Our City Our Future


Editor: Gary Shapcott; Last updated: 6 October 2020

WHAT makes a good city? This is a highly contested topic so we’ll cover it with a roundtable. You can see below:

A town planning agenda?
Contributors to the roundtable
Register for a meeting
Editor’s summary

The first answer to the question ‘What makes a good city?’ has to be ‘a town that is able to meet the challenges it faces’. The challenges faced by cities and towns in Australia today are many and daunting. I’ve listed below some I can think of (not in any order):

  • reducing greenhouse gas emissions
  • surviving the climate change that is bearing down upon us
  • acknowledging prior occupation of the land by indigenous communities, working to ensure continuing transmission of indigenous cultures and knowledge, and incorporating indigenous aspirations in city planning
  • reducing bushfire risk
  • surviving pandemics
  • responding to population pressures
  • supporting biodiversity and avoiding ecological collapse
  • water security
  • food security
  • looking after the physical and mental health of residents
  • reducing our contribution to global resource depletion and waste
  • reducing our contribution to the development of weapons of mass destruction and of malign technological advances
  • maintaining buildings of significance that are home to the arts and sciences
  • maintaining robust democratic institutions
  • maintaining a citizenry that is able and willing to participate in decision-making in public affairs
  • maintaining opportunities for the everyday face-to-face social interactions that are vital to social cohesion and community formation and identity
  • providing high quality housing suitable for all life stages
  • controlling the housing market to prevent predatory behaviours by banks, property developers and investors
  • providing livelihoods that do not compromise the life chances for future generations
  • protecting critical infrastructure from attacks by hostile state and non-state actors … .

Given up already?! Understandable, but no problem was ever solved by turning a blind eye to it. And we don’t have to start from scratch; there are ideas from the past that can be revived and adapted to our current circumstances to meet at least some of our challenges. One such idea is the ‘garden city’ vision of city development which I outline in my post in this roundtable.

A town planning agenda?

Here are some tentative suggestions and we ask contributors, at some stage in their contribution, to make their position clear on each of them.

  • Population growth can and must be controlled if a city is to remain sustainable. Population growth is inevitable and there should be no attempt to limit it. Which is correct?
  • Population growth can be managed by a combination of infill and sprawl. Various proportions are proposed, some saying the proportion of new population absorbed by infill and new outlying suburbs should be 80 / 20 per cent respectively, or 70 / 30 or, some say, 100 per cent of new population should be housed in new outlying suburbs. Who is correct?
  • Infill is best placed as near as possible to activity centres (shops, offices, universities) and along public transport routes. Correct?
  • Infill needs to be high quality, environmentally sustainable medium density housing. Correct?


Hopefully the following kinds of contributors will be willing to have a post here, a ‘seat at the roundtable’ so to speak:

  • representatives of political parties
  • independent candidates for election to the ACT Assembly
  • academics
  • community groups

Important points: 1) You want contributors from different political persuasions; you are not trying to create an ‘echo chamber’ and 2) The aim here is not for citizens to provide ‘input’ to government or expert decisions. As in other models of ‘deliberative democracy’, the aim of this online roundtable is rather for government officials and experts to inform citizens’ views. Citizens are then asked (below) to meet to collectively work out solutions to problems. It might then take some kind of political campaign to get government and experts to listen!

So far we’ve got (you guessed it) just me:


Then we would have an invitation to readers to register for a meeting: If you would like to participate in a group discussion on the issues raised in this roundtable, please fill in and send the registration form below. Groups will be limited to 20 people at any one time and discussions will be face-to-face or on Zoom. Every participant is expected to see this as a learning experience; we don’t want to hear just uninformed bla-bla. A diverse range of viewpoints is what we are after, so we can all learn from one another.

Editor’s summary

Here the Editor would sum up the agreements / disagreements of the contributors to the roundtable on the town planning agenda and make some kind of critical judgement. So-called politically neutral and balanced reporting in mainstream journalism puts two or more conflicting views on any given problem side by side and leaves it at that. ‘Public journalism’ sees this as muting or stifling the role of journalism in society, which is to help the public to understand the true nature of social or political problems and to help the public to develop a course of action to address those problems. In any political decision-making process, opposing arguments are weighed up and a decision made on which argument to run with. This then affects the course of action chosen. For citizens to be involved in political decision-making –– it’s called democracy –– they have to do the same. If journalism doesn’t help citizens to do this, the political decision-making process and its democratic nature are both weakened. ‘Balanced’ and ‘politically neutral’ reporting by journalists leaves the rest of the job (sifting fact from fiction, working out a course of action) to the citizens themselves, who might be organised as activists or might not but, in any case, will have fewer resources than a media corporation. If journalism retreats as an actor from the political public sphere, democracy is weakened.