The 1970s was a time of significant urban activism in Sydney. Most famously, Jack Mundey coined the term “green ban” to describe a movement bringing together property owners, public tenants, workers and ‘ordinary’ citizens to demand a say in planning. There is a well-worn historical narrative that provides us with the concrete achievements of the green bans in preventing demolition of much-loved parts of the city and in helping to trigger the passage of new planning legislation with express provision for public participation and conservation.
While the most recognisable, the green bans should not be understood as the primary avenue for participation in Sydney during the 1970s. As this paper will argue, the green bans emerged during a period of broader experimentation and exploration in participatory planning and design. The legacy of the period, like that of the bans themselves, extends far beyond protest.
This paper will illuminate that wider context. Histories of participation in the 1970s have focused on the green ban movement, and have discussed these primarily in terms of the connection between the green bans and social and labour movements. Focusing particularly on what will be described as ‘positive participation’, this paper will instead explore the range of tactics employed during the period from the perspective of planning and design practice. It will illuminate little-discussed elements of the green ban movement such as the design panel established to guide architectural decisions, as well as a range of participatory practices far beyond the movement in which activists, community members and professionals engaged constructively in developing visions and strategies for the future of the city.