As residents, developers and governments argue over how and where to build new housing in Sydney, one important voice goes unheard: the voice of the future resident.
In its current state, the NSW planning system does not give democratic weight to the voice, needs and rights of the future residents. The young adults leaving the nest, interstate soul seekers moving on to their next job, or international migrants bravely venturing into uncharted territory to better their lives are barely represented when we talk about building new townhouses and apartments in the city.
We’ve seen fierce opposition from redevelopment of land adjacent to Sydney’s underground stations near the city, such as at Crows Nest, Marrickville and Dulwich Hill.
But when we consider building new homes alongside new public infrastructure, why do the votes of 600 local residents outweigh the livelihoods of 6,000 future residents? Is it fair that some are going to live in large 6,000-square-foot blocks downtown in detached houses next to a government-funded subway line, when the only option for many first-time homebuyers is to buy real estate on the outskirts of our city? ?
Young adults recognize that there are many positives to living in an inner-city apartment. Being able to walk to your favorite bar or restaurant, get your groceries from the corner store on your way home, and walk into a modern unit that sits just off a train line into town is a reality many of will actively seek us out. As a 26-year-old inner-city office worker, I would take Monica and Rachel’s Central Perk apartment above a house among the gum trees any day. And I’m not the only one. In a 2021 Bankwest studyGeneration Z’s shopping appetite is twice the national average.
So how can the planning system better represent the community it is planning for? We should try harder to get a broader view and representation of the community in which a development is located. In development applications, resident action groups, usually made up of over-55s with fully paid-off properties, are often the loudest voices in the council’s ear, fighting new housing at every turn, as was the case of the recent Crows Nest rezoning proposal. The demographic composition of these groups is nowhere near a representative sample of the population living in the area.
Is the planning decision-making process truly democratic or truly reflective of the community if only the voices of a select few are heard? Where are the opinions of the first-time homebuyers who want to live within a reasonable distance of work, the long-term renters or young adults who want to stay within an hour of the suburb they grew up in?
While it is important for young people to participate in these discussions themselves – setting up their own action groups, harassing politicians, attending council meetings – we need to explore how the planning system can amplify the voice of young adults.