department of Planning asked people why they use their cars.

Twelve answers were possible, of which eight related to the advantages of the car in completing door to door trips more quickly. Getting the most votes was the faster travel time of the car, followed closely by service being unavailable. Other reasons were no waiting time, the ability to travel when one likes, that the car arrives closer to the destination and that the car is either needed for work or for other trips. None of the reasons can be classified as demonstrating love for the car, though perhaps “more comfortable” comes close.

The third most popular reason for car use was “problems with public transport.” Indeed, the Sydney public transport system is obtaining an unenviable record for service reliability. This is astounding, considering the billions of dollars that Sydney area residents have poured into the system through their fares and taxes.

Public transport is losing market share in Sydney because it is not a substitute for the car. The car is faster and makes it possible for people to do more with their scarce time. Public transport is fine for getting people to work in the central business district, but cannot hope to compete for most trips to the 85 percent of jobs that are in Chatswood, Parramatta, Norwest or the rest of the area.

University of Paris research has shown that the productivity of an urban area improves as the number of jobs that can be reached in a specified time (such as 30 minutes) increases. Given the slower travel times of public transport (in Sydney and virtually all western world urban areas), a call for people to give up their cars for public transport is a call for reduced productivity and all that it entails (such as greater poverty).

Sydney’s failure to improve its public transport market share should give pause with respect to over-zealous plans to extend the expensive rail system. Recently, the United States federal government certified an analysis indicating that the construction of a new rail system in Seattle would produce so much in greenhouse gas emissions that it would take 45 years for the projected reduced automobile use to make up for it. Even that is unlikely, however, since public transport ridership forecasts are routinely high. It may take 100 years, 200 years or perhaps never.

Sydney would be better off with urban transport policies based upon reality instead of ideology.

Data at:

Friday, July 13, 2007

Climate Change Surprise

Wendell Cox has been surveying the latest information on Greenhouse Gas Emissions and observes that the Australian Conservation Foundation's findings on the emissions from different areas provide some surprising results. People living in the higher density Eastern and Inner Northern Suburbs emit more greenhouse gases than do people living in the lower density single-residential Western suburbs:


For many years, the urban elites of Australia and Sydney particularly have cast aspersions on western Sydney. Indeed, their distorted views about western Sydney have been a principal foundation of the urban consolidation policies that have destroyed home ownership in Sydney and around the nation. They claim that western Sydney was unplanned, they have divined all manner of phony society costs that were not paid by the residents. To hear the elitist newspaper columnists and cabinet ministers talk, one would imagine that pictures of shantytowns on the banks of a Jakarta river could be substituted for western Sydney photographs without anyone noticing.

This kind of elitism has no place in any nation, and certainly not in a nation with perhaps the world’s strongest egalitarian streak. Indeed, there is much to be proud of in western Sydney. Western Sydney has provided hundreds of thousands of people the opportunity to own their own homes and climb on the ladder of opportunity. If the offense of urban consolidation had been visited upon the city in the 1950s, there would have been no western suburbs. Not only would urban consolidation have priced the next generation out of the housing market, but the generation of their parents and grand-parents.

The imperative now, of course, is to greenhouse gas emission reduction. The crowd that sends off scientists to gather Greenland ice cores at the slightest suggestion of anything that would make middle income lives better is committed to using climate change as the mechanism to engineer people into the life styles that planners prefer. Thus, we must all move out of our detached houses to flats. We must give up our cars for public transport. And on and on and on. And, western Sydney is exactly the kind of place that will have to change, at least according to the creed of the elites.

It must thus have come as something as a surprise for all of this arrogance to be interrupted by reality. The reality is to be found The Australian Conservation Association’s Consumption Atlas, which allocates all of the greenhouse gas emissions based upon their final point of consumption. In fact, the western suburbs do very well indeed. In the western suburbs the annual emission of greenhouses gases is approximately 18.1 tonnes per capita. This is approximately 25 percent less than the favored eastern suburbs at 25.8 tonnes. Among Sydney’s regions, only the southwest does better, at 17.2 tonnes. The southwest includes Campbelltown and Camden, which area really not suburban – they are rather exurban.

The admirable record of the western suburbs does not stop there. The Consumption Atlas shows them to consume less water per capita and to have a smaller ecological footprint. So much for the conventional wisdom.

The reality is that residents of the eastern and near northern suburbs should be standing in line to buy carbon credits from the environmentally more favorable western suburbs (or at least the urban elites should). Rather than being a model to be avoided, as the planners have so wrongly concluded, the western suburbs have proven themselves to be a model for the future.

Data at:

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Political double talk

From the Australian Financial Review, 5 July 2007

The Labor Party argues its stingy land release policies did not drive up housing prices, then claims it would be unwise to release more land because that would drop the prices that would not have risen if they had had not been so stingy about releasing land. It is time to move from double talk to the land releases that would restore housing affordability.


Wendell Cox

Save my suburb

From the Inner West Courier, 27 June 2007

DAVID Champ is only eight years old, but he is already fighting for the preservation of his neighbourhood.

Along with his mum, Susan McGrath-Champ, and 10-year-old sister Michelle who has collected signatures on three petitions, David is part of a groundswell of opposition to plans to dramatically increase the population of Burwood.

David has made his own submission to Burwood Council, which is currently seeking public comment on its draft Town Centre Local Environment Plan (LEP).

``It's a very sunny day but the skyscraper blocks the sun from our house on the left,'' he wrote in his submission.

``The shadow comes down and will `spook' Burwood.

``The cars and crashes will increase.''

David drew a picture and wrote his accompanying letter the day after a family dinner-table discussion about the LEP.

The McGrath-Champs live in an area earmarked for 10-storey developments under the LEP.

One block from their back fence, a vacant site stands in an area that could include developments to a maximum height of 17 storeys.

Dr McGrath-Champ told the Inner-West Weekly she was one of several residents doorknocking neighbours to raise awareness of what council officers have proposed.

These include up to 20-storey developments in a ``central area'' around Burwood railway station; up to 17-storey developments in a ``core area'' of the CBD; and 10-storey developments to the boundaries of the town centre.

``Everyone we've spoken to about this has been more than concerned,'' Dr McGrath-Champ said.

``But most of them didn't have a clue about it before we told them.''

More than 100 residents have attended information sessions held by Burwood Council to discuss various issues, including traffic congestion and building heights.

The meetings have been managed by an independent adjudicator, who will make recommendations to council staff when everyone has had their say.

Mayor John Faker said the feedback had been largely positive.

``Some people are concerned with the height of the buildings but unfortunately that's the cost of meeting the population growth figures we've been set,'' he told the Inner-West Weekly.

``If we set the building heights shorter, they'd be spread out more.''

The LEP is on public exhibition until Thursday, July 5.

There is no global trend to increase density

We also need to firmly reject the claim that densifying cities is happening all over the world.

In a recent radio interview Professor Schlomo Angel, Adjunct Professor of Urban Planning, New York University said that densities are coming down in the great majority of cities all over the world. As people get richer they live better and for most living better means living in suburbs. Cities are not densifying, on the contrary they are reducing the densities, even in India, China, Sub-Saharan Africa.

Suburbs are expanding in all countries and are no longer something that you just find in the US and in Australia.

He says planners think their own cities are each a special case ... that they can densify. But there are no special cases. Planners have to recognise that cities are going to grow and and they have to prepare for it.

This used to be the case. The future population was projected, the area for growth decided upon and prepared. The minimal required preparation is an arterial road grid 1 km apart and rights of way acquired before the development occurs. If this is not done now will be impossible to do later. If development comes before the road then you can never get the road through.

He said something we have been saying for years. If you restrict the land on the periphery inevitably you increase land prices and housing becomes unaffordable and becomes unaffordable mostly for the poor. There are constraints on land supply in Australian cities that lead to increases in land prices. This is due to the regulatory environment of those cities.

Professor Angel concluded by saying that this anti-urban attitude is our major enemy. It is always taken by city people who live in the city and just don't want more people coming there.


We need to firmly reject the deceitful propaganda of the overdevelopment brigade. For example they keep on claiming, or insinuating that high-density is "more sustainable".

But my research shows single residential is more sustainable.

A recent study shows the energy use per person in high-rise is double that of those living in single-residential dwellings. Think of power-hungry lifts, clothes driers, common lighted areas and air contitioning.

Further, my calculations show that the energy embodied in the construction of high-rise is four times that of single residential dwellings (assuming in both cases the buildings last for 70 years).

These two factors far outweigh any energy saved in transport in high-density areas.

The net result is that carbon dioxide emitted resulting from living in high-rise amounts to 9.2 tonnes per person per year, compared to only 6.2 tonnes per year in single residential - about 50% more!


For decades the formidible combination of developers bestowing political donations, politicians receiving them and their bureaucrat lackeys has been more than a match for community groups opposing overdevelopment. The community is eventually worn down and the opposition ebbs away.

Not so with CAPO, the Ryde community group opposing the overdevelopment of the Royal Rehabilitation Centre in Ryde. That development proposal is for some 800 apartments up to six storeys which will exacerbate the already impossible traffic problems in the area.

Taking advantage of a political opportunity, CAPO in an election year has invited the Prime Minister to visit the site - see report below. The Prime Minister also sent an open letter to the local newspaper telling Frank Sartor to back off.

The newspaper editorial refers to a "high-handed State Government stripping away powers that rightfully belong to the local administration .....thrusting more traffic onto already dangerously-congested streets; of removing for all time treasured public space. ........ Once used or sold by this government, public land and assets are lost to future generations."

We should all learn from CAPO. Community groups need to get together action committees consisting of proactive community members, publicity specialists and those with political connections. They need to regularly think up new actions, new strategies. Untimately the overdevelopment cabal will be worn down instead of letting them wearing us down.

Meanwhile Frank Sartor does not want high-rise next to him. Latest news is that Kogarah Council recently held a closed meeting at which this matter was further discussed.

Published letter - Housing Cost

The North Shore Times published this letter on 13 June, but without the last two sentences (in italics).

The reason for skyrocketing rents and housing costs ("Pack your bags", Times 6 June) is quite simply the time-honoured principle of supply and demand. The 2003 report of the Productivity Commission reveals the NSW Government has artificially strangled the supply of land available for residential use. This has been done to drive high-density into communities. The result is an inadequate supply of land for accommodation, the price of which has risen and become unaffordable for many. These unfortunates now have no option but to move out of the region. The advocates of high-density can be proud of themselves.

Tony Recsei

Published letter


Last week the North Shore Times ran several major articles on the effects on children being brought up in high-rise. The paper asked Premier Morris Iemma whether his government was providing enough outdoor space to cater for the thousands of people pouring into the units forced into our communities. In typical politician style the Premier ignored the question by responding with a completely meaningless motherhood reply.

I thought we need to put some facts before the community and sent the following letter to the paper which published it prominantly in its edition of 6 June:


The concerns expressed in "Where will the children play?" (Times 30 May) are born out by a recent university study of children brought up in units in Fairfield. The study found there is a lack of safe active play space outside units. Few units allow for visual supervision from higher floors and parents generally cannot let younger children out of the unit unsupervised. Most parents avoid using local park areas due to poor security and due to the use of these areas by local youth and the socially dysfunctional.

Keeping children quiet leads to parenting that emphasizes activities that are sedentary. Crawling and walking is being stymied due to space problems with very young children having little access to areas for meaningful activity. This leads to children becoming overweight from an early age. It also leads to children constantly demanding attention and expecting it. When they finally enter the education system the result is behavioural problems.

For years Save Our Suburbs has been warning the Department of Planning about the deleterious effects on children of the high-density being forced onto communities. No response to our submissions has ever been received.

Of course these facts will be water off a duck's back to the high-rise developers, the politicians who receive their donations and the rabid ideologs who promote high-density. They care nothing about our children or about those who will never be able to purchase a house as a result of their disgusting policies.

(the reference to the study to which I refer is Children in the Compact City: Fairfield as a suburban case study, Professor Bill Randolph, University of New South Wales, October 2006)

Councils face losing development power

Last year the State Government passed planning legislation that caused a huge outcry. This amendment to the Environmental Planning and Assement Act allows the Planning Minister Frank Sartor to seize control from councils of development proposals it considers "state significant". The amendment permits the Minister to approve development proposals that democratically elected councils object to. Developers on the whole are very happy as this "speeds up the development application process and provides more certainty". Never mind what the local community thinks.

It seems this power grab, draconian as it is, is not the end of the story. An article in the inner pages of the Sydney Morning Herald (7 June 2007) states:

Councillors face losing development power

Catharine Munro

Urban Affairs Editor

ELECTED councillors could lose their power to approve development applications as a result of changes the Planning Minister, Frank Sartor, is considering.

Laws introduced in South Australia 12 months ago could be a model.

"The problem is that people don't believe they get a fair go because they feel, rightly or wrongly, that some councils are advocates in their own cause," Mr Sartor said yesterday.

He would not rule out the option, after the Property Council of Australia on Sunday asked NSW to copy the South Australian model, claiming applications needed to be processed faster.

But it would be a "big intervention" and he was months away from a decision.

He said increased separation between those approving planning rules and those implementing them was a priority. In NSW councillors have the option of consulting an independent hearing and assessment panel about difficult applications.

The president of the Local Government Association, Genia McCaffery said South Australia's new laws would be "disastrous" and it would be impossible to assemble panels that were independent of the property industry.

She said the bulk of most applications were handled by planning officers on council staff. In North Sydney, where she is mayor, a design panel has been appointed to advise councillors on difficult projects. "We don't believe that the community of North Sydney elected us to give powers to people they didn't elect," Cr McCaffery said.

The Urban Development Institute of Australia's NSW executive director, Scott Woodcock, said his organisation supported the South Australian model and urged more education for councillors. "You would not appoint a hairdresser to the medical board and yet we allow councillors with no knowledge in planning to approve all these investment dollars," he said. .....................................


It seems that this proposal will take away all development powers from elected members of councils leaving a council's function only to control the implementation of the planning proposals.

Our democratic rights are being swiftly eroded in favour of giving developers and politicians what they want. We need to start countering this immediately.

A gift for charities

A gift for charities
Sydney Morning Herald, 11 may 2007, page 10

The hypocrisy of Morris Iemma and Barry O'Farrell wanting to investigate political donations is mind-boggling ("Show us the money", May 10). If they were genuine, all the Liberal and Labor parties have to do is to pass on to charity the huge donations they receive from developers who are hell-bent on turning Sydney into an overcrowded, polluted, crime-ridden, treeless slum.

Hugh Knox Gordon