Going for Growth and Managing Decline: The Complex Mix of Planning Strategies in Broken Hill, NSW, Australia

By Schatz, Laura | The Town Planning Review, January 1, 2017 | Go to article overview

Going for Growth and Managing Decline: The Complex Mix of Planning Strategies in Broken Hill, NSW, Australia


Schatz, Laura, The Town Planning Review


Introduction

An increasing number of communities outside of commuting distance of large metropolitan areas are losing population (Polèse and Shearmur, 2006; Rieniets, 2005). Australia is not immune from this trend: capital cities are growing, but many remote communities are experiencing sustained population decline (McGuirk and Argent, 2011). This is particularly the case for many of Australia's iconic historical mining towns - such as Broken Hill in New South Wales and Queenstown in Tasmania - where planners struggle to find appropriate strategies to address decline in the context of the environmental degradation and health damage caused by mining (Schatz et al., 2014). Indeed, planners in all types of shrinking communities face unique challenges resulting from population decline, including an abundance of vacant properties and infrastructure overcapacity (Schilling and Logan, 2008). As outlined by Pallagst et al. (also in this volume), the way in which local officials in shrinking cities address population decline depends upon perceptions of shrinkage. In cases where shrinkage is either ignored or observed without acceptance, strategies tend to be developed that are geared towards attracting and managing future growth (expansion). Unfortunately, these strategies worsen issues caused by shrinkage (Knoop, 2014; Leadbeater, 2008; Dabinett, 2004). Researchers such as Popper and Popper (2002) suggest that effective planning in shrinking cities only happens when planners and policy-makers shift their perception to accepting decline, allowing them to actively planning for future decline - so-called 'decline-oriented planning'.

Unfortunately, examples of cities accepting decline are hard to find. Even shrinking cities that have attempted to 'right-size' to current population levels (see, for example, Schilling and Logan, 2008; Canning and Tighe, 2014) have done so with the hope that the city will once again grow in the future (Kreichauf, 2014; Schatz, 2010). The perceptual or ideological shift has not happened. Why is this the case? In this paper, the case study of Broken Hill is used to explore the limits of the 'decline-oriented ideology'. Broken Hill's planning challenges and strategies are outlined and the tension between growth-oriented strategies found in policy documents, and the actions of local officials who are adopting elements of decline-oriented planning, minus the ideology, are highlighted. A total of seven interviews with local officials, including council planners and local councillors, at the City of Broken Hill council were conducted in 2013 and 28 council planning documents were reviewed. The interviews were semi-structured and open-ended and interviewees were identified using the so-called 'snowball' technique, in which interviewees suggested other possible participants. Both the documents and interview transcripts were reviewed and coded according to particular themes, which were themselves chosen as being indicative of either a 'decline-oriented' or 'growthoriented' ideology. The results were then analysed and compared for similarities and differences. Data was also collected in notes and photographs taken during direct observation during two field visits, each lasting approximately one week. Based on this analysis, it is argued that it is unlikely that local officials in Broken Hill will adopt the decline-oriented ideology anytime soon, calling into question the likelihood of 'declineoriented planning' ever being wholeheartedly adopted.

The prevalence of growth-oriented planning in shrinking cities and the alternative of decline-oriented planning

Urban scholars have observed a trend - rooted in neoliberalism - towards growthoriented planning (Brenner and Theodore, 2002; Cleeson and Low, 2000; Harvey, 2007). While varying in its local manifestations (O'Neill and Weller, 2013), neoliberalism as an ideology prioritises economic growth over social and environmental concerns (Harvey, 2007). …

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