Viv Straw is the President of the Planning Institute Australia (ACT Division). This is the fourth in a series of articles exploring themes derived from Randolph Hester and others, developing an Australian Ecological Democracy theme.

TT: Viv in our first article you talked about four global megatrends, city centre living becoming more popular, technology driving the new economy, a diversity of land uses together and the re-emergence of mass transit as an alternative to connecting people to other parts of the city; then you developed the role of vision and Governance, so what are we trying to achieve?

VS: The modern city draws its vitality and land values from a clever mix of human activity and enterprise that makes cities exciting and accessible. Cities have been described as the greatest achievement of the human race. However cities develop, access to facilities, services, entertainment, work and other people are the most important determinants of land value.

The greater the diversity of land uses and opportunities that cities have the more appealing they become.

TT: One of the characteristics of Australian cities is that they are incredibly liveable, most people put this down to our leafy suburbs, are you trying to change that?

VS: No, I think this is a matter of adding more opportunities to our urban environment rather than diminishing the quality of our suburbs. There will always be suburban living, but we need to recognise that a proportion of our population want to live closer to where it is all happening.

Mass transport systems will not reach into the low density suburbs, but for those who are not interested in owning a car, transit oriented centres are more appealing.

People are choosing city centres because they provide a lifestyle they want. To make these places work we need to get the right mix of opportunities. Getting the mix right, is what I call developing collaborative diversity.

TT: But some land uses cause pollution like noise and so on, where do we put them?

VS: Obviously, we can’t just jam everything in to the centre of the city, some uses cause conflicts, and need to be separated out. But we need to be more judicial about that. Others work together to create exciting places. Getting the mix right is about putting things together that work together. Residential, commercial, education and recreation uses together with some forms of entertainment and access to open space all add value to the city and reduce travel and health costs.

TT: Do you want to develop dense cities?

VS: Canberra is a beautiful city that is set in a magnificent landscape, we need to protect that. I think we can have more compact cities with; creative, innovative, inclusive, active and liveable centres. We like to be in close proximity to each other. More compact cities allow for greater exchange of ideas, less travel cost and time and healthier places. With some thought we can create collaboratively diverse town centres for people to live in and enjoy.