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Monday Melbourne: XIII, Jan 2004
Russell Degnan

Australia Day. From out of the shadows of the British Empire.

Melbourne 28th January, 2004 12:06:52   [#] [1 comment] 

Save "Our" Coast from the locals
Russell Degnan

It must be fun being a local council these days. After suffering through amalgamations, structural changes, operational requirements and outright threats to toe the line or be summarily removed from office under the last government; they are being slowly stripped of their planning powers as well.

The main purpose of the original Local Government Act was to offload the burden of essentially local issues from the (voluntary) colonial parliament onto self-governing councils. But, this, and the long line of previous governments aren't troubled by having to deal with local issues. There is, apparently, nothing a centralised army of bureaucrats can't handle in today's world.

This is why the latest plan for our coastlines involves the state government applying the same strategic planning guidelines to coastal towns that it does in Melbourne 2030. Including, most importantly, an urban growth boundary, to prevent "ribbon-development" along the coast.

There are three reasons why you might want to take power from local government hands: one, the local council is woefully incompetent and incapable of handling planning issues at all; two, there are negative externalities involved for the wider community if you leave important decisions to petty local bureaucrats; or three, the local government - like decisions concerning Greater Melbourne - has insufficient control to affect an outcome.

The first - while possibly true from a State Government perspective - is insulting to local government, and to our system of local government in general. If that's the case you may as well pack it away now and run everything through the state. Democracy in general depends on local decision-makers to be properly representative, and shouldn't so willingly be disposed of. On the opposite side of the ledger however; many councils (including some of our coastal councils) are woefully unrepresentative because of the hodge-podge collection of amalgamations a decade ago. If the State Government was paying attention they'd notice this, and allow local people to decide their own council boundaries.

Skipping ahead, the third is not true of coastal councils, and reiterating my last point, should not be true of any council. State Government power-mongering to keep the City of Melbourne in it's place prevents a more rational division of power between state and local governments in Melbourne however.

The second point is the heart of the matter. This Age editorial sums it up nicely:

"Driving bumper to bumper, hour after hour, Victorians who recently endured the ritual trip to and from the coast would not have enjoyed the irony that the idea is to get away from the urban rat race. Every year the crush gets worse as a tide of humanity floods into the coastal towns and environs, and threatens to sweep away the very character that makes them such special, attractive places."

Which doesn't explain the hopeless naivety that could cause someone to state the obvious effect of an urban growth boundary, that "property values can be expected to increase", and then follow it up with this:

"There is a risk of turning the humblest towns into elite enclaves. The challenge will be to ensure state policy does not simply help the "we got here first" brigade keep the pleasures of the coast for themselves. The problems that will have to be managed are nonetheless preferable to allowing some of the most attractive features of the coast to be lost to development."

They don't go on to explain how they might manage this "problem". Local residents are already complaining that property prices are too high because of weekenders and retirees, the solution would appear to be drive them up further - it will, if nothing else, remove the local scourge. Wait and see, the next step is for city-folk to complain that bread and milk prices are too high over summer, because the owner of the general store will only be getting an income for the six months a year that people go to the coast.

If the locals want an urban growth boundary, that is their prerogative. But the State Government plan is either elitist, brain-dead or both. It might stop development along the coast, but it will be at the expense of local residents, who won't be able to afford to live there. Local councils are - or should be - well placed to decide what's best for their community. Perhaps they - and not city politicians looking out for their coastal retirement home they're going to buy with their extravagant tax-payer funded superannuation - should decide what happens on the coast.

Planning 28th January, 2004 12:05:32   [#] [2 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: XII, Jan 2004
Russell Degnan

The Australian Open started again today. This picture of Daniela Hantuchova serving on the Margaret Court Arena, is from last year.

Melbourne 19th January, 2004 23:59:27   [#] [0 comments] 

What to do with the bridge to nowhere?
Russell Degnan

Bridges are fairly vital part of the city landscape. While rivers, railway lines, freeways serve a useful purpose, they also divide a city, preventing free movement between adjacent points and making it harder for pedestrians to move around (and cars, but to a lesser extent).

For the past god-knows-how-many years the heritage listed Sandridge rail bridge has been touted as a potential development opportunity, linking Southbank with something on the Northbank. There problem though is that the bridge doesn't link to anything pedestrian orientated on the Northbank, and nor is it likely to. What it links to, is Flinders St. station, and what is at the bank of Flinders St. station is half a dozen railway lines. In short, he Sandridge railbridge, from a pedestrian point of view, goes nowhere.

The latest proposal to fix this problem appears to be a bridge across the railway lines. But, not just any bridge, one 30-40m wide, lined with shops. This is larger than the average Melbourne street, and really means a cover over the back of the railyards.

The problem with bridges though, is that they only "bridge" inhospitable places. But, the entire northbank is inhospitable to pedestrians. Every new development along the northbank will be a marginal improvement on what's came before, but with the railway lines there, it is impossible to properly link the city with the river. What we will get is a motley collection of buildings and malls, a few access points, and the same traffic debacle around King, William and Swanston Sts. You can see this effect already on the Western side of the city, where a series of mostly unpleasant, if architectually interesting, bridges connect the city to the Docklands.

In 1850, an anonymous author (possibly G.H. Wathen or Redmond Barry) took the planners of Melbourne to task for their uninspired town plan. At one point, he discusses rivers, saying:

Our ideal town should have a noble river, margined with massive quay and public and private buildings, which sweeping round with the windings of the stream should charm the eye with all the beauty of evanescent lines and evershifting perspectives.

What Melbourne recieved along the Yarra was the industrial revolution: railway tracks, factories and mostly ugly utilitarian bridges. Michael Jennings has often described the changes container shipping has allowed cities to make along their waterfronts. The opportunity presented to Melbourne by this won't come again; infrastructure is ten times harder to change when things are already built.

What should happen - what should already have happened - is the digging underground of the overhead railway from the north bank. The extension of Collins St. should not have been a bridge. The renovations of Spencer St. station should have included the loop underneath. The renovations of Flinders St. station should have covered the tracks with an extended concourse. The key goal should be accessibility for pedestrians, because they, and they only will be the lifeblood of the river.

Fifteen years of development along the yarra have produced an attractive pedestrian bridge, and promenade; a workable stadium, exhibition centre, casino, and aquarium; and a square that could have been better; plus, a collection of mostly ugly apartments set amongst mostly obnoxious and confusing car-orientated streets, and a couple of freeways. The Sandridge railbridge is a reflection of the development that came before, and will come after. Noone knows what to do with it, they just know that it should be something. The next fifteen years will determine whether it will be something more than a collection of showpieces along the banks. Unless more thought is put into the underlying infrastructure though, the answer will be no.

Urban Design 18th January, 2004 19:29:11   [#] [0 comments] 

Performance Results for M>Tram and Yarra Trams
Aaron Hewett

Since the performance results for both tram operators for December 2003 were below the minimum set for compensation, those with monthly, six-monthly and yearly tickets valid during December are able to claim compensation in the form of one (1) daily ticket.

I encourage everyone who is eligible to claim this compensation to do so.

Ring Yarra Trams on 1800 800 166 and M>Tram on 1800 800 120.

While the compensation itself isn't exactly worth the effort, the private operators must pay for their bad performance. At the moment, they are simply relying on people's ignorance and apathy to avoid paying compensation.

Does anyone know if they have to pay the state government compensation too? And who actually does the monitoring? An independent body or the private operator itself?

General 17th January, 2004 16:19:45   [#] [1 comment] 

Monday Melbourne: XI, Jan 2004
Russell Degnan

The view from the Morell Bridge. January 2003

Melbourne 12th January, 2004 20:09:56   [#] [1 comment] 

Wednesday Eyesore: Intuitive entrance making
Russell Degnan

Last week - I think it was a Saturday but I tend to lose track of the days during the holidays - I went down to Victoria Gardens, because I needed to go to the Ikea. Well, not needed so much, I wanted to go there, so I could browse their bookshelves full of obscure medical books in Swedish. What a hideous piece of urban design. Placed neatly on the edge of inner-suburbia it screams: fringe suburban nightmare. Like in those hackneyed hollywood money spinners where the poor become filthy rich and embarrass themselves sitting at the dinner table with good people.

Above is the Eastern entrance. I'm not sure what the carpark is for, but I know it isn't for me. I'm a pedestrian, and therefore filthy scum, unfit to go through the front entrance. The sign points me to the tradesman's entrance at the back.

On the left is the view along Victoria St. Pretty isn't it? The entrance for pedestrians is through the carpark. It isn't marked - you just sort of guess that because there are stairs to the underground carpark, you can probably reach the store from there. Of course that isn't the main pedestrian entrance. Even though it looks like it from the tram stop, what with the big sign and all. They just put that there to confuse you. That way, when you get inside you'll buy heaps of crap you don't need.

The main pedestrian entrance is on the right.

Doesn't it just yell: "entrance to major shopping centre this way"?

Urban Design 8th January, 2004 10:06:44   [#] [3 comments] 

Assorted Links
Russell Degnan

Just a few links that weren't worth commenting on in one post, but well worth a look if you haven't seen them earlier

Peter Cook links me to soem pictures he posted showing the debacle on public transport following New Years Eve. Also here. Well worth reading both threads.

In Reason magazine, Virginia Postrel talks about the benefits of designing for different tastes with particular emphasis on housing.

The American Sentimentalist has a lovely piece on the El tracks in Chicago and the changes to the city that surrounds them.

I've barely started going through this, but there are a number of papers by Niko A. Salingaros on patterns and the urban form on his website that look interesting. (hat tip: 2 Blowhards)

The Atlantic website puts up a lot of old (sometimes very old) articles that are often interesting. This one on from 1913 on the differences between the United States and Europe by Guglielmo Ferrero caught my eye for this interesting quote that applies in Australia as well:

One day in New York I was complimenting an example of American architecture to an American architect of great talent. "Yes, yes," he answered with a touch of satire, "my fellow countrymen would willingly spend a hundred millions of dollars to build a church as beautiful as St. Mark's in Venice, but they would command me, as a condition of the work, to finish it within eighteen months."

General 7th January, 2004 20:36:22   [#] [0 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: X, Jan 2004
Russell Degnan

A different view of the Flower Clock. St. Kilda Rd. Saturday January 3rd 2004

Melbourne 5th January, 2004 19:23:41   [#] [0 comments] 

NSW: More checks for unit constructions

As mentioned here and other news items, in NSW this week an introduction of MORE stringent checks will be carried out on high-rise residential flats under tough new building laws in NSW.
Perhaps something our 'Rescode' needs to consider?

More of the story........

The state government has increased the number of checks by local councils or contracted certifiers, including random inspections of bathrooms and laundries.

Assistant Planning Minister Dianne Beamer said homeowners needed confidence in the quality of new buildings.

"With more people than ever before choosing to live in apartments, multi-storey buildings were seen as the highest priority," Ms Beamer said.

"These regulations come on top of the latest punitive provisions that can result in corrupt certifiers, and anyone who attempts to corrupt a certifier, being jailed for up to two years and fined up to $1.1 million."

The new rules took effect on January 1 and they will be extended to cover houses, dual occupancies, villas and townhouses in March.

Planning 4th January, 2004 17:40:25   [#] [0 comments] 


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