Town planners 32



View Profile

Have you ever wandered around a quaint old English village with its stone cottages, thatched roofs and village green or pond, dotted with happy ducks? Or one of those ancient coastal towns in Spain or Italy, clinging to a steep hillside, all the houses painted in different cheerful colours, all crowded together as if for common protection? In each case the streets tend to be narrow, because it was all that was needed in days gone by. Windows are small, because glass was dearer than stone or wattle and daub and in any case most people were out working on the land most of the day, not wasting time gazing through their windows! In both cases, they’re really wonderful aren’t they; they fit in perfectly with their environment, totally different from each other, but absolutely right in their native settings.

And guess what! Not a single town planner was involved in either of the images I’ve created above. It was all done by ordinary people, aware of their environment, the materials available to them and the uses to which the buildings were to be put. Obviously, there were the natural limitations placed on their work, the necessity to build near a regular supply of drinkable water, enough depth of soil to allow the growing of crops plus open pastureland so that cattle and sheep could be kept, or handy to a convenient launching place for fishing boats. But all these problems were natural ones and they themselves were a part of the balance and beauty of nature, so as long as people worked with them, rather than against them, the almost inevitable result was a pleasing one. Bureaucracy was also at a very low ebb in those days, no massive Town or County Councils to tell everyone what they had to do, just (usually) the local road board, charged with making certain that connections with neighbouring villages was maintained. As we can still see today, almost anywhere in country England, Spain or Italy, everything worked exceedingly well, with most structures from two hundred or more years ago, still standing, proud and beautiful!

Then, along came the industrial revolution and almost immediately the villages grew into towns – especially those near to recently discovered deposits of coal, iron ore and clay suitable for pottery – and from there it was a short step that turned the successful towns into cities, as country people rushed to where the money was, or so they thought.

Suddenly it became vitally important that there should be some sort of planning, especially as unscrupulous factory owners were knocking up row after row of what we now call slum dwellings for their employees to live in at rents which left them little enough money to move elsewhere! Even the factories themselves were simply built in the most convenient place (from the owner’s point of view) with little or no thought for the environment, just so that the clay, coal or iron ore were as close as possible, cutting down on transport costs.

So Councils grew and became more powerful, again not always for the good of ordinary people, because Councillors tended to a large extent to be the very people who owned the factories and the mines! Nonetheless a certain state of order did gradually creep in to the scheme of things and Town Planners were invented, resulting in the quality of building increasing, both domestically and industrially. Schools, churches, public libraries and shops were planned for individual estates; standards of building were set, which had to be followed by builders, or ignored at their peril! This state of improvement went on for many years, but of course it wasn’t a perfect system.

Today, the whole thing has got out of hand, with planning departments being run by a lot of highly educated bureaucrats, heads filled with rules and regulations, but very little common sense. So we get ugly city centres, roads where no one wants them, housing estates built with little in the way of infrastructure and, above all little or no idea of what a “pretty” building or environment should look like. Very few of the structures going up today will still be here in a hundred years’ time, they’re all designed to be removed long before then and replaced by some other monstrosity. The continuity we have enjoyed for hundreds of years will, I am afraid be lost for ever, which is very sad!

So enjoy the views of the old places while you can – they may not be around for much longer!

Do you like older places with architecture and design that rivals ours today? Or do you perform modern town planning? Tell us your thoughts below.

Brian Lee

  1. Yes, it bothers me, anything to do with town Councils bother me. They are illegal to begin with and yet they are allowed to exist and make by laws willy nilly without ratepayer’s approval, raise rates annually(tantamount to thievery), have no accountability or transparency with what they do with our money.
    Yet we allow it to go on.

    1 REPLY
    • How are they illegal Marie? They are part of local government which is legal, they have nothing to do with rates – that is a different dept altogether. Each year their budget is in full view for all to see from about May I think. Believe me I am no fan of our local council that has required us to lodge a DA to stabilize the bed of a creek running through our property at great cost to us, when part of the reason the erosion has occurred is because they have allowed so much building upstream.

  2. A real eye-opener of an article. Sad to see that we’re not building homes to last, in settings that promote a sense of community and which are aesthetically pleasing to the eye, if not soulful.

  3. Ah yes…… Love the villages of England and Europe and about to visit Spain and Portugal. Agree about our city plans .

  4. Miss the villages in England. In Perth they keep building monster sized new estates with no real buffers around them. A cute little park in the middle of hundreds of homes doesn’t really cut it. The population has doubled in the 27 yrs we have been here and shows no sign of easing up. We can drive only minutes from our home in any direction before passing vast new building sites.

    2 REPLY
    • I agree as I also live in Perth. In the late 70’s we built our first small home on a block of land around 800 square meters which was the average then. Now the blocks are down to as small as 300 square meters but the houses are bigger and leave no backyard. The land developers said the blocks were smaller to make it more affordable but all they did was give us smaller blocks for the same price and it has created social problems with higher density living as we all live on top of each other.

    • Absolutely Yvonne, we left Sydney for a quieter lifestyle in Perth, but the crowds keeps chasing us. The new homes are so close to each other, it must be difficult for those next door to small noisy children or inconsiderate neighbours.

  5. Do you know what I hate? New developments which are called ‘ wherever village’ it not a bloody village and apparently in Australia there is very little clue about what a ‘village’ is.

  6. Very little clue on anything… You forget Australians are deports from England who know nothing either….. it is greed …. Selfish uncontrollable greed…… Control freaks . So go figure…

    2 REPLY
    • Imports then… Either way we bought the dilemas with us…. Where did all the so called fabulous greed come from. Wasn’t here, it was bought here.

  7. Marie, local government doe not “make laws willy nilly without ratepayer’s (sic) approval”. As a resident, you elect your local Councillor to act for you in how he/she votes at meetings, so lobby your local Councillor in regard to Local Laws, Planning Scheme, rate increases etc. Councils do have accountability and all dealings must be transparent, as shown by a few Councils being sacked and the LG run by an administrator. Your LG runs your garbage service, libraries, parks and playgrounds, community halls and buildings, roads and drainage infrastructure, festivals and events, health checks on food businesses, tourist information, etc and as the cost of these increase, so do rates.
    Before I retired, I was an LG Town Planner, but mainly on the statutory side, not strategic. Despite the rapid growth of cities and towns, at least these days there are regulations in place to protect heritage buildings and precincts from demolition or alterations that would greatly reduce its historical integrity.
    So basically, you need to inform your elected Councillor of your thoughts, good and bad, rather than doing nothing and complaining about how your LG operates.

    1 REPLY
    • I wish it was like that everywhere Pam! Greedy developers control Council here and they only got elected from manipulating the preference system and throwing heaps of $s into their campaign – another 2 years of hell to go.

  8. Over control…. We pay big broken back dollars for our homes and land… They charge big easy come fees for everything we think of Let alone do…. Too many houses jammed in on too small a package…

  9. Brian, you must not have been to Korcula (circa 12th C) in Croatia. It is an example of very careful town planning. Kitchens in the top floor so everyone can get out if there is a fire, no opposing windows so you do not look into neighbours houses and the streets are designed to favour the prevailing winds keeping the town cool in summer and warm in winter.

    1 REPLY
    • Yes, can’t argue with that, except to say that as with most things, there are usually exceptions, that prove the rule. I certainly didn’t know the town you mention, but it sounds as though they had some good ideas there, all that time ago, virtually all of it common sense, which was the point I was making about most other ancient communities – they used common sense to arrive at their town layouts, to fit in with the environment. Unfortunately the environment is too easily forgotten or ignored today!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *