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Something to Read
Russell Degnan

This is a really slack effort at linking, because it was elsewhere about a month or more ago. Nevertheless, Planetizen has listed its Top Ten Planning Issues of 2003. Not all of these apply to Australia, but some do, and some will. In particular, the Evolution of Malls, Congestion Charging, Oil And The City, Rethinking Zoning, and Transit Oriented Development are all worth a perusal.

Also linked from Planetizen, the Project for Public Places has created a list of important "Placemakers". A useful list of the important authors in
urban design and planning, if nothing else.

Planning 29th April, 2004 17:48:06   [#] [0 comments] 

The Mythical Green Wedges
Russell Degnan

I've been sitting on this article since Easter so it is about time I actually wrote on it.

The general media interest in planning issues continues to increase, and Kenneth Davidson has weighed in on the government's Green Wedge policy. No fan of the government these days, it is filled with mistakes and convenient ignorance of policy directions, then ends with a pining for the good old days of MMBW bureaucracy and an irrelevant plea for more public transport.

At the core of Davidsons's argument is a mistaken belief in the origin and purpose of the wedges. This: "The MMBW decided where the development went because it decided where the pipes to reticulate water and sewerage went." is completely inaccurate. MMBW would no doubt have liked to have directed development but almost without exception, their public works programs were lagging so far behind demand that the MMBW put sewerage and water where there was development - not vice versa.

Development followed the railway lines, and the green wedges came to exist more by accident than design. When they were set aside, it was for the purposes of keeping 'open space' for future needs and to protect valuable farming land in those areas. It is only now, when development pressures are encroaching on the land, that the government has made to protect them and prescribe their use; through the introduction of the Urban Growth Boundary and the Green Wedge Zone.

In this context the statement that: "But the radial development interspersed with green wedges is still Melbourne's finest inheritance - even more important in terms of Melbourne's liveability than the more spectacular inheritance in the form of Victorian public buildings and inner-city terraces." is almost bizarre. While parts of the green wedges are natural reserves, the greater part of them is farmland. 'Liveability' has nothing to do with it; the green wedges are too massive, too isolated, and too far from so much of the urban areas to have any effect on the majority of Melbournians at all.

This confusion over the wedges intended purpose, and more importantly, what purpose we should be pursuing today lies at the heart of green wedge politics. What the Green Wedge Zone has done, for the first time, is differentiate them from normal rural areas. Strategically, the key statement is:

To recognise, protect and conserve green wedge land for its agricultural, environmental, historic, landscape, recreational and tourism opportunities, and mineral and stone resources.

In short, the future of the green wedges is non-urban leisure activities: golf courses, conference centres, recreation centres, wineries, and bed and breakfasts. This may or may not be a good idea; but it is a lack of public space in existing suburban residential areas that is behind the push for more leisure activities in the wedges.

Davidson's argument is merely an anti-development line. As seen by his accusation of VCAT that it is 'pro-development' because its president recognises the obvious: that "[...] the market will play a significant role in the type of development which will occur in Melbourne and where it is located". It has to really - people don't build things to lose money.


But he finished with two last points, so I will too. One, development along growth corridors will occur with or without extensions to the urban rail network. The time and expense of applications, and the conditions placed on developments in the green wedges makes a large- scale sub-division an unlikely event. Moreover, with the exception of the Plenty Valley, the planned growth areas are already served (or nearly) by the urban rail network.

Two, the history of the MMBW is of a body that progressively lost its independence because it ignored - and was able to ignore - public opinion. That The Age was at the forefront of that criticism throughtout its history - and now calls for its return - is somewhat ironic. However, while parts of its legacy to Melbourne is good - the sewerage, and perhaps the water - a large part - the freeways, the housing commission flats, and the desolate outer suburbs - is pathetic. Whether it should shoulder all the blame is another matter; without question, the DSE has vastly stronger powers than the MMBW ever did. That the DSE infrastructure budget is constrained by popular opinion and political reality is something to be thankful for, not something to lament.


'Protecting' is the wrong word to apply to the green wedges. The qeustion that must be addressed is what should they be used for, and what limits on their use should apply. Tied up in the new policy is a push for leisure development in them that needs to be debated. Complaining about developers, and the absence of a legislatively toothless, yet potentially destructive planning body is not the way to do that.

Planning 29th April, 2004 17:02:51   [#] [1 comment] 

Monday Melbourne: XXVI, Apr 2004
Russell Degnan

The peaceful side of the shrine. Taken August 2002

Melbourne 29th April, 2004 01:23:40   [#] [0 comments] 

Don`t believe the hype
Russell Degnan

Businesses in Australia have garnered a reputation over the years as being short-sighted and risk-averse; always willing to let international trends dictate where they should go, instead of driving forward. Which is not to say they don't recognise these trends in advance, that they don't see opportunities, or that there isn't the talent to innovate.

Take the proposed new convention centre:

Business groups have lobbied for years for a new convention venue, arguing that Melbourne's existing 1500-seat centre is hopelessly outdated.

and, from here:

The bureau has identified another 76 conferences with more than 1500 delegates that it could bid for in the next five years. These conferences are worth about $823 million.

Apparently, there is money to made in hosting conferences, and a lot of it.


It is popular these days for the government to engage in public-private partnerships, getting the private sector to operate services in the public interest. The new conference centre - if it is built - will be one of these. The major investors and the government will stand where it will be built and announce what a great thing it will be for all Victorians; because of the economic benefits it will bring to the state, and how government and big business are coming together in partnership bringing the best of both worlds.


There is an inconsistency here though; business thinks it will be a good idea, business stands to reap the rewards of it being built, business recognises this as a sound investment in the future.

But, for some reason, until government tells them that they are standing there, ready to pick up the pieces in the unlikely event that they are wrong, business cannot get the funds together themselves. With the government it is easy, because there is (in theory) no risk, the government can't fail - if it has money troubles it will just tax the rest of us into the ground.

In other words, because business in this country is short-sighted and risk averse, we, the tax-payer are going to give them a handout. Instead of rewarding the entrepreneur willing and able to run a major conference centre that everyone agrees Melbourne needs; we are rewarding the weak and spineless, who, despite those faults are extremely good at taking the government for a ride.

This conference centre might be a good idea, but it doesn't need the government to fund it, back it, or build it. Business is quite capable of doing that on its own. And if it isn't then perhaps it is time that this country had businessmen who will.

General 21st April, 2004 00:52:16   [#] [1 comment] 

Monday Melbourne: XXV, Apr 2004
Russell Degnan

ANZAC Day calls for a picture or two of the shrine. This is the harsh, unyielding side of it, where you can be awed by the feelings wrought by its high walls and immense stone cavities. Next week, the peaceful side. Taken, 2nd January 2004

Melbourne 21st April, 2004 00:27:10   [#] [0 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: XXIV, Apr 2004
Russell Degnan

Melbourne's cafes and alleys come into their own this time of the year. This is Degraves St. Taken, 2nd January 2004

Melbourne 13th April, 2004 16:16:25   [#] [0 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: XXIII, Apr 2004
Russell Degnan

The morning mist has reappeared. This is from one of my favourite spots to take photo, near the Old Stock Exchange looking east up Collins St. Taken: June 2003

Melbourne 5th April, 2004 21:34:35   [#] [0 comments] 

Gordon St. - August 25th (2002)
Russell Degnan

I had my own shot of this street in the archives. But in late winter.

Melbourne 3rd April, 2004 16:22:33   [#] [0 comments] 

The Things we Take for Granted: Water
Russell Degnan

In a post a few months ago I made one of those throw away comments I'm so fond of regarding Melbourne's water supply and a water tower. It occured to me then that I had no concept of Melbourne's water history - despite it's importance, nor what a water tower is - shamefully. It is a fascinating topic, and so this is the first of several posts on Melbourne's utilities up to and in the early years of the formation of the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works in 1891.

But, first, a water tower. The water tower pictured in the Charles Condor painting is related to an unreliable supply of water, but not because there was none. Water towers are actually a way to maintain pressure during heavy usage. Melbourne's water in the 1880s wasn't that unreliable, having built several dams, but the pressure in the system was - and remained so until the 1960s in some higher areas, notably the posh middle eastern suburbs. Water towers were - and still are - an effective way of maintaining pressure, not maintaining supply. For that we need to go back.


Melbourne's first water supply was the Yarra river. A waterfall that lay where the Queen's Bridge now sits meant that the city could obtain fresh water, without being too distant from a place to moor ships. Water was drawn from just upstream of the falls and distributed on water-carts by private operators. But there were two problems.

Firstly, in times of drought - a common occurance then as today - the water level of the Yarra fell so much that the water became brackish and undrinkable. Second, and more importantly, the Yarra river basin represents the entire northern and eastern side of Melbourne. As such, industrial waste, human, animal and vegetable matter drained from the settlements into the Yarra river. By 1852, with a rush of new immigration at the start of the goldrush the Yarra was a sluggish putrid river. In the years to follow it would get progressively worse.

Sewage and water problems are not unrelated, but despite the establishment of a Board of Commissioners of Sewerage and Water Supply, only the water supply was addressed. The area around Melbourne was surveyed, and the Plenty River was decided upon as the best source of clean water. Works began on the Yan Yean Reservoir in 1853 and the supply was turned on in 1857.


The Yan Yean Reservoir in 1862 (courtesy: National Library of Australia)

However, the Yan Yean Reservoir was plagued by problems: first, the tin lining in the lead pipes was destroyed by voltaic action and dissolved, causing lead poisoning. Then, the quality of the water deteriorated. The Plenty River runs through swamplands, and despite works to route the river around them, the water had a "turpid opalescence... mawkish taste... repulsive smell" until into the 20th Century.

Not surprisingly, a constant supply of fresh water led to significant wastage. European gardens, and the hot weather contributed to people using far more than their counterparts in England. But, a policy of unlimited water for Melbourne had been established, and further extensions were made to the system: notably, the diversion of water from north of the Great Dividing Range into the Yan Yean Reservoir, and the building of the Maroondah Reservoir in 1891.


Today, the majority of the Yarra tributaries have been dammed - to prevent flooding if nothing else. Melbourne's potential water supply has probably reached it's maximum extent. Water already gets moved from the Thomson Reservoir into the system during a drought. The policy of maintaining an unrestricted water supply allowed and even encouraged untrammeled growth, but two questions remain: is this policy still in force? If so, how will it be maintained with another million people in 30 years time? And if not, what changes must be wrought in the way we supply water? Melbourne 2030 attempts to address this in Policy 7.1:

Water supply
The Government will protect Melbourne’s water catchments and water supply facilities to ensure the continued availability of clean, high-quality drinking water. It will require that reservoirs, water mains and local storage facilities are protected from potential contamination, and that planning for water supply, sewerage and drainage works receives high priority in early planning for new developments.

Water demand
Water use efficiency will be managed so that existing storages can reliably meet water demand beyond 2030. Sustainable management will ensure that water availability in other parts of Victoria is not adversely affected. Reductions are needed in per capita water consumption, which has already fallen by 12 per cent in the past decade, and in leakage rates, which are estimated as 8 per cent of potable water supply to Melbourne.

Making the answers to the above questions: "yes" and "by reducing demand and not increasing supply". Interesting times ahead.

Tales of the City 1st April, 2004 23:33:05   [#] [1 comment] 


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