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Restrainers – who needs ’em?

By:  Michael Martin

Over the Christmas break I read the following quote that set me thinking:

the age of heroism” will be followed by the decline of the “expanders” and the rise of the “restrainers.”

Now, to be fair, in its original context “heroes, expanders and restrainers” are about growth and resource use – click here to read the article

Unfortunately I think we’ve seen the rise of the restrainers in our own bureaucracies. This is often called risk management, which contemplates the worst that can happen, and then plans and expects that. It’s the kind of headset that constantly says “I told you so” when things fail, rather than rewarding the things that work well. This requires minimum standards which can drag us all to the lowest common denominator.

The problem is that the risk management approach doesn’t allow for unexpected, creative solutions, and I think it’s starting to act as a significant choke on progress. It allows our bureaucrats to excuse bad service and prevent development and growth (to be fair there are still individuals within our bureaucracies that provide excellent service and see the world in a positive light, but their numbers are reducing).

I need to be clear: unrestrained, uncontrolled growth is not good. It has never been. It produces unanticipated social and environmental outcomes.

But this doesn’t mean that all growth or development is bad.

I personally think that we need growth – some recent articles about our housing stock indicates we will be desperately short of housing before too long.  Growth and development will need to occur.

However, I don’t propose a return to the recent heady days where development based on cheap credit was the norm and resulted in hasty dollar-driven developments, because this type of development gave the restrainers their credibility.

I do think that what it requires is:

  • innovative solutions and great design
  • a collaborative approach between communities, councils, and developers
  • something that makes a buck for the developer while not taking advantage of the local community, or the land, or those that will live in the development
  • a sense of what can sit lightly in the existing environment (natural, built and social)

And let’s do it so well that the restrainers lose their voice.

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