Hobart is changing. I feel a buzz of optimism. And not just here – people around the world are talking about the beautiful, historic, creative and down-to-earth city we call home. But with change comes challenges, which need the response of clever and forward-thinking leadership.
An essential part of the leadership Hobart needs right now is a progressive and imaginative local Council. This October Hobartians will vote for a team to lead the city for the next four years. It’s time for some fresh ideas and new faces on our Council team, and I hope to be one of them!
I’ve been doing a lot of reading and thinking about what’s happening at the city government level around the world. I’m impressed and inspired that so many cities are embracing innovative approaches to urban management and design that take people, the environment and the future much more into account.
Around the world, people increasingly recognise that our planet’s future largely depends on making our cities more sustainable. And it’s not just the future of the planet that’s driving this movement – cities are competing with each other to be the ‘smartest’, ‘healthiest’, ‘most liveable’ and ‘most sustainable’ city, to attract and retain residents and businesses so that their economies also thrive.
There’s an impressive amount of reform happening in cities, and Hobart could be more advanced than we appear to be right now. Here are some initiatives that I intend to work on if elected to Hobart City Council in October….
Streets are for living, not just travelling
Streets aren’t just thoroughfares to get from one place to another – they also connect residents of a community to each other, and are the hub for local economic and community activity. Great streets are places where people want to walk and meet, and where businesses thrive.
In our Hobart suburbs there are a number of local shopping streets that are the current hub for local activity, but Council could do more to improve these streets through discussions with the local community.
It may be widening the footpath and planting more trees in the strip in Lenah Valley, slowing the traffic down around the Hill Street shops in West Hobart, or in Hampden Road Battery Point; or creating a new Chinatown mall in Sandy Bay. There is a lot more innovative work that can be done in our streets using the current infrastructure budget in a different way.
Council as leader and influencer
Council is the level of government closest to the community, but sometimes Aldermen take this as meaning they don’t need to worry about bigger picture issues.
Councils should be at the heart of local decision-making about public policy, but too often they face frustration when state and federal governments change legislation or cut funds. Many Councils rely on ad-hoc contact or react in crisis mode when something goes wrong.
I advocate that Hobart develop an Intergovernmental Strategy – so that Hobart knows what it’s looking for from the state and federal governments and can work towards these goals. I propose the Council organises an annual roundtable with state and federal representatives to clearly set out the Councils’ ideas and needs for the coming year.
Hobart has a vast number of plans and strategies prepared by dedicated and professional Council staff. I have reviewed a number of these plans and many of them are missing four vital components – vision, leadership, focus and implementation.
Too many Hobart City Council strategies lack specific targets and focused ideas. Action plans are filled with vague commitments such as “investigate opportunities and “consider involvement in”. Elected Aldermen need to take a stronger leadership role in setting the vision for the strategies and give staff a stronger mandate to develop more specific, tangible and measurable targets for the Council.
Democracy and consultation
As the level of government closest to the people, Council planning and decision-making should be accessible. People may engage with the Council if a development close to their home is not to their liking, but most citizens are not engaged with the big decisions about the city’s future. I would like to change this.
There is much more that Hobart Council can do to involve people in the big picture decisions and strategies of their local government. Some ideas I would like to explore include:
• Hold one in every six Council meetings in community halls across the Hobart Council area.
• Actively promote public question time to people, organisations and schools.
• Encourage the establishment of a Hobart Ratepayers Association and work with existing neighbourhood groups to promote a culture of civic engagement working together and with Council.
• Encourage the participation of citizens in the decision-making processes of allocating budgets and the monitoring of public spending.
• Improve public online access to Council documents and data, especially the ability for citizens to search for the decisions of Council meetings in a specific and accessible way.
• Ensure that Council information is translated and that interpreters are available as required.
• Live-stream Council and Committee meetings online.
Hobart is blessed with a number of beautiful areas such as the waterfront and surrounding bushland. It’s also blessed with a community that loves their city and getting out and about to enjoy it. Many of our inspiring festivals, such as MOFO in winter and summer, the Taste, and the Wooden Boat Festival demonstrate the community’s interest in using our public places to socialise, celebrate and explore.
With a coordinated strategy, Hobart’s waterfront has the potential to be an extraordinary public place. I also support the importance of retaining the waterfront as a working port, and I believe the two visions can work together.
What do I mean by creating an extraordinary public place along our waterfront? An area that is accessible, publicly-owned, and recognised for outstanding design and architecture, public facilities and events. An area where we can express our history and culture, and celebrate our achievements as a city. A place where people can appreciate the natural values of the waterfront without being restricted by areas that are out of bounds or unpleasant to be in.
Public areas should take the best of the location and enhance it with landscaping, art, public eating and barbeque areas, walkways, playgrounds and other facilities that are owned and used by the community.
The Council has developed a great plan to develop the waterfront into a public area that people can use and enjoy. I support the Gehl vision for our waterfront, and I support the Macquarie Point development having a significant area devoted as public open space. The Hobart City Council needs a more significant say in both of these important areas, which are currently controlled by unelected bodies.
The Council’s current strategy is tentative about the Gehl vision, and just refers to a few minimal actions. More could be done to embrace and sell the plan. There is also too little money being invested to implement this plan. Hobart is ready for these developments now – not way off in the distant future. I support a greater investment by Council into a rapid development of the Gehl plan for the waterfront.
Improving Council’s own operations – for economic and environmental benefits
As a ratepayer and resident I’m keen to know that my Council’s own operations are best-practice, or at least working towards it. I’d like to know that Hobart Council is doing the best it can to use less energy, water and fuel, and is making good choices in what it purchases.
One example is the Council’s car fleet –there is great work being done around the country to replace petrol-guzzling large cars with smaller, fuel-efficient vehicles to save money and fuel. Some Councils are reducing the number of vehicles in their fleet and establishing partnerships with car share companies, so that vehicles used by the Council staff during the day can be rented by other car share members out of office hours.
At Hobart City Council there have been some positive purchases of CNG trucks and electric vehicles but more could be done to reduce and improve the efficiency of the Council fleet.
Many of Hobart’s challenges come from actions taken outside its boundaries, and more could be done to plan with other jurisdictions on a range of issues for the future. If Launceston has a Greater Launceston Plan, why doesn’t Greater Hobart have one?
When I lived and worked in north Queensland in the 1990s, I was involved in the first steps to develop region-wide planning. It makes sense to think beyond the Council’s boundaries and act much more strategically into the future.
I also support the creation and protection of plans that protect what is special about local areas, such as the existing Battery Point Planning Scheme. This is the plan that has protected Battery Point’s heritage since 1979, and should be retained.
Hobart’s heritage is one of the city’s greatest assets, but it is undervalued and not adequately protected. We have lost so many beautiful heritage buildings and streetscapes in Hobart already. I want to assist with protecting streetscapes, as well as individual buildings, into the future.
Planning issues in Hobart have been controversial and there are new moves to streamline the process. It is important that Council work with the community to secure heritage protection. Developers can be encouraged to work with the community to ensure old buildings can be restored and repurposed to retain our unique streetscapes.
Hobart also needs to interpret its history and special places, so that locals and visitors can enjoy and understand the rich heritage of our city. Every day we walk past places of significance, but sadly too few have any signage to indicate why they are important.
There is huge potential for the interpretation of Hobart’s history, and the city needs a clear plan to ensure that these sites are clearly identified and explained.
The Council has a vision of Hobart in 2025 as a “less car dependent, reduced emission, transport system”. I support this vision and see the need for an injection of energy, focus and ambition in Council’s actions if this vision is to be realised.
Cities around the world are working to get people out of their cars and onto their feet, bikes, or public transport – to reduce congestion on roads, improve the health of residents, reduce emissions, and create more vibrant public areas.
Greater Hobart has a high reliance on cars, with 78 percent of journeys to work undertaken by car, and few options for people who can’t drive or want to get around the city in different ways.
The Council’s Sustainable Transport Strategy 2009-2014 has some good goals but Hobart Council cannot change state and region-wide trends on its own. It must be an influencer and leader on the projects that will see major shift in line with its 2025 vision.
I would like the next strategy to focus Council on undertaking a game-changing actions such as:
• Leading a public campaign for the development of the Riverline light rail project.
• Developing the Battery Point walkway to link the southern part of the city to the centre.
• A network of routes that actively encourage walking and cycling, funded by a larger percentage of the road budget devoted to pedestrian crossings and bikeways, improving walkability, and better footpaths with curb ramps at intersections.
How will Hobart respond to the biggest challenge of our time? It has a strategy that was released in 2009, that’s now showing its age. It’s “a strategic platform rather than a prescriptive action plan for climate change.” We can, and must, do better.
Reducing our emissions
Council has a target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from its operations by 30% below 2009 levels by 2020. Why not go further? Many Councils now have emission reduction targets for their city, not just their organisation. For example, Melbourne City Council has a target to produce zero net emissions from the CBD and surrounding suburbs in its jurisdiction by 2020.
In the last few years we seem to be going backwards. A number of important incentive programs to install solar hot water systems and ceiling insulation have closed, despite savings of $540,000 a year from the energy bills of Hobart households.
I want Hobart to have a more complete plan – we need a Community Climate Change Action Plan that sets out how the Council will work with and support the Hobart community (individuals, households, organisations, business and industry) to make significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
Preparing for climate impacts
Bushfire is one of the most serious threats we face in Hobart as the climate becomes hotter and drier. Hobart has a long boundary where houses are adjacent to bushland and forested Council land. This is a major risk for the community that the Council needs to manage.
The Council needs to reduce, not add to, the houses built in bushland areas. While this is an incredibly challenging issue for Council, I believe the Council’s leadership needs to be open about the dangers of catastrophic bushfire to Hobart’s future and take stronger actions.
Cities across the country, such as Brisbane and Marrickville, are adopting zero-waste plans with targets to reduce the amount of waste that ends up in landfills. Recycling programs for organics are quickly becoming as important as recycling programs for cans, bottles, and paper.
When organics break down in a landfill they produce methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Organic waste can be made into compost, for which there is demand in our community. I would promote a program to help keep organic waste out of landfills.
Hobart’s Public Art Strategy is due for renewal and I support involving Hobart’s many artists in the development of a new arts plan, and allocating greater resources for its implementation. The strategy needs to set a bold new course for Hobart and should investigate new ways to support artists and art events in Hobart.