Cars as vehicles for other things: A post about cars, planning and what I am working on

Writing a paper about cars is something I have considered since sitting through my first planning meetings of council. There is so much talk about cars when it come to planning approvals, partly because many permit applicants are looking for a dispensation on the number of car-parks they are required to provide. Developers need to convince the powers that be (primarily council, but quite often also VCAT) that their development does not need a higher level of car parking spaces, and this offers an opportunity to speak up for people who object to various aspects of the development. At the same time, cars are also not so welcome in inner-suburbs because they are seen as environmentally destructive and even anti-social.

My project is not about what should be built or what sorts of transport we should use, I have been looking at what people want socially in their suburb. It has turned out that people do make links between their social experience and the housing in their area. In my opinion, some of the talk and written reports I have seen about cars are very concerned with the social world.

The paper started being brainstormed and drafted mid last year. It has sat on the back burner but I can no longer just think about it without writing it; I am supposed to give the paper this month. Part of my hold up has been that I always feel like my understanding is partial. I am not an expert on planning, I cannot read people’s minds to find out what they want, and I did not include any questions about cars in my door-knock survey. Furthermore, I know that this paper will only offer a partial account of the little I do know. Not for a moment do I think that people are only talking about other things when they mention car parking and traffic.

What I do want to do is explore what some people want for Port Melbourne, and some of the frustrations they experience when trying to advocate for this through planning processes. I think that for some residents objecting to the apartment development, cars stood in as part of a broader planning commitment to acknowledging and limiting the social and practical stress potentially brought with increased density. In many of the strategy documents prepared by council officers, cars appear as part of the social and environmental destruction associated with lower density suburban life.

If you have any thoughts, worries, ideas or questions I am keen to hear/ read them.

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