According to The West Australian, the Minister for Education Mr Collier has ” admitted he was looking at school closures and amalgamations“, in this article today – Jobs go in education overhaul. What this undoubtedly means is the selling off of more publicly owed school properties, even though our population is going to double?
So what will this mean for all of the extra students going forward?
The WA Department of Education’s current plans for Churchlands High School may give some indication? They are proposing to squeeze in a big new two storey classroom complex on the Eastern boundary of the school to accommodate 700 new students for the start of next year. This development is rife with issues and appears to ignore modern urban planning principals and crime prevention guidelines.
Apart from the tragic destruction of valuable public amenity, including 30 healthy shade trees and the close proximity to a residents property, what is of considerable concern is the proposed removal of the existing tree lined community pathway along the fence? This path is used extensively by local residents and students to access the playing fields and the pool for exercise. It is important public health infrastructure;
Concerns are that this development will;
1. Increase vandalism and graffiti (and/or much higher ongoing security costs)
2. Have a considerable negative impact on the life styles of local residents and students who live in surrounding streets or attend the school
3. Replace a healthy green open space with a much smaller constricted hard edged compound for students.
It is clear to see how these issues have been over looked, as a Health Impact Assessments has not been conducted on these plans as it is not their policy to do so.
To get people out of cars and exercising more, health experts and urban planners are busy creating shady green pathways and treed streetscape networks between activity nodes such as schools, shops and parks, because these paths encourage people to get out and walk or cycle. Urban Planners refer to this concept as “Connectivity” and use terms such as “green links”, “green corridors” or “green connections”. See this recent article in The West Australian, “the study found suburbs with a mixed land use – for example those with well-connected tree-lined routes which were close to shops or parks – had the lowest obesity rates.” Removing this pathway would have a negative impact on the lifestyles and exercise routines of many local residents and children who live in the neighbourhood.
With our growing population and urban densification, planning authorities and Local Governments are pushing for greater collaboration with government and private schools to share school ground amenities with their local communities. Yet it seems Churchlands has an opposite agenda and is planning on locking out the community?
For more information on “Connectivity” see;
- Healthy Spaces & Places (a unique collaboration between the Australian Local Government Association, the National Heart Foundation of Australia and the Planning Institute of Australia and funded by the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing.) See Connectivity , Walkable Neighbourhoods and Parks and Open Spaces
- Liveable Neighbourhoods (Department of Planning and Infrastructure and the WA Planning Commission Planning WA). This urban planning policy makes many references to “connectivity” in their urban planning policies (PDF document )
- Connectivity (i.e. “connectivity of street systems with activity nodes”) Guide pg 13. Street Network and lot layout (R8) – Element 1, pg 9.
- Movement Network (Introduction) Element 2, pg 1.
- Local Parks (R14) Element 4, pg 7 (also refers to visual supervision)
Graffiti and Vandalism
Blocking off pathways and visibility into the school and shutting out local residents with high walled buildings, fences and gates, will increase vandalism and graffiti, as crime rates are higher in areas isolated from public scrutiny. Public areas that are under surveillance by residents have lower crime rates. See page 4, the theory of “Defensible Space”, from Preventing Graffiti and Vandalism , by the Australian Institute of Criminology;
• “The school building should also relate to the community, so that neighbours can supervise by overlooking the school keeper’s entrances.”
• “Concealed inner courts are particularly vulnerable and need a high degree of security in detailing doors and windows.”
•” …… Open-plan designs used in recent buildings make surveillance by police and public much easier.”
It must also be remembered that criminal acts around schools cause anxiety among students, teachers, staff and local residents.
Constricted hard edged compound
This plan will remove an area of valued green open space with 30 mature shade trees on the school grounds. These areas are important for the mental well-being of students. Studies show that pleasant green treed areas are calming and have a positive effect on mental health. It is also well documented that cramming large numbers of people into small enclosed areas causes stress. Increasing the number of students and decreasing the space and greenery, will reduce the quality of the space for students and staff.
- Trees on fence line will not survive
Contrary to DET’s arboricultural report, the 9 trees that would remain along the fence line are unlikely to survive. Local residents have commissioned another report by Perth’s leading arboricultural consultant/scientist (a tree pathologist) and he says that it is extremely unlikely that the trees would survive.
- Inappropriate scale and proximity to resident’s homes
The scale of the building, its position and proximity to local residents is inappropriate and unfair.
Perhaps the State Government shouldn’t have sold off Scarborough SHS, WAIT (Edith Cowan University) and the Carine TAFE sites if the population is growing and space is such an issue? It now seems that DET is caught out and rushing to cram in poorly thought through boxes and recklessly degrading valuable public amenity and the quality of learning environments for our students. What will schools look like in 20 years time?
Yet again we are reminded of how far behind WA is in its foresight and approach to planning. In the UK for example, no one can demolish buildings unless it can be proven that they are structurally unsound. This is because of the lack of space for rubble in landfills and the enormous amount of energy and carbon emissions involved in rebuilding, not to mention the public funds.
Perhaps DET should have retained at least a section of the old WAIT (Edith Cowan University) complex, which could have been refurbished to create a Churchlands SHS year 11/12 block, complete with mature trees and lecture theaters for a transitional pre-uni feel?
- Urban Forest
It is time for community leaders in WA to better understand the critical value of urban forests in their cities — to their own lives, health, economies and well-being of their communities. Trees provide many services, including reducing local temperatures, filtering the air, reduce noise, they create rainfall and improve mental health.
- Urban Heat Island Effect
With rising temperatures and energy costs mitigating the Urban Heat Island Effect (UHIE) is well overdue consideration in planning in WA. The best way to mitigate the UHEI is with trees and greenery. Areas with more trees and greenery are cooler.
Hopefully DET will be sympathetic to the negative impacts that these plans would have on the quality of life of local residents and students. Learning institutions should be modern and inspiring places. A lot more thought and ingenuity could go into these plans. Perhaps the kids could help design a green building? A simple building with a living roof, solar panels and partly underground to avoid air-conditioning costs?
Sustainability and respect for people and our communities are the most important things we can teach our children.