Tuesday, March 16, 2010

NIMBYism, slum dwellers and fear of the "other"


Noted Australian social planner, Wendy Sarkissian submitted a guest blog last year regarding fear of the "other". Here is another entry from Wendy she kindly lent from her own blog at Kitchen Table Sustainability (you'll find her blog at Community Sustainability Handbook under the Toolkit section on the right of this page)


Trouble in Paradise

Tomorrow evening my neighbours are meeting to decide whether or not to try to ban dual occupancy (commonly called accessory dwelling units) in this eco-village of 43 dwellings on 22 hectares [54 acres]. The whole process has me mightily confused.

Imagine the contradictions. Here we are living on half an acre in a Permaculture community committed to self-sufficiency and sustainability principles.

We live in a low-income community (Nimbin, population 350) with a desperate shortage of housing, especially for lower income residents. And most of us do not grow much food – if any – on our properties. I think every lot has at least one car. We’re highly automobile-dependent and we’re certainly not secure in terms of food production.

A permaculture community

But we’re trying. The Jarlanbah community, designed by formidable Permaculture designer, Robyn Francis, who lives down the road at the Djanbung Gardens Permaculture Education Centre was established in 1993 and the first residents moved in in 1994.

Now many of us are ageing and looking for opportunities to age in place and to have the possibility of a caregiver living on our house block. Or to have an income stream from renting a small dwelling on our land.

Recently, the Jarlanbah Review Sub-committee rejected a proposal by one of our neighbours for a dual occupancy arrangement on his block. In North America, this is generally called an “accessory dwelling unit”.

This case, which is likely to go to a formal mediation session, has caused a huge amount of discussion in our community. Some of us, citing global sustainability principles, Peak Oil, automobile dependence and the needs of an ageing, rural population, want to be able to have two dwellings on a lot. We can’t see how this would differ – in planning terms — from, say, a house with four or more bedrooms for a large family or shared household. We don’t see that the impacts on our road infrastructure would be that dramatic.

Not everyone would want to have another dwelling on their lot (perhaps half might – eventually) and those who did could pay extra to reflect the wear and tear that another vehicle might cause (assuming that vehicles would not be shared).

"It'll turn Jarlanbah into a slum"

But not all residents feel this way. Others are afraid that having a few more dwellings will open the floodgates. “It’ll turn Jarlanbah into a slum and a ghetto,” remarked one of the long-term residents, while another claimed that she did not move to Nimbin “to live in cluster housing.” “This is not inner city Redfern,” [a high crime community in Sydney] claimed another.

As a Jarlanbah resident who has spent a whole career (since 1967) working in housing and planning, I am curious to understand what this really means.

Where would these road-wrecking new slum-dwellers come from? How could a ghetto emerge as a result of density increase?

Nevertheless, this small village community is about to embark on an open, democratic, community discussion on this matter.

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