A Vision for a Liveable FutureI have enjoyed a lovely summer over the past weeks. The beaches have been gorgeous, the traffic slowed and people everywhere seemed relaxed. As the holidays come to an end and the challenges of normal living confront us, it feels timely to ask what might be done to make our lives better. While we all have our own escapist fantasies – be that quitting work, lying on a tropical beach or permanently vacationing in Europe – the reality for most of us is that in many ways our personal futures will be much like our present, with most changes occurring incrementally, almost unnoticed. We are inevitably upset by changes beyond our control, particularly when they leave us worse off socially, spiritually and/or economically. Yet most would agree that we need change in some aspects of our lives, particularly relating to pollution of the environment and the need for more investment in renew- able forms of energy.
I think it is pretty obvious that traffic congestion is a major problem for residents and that one of the ways we can improve our quality of life in the Eastern Suburbs is by encouraging more people to get out of their cars. This means encouraging active transport like walking and cycling or the use of public transport. With so many old and narrow roads, our buses are fundamental to how we are able to move around and get where we need to go. Yet often I hear people say that they are forced to drive because of unreliable or indirect bus services, or because driving is cheaper than public transport. Any vision for a better place would have to include affordable and convenient public transport.
I would love to see a greener and more people-friendly Eastern Suburbs. With an ageing population, growing families and health challenges like obesity and diabetes, walkable streets are important if we want to achieve a vision for a more livable part of the world. This means not just paved footpaths, but paved footpaths that are well shaded by trees (which will also offset heating from the concrete), more public street seating and even the odd free water dispenser for refilling water bottles.
People also need to be able to cross the road safely. At times there is an aggressiveness to the local traffic that is, quite frankly, scary. Consider the speed and intensity with which some drivers enter roundabouts or turn corners, determined it seems to grab the moment and make it very difficult for all but the fittest to cross the street. There are good reasons to encourage walkers and cyclists but much more could be done to make their journeys safer.
Another major challenge facing us is where we will secure the jobs of the future. A great deal has been written lately about the automation of so many jobs and the alleged inadequacies of the current education system in preparing our young people for the future. Our schools and TAFEs need to be better funded, while time-wasting artificial measures and comparisons need to be replaced with staff and student development opportunities relevant to the needs of future generations. We need better educational opportunities in the trades, professions and in technology fields, and at the same time it’s critical that we develop and enhance essential qualities such as effective communication, team working, perseverance and resilience. A new publicly funded co-educational high school in the Eastern Suburbs must be established.
Any positive vision for the future of the Eastern Suburbs must also include a properly funded Prince of Wales Hospital. Patient to staff ratios need to improve and support or allied health positions in particular need to be properly resourced. It makes no sense that allied health or support roles have been cut, leaving more highly paid specialist staff to refill the photocopier and the supplies cabinet in emergency.
There are so many positive initiatives that can contribute to a better future for those in the Eastern Suburbs. Better planning, funding and delivery of tangible areas like transport, health and education are, of course, among the most crucial. Another key area, especially given the beautiful natural environment we have been gifted, is water quality along our coast, as well as ensuring water security across of all of NSW. At the same time, any vision for a better future must also include the less tangible things that make a society more liveable and create a sense of togetherness across the community.
Over the past year in this column I have discussed some of these less tangible subjects including better honouring our returned veterans and protecting open spaces and our trees while also improving our community sporting facilities. I have also raised the need to preserve our recreational spaces, which in the crowded Eastern Suburbs can often be not only our parks but also the cafes, restaurants, pubs and clubs that we frequent with our family and friends. The cost of living and housing affordability is another area we need to continuously work on. We do not want our loved ones to be forced to move away because they can no longer afford to live here. We also must ensure that essential workers such as nurses, teachers, firefighters and police can still afford to live in the area.
We live in a beautiful place but we face some big challenges and choices. I believe that it starts with putting people first, certainly before stadiums and the like, and ensuring that we have the infrastructure to support a sustainable, diverse, healthy and well educated local population. If we get it right locally, we can be that critical building block for a better NSW and Australia. Let’s do this.
Dr Marjorie O’Neill is a Waverley Councillor. The views expressed here are her own.