Friday, 23 October 2009

A story about how to make Sydney more liveable as its population approaches 10 million by 2050 seems to have been primarily sourced from a report by the Association of Consulting Engineers Australia (ACEA), which is a lobby group for over 100 different disciplines.

Paul Bibby, The Sydney Morning Herald’s urban affairs reporter who wrote the story, tacked on an interview with frequently-in-the-press president of the Local Government Association, Genia McCaffery. He also canvassed by phone the state government the ministers for planning, local government and transport.

The story is 420 words long. Of those, 350 words can be directly attributed to the ACEA.

In an interview on Vimeo, Megan Motto, the ACEA’s president, describes how engineers want to be brought into the planning process earlier than they are at the moment. Instead of simply designing a bridge when such a service is required, she says, engineers can be included earlier in the problem-solving process.

The best solution to the problem may not simply be to build a bridge. “The problem there is that the engineer hasn’t been brought in at the creative stage in terms of actually looking at multiple, possible solutions for the problem at hand. Because, in fact, the solution for that problem may not be to get the people from A to B at all. If the engineer drills down [and asks] ‘Well, why do you need to get people from A to B? Because they need to get to work, or can they telecommute? [Are] there other opportunities? Can we build a commercial complex nearby?’ So there’s actually a range of solutions for every problem.”

ACEA is thinking big. ACEA operates on behalf of its members, which are corporate entities rather than individuals.

“The issue for engineers in Australia is that they are generally – and designers in Australia – is that they are generally brought in far too far down the food chain in the projects. And governments and clients – both private and public – would do far better to engage consultants very, very early on.”

Motto says that great engineering is about communication, about looking at things ‘outside the box’ and finding creative solutions to problems.

The study that Bibby covers in the front-page story on the SMH website is part of a larger debate currently under way as a result of positive growth projections for Australia’s population.

It also seems that Bibby’s story has as an aim to attack the state Labor government, which is under siege by the media as well as an increasingly-confident Opposition.

Motto is active in the task of engaging politicians in discussions over urban planning. At this year’s Built Environment Meets Parliament (BEMP) Summit in Canberra (12 August) she said:

Ideally, we should have Urban Action Plans developed for every major city and regional area across Australia.

These plans should reflect local stakeholder input and set out clear targets and performance measures to guide and ultimately gauge the effectiveness of the plans.

An Urban Action Plan should enable people to see and understand how their local area will grow and change in coming years and how economic, social and environmental challenges and opportunities will be tackled or harnessed.

While states’ responsibility for the built environment was explicitly acknowledged in the taskforce’s terms of reference at the April Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting in Hobart, it was also acknowledged “that the Commonwealth has an interest in the efficient operation of national infrastructure”. The taskforce established at the COAG wants “best practice” arrangements for strategic corridors and metropolitan areas to be put in place by June 2010.

Organisations such as ACEA are therefore on the front foot when it comes to lobbying for more involvement for their members. Under the taskforce’s remit, states must report by the end of this year on their “review outcomes”. It’s already October.

The ACEA plan Bibby relies on, ‘Sydney Towards Tomorrow’, “has been developed to provide thought leadership, promote community debate and prompt more integrated and thorough planning”, according to the ACEA website.

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