Density Delirium – and the cities of the future (I don’t want to live in)

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What do day care, dairy farms and dog parks all have in common? Density.

As a result, what they also have in common is a preponderance of germs – for which the wisdom of the day demands defensive measures that are pretty much worse than the original problems: overwhelming amounts of disinfectants; overprescribing antibiotics; and hyper-vaccination. All of which wreak havoc with natural immune system responses, developed over thousands of years.

Neither animals nor people thrive in overcrowded conditions. There are much higher levels of aggression and frustration all round; and all manner of aberrant social behaviours, including bullying and self-destructive tendencies, often culminating in high suicide rates.

Possibly worse are the health ramifications when we then eat the unfortunate creatures who have been pumped full of antibiotics, or drink their milk (a weird habit this, drinking the milk of another creature, meant for its offspring – which we instead rip away from them, shoving them into, again, overcrowded sheds, to die in high numbers from dysentery and the like…)!

However, these are but passing points on the way to my real purpose in writing this – I would like to register my protest (however impotent) against the high-density cities of the future. The “only” way to cope with the “inevitable” growth of cities… So we are told. By whom? Those insatiable developers, along with the town planners who eat out of their hands, and the project teams who must deliver according to the dictated vision (and of course are only too eager to, since it will keep them in business in perpetuity)… Of course.

future cities
“Your future starts here – live and work in NSW” -from industry.nsw.gov.au

Has anyone bothered to think this through in terms of the social, ethical and environmental long-term consequences? Has anyone bothered to ask (or listen to) the ordinary people, for a change? The people whose future they are so merrily plotting, with all the patronising tones of the old colonial powers, it must be said. Of course, they claim to have done so. But it’s mostly a box ticking exercise – phase one of projects with predetermined outcomes, skipped through hastily, fingers in ears, singing la-la-la…

There is little genuine dialogue in this regard – more of an echo chamber of regurgitated, pre-packaged, dogmatic mantras. This industry can be as deaf to criticism as any high priest in a pulpit – and they hold far more power to shape our future than even the religious orders of old.

The oft-repeated statements about high-density development being “the way of the future” (Hurrah!!) ring in my ears like any cult of religious nuts who will not listen to reason. In fact, any dissident opinions are dismissed in much the same manner as excommunication – if you do not agree with our version of reality, then you are a heathen, a heretic, an infidel… Except the jargon used in this regard (and oh, how this industry loves jargon, to keep the masses ignorant of their plans) – would label people like me as a “greenie”, a “luddite” or a “NIMBY” (“Not in my back yard”).

Again with the patronising, colonial style worldview. “WE know what’s best for you.”

Arguing with the “experts” is thus impossible. You are shut out of the conversation by very definition of not being one.

Imagine how much worse for minority groups – the indigenous, the marginalised, those struggling on the edges of our societies… Who ever asks them?

Who actually listens, with open minds, to the whispers (and sometimes wails) of longing… for an alternative future?

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist (or planning expert) to understand why high density does not equal quality of life – and it’s not just minority groups who are being ignored in the race to the bottom we currently call “development”…

Just ask anyone who has had to queue for the Bondi Junction buses (for example) at peak hours; or tried to find parking within hundreds of meters of any city beach; or sat in traffic on the way to work/ school drop off each day, watching the precious minutes of their “life” slip away…

bus queue
look at all those happy faces…

Why do so many people dream of, and a lucky few actually get to try, a “tree change”/ “sea change”? Is it perhaps, dear developers and town planners, because people fundamentally like  trees and green spaces and just, like, nature and space in general? Do you think? (I suspect not, as it would result in too much cognitive dissonance)

Am I saying we all need to live in unspoilt countryside (is there even such a thing anywhere anymore?!); or return to some ideal past (which probably never was, either)? No. Of course not. Cities are a huge part of how the future will unfold. But there could be much better planning; and more alternatives to high-rise, high-density, high exploitation of Every. Damned. Square metre.

I already alluded to this above, but it bears repeating: Urban Density practically guarantees an escalation in crime rates, social problems, road rage, violent incidents, health issues and suicides!!

I could go into all of that for pages and pages – but I don’t need to. It’s all around us, and in the media, all the time. Everyone reading this knows what I mean – unless you live in woop woop and have never ventured to the nearest city (in fact, even that would prove my point- country people who do not like spending time in the city, would probably cite mostly the same reasons I am alluding to here)!

Of course crime and other social issues exist in smaller communities, or in more sparsely populated outer suburbs… but not to the same degree, and some issues are actually peculiar to city life/ a direct result of overcrowding…

I think you know what I am trying to say, dear reader. And I don’t wish for this to be an overly academic article, nor am I writing a technical manual (one of my old jobs, actually). I am intentionally appealing to just simple, everyday, common sense. Most of us would prefer to have a bit of space. Space to stretch out, to breathe, to relax, to enjoy some privacy, just to BE…

IF we were given a choice.

That’s the problem I am protesting about – no one is asking us!!

By the way, do you seriously think any of them – the uber wealthy who pretty much own our politicians, public servants, and the like – will ever be forced to live in high-rise, high-density urban congestion of the sort that causes something akin to delirium (fever-induced madness, basically)? Will they be the ones tearing their hair out when they can’t sleep, or can’t get on a bus to get home and see the kids for dinner time; or can’t park their car for ten minutes, anywhere without paying through the nose for the privilege; or, just can’t, anymore…!?

Unless they wanted to. Of course. If they wanted to live there, it would still be in the uber-cool penthouse version of inner city life. Again, more space. Possibly some of it green.

urban design trends
Low rise development with communal gardens – “7 Key trends in Urban Design”, theurbandeveloper.com

Most of us do not have the level of agency that oodles of money can buy. We are at the mercy of the town planners, public servants and politicians – who should be making decisions based on decent research into what will improve our wellbeing. They are, after all, supposedly in those positions to serve our interests. But no, instead they are at the beck and call of the fat cats. The developers, and their lackies.

They – the politicians, local government, and so on – are like Remora (“sucker fish”), attached to far larger fish or whales, taken along for the ride, wherever the whale chooses to go… Why do they choose to make themselves so dependent on the whims of the whales? Well, because they lack a swim bladder of their own… Is there any hope, do you think, that our governments (and any more altruistic elements within civil society) will develop their own “swim bladders” anytime soon???

And in the meantime, or instead of waiting for an “aha moment” in the building industry that may never come… What can WE, ordinary people do about this? I don’t know. I do not have all the answers. But I can’t help hoping for an urgent, collective rising up – stand up, speak up, vote better!! Because together, we could dream, dialogue, design those alternative answers, that preferred future, and the ‘greener”, more life-enhancing cities we actually want.

seattle park over highway
“Seattle design covers ugly highway with an elevated park…” – from inhabitat.com

Step one is simply to open genuine dialogue around this. Anyone reading this who works in the relevant areas of government, or in the building industry, or in social research, or the media…  Open the conversation, delve into the research, or commission further research to close the gaps in industry knowledge… Examine some alternatives. Brainstorm. You know, all the usual ways of “problem-solving”…

Preferred Futures thinking would point to ‘backcasting’ as the way to ensure we will live in the sorts of cities and spaces we actually want in the future – this would mean defining a desirable future and then working backwards to identify policies and programs that would connect that specified future to the present. Step by step, year by year… A tangible path from where we are to where we would prefer to be.

I would love to hear some fresh viewpoints on the subject. Feel free to comment below, or post links to your own blogs and websites (if they are relevant).

Comments and discussion welcomed

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