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John Carr | Making living cities

John Carr

There has been a decline of happiness in many of the most affluent and so-called ‘developed’ countries in which urbanisation has taken hold.

John Carr

Throughout Australia, people want our cities to be more affordable, to have more vibrant social and green spaces, and to be better environmentally suited. And yet our sprawling cities typically fail to meet these goals – often because they have been designed for the convenience of real estate developers, and exclude life sustaining processes and community from them. Even though the ways we work and live have shifted, and we’ve made leaps and bounds in technology, transport, architecture, and infrastructure, our blueprint for a city has not changed since the Second World War. Given our ability to create cities that are socially vibrant, economical, and in harmony with the land and climate of Australia, isn’t it about time we reimagined our cities to reflect the lifestyles we want for the future? 

What comes next? is a UNSW Centre for Ideas project, with illustrations designed by Juune Lee, video production by dplr, podcast production by Bryce Halliday, and music composition by Lama Zakharia.


Ann Mossop: In a world of global pandemics, climate emergencies, and ever-increasing costs of living, it's understandable that we might feel fearful about what the future holds. But as we make our way through the 21st century, there are, in fact, many new and exciting discoveries which can improve our lives. I'm Ann Mossop, director of the UNSW Centre for Ideas. Welcome to What comes next? From the potential healing powers of magic mushrooms in mental health, to how x-ray vision might help us transition to a renewable economy. In this 10-part series, we'll hear from UNSW Sydney’s brightest minds, unpacking some of the big ideas, which are integral to our 21st century challenges.

Our blueprint for a city hasn't changed since the Second World War. Even though the ways we work and live have drastically shifted, and we've made tremendous advances in technology, transport and architecture. UNSW Sydney lecturer, John Carr asks, isn't it about time we reimagined our cities to reflect the lifestyles we want for the future?

John Carr: I research how to make cities happy, healthy, livable, and in the process, how to make them a big part of the solution to our environmental and social problems. Now, the short answer of how to do this is, to recognize that cities, just like humans, have a metabolism. They need to take in nutrients, energy, water, clean air and produce waste. And a lot of our problems can be addressed by bringing things that support urban life back into the city. Which can make our cities more affordable, more self-sufficient, more desirable, and as a byproduct, better environmentally. So the question of how cities can best enable human thriving is an ancient one. But there's a recent movement to answer this old question through the new field of happiness studies. And while the research on happiness isn't quite settled, a number of themes have emerged. First, human happiness requires getting our basic needs met, food, water, shelter, safety. But when your urban rent or mortgage takes up so much of your paycheck, having money for meeting the rest of your needs can be tougher. Second, we are social creatures and our relationships are essential. But urban sprawl often gets in the way of staying in touch with close friends and relatives, or even having those random interactions with neighbors and acquaintances that boost happiness. Third, healthy, active lives are happy lives. But it's often tough to fit in exercise or a walk, when so much of our lives are indoors, working, commuting, or even just running a household. Leading to the fourth element of urban happiness, access to green wild space. Going for a walk through grass and trees surrounded by fresh air and the sound of birdsong, isn't just nice. Research actually shows that living close to green space heightens our happiness over the long term. But even in cities such as Sydney, with our wonderful wild beaches and bush, access is very, very uneven. Finally, fifth, a sense that our lives are purposeful, is key to our happiness. Things like taking time to mentor or volunteering in a community garden are some of the most reliable ways to boost our own happiness. Why? Because when we have a positive impact on the people and places that we care about, it reminds us that what we do, matters. But of course, the daily navigation of urban sprawl takes minutes and even hours away from time to make our own lives more enriched by making others more enriched. 

So okay, we have five fingers, and five pillars to happiness that can help our cities help us to thrive. Basic needs, social life, health, green space, purposeful lives. How do we make this happen? Well, while it'll take a lot of different things, many of them fall under a single simple but powerful idea, taking the metabolism of our cities seriously, and bringing our urban metabolism back into the city. And this means making cities a place where we grow the food that we eat, we gather the water that we consume, we clean the air that we breathe, we reuse the waste that we generate, and we generate the electricity and other types of power that we need. 

Now the good news is we actually already know how to do this. We just haven't put all the pieces together. In fact, without meaning to, I actually started putting some of these pieces together at a fairly early age. I grew up in the city of Albuquerque, New Mexico, and in some ways, it's really a tough place to live. While it's very culturally rich, economically, it is a poor place. It's high desert, a land of sagebrush and cactus, and periodic drought. We only get about 33 centimeters of rain per year. Sydney's gotten that much rain in a day. Winters bring snow storms and hard freezes, while sizzling summer days in the 40s are common. But looking back, I was surrounded with examples of how even in this place of scarcity, one could live well and comfortably within this ecosystem, as part of it. My engineer father, who's anything but a hippie, developed an interest in organic gardening. And soon I was helping him dig up our entire grassy suburban backyard, and cultivating a garden that grew food for our family, our neighbors and our friends. And this spread to curiosity about compost. And soon my dad was not only collecting our food scraps, but also the neighbor's bags of leaves and yard waste, and I would run them through a shredder making compost that would fertilize the next year's garden. We would even gather firewood to heat our home. So little by little, our stereotypical tract home became more self-sufficient, or ‘off the grid’, and my parents' monthly bills became more and more manageable by starting to bring our urban metabolic needs back home. 

But what really shifted my thinking was an experiment just up the road in Taos, New Mexico, a pioneering community of so-called Earthships. These are 100% ‘off the grid’ homes. They're typically made out of recycled materials, they're built into the earth to help insulate them. They use passive and electric solar, and they gather all the water they need from rooftop collection, even in this arid land. And then they use every drop of water over and over. First for drinking and washing, greywater then flows through these lush indoor gardens where it's purified and used for flushing toilets, and then the brown water helps grow food outside. Walking out of a snowstorm into a warm, comfortable, self-sufficient home and seeing bananas and tomatoes growing, made me start to think about how entire cities could start to do what these Earthships homes do. 

Well, after I left home for university, my dad got into beekeeping. And coming back to visit what really hit me wasn't just how good honey right off the cone could be, but how many people of all generations were now coming to my father's home to help with the bees, to learn about composting and then going on to spread their knowledge about urban gardening. So while I was bringing the urban metabolism back into his home, my dad was also, as a byproduct, growing a vibrant community of friends and mutual support. And I have to think that both the relationships that he cultivated and the active urban metabolic life that he led has enhanced both his health and his happiness as he continues to run and teach about his garden and bees and compost well into his 80s. 

As an urban researcher I've encountered all kinds of other innovations that simultaneously enable greater human happiness while reducing economic and environmental footprints. And one of my favorite examples is cohousing, which really reintroduces community in an apartment block of 30 units. Why do we have to set aside space and resources and real estate for 30 kitchens, 30 families having to plan and shop for and cook and clean up after up to three meals a day? Cohousing means we can have smaller, potentially more affordable units with a shared kitchen, where each family takes turns preparing just a couple of meals a week, or doing some other shared tasks, freeing up a bunch of time to do the things they love to do. Community is built right in because we have more vibrant, shared recreational spaces as well. And so over time, there have been a spectrum of these kinds of experiments that bring back different aspects of metabolic functions that have been excluded from cities, whether it's growing community, food production or reintroducing the wild. And all of which promised to address the five pillars of urban happiness. Meeting our basic needs affordably, offering richer social lives, boosting health, through better lifestyles and reduced pollution, more green space, shared recreational space, agricultural space, even wild space built into the fabric of our cities, all of which contribute to the fifth pillar, building purposeful lives. Lives in which your daily activities and community efficiently, self-sufficiently, create opportunities to foster happiness, while making the world around you a better place. Including actually reducing our environmental problems. 

Now, unfortunately, these experiments tend to be isolated and piecemeal. One suburban backyard here in Albuquerque, one Earthship community over here in Taos, New Mexico, one cohousing experiment outside of London. It's obvious that we need to bring these different approaches together in our cities. And so, what I'm doing is I'm actually working on creating a toolbox that will gather and enable cities to experiment with these metabolic happiness enhancing approaches. And this toolbox will bring together best practices and approaches around design and planning, zoning and building codes, properties, strata, and even Co Op, and insurance and finance as well. And they'll allow governments, developers and communities to start to try these technologies and designs, to pick and choose the elements that work best for the location and their needs. And these happier metabolic urban experiments can then spread by making the toolbox open source, freely available throughout Australia and beyond. 

Okay, so what do I need to create this toolbox and get it out into the world? The answer is simple. I need you. Maybe you work in one of the many professions relevant to the toolbox like architecture, law or engineering. Maybe you're just a regular person who wants to get involved creating happy, vibrant, environmentally resilient cities. Either way, I want to work with you. And even if you're not, I'd encourage you to think about how to make your own city and your own life happier and start to find a path towards that happiness. Talk to council members, planners and developers, make the demand clear that we want happier cities that bring back the urban metabolism. To bring life back to the city.

Ann Mossop: John, thanks very much for coming to talk to us. 

John Carr: Oh, it is such a pleasure. 

Ann Mossop: Your talk is a really interesting look at how we think about cities, how we live in them and how we want to change it. One of the really interesting points that you make is that there are a whole lot of things that we have traditionally left out of cities. How did that process happen?

John Carr: This is a project that really, in some ways crept up on me. And it's really a broader way of thinking that was brought out by some teaching I was doing, but as I started thinking about this idea about what we exclude from our cities, and what needs to be brought back into our cities, I started pulling on all different aspects of my life. In the talk, I obviously talk about my childhood and teen years in Albuquerque, New Mexico. But it's also pulled together a bunch of strings from my research from my professional life before I was a university lecturer, and even my life before then, working as a tradie, working as a construction worker. So it's really interesting being at this particular phase of my life and realising that this simple idea that I've been trying to articulate, really pulls together all these diverse strands of thinking and experience I've had across a lot of different parts of my life.

Ann Mossop: You know, you talk about the things that we've cut out of cities and how we really need to bring them back. And it's an interesting question, because, you know, when we think about things like waste or garbage, noisy industries and so on, you think, well, nobody would want to live next to those. So that there's a logic to why those things have been cut out. But you're imagining a different kind of future where, you know, things like having energy back in the city doesn't mean living next to a giant polluting energy source, but it means having solar panels on your roof. How do you think we can make people think about cities differently, as much more of a mixture of work and life and public space all together, rather than this sense of, our work is here, and our lives are here in these peaceful, tranquil parts of the city.

John Carr: Absolutely. So obviously a lot of what I'm drawing on comes from technical fields, whether it's engineering or architecture, or urban planning, design. But at its core, I think the true project around cities is an ethical one. And when I mean ethics, I don't mean right or wrong, thou shalt thou shalt not. Rather, ethics in the classic sense, what is a good life? And one of the things we've seen is in those countries that have the greatest levels of development, the greatest levels of production and consumption. Urban quality of life, happiness, however, we measure it, has been plummeting. So in many ways, the technologies, the design, the architecture, the innovations around how we live together, are a means to take on exactly what you're talking about, which is to offer a different imagination of what a good life is, and one that's not so different and strange that we don't recognise it. But one that looks more like what our daily life is like now, when we're at our best when we're happiest. And I think it's interesting that it was only after coming to Sydney, and having some tastes of urban delight, whether it's in Hyde Park or down in Bondi, or even riding the light rail, right, past the QVB building, that it's only after that, that a lot of my thinking started to coalesce. How do we just shift some of our daily practices, some of our consumption practices, some of the ways we live, to make our lives more delightful? To open that space for the things that create enduring pleasure and enduring… meaning. So the question you asked isn't that, it's how do we get there? And I'm not a huge expert, there is an entire field on diffusion of innovation. But one of the things we've learned from that is that oftentimes with anything new, whether it's a new model of a Ute or solar energy, or TikTok, they're often early adopters. And then people look to those early adopters and judge from their experience, whether this is something they want to try. I believe that the promise is so great, and there's enough people interested, and potentially enough stakeholders that we can try this out, and it can become aspirational. Oh, yeah, I visited my friend over in this crazy community, because it's the place that she was able to afford that's in the neighbourhood she wanted. And it was amazing. Maybe this person's a single parent, but they're not spending all their time running after their kid because childcare is something that's shared amongst them. I visited this friend, and it was super-hot, but somehow it was cool in their home, even though they weren't spending any money or generating petroleum fired electricity to maintain that temperature. It's these moments that I see from my own life, where my mind has just been expanded, I'm like, wow, you can do this. And I do think, at a time when urban life weighs so heavily on people, our commutes, the price pressures of trying to stay in a glorious place like Sydney, the multiple demands of our lives, the lack of real satisfaction we get from buying stuff. And when we have an entire generation of people for whom the classic Australian dream of homeownership is very clearly beyond their reach. All the elements are right to say, well, what if there's another approach? And not only are you going to be able to afford it, not only might you be able to have access to a neighbourhood he wouldn't have otherwise had access to. But you're gonna like it more. That spreads outward, right? That delight, that pleasure, that quality of life, something that Australians are so deeply attuned to, is something that spreads.

Ann Mossop: So interesting. And there are so many parts of that that I want to talk to you about. I mean, because I think, what you're alluding to there is really an idea of different kinds of communities and creating different kinds of urban communities. But I want to go back, before we do that, to some of the things that you've mentioned about your past life that have brought you to this point and how those different work experiences, working as a tradie, working as a lawyer, how you've come to doing this kind of research in academe, but also, where did you live before you came to Sydney? Often when you come to somewhere and it's fresh, you do have this period, this honeymoon period, and I'm thinking the QVB is a beautiful building, the light rail is an excellent thing, do they give me moments of absolute delight? Not so much. So I'm wondering where you were before you came to live in Sydney.

John Carr: Sure, in many ways, the thing that made me an urbanist was my childhood. My father is, once worked as a cowboy, is originally from Santa Fe, New Mexico. My mother's a nice Jewish girl from Westchester, New York. And so I spent my… 

Ann Mossop: How did they meet?

John Carr: You know, it actually had to do with her father, who was a surgeon, my grandfather, who was stationed outside of Los Alamos, New Mexico for World War Two. So they pulled a lot of people in, towards that part of the world. And when she had to choose a university, she remembered her childhood fondly in New Mexico, and it felt like home for her. And that's where she met my dad. So when I was young, I would go back to New York every summer to visit my grandmother, after a certain point, I would go on my own. And after a certain point, my grandmother was aged enough that she did not want to go into Manhattan with me anymore. So really, from about 13, onward, this is in the 1980s, I wander around Manhattan on my own. I get a train ticket in, I'd wander around, I get shin splints, I'd come back. And the contrast between New York City, coming out of the 70s, going into the 80s, and where I was from, which is, like I mentioned, a very culturally vibrant place, but you know, in the 70s, and 80s, didn't have a lot going on. Albuquerque is now a centre for film production, and movie production, it's gotten to be much more cosmopolitan. But it was kind of a classic United States, Sun Belt, sprawl centralis city, in many ways. So that contrast of how can these two places be so different? Has always sparked my imagination, and really got me thinking early on about place and why it is you can have such a vibrant street life, where people are up at every hour of the day, yelling at each other, in New York City. And I come back to Albuquerque, and it's classic automotive culture, much more like Los Angeles. That has planted the seed for me. So from there, the short biography is, I was able to get a good enough scholarship to go to a university in San Antonio, Texas, sort of the first big city I got to live in, was Trinity University. I then, after getting a philosophy degree, my father said, that's very lovely, John, what do you intend to do to pay your bills? I went, oh, no! Well, there's a law school just up the road at the University of Texas. I know! I'm going to law school! Because we didn't have a lot of money and it was a way that seemed to be fairly stable and safe. So I had three years in Austin, Texas, and a very rich time, in the culture of Austin. It's before it really exploded, as they call it silicon gulch now. There's a lot of tech and .com and has since gotten screamingly unaffordable. I know saying that in Sydney is silly, but it has, and it was still kind of groovy kind of hippie, you had the legislature, you had the University and — 

Ann Mossop: — a lot of music. 

John Carr: Oh, the music —

Ann Mossop: — a lot of food. And the one green place in Texas. 

John Carr: Yeah. And I was entranced. I fell wholeheartedly in love with Austin, and then it was time to get a job. And where I had connections, and where there's opportunities was back in Albuquerque. I practiced as an attorney for 10 years, doing complex civil litigation, which is as exciting as you might imagine. But it was definitely intellectually stimulating. And by then I'd met my partner, and she was teaching at the University of New Mexico, getting ready to go off and get a PhD. I had gotten more and more interested in urban form and I thought, ah, well, maybe this is my chance, I'll go check this out. I'll go get a PhD as well. I can learn more about cities. And so, we moved to Seattle, Washington, where she did a program in environmental communication. I thought I’d be an urban planner, and I went to talk to all the planners, and they said, oh, yeah, no, you're not one of us, go talk to the geographers. And in the United States, geography almost doesn't exist, because most Americans don't know there are other countries. It's not like the Commonwealth where the Queen had an empire, and we all need to know where it is. I’m like, geography? I thought we knew where everything was already? But I found this incredible group of interdisciplinary thinkers doing fantastic projects that all my weird parts fit with their weird parts, and I had just the most blissful four years of a PhD. I know PhD is not supposed to be delightful, but for me, it was Club Med for nerds. It was great. 

Ann Mossop: And so, what was your PhD project?

John Carr: So, this is where your listeners can stop taking me seriously, if they've not done so already. So I had planned on doing this massive project on, sort of, economic reformation and, you know, world cities, and competition between places like Seattle and Vancouver. But at the same time I was an aging, fragile and very crappy skateboarder. And I was hanging out at what had been a local gorilla skate park, it's actually, sort of, build it first, ask permission later. And then the city decided they were going to knock it down, because Seattle was going through massive change. It's still happening. And I was talking to these people that I skated with and like, yeah, you know, the city is sticking it to us, we need to fight back and na na na. And I started talking to people, like, so what's your background? I’m like, low level lawyer. They’re like, you? Tuesday night, there's a meeting, city council, come and talk. I’m like, alright. And it became this really fascinating thing, because at a certain level it wasn't about skateboarding. That was my entree. What it was really about was this sort of struggle over skate parks, was, how does a city that's undergoing really an embarrassment of success, in many ways. Shooting up property prices, floods of people coming in, trying to protect its quality of life. How does it accommodate a new set of uses? If I've been talking about putting in a halfway house, or a domestic violence shelter, there are already a whole set of constituencies, there was a whole politics around it. Everybody knew how everyone was lined up. The players were already set, the game was already set. This was a new thing. It was a bunch of, you know, reasonably entitled and overprivileged, largely dudes, a lot of them who worked at Microsoft, who like to skate at the lunch hour, but they were media savvy. It was seen as one of the few amenities that Seattle had left to kind of attract and keep families with kids in the city. And so, it really became about how do we engage in planning? Whose voice is heard? What constituencies matter, what don't? And became this intimate experience with urban planning. And I was invited to be on a blue-ribbon commission by the mayor, because we successfully got our wish and got a citywide master plan for skateparks, which are still being built in Seattle. So, if you skate, you can thank me. If you miss that chunk of your local park in Seattle, I'm sorry. And —

Ann Mossop: — the noise!

John Carr: The noise nowadays, and the whole thing, teenagers they’re trouble! Who wants teenagers? Except people have them, and even they don't want them!

Ann Mossop: Well, they want them in the skatepark.

John Carr: So they want them… exactly. So if, and one of the slogans that we did the politics on is, if your city doesn't have a skate park, your city is a skate park.

Ann Mossop: Oh, very effective I imagine.

John Carr: It worked for us. So the PhD was very much around all sorts of boring planning and meetings and politics around that, but it was fascinating to me. And that's one of the strands that, sort of, planning and decision making and big picture city making, that sort of gets pulled into this project I'm doing now.

Ann Mossop: So interesting to be able to work on something that's playing out in real time. That it's not you, you know, going into a library and digging out files about a big struggle that happened in a city a while ago, that it's current, and that you're involved in it.

John Carr: Yeah. And it was, it was super exciting. It was exciting to meet with city councillors on Monday, and Friday, be it a fundraiser, on Saturday, be at a protest, and then be writing up notes the whole time. And yeah, it's a very exciting way to work,

Ann Mossop: All of the things that you're thinking about, about city form, are in the service of people being able to have flourishing lives in the city. And that, as much as access to green space is important, one of the really, really critical things is for people to have a sense of community, and that this all goes to all kinds of parts of their happiness. What we're talking about here, is really, creating housing form where people have smaller individual houses and more common facilities, a community ethos embedded in the housing form. It's really hard to do from scratch, you know, as ever, our Nordic and Northern European cousins have several generations of this kind, or they never dismantled ones that existed. What do you think are the starting points for people you know, in cities in Australia who would like to think more about that?

John Carr: You know, the idea of sort of creating your own intentional community is daunting. It's difficult. It seems like a commitment, especially if you're the organiser. I think one of the real powerful promises of getting councils or governments involved in creating the means, that you can kind of build in and learn from, the research. The kinds of referees and structures and rules and practices that allow it to be safe. Right? It isn't like, well, this is John's community, and if it turns out that John's not a great guy to deal with now, I'm locked in and I gotta move out. And I think there are a lot of lessons that I'm not an expert on. Like, I'm looking for the experts on this. But there are a lot of lessons that I know about, around how you do this well. But in terms of your question, where are the starting points? I would offer, sort of, two scales of analysis. I think there are things people already want to do and are trying to do, you know, greater and greater interest in urban gardening, we have two chickens in our backyard who boss us around all day. Getting solar, right? People more and more engaged in this, even the roll in of the Fogo bins in a place like Randwick, Randwick Council.

Ann Mossop: Some of us yearn for Fogo bins, in less well served parts of the city.

John Carr: It is awesome, every day I use the Fogo like, yes! This is great! So, there are those individual level things. But frankly, thinking, for example, about where I live in Randwick Council, there's a real awareness. I know that the way we do cities has to change. And certainly, you talk to anybody, developers are part of that, I think, a developer, to say it as neutrally as possible. If you can create a business model or a business case, they don't care what they're doing, they're going to do it. So, I do think that part of what we're going to be needing to do is really talking seriously with councils. And so the project that I'm taking on, this idea of the toolbox, I've really been aiming solidly at councils. Saying like, okay, look, if you have some land that could be used to do this, let's try this, let's model it. This allows you to sort of flex your green muscles, but it also gets you ahead of this change. I know it seems we've been living the way we've been living for a long time. 150 years ago, in cities, we live in multigenerational homes, three, four generations in the same classic Australian flat. After World War Two in the United States, for example, that changes radically and changes in Australia, this is a sea change that happens within 10 years, the idea that everybody gets their own private garden, or his own washing machine, their own dryer, their own Chrysler sitting outside, like that's a switch flip. And so I do think our ability to define or redefine or refine what a good life is, we're actually very capable of. We like the new shiny thing. I mean, man, you look at how many renovations happen in this town in Sydney. Clearly, people have no problem with change to their personal environments. And with ageing populations, with a recognition that what you need over the course of life is really different. That idea of building in flexibility, the idea of building in the capacity to have the different phases of your life, from child rearing, to having teens, which I’m learning, is it’s own challenge, to being an empty nester, to needing somebody, hopefully, from your family, or support community, who's there to help you out. That starts to look pretty good, I think. You know, when you think about how many people downsize when their kids leave home, or when they get ready to retire. We've actually built that generational change into the way we live. That's a huge part of Australian society, from what I've seen. Why not just do it better? Why not do it thoughtfully? Why not do it proactively? And in the process, you get all this other good stuff that we like. So hopefully, that's an answer.

Ann Mossop: I think it is, I think it is. These changes are always interesting to think about because they are giant system-based changes. But they're changes that people, very much, think in their individual lives that they would like to see it happen. I think there's that feeling when people start working out how they might want to do that, and that actually without systemic change, it's not possible. Do you see any examples of really interesting projects or communities or pieces of city making that you think make you feel optimistic about the future?

John Carr: Oh, yeah, no, if there weren't, I couldn't do this. I'm not clever enough to come up with all this stuff. I mean, you certainly mentioned Scandinavian cohousing. And I think that it's very easy to be like, well, you know, they’re Scandinavian, it's all different up there. But these things are actually really spreading substantially. England has a huge cohousing movement, oftentimes near fairly industrialised cities. There's some interesting stuff outside of Birmingham, where people recognise like, oh, this is you know, how different is it than going to resorts in Bali, right? I mean, everybody has their space, we have the shared pool in the middle, you get to go into gardens. What if we live that way? And I do think there are a lot of wonderful examples of both, sort of, micro personal household levels ways of doing this and broader city making projects. Um, you know, it's far from perfect, but I've had students who've lived in the central park development here in Chippendale, I've taken my urban students there. And, you know, it gets a lot of press and attention for the big green wall and the big reflective solar thing and there's, you know, green stuff in the mall. But the things that I've heard my students say that they really like is that, I can have my pets there, and there's a sense of community, and I like the people there, and there are places to meet up. Even something like that, that in some ways, is a very sort of archetypical, urban, residential, commercial development, dressed up with some very nice, sustainable components. The core of what makes it work isn't the greenwall, it's the humans, it's the space and people. Look, there are people who might irritate you in your personal environment. That's even the case if you just own a home. But people don't get tired of that sense of connection, that sense of, I can go down the hall and get a cup of sugar from somebody. It's nice seeing the people in the elevator on in the green space outside of my building. I think that's who we are.

Ann Mossop: And that's one of the really interesting things about that particular development, I think, is if you look at the green space, it's incredibly inhabited. And incredibly well used. You know, whenever you walk past that, you see there's lots of people out there, there's something, something really working.

John Carr: If you build it, they will come.

Ann Mossop: Exactly. Well, there's lots more to talk about, it was one of those topics where because we live in cities, or we live in communities, everybody has something to say. I wish you best of luck with your toolbox.

John Carr: Thank you!

Ann Mossop: We want it to work, so that we have better options about how to live our lives. Thanks so much for talking to us.

John Carr: It has been such an honour and delight. Thank you.

Ann Mossop: What comes next? is produced by the UNSW Center for Ideas. With music composition by Lana Zacharia and editing by Bryce Halladay. For more information, visit, and don't forget to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

John Carr

John Carr

John Carr is an urban and legal geographer whose work focuses on the intersections of urban form, law, planning, and human and non-human environments. His research seeks to address how knowledge from across disciplinary boundaries can be mobilised to make human-built environments more environmentally and socially regenerative. Carr is a senior lecturer with the Environment and Society Group at UNSW Sydney, and teaches in the School of Humanities and Languages, Faculty of Arts, Design & Architecture. For more than a decade, he practiced law in the areas of civil rights, complex litigation, and construction law before entering academia.