Once again, despite the rhetoric in planning documents such as Meeting Our Transport Challenges (MOTC) and Melbourne 2030, the State Government is still obsessed with private vehicle transport and roads. This latest lesson in futility comes with the announcement of a proposed giant, outer suburban ring road - which will require thousands of private properties to be acquired.
I was at a sustainable transport talk this morning at the Sustainable Living Festival. Representatives from 10 sustainable transport organisations spoke in quick succession about the aims of their organisation and how they are working to overcome the challenges faced in achieving sustainable transport and overcoming issues such as climate change and peak oil. Many were from lobby groups such as the PTUA, Environment Victoria, Blind Citizens Australia, Architects for Peace and PIA, but the last speaker was Jim Betts from the public transport division of the Department of Infrastructure - who understandably took the brunt of the criticism from other panellists and the audience. Whilst I have sympathy for his position, and particularly his position within the DOI organisation chart, I do not share his optimism that this State Government will even meet its rhetoric with respect to service co-ordination and infrastructure improvements required to at least cater for existing demand, let alone addressing issues such as climate change and peak oil.
17th February, 2008 16:31:42
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The State Government has just released a discussion paper regarding proposed new residential zones for Victoria.
In summary, it is proposed to have three new residential zones (to replace 3 of the existing ones), identifying areas for:
- Substantial change ("GO GO")
- Incremental change ("GO SLOW")
- Limited change ("NO GO")
This closer alignment with common local policies, will effectively allow Planning Authorities to designate areas for limited change by way of zoning control, rather than purely on the basis of policy (and on, what I consider, the overuse of the Heritage Overlay). Planning Authorities have had the power for a long time to designate areas for substantial change via the Residential 2 Zone - although it is not a zone which is widely used.
17th February, 2008 16:30:01
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Camberwell Junction rethink
It was through the efforts of the Boroondara Residents' Action Group (BRAG) that my attention was drawn to the Draft Camberwell Junction Structure Plan (CJSP), although I strongly doubt they will like what I have to say.
The CJSP is available here if you wish to take a look.
There are two key problems with the plan. Firstly, the height controls are extremely prescriptive, conservative and somewhat arbritary; and secondly, there is no entertainment precinct.
The structure plan calls for a larger residential component within the Junction, namely at the top of a vertical mix of uses with retail and offices on the lower levels. But it also calls for 2 to 3 storey height controls within the retail core, 4-5 storey height controls in most of the remaining areas and an absolute maximum of 6-storeys.
17th February, 2008 16:28:22
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Monday Melbourne: CLX, February 2008
Strangely, bluestone is an underused building material in Melbourne. Taken September 2007
11th February, 2008 20:24:52
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Fitting a public square in a private triangle
What conclusions should you draw about planning in Melbourne, when an architecturally progressive development that hints at and preserves local heritage, adds to public space, and provides significant local amenity, built over a derelict and ugly building site that has been an eyesore for the better part of four decades, attracts thousands of innumerable celebrities in protest, while hundreds of horrid concrete slabs, devoid of pedestrians, character or life itself, bloom like a thousand weeds around the outer suburban road network with nary a raised eyebrow?
There are innumerable reasons why the site has become the focal point of community outrage, but few seem to relate to the development itself, rather than the general under-current of change, the planning process generally, and the expectation of residents for the site.
The shops became a major point of contention. The scale of the development scared local retailers, fearing for their slice of the local economy. Perhaps for a few businesses this is right, but it is just as likely the added attraction will add to their customer base, and few future changes will be attributable to this development, rather than something else.
More complex is the response of residents. An emotional attachment to a place through its culture of shops, architecture and people is an essential aspect of urban life, but like children, places invariably grow and change. Theoretically, it might be possible to prevent aspects of these changes, but it would require more severe planning laws than we have, and that we would accept. Instead, we can only make choices that slow or hasten change.
Ironically, the proud defenders of St Kilda's eclectic heritage seem determined to prevent something that may slow, not hasten change. They protested the range of shops, worried about chain stores, and no doubt the clientele. When the developer promised not to allow them - a move of questionable legal basis - the protests shifted to the number. Neither complaint makes sense if residents want to protect a retail culture in St Kilda. St Kilda is an attractive place for retail businesses. The residents are young, increasingly wealthy, and it is nearby other, even more attractive, areas. Up market shops and chain stores will increasingly invade St Kilda's streets and it is not possible to stop them pushing other businesses out of Fitzroy or Acland Street. But it is possible to create space for them, lowering rents across the suburb, and slowing the rate of change. The triangle development provides this space, enhancing, not out-competing the retail shopping strips.
The legal challenge ahead seems to rely on interpretation of more mundane planning issues. But here, the case is flimsy. From the report produced by Prof. Roz Hansen the main claims seem to be that:
- "[T]he site was not a designated activity centre under the Melbourne 2030 planning scheme and local planning guidelines failed to support the inclusion of 25,000 square metres of retail space."
A completely spurious claim. St Kilda is a major activity centre, and this includes both Acland and Fitzroy Streets, respectively 200 and 500m from the site. That the planning scheme doesn't propose substantial new retail space is equally irrelevant. If buildings were only built as anticipated by the planning scheme most major developments would need to include amendments to the scheme.
- "The level of development envisaged in the UDF was for a public recreational space and not a massive commercial development"
Semantics, semantics. The Urban Design Framework makes no claims of size. It specifically asks for the triangle site to be "sympathetic" to the visual and spatial qualities of public open space. But it also refers to the triangle site as an "activity node", and regardless of the intention of the UDF the state government has always been quite clear that the site was for commercial development with public space included. A matter that relates to the last claim:
- "The broad grounds of the challenge will include the proposal's failure to comply with the [...] public purpose requirements of the St Kilda Triangle Act"
The St Kilda Triangle Act is quite clear here:
"The committee of management of the St Kilda triangle land may grant a lease of that land for the purpose of the construction or use of buildings, works, facilities or public open space for retail, tourism, entertainment, commercial or cultural purposes."
Clearly, what has been told to the residents in public meetings hasn't matched what has gone into the planning of the site. And herein lies the problem. The public clearly believe they have some claim on the site, because it is iconic (heritage buildings being quasi-public in nature), because the land is Crown land, and because of the important position of the site in relation to the foreshore. The state government and council have left the developer to produce their vision, and unsurprisingly the developer has proposed something that maximises their value from the site. Arguably, as always, parcels of land could have prevented a development of this size, but parcels reduce the grandiosity of the vision.
What the residents want, in other words, is to develop the site, their way, through state government funding. To inundate an area already teeming with cultural spaces with more cultural spaces. I don't disagree that it presents an attractive vision, but it is grossly naive in thinking it deserves such largesse, when so many other places go without anything.
Some years ago, I posted on the planning process for this site, but left open the question of whether heavy handed planning seeking particular outcomes was actually beneficial. Now, I think, I can say no. In a pattern repeated in Docklands, Southbank, QV and others, the consolidation of large sites, for significant and prescribed outcomes has always produced the same thing: large, commercially orientated development, where the sheer cost and scale prevents any close scrutiny of the little things that matter.
Moreover, the expectations raised by the consultation and planning process lend themselves to these sort of excessive outcries over fundamentally reasonable proposals. It is not healthy for the planning process, not even particularly democratic, and certainly not helpful for a developer who rather than being granted some sort of certainty has become a political and legal football.
In each of the cases cited above, there was a fundamental tension between the intimate scale the residents wanted (and the planners hinted they might be getting), and the major retail, housing and business hubs that were created. The public space in each case varies from very good to poor, though none is so bad as that found in less prominent locations, and each has grown on people as they accustomed themselves to it. As with those places, the St Kilda triangle was destined to be a large development from the moment the State government closed the Lower Esplanade, parceled the land together, and wrote an act allowing practically any commercial or entertainment use.
Ultimately, though, and as I've said before, these developments would be much improved if governments stop reneging on their responsibility to the aspect that really matters: the provision and protection of public space. At the commercial end, encouraging unrealistic public expectations about likely development only brings trouble when commercial reality intrudes.
10th February, 2008 19:41:00
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Monday Melbourne: CLIX, February 2008
The flower stall out front of the GPO. Taken August 2007
5th February, 2008 01:19:52
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