From New York City to Sydney to Central Coast/Newcastle/Hunter (Australia) 1969-2013

To be a town and community planner requires inspiration. Three people that fit the role as inspiring in this field are (the late) Rev Ted Noffs, Jack Mundey and Gough Whitlam. I relate my early planning years in Sydney around the eras of these three men. The inner city of Sydney fascinated me when I first came to Australia on 'rest and recuperation' (R + R) from Vietnam in 1967. I marvelled at its grittiness, fairness and working class nature. I came back to catch up with Diane Parr (now Diane Rauscher) and pursue studies at the University of Sydney. In 1969 I chose Erskineville/Newtown to do a thesis on Community Response to a Redevelopment Proposal. This study pulled me into the life of 'Erko' during 1969/70. At that time the redevelopment plans over the entire Erskineville district had been proposed by South Sydney Council and debate raged.

To broaden my appreciation of inner city life I sought out a spokesperson at the time, Rev Ted Noffs. I enjoyed his style and commitment at the Wayside Chapel, Kings Cross, to the questions of inner city social needs. I met Ted in a 1970 Sunday Night Question Time at the Chapel. A speaker such as Charles Birch (biological/environmental scientist/writer) or Webster, a colourful Domain soapbox speaker, would kick the evening off. A barrage of questions would follow. In Ted's book The Wayside Chapel (1967) Ted gives a testimonial to his concerns about the people who came to Kings Cross. He talks of his struggle to get a message across to his Methodist (now Uniting) Church and the Government about urban needs.

I became involved as a consultant planner in 1971/2 in a number of inner city planning proposals during the height of the Green Ban Movement. I met the inseparable threesome of Bob Pringle, Joe Owen and Jack Mundey from the Builders Labourers Federation (BLF). Sydney was poised on the brink of turning its back to inner city heritage in the early '70s. Areas of Wooloomooloo, the Rocks and Glebe were slated for part-clearing under various development plans. I was still learning about the ways of Australian life and planning at the time. I completed a submission on Wooloomooloo and Botany Bay in 1971. I participated in discussions around questions of high rise redevelopment proposals in areas such as Waterloo and Redfern., The Green Ban Movemenet generated considerable unity among a large cross section of people from Hunters Hill to Centennial Park. The books Taming the Concrete Jungle (July 1973) by Peter Thomas and Green Bans by Marion Hardman and Peter Manning summarise the Green Ban and BLF story.

I liked the urban commitment of the Whitlam Government and the input of Ministers such as Tom Uren, Mick Young and Al Grassby. The Government expressed concerns about inner cities and the need for creative planning. The Government took the actions to renew interest in city needs. It was not until the start of the Whitlam Government in 1972 that citizen involvement in planning was put on the Federal Government's agenda. I worked for the Federal program Australian Assistance Plan (AAP) at the time in the Southwest Sydney area (Marrickville, Canterbury, Rockdale, Kogarah and Hurstville).

One of the ongoing projects I became involved in under the AAP was the Cooks River Festival and Restoration Project. In 1975 the Whitlam Government was dismissed and so too was the AAP except for some programs that continued under the States. Between 1975 and 1978 I continued to work on inner city planning projects including Darlinghurst Action Plan (173), Ashfield Heritage, Blue Mountains Escarpment, Western Sydney Service Corridors Residents' Report.

In 1978 I moved to Wyong Shire where I worked as a social planner with Wyong Council, then in 1984 I moved to Singleton Shire to work as a Social Planner in the coalfields district and newly-expanding Singleton Shire and the Upper Hunter. Between 1988 and 1989 I worked from Carrington and Tighes Hill under Envirosciences P/L (formerly Croft and Associates) covering planning and environmental studies in Newcastle and the Hunter Valley.

In 1990 and 1991 I worked on establishing Hornsby Council's developer contributions and infrastructure programs. These programs were applied to new urban release areas and the commercial redevelopment shopping centres. From 1992 to 1995 I worked in association with Denysenko and Associates (small architecture family company) on a range of Central Coast and Hunter planning projects. I continued working in the Hunter under the State Department of Urban Affairs and Planning as Regional Co-ordinator of the Area Assistance Scheme between 1995 and 1999. The AAS had a lot of features of the original Federal Government AAP. The AAS is a Statewide program to assist community groups within high stress urban areas or rural/regional areas undergoing economic restructuring.

As a sole trader since 1999 I continue planning work. In 1999 I proposed through the Hunter Planners Network that the University of Newcastle set up an urban and regional research centre. In June 2000 the university announced steps to set up as a first step a Centre for Urban and Regional Studies (CURS). After-hours I continue to serve as secretary of the Hunter Planners Network and the Planning Committee under the Central Coast Community Environmental Network. I enjoy most working on the aspects of Main Street Program revitalisation in older urban and coastal towns (this also operates in USA and Canada). I am consolidating some of my previous writings together under a personal research project 'Local Plan Making Using Sustainable Principles'.

I keep in touch with Sydney through colleagues in several planning organisations. My research project examines the policy implications of Sydney the global city (3.8m people now). It also looks at growth region of the Central Coast (280,000 people) and Newcastle (800,000 people). Sydney now has five Starbucks Coffee houses which I love to frequent (learned all about on my last trip to New York City in 2000). We have a truly global community on the one hand to enjoy, yet need to be aware of local communities (eg small cafes) not being able to compete at times. We are probably moving nationally and internationally to 'social contracts' to ensure some community economic stability. I think Walt Whitman was right about a true 'social democracy'. Today that spells out looking at social democracy based on global sustainable principles as against some excesses and failures of global capital based on rational economics.

In 2009 I was awarded a doctoral degree from the University of Newcastle, Australia (thesis 'Sustainable Area Planning Framework for Ecologically Sustainable Development, Case Study Wyong Shire, NSW, Australia').

My initial reaction on touring Bushwick (visiting parents and sibling families) in 1979 (two years after the Bushwick arson fires) convinced me that urban renewal here faced an enormous challenge. Subsequent visits in 1982, 1993, 1998, 2000, 2007, 2008, and 2010 enabled further research to be completed, focusing on urban renewal in Bushwick and Northeast Brooklyn (including Greenpoint and Williamsburg), and with visits to Brooklyn Downtown and Southeast Brooklyn (including Coney Island).

I am currently a Conjoint Lecturer at the University of Newcastle, Australia. I am also a director of Habitat Association for Arts and Environment Inc. In summary, as of 2013, I have lived in and been active in community development and planning in localities, such as: USA, including Brooklyn and Denver; Australia, including Sydney (Ashfield, Canterbury, Hornsby, North Sydney, St George and Marrickville), Central Coast Region (Gosford City and Wyong Shire); and, Hunter Region (Newcastle City and Singleton).

A colleague and I recently completed a book containing a model framework for communities and governments to use in examining means of achieving sustainable communities. The book is also available online: (Rauscher and Momtaz 2013) entitled: 'Sustainable Communities: A Framework for Planning' (Springer Publishers).

Finally, I continue to work on 'Visions Inner Sydney' (VIS), a book on the changes in the inner areas of Sydney, Leichhardt and Marrickville local government areas, At the completion of that task, I want to complete (with Dr Momtaz) the book: "Green Corridors and Bio-banking Australia: Case Studies Wyong Shire and Gosford City, NSW."

In all the above, the principles of: 1. 'governance being socially developmental'; and, 2. 'governance building sustainable communities' is paramount to my work.