It may be common for a conference to close with a call for collaboration; for sectors to come together to respond to a complex challenge. But it’s rare to curate the building blocks for this collaboration in to a program up front. It takes a nuanced understanding of the interactions and intersections between networks. Not something all of us have the chance to see, let alone understand.
But a conference co hosted by RDA Logan Redlands and Griffith University in mid June 2014, went further; deliberately designing a mid-conference collision between networks that often pace around each other but rarely connect. Add to this the raft of initiatives, programs and campaigns launched in Logan and Redlands over the past 2 years by local, state and Australian governments and the risk of crossfire was high.
Bringing together people, acting as a broker is what RDA’s do well, and what RDA Logan Redlands does very well. In the room was state government, local councils, researchers from Griffith University and QUT, developers, financiers, designers, health professionals and those with lived experience of disability and people experiencing abuse. Links to Logan Council’s ‘City of Choice’ program kick (started in the aftermath of the 2011 riots); Redlands Council Housing Strategy; the Newman governments’ Stronger Choices and work of the Queensland Plan were made explicit. This forum was here to service those initiatives and make visible the intersections between.
This was the context for the ‘Building blocks for change 2.0’ Housing & Society forum held at Sirromet winery outside of Logan to explore how planning and housing can have genuinely positive social impact. In particular, with the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) identified as a potential catalyst for wide scale change.
It did this by weaving together three streams that explored;
- disability and NDIS, Youth and Aged needs
- social housing and homelessness
- partnerships and funding models
To be clear, the reference to a ‘mid conference collision’ is an admiring one. The hand of the conference curator became clear as human need and housing infrastructure goals converged as the forum progressed.
The forum may just mark the start of a more mature national dialogue on how the needs of those who are ageing or with a disability can be met by good housing development. Not to say others haven’t trod this path before now. Liveable Housing Australia was established in 2011 to transform the way homes are designed and built. But this work (which got a few mentions, and that includes a set of good design guidelines), predates the bipartisan support in 2013 for a national disability insurance scheme.
A leadership of strategic capability
In fact, it was the nexus of politics and (good) policy that opened the conference in a keynote by former CEO of the cities of Adelaide and Brisbane, Jude Munro AM. As a member of the Council of Australian Government’s Reform Council expert panel she reported to COAG in 2012 on the progress of Australian cities in meeting a range of strategic planning targets. Not good, was her message (actually: “if our terms of reference were not constrained, our recommendations would have been savage”).
But, for all the focus on measuring performance, her one recurring theme was that planning for good physical and social growth demands a certain level of ‘strategic capability’ often missing in leaders, officers and implementers. Mayors, she said, have a role to educate us – not just be “unthinking mouthpieces for NIMBY’s”. Not putting too fine a point on it, Munro believes local government needs to be restructured if we want genuine leadership at the local level; which she defines as a shift from scrambling to provide the basics (collect the rates, pick up the bins), to more actively facilitating the transformation of our communities; more accessible for people of any age and ability; more adaptable to new models of housing or transport; more likely to have a sustainable economic base, and – importantly for a former CEO of capital city councils – more ‘electoral diversity’ that ensures leadership changes over time as needs change.
Munro put out the challenge of delivering social services to non urban communities; highlighting the deficiencies of inter-agency (and inter-governmental) collaboration that means, in places like Wilcannia, 100 services being provided to just 800 residents. Service providers “trip over each other”. Individuals can have twelve different care plans – a challenge that will become more acute as the revenue available to governments to provide these services evaporates along with the tax base. What does this mean in practice? Well, most states don’t actually have a single register of community housing, for example. Meaning applications for housing must be lodged individually – tying up a system already struggling to cope. For Munro, not only do we need to get better at planning for the long term, but we need to design the tools now to shepherd that change in to being.
(A sentiment continued by the local federal MP, Bert van Manen in an address that re-stated the Australian government’s commitment to making sure infrastructure delivers greatest positive impact for communities. Including, thankfully, across portfolios like housing and social services, health and education).
But where the forum really differed from most urban planning/housing/infrastructure meet ups was that, once the importance of good governance and the topical political context of the day was introduced, the focus returned to the person. Ultimately all planning and housing, design and architecture is centred on a person’s needs, behaviours and use patterns. But where that’s generally assumed in the agenda, here it was made explicit with a reminder that, for a person with a disability (and their family), the NDIS rewires service delivery in what you might call a human-centred model of care. This means that the decision making is returned to the person. Because, as Kevin McMahon from the National Disability Insurance Agency reminded us, the NDIS is based on the premise that people with a disability have the same rights.
The fact that much of our housing is not suited to those with a disability can often mean a younger person looking for accessible housing might be shunted to a hospital, or nursing home until a place becomes available. Even then, as pointed out in a break by an architect and long time carer, options are still less than optimal. Group housing for those with a disability may suit some, but it can also begin the institutionalising of the person, and the distancing of family. Parents are often forced to call and ‘book’ time with a son or daughter. Direct personal contact is lost. Decisions become removed.
Choice, control, change
A recurring theme of the NDIS is to promote ‘choice’ and ‘control’ (my architect, carer friend added a third – ‘change’). So where someone currently may be told where the service can be found (say, at a major hospital in case of physio), increasingly the person will choose how and where they access the service (the physio around the corner that’s known you from birth. Or in your home). It’s a trend we’ve heard associated with ageing. The logic being that the growth of financially secure older people will fuel growth in the design of more local and in-home services. Cleaning, cooking, repairs. Maybe.
There was some debate at whether the aspirations of the NDIS – to empower those with a disability (and their families) with choice and control – would be eventually subsumed in to larger insurance providers with the nous to bundle up packages of care, leading to an aggregation of the market and, ultimately, failure to achieve the original goal. In this scenario, while the NDIS might have the ambition to put choice and control in the hands of a person and their family, could the result be a market dominated by a big three or four?
Or, alternatively, might entrepreneurial organisations start to design integrated housing and support plans? Why couldn’t Mission Australia’s housing group bundle up care, support and transport options linked to its employment & training arm? Again, while the NDIS was designed as an insurance facility for those with a disability, could it be a catalyst for innovation in the housing & community services sector? Could the NDIS be the ultimate place-based, human-centred urban renewal program? Is this the start of institutional investment in Australia’s housing stock? Or will it crowd out the small providers that rely on community working bees and lamington drives to raise funds and mobilise volunteers?
Whatever the answer, delivering services to people when and where they choose will drive investment in data integration to better service needs in multiple locations. Like work by TransitCARE in Logan that has developed a unique scheduling service for its fleet of vans, trucks & buses to connect up people with services. These guys prove the point that entrepreneurial providers already see the catalytic potential of the NDIS. The coding behind their scheduling software could allow them to expand the services they offer. By fixing the question of on-demand, distributed transport, you also have the potential to carry small home renovation and home retrofit services, clothing, IT training or set up.
Early movers will disrupt the business models of competitors. For them, the NDIS may just bring diversification and growth. Michael Smith sketched out some guiding principles for housing providers looking to avoid disruption, including; innovation must be scaleable (meaning it must be repeatable across the business), flexible (beyond any single finance or tenure model), inclusive and long term (cracking the life cycle nut; embedding a sustainable model for maintenance and replacement). These principles were then made real.
Phil Smith from Deicke Richards shared 10 design tips for elderly housing and how apartment design could integrate flexibility in the layout of a 2 bedroom apartment that makes live-in care possible. But the plan would also work for an adult child with a disability to live close to parents, with respite care built-in.
Throughout the forum, principle was immediately followed by practice. As if to reinforce the pragmatic, without being held captive by the prosaic. Finance models were explored. And not the usual suspects. One of the upsides of the furious urban growth in South East Queensland over the last decade is that the whole development value chain seems more mature and ‘together’ than other parts of Australia that lack the same reliable pipeline of development around which expertise, diversity and capital can coalesce. And the pipeline appears to have some life yet. Housing Minister Tim Mander reminded the forum that Vision 2020 includes another 12,000 dwellings (pleasingly, supported by another initiative called Construction Q aimed at lifting capability in the states construction skills).
Add urgency to volume and you have a powerful mix. And one that often feels too stretched to invest in quality. So it was good to hear BlueCHP’s Charles Northcote identify participatory planning as the key to ‘supercharge precinct design’. Northcote represents the consortium widely tipped to deliver the Logan Renewal project involving almost 5,000 homes in one of the largest transfers of housing from the public to private sector in Australia.
Supporting this, were established financial players like Foresters Community Finance and Ernst & Young (EY) who mixed with newcomers like the Australian Womens’ Development Fund (who are trialling a new social enterprise model suited to terrace housing where the sale of, say, 10 funds the gifting of No.11 to a social housing provider. For more, see Gifted Housing).
Police, Mayors and Counsellors of at-risk teens; housing providers and university researchers presented a continuing program that reminded everyone that Australia’s housing need is not limited to double degree households and ageing boomers looking to downsize with a view to water.
So while most housing conferences might drift to an extended whinge on congested planning approvals, onerous building regulations and a focus on cost not quality, this one built up a rhythm of social need, market response and policy with purpose.
The building blocks we need for this institutional redesign, exists. It exists in the network of carers, specialists, public health researchers, guardians, designers and developers. We know the only delivery model with any hope of success is the one that harnesses the intelligence of the network.
As the forum progressed, the nodes and branches of this network became more obvious. And beyond the unquestioned capability of those present is always the need to find the right ‘receptor cells’ in the decision makers and policy writers that promise to turn the possible in to the doable.
For me, it was QUT’s Prof Jill Franz that gave the frame to pull this all together. Presenting still-unpublished research on a “person centred approaches to private housing for people with disability”, it was her ‘ecological approach’ that offered an organising principle for locating services around people, but also that described what was a personal, community and re. This, combined with those policy ‘receptor cells’ and initiatives with political imprimatur like Stronger Choices, started to form what is best described as a ‘mind map’ of opportunities that goes beyond housing – or social services. Instead, it hints at a scaffold for a kind of ‘NDIS innovation cluster’ centred in Logan Redlands. Like global clusters in Baden-Wuerttemberg, Germany centred on electric mobility; leveraging regional capabilities of Karlsruhe, Mannheim and Stuttgart, or Spain’s Basque aerospace cluster.
A Logan Redlands NDIS innovation cluster
The architecture of this embryonic Logan/Redlands innovation cluster can be defined in two ways. Firstly, using thematics to describe broad domains including products (comprising designers, manufacturers, gamers and behavioural researchers), place (including architects, engineers, constructors, financiers, trades), process (policymakers, regulators, elected members and service providers) and service (comprising nursing, social work, carers, physios and the rest); and, secondly, proximity to the immediacy to an individuals’ need (where housing’s an immediate personal need, inclusive planning process rates a meso level – a precinct and societal level priority).
All of it points to a kind of ‘Logan moment’ with relevance beyond South East Queensland – a regionally-based, national-scale response to the opportunities of housing, disability, ageing and connected communities that deserves a ‘Building Blocks for change v3.0’.