15 Apr Guns and property – Kathleen Norris
We learn the key steps to cleaning up dangerous neighbourhoods from someone who should know. Kathleen Norris is the managing principal of US based Urban Fast Forward and we caught up with her on her Australian visit. She now says she has a whole new appreciation about how guns have impacted her home country.
Kevin: I’m really excited to talk to my next guest. In fact, as we speak, we’re bouncing off about nine satellites as we worked out. Kathleen Norris is the managing principal of Urban Fast Forward and is in Australia. She is from the U.S. and she is speaking at the UDIA Congress in Melbourne as we speak right now.
Kathleen, thank you for spending some time with us. Isn’t technology a wonderful thing?
Kathleen: Isn’t it amazing? Here we are, and ten years ago, we couldn’t have even done this.
Kevin: I know. It’s incredible. Now, you’re here to talk to a whole group of people – you’ve done that already, I understand – about cleaning up dangerous neighborhoods. What are the key steps to doing that, and have you been able to see any while you’re in Australia?
Kathleen: I think Australia has a very different definition of a dangerous neighborhood than we do in the United States, because you very wisely have good gun policy. As I’m sure your listeners know, the United States has not achieved that yet, so our dangerous neighborhoods can be genuinely quite dangerous.
We also have a lot of old neighborhoods where our most disadvantaged population has often been gathered, and unhappiness does not breed good neighborhood safety.
Kevin: Putting aside guns for a moment, what are the key steps to cleaning up those dangerous neighborhoods that we can learn from?
Kathleen: I think the very first step, whether it relates to guns or not guns, is to move toward making the neighborhood safe. That relates to good community activation. It involves creating or maintaining or improving relationships with the police. It involves identifying where the problems are in the neighborhood, and very often, it’s the neighbors who know, and getting them to share that information and feeling safe in sharing it. Safety is certainly the first thing.
And then clean, what we call in the United States “safe and clean” is a common pair. Are those streets really in good condition? Are there rubbish bins that are regularly emptied? Are there good businesses on the streets? Are their neighborhood amenities of any kind? How do we introduce a higher level of safe and clean into our neighborhoods?
Kevin: We’re talking here about improving the way we live, both from a safety point of view and how we live. Is part of the answer micro cities, and if so, can you just tell me how you go about creating one?
Kathleen: I’m not sure I truly understand the term “micro city.” I think probably the development pattern in the United States is quite different from Australia, and I think what you’re calling a “micro city” might be what we call a neighborhood, where it has its own personality. It’s related to the larger infrastructure picture, but it has a unique character. It’s beloved by its particular residents. And you have to build on that character and make sure that it’s a well-integrated place to live.
Kevin: In Australia, what can we learn from the U.S. in terms of building these safer micro cities or neighborhoods, as you call them?
Kathleen: Well, I have to say first that I’m going to pass that back the other way and say that I have been so impressed in Australia by what you are doing here and by how the nation is growing and how there’s policy at both the federal, the state, and even the local level to ensure that growth is well managed.
But I think you’re going to face a connectivity crisis, and I think that will be the thing that you’re going to want to address, because as you develop the regional cities – the Geelongs, the Tamworths, the Oranges, and even the next generation of cities that are coming along behind – they’re going to have to be connected to the center.
Your housing prices are so high that those smaller cities are starting to have real appeal to residents, but first of all, can I get into the center if I’m working in the center? And then second, if I live in one of those cities, is there a job for me? Those are the things that I think will be interesting for you to tackle here.
Kevin: Just a couple of points, if I could pick up on those, and you make some very good points there. Is infill the answer? As we look at some of those areas you’re talking about and spreading out from the capital cities because there’s potential there for great infill and also really good transportation with fast speed rail and so on, Kathleen?
Kathleen: I think that’s absolutely right. I think at the moment, we project ourselves into the future, 20, 30, 40, maybe even 50 years. I’m not sure, but what, in 100 years, we won’t have any regional centers; we’ll just have a vast plane of development, and connectivity will be absolutely key to the success of that.
We talk now about green fields and moving out into the green fields. In 100 years, will there be any green fields? Will we need to be completely connected throughout that? And infill, yes. Urban infill is a huge area of opportunity. But at some point, we’re going to have it all filled.
Kevin: Just picking up on another point, too, and that is connectivity. When we talk about connectivity, I instantly think of the Internet, technology, and our ability to work remotely but still have that relationship with someone in a cap city. Is that a help as well, Kathleen?
Kathleen: Much to your earlier point that you and I are bouncing off nine satellites and that that is something we couldn’t even have imagined ten years ago, I’m not sure we know what the advantages of technology will be ten or more years hence. But what we have discovered is that people resist anything that will keep them from human connection.
We thought a while back that everyone was going to be able to work from home, that we’d have that kind of Internet connectivity. What we really want is human connectivity. That’s what we’ve discovered.
So, we’re going to have to figure out how to do what we need to do but also keep people engaged with each other.
Kevin: Kathleen, just to round this out – it’s been a delight talking to you; thank you so much for spending some time with us – what’s the thing that you are passionate, or most passionate, about?
Kathleen: I am passionate about cities. I really, really love cities, and one of the things that I love most about them is that they are cross-cultural centers. If I go down into the heart of Melbourne right now, I will bump up against so many people who are unlike me, who are younger, who are older, who have a different history or a different heritage.
I love the fact that in a city, we get to see all that panoply of humanity, and I think it actually helps to humanize us. It helps to make us less afraid of each other when we intersect in public space. And cities are really where that occurs.
Kevin: Kathleen, it has been a delight talking to you. Thank you so much. It’s been very enjoyable bouncing off these satellites with you, I have to say, so thank you so much for your time.
Kathleen: My absolute pleasure.