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Melbourne`s Alleys
Citizen #381277

Melbourne 30th July, 2004 08:51:20   [#] [1 comment] 

A short story about Storey Hall

Storey Hall is order against chaos.
The certainties of the past collide with the random shapes of today’s mathematics... and obscure geometric theory.
The new building plays with memories from its former lives.
Modern green politics merge with the building’s Irish Catholic past.
The purple of feminism recalls an earlier tenant, a women’s political association.

Tales of the City 29th July, 2004 20:42:31   [#] [0 comments] 

In case of emergency, empty dam
Russell Degnan

We've had a fair amount of rain recently, so rightly, the fountains are being turned back on. Despite this, Melbourne Water have said that we still need to save water, so the depleted catchments can refill. Again, rightly. But beyond that some of the assumptions about water conservation don't match the reality of our water usage.

That reality is of ever-increasing per capita usage, despite claims to the contrary. What Melbourne Water do claim is a per household reduction from 340 kL in the early 1980s to 220 kL in 1993. This looks fantastic except for two points. One, average household size has reduced substantially in that period, so much of that gain is illusory. Two, the points chosen for comparison are right before the start of water restrictions in the early 1980s and during restrictions now. Examining water usage as a trend tells a different story.

source: Melbourne Water

What this shows (and a per capita graph shows it better, but I had none at hand), is that water usage is inversely related to rain, and that we continue to use more and more as every year passes on.

One thing at a time. Average summer water usage in Melbourne is 1600 ML a day. The average generally is 1200 ML. The average this week was 1000 ML. The reason: when it rains, people don't water their garden, and gardens are both the biggest and most fluctuating use of water. During a drought, they can use up to 60% of total water, as compared to 35% normally.

There is a constant pattern over the course of the drought cycle (a complicated and unpredicatable thing, but which generally runs in patterns of 4, 7 and 11 years). Water usage when restrictions are eased rises quickly, before smoothing out until the drought starts. At this point, the lack of rain means people start watering their dying gardens, water storage levels drop, and restrictions are introduced until the drought eases. Then the pattern begins again.
Except that each successive cycle has seen higher usage than the previous one. I am not sure why. It is not dissimilar to the Induced Demand Hypothesis as it applies to roads. But road use that can be explained as a willingness to travel further in the same time frame. Increased water use because it is available has no similar rhime nor reason. Except that people water gardens because they can, and every year we get more and more greenery.

It is for this reason that water savings measures cannot be the be-all and end-all of Melbourne's water policy, as proposed. Droughts cause more water to be used, droughts occur often in Melbourne, and Melbourne has a finite supply of water that is nearing (in fact it is past) the limit of what can be taken. And rationing water more heavily in the wet part of the drought cycle doesn't help when uses that normally make no, or small demands on water - such as most gardens - start making heavy demands on water for lack of a natural supply.

For that we will need water restrictions. Or harsh water pricing that achieves the same ends. Till next time though, we have our fountains again. And a fine sight they are.

Environment 29th July, 2004 00:21:11   [#] [4 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: XXXVIII, July 2004
Russell Degnan

And now for something completely different. Though not stylistically. April 2004

Melbourne 27th July, 2004 22:00:10   [#] [0 comments] 

One step forward, two back
Russell Degnan

No news to comment on at the moment so I'll mention an interesting article on Salon.com (hat tip: John Massengale). Despite green awareness being much higher in the United States, the size of the houses is more than negating any benefits from good design.

Here in Victoria the government has just brought in the 5 star energy rating for new houses. The enormous McMansion on the front of the site is a dead giveaway that it doesn't include any references to house size in it. (An aside - that house may be north facing, but it has enormous windows and no eaves, and is built almost against the edge of the block. How did it get 5 stars?) Instead, the site offers a neat contradiction by saying both that: "Apartments and terrace houses have a natural advantage in energy efficiency." and that smaller blocks are a "challenge". Whereas, the Salon article points out that design can be far more flexible on smaller blocks.

Now that the building industry is being forced into line on green building standards the Planning industry needs to do likewise. Large block-sizes, discrimination - not to mention nimbyism - against terrace houses will work against any good the new legislation might achieve. Unless house-size is incorporated into the next round of green building legislation, but that would really cause some angst.

Environment 25th July, 2004 20:00:34   [#] [2 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: XXXVII, July 2004
Russell Degnan

And the Melbourne Town Hall. Taken June 2004

Melbourne 19th July, 2004 23:59:05   [#] [0 comments] 

Write your own Zone: Any four toppings
Russell Degnan

The Age A3 Yesterday made an oblique reference to the changes to the Port Phillip Planning Scheme that were gazetted this week. The crux of the change is the new schedule to a special use zone in the St. Kilda 'Triangle Site'.

I don't plan to deal with the residents arguments that the site "isn't broke" except to point out that it is surrounded by two very busy pedestrian unfriendly roads and has an ugly carpark. That the Palais is crumbling from neglect - maybe all these rich musos should buy it instead of whining - and that the Palace might be a great venue but it is also a seedy shack. And, that you have to have some plan, and this is what has been created.

But what a strange creation. When the new planning schemes came in they were designed to reduce the number of zones, to give developer certainty. But what this shows is that with State Government acquiesance you can have whatever zoning laws you might wish for any piece of land you might choose. This site has an 'as-of-right' use for a cinema, function centre, indoor recreation, nightclub or restaurant. It takes into account heritage, architectural and urban design, and pedestrian issues normally just hinted at.

Most controversially, it exempts the developer "from the notice requirements of Section 52(1)(a), (b) and (d), the decision requirements of Section 64(1), (2) and (3) and the appeal rights of Section 82(1) of the Act". This is in accordance with the Act in each of these Sections that allow it to happen. The question is, why is this site so different as to warrant removing some of the core democratic parts of the act?

The mayor claims that it is for "commercial certainty" but if commercial certainty was an aim for a planning scheme then the best measure would be to abolish it completely. In effect, by removing the right of appeal, and rewriting the zoning to be site specific, the council has made itself the sole arbiter of what will go there. The statements in the document are almost irrelevant. What we have now is a political fight between the council, residents and the developer, whomever that is. Objective planning will go out the window the second it leaves the planning office and enters the council chambers.

It may, in fact, be a useful thing. For such a controversial site, a political and legal fight was almost inevitable. Allowing the council take leadership on the issue (barring a ministerial call-in) at least makes the responsibility clear to everyone. Not least of all, to electors. But your mileage may vary there. Does it lend itself to corruption? To favouritism? To good or bad planning outcomes? To controversy? To more, or less uncertainty?

Either way, interesting times ahead.

Planning 17th July, 2004 18:24:00   [#] [0 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: XXXVI, July 2004
Russell Degnan

Continuing a theme. The North Melbourne Town Hall. Taken March 2003

Melbourne 12th July, 2004 23:57:30   [#] [2 comments] 

The advantages conveyed by having a 'nice' city
Russell Degnan

I had occasion last weekend, to take a jaunt to the gold mining regions of central Victoria. The stated purpose was to see the art galleries of the region; since they have a fine reputation. But I'm also fascinated by the area.

If ever the goal was to recreate Mother England in the distant colonies, it had no better implementation than this region. The major towns and country are - not surprisingly - the living reincarnation of the Jerusalem Hymn. Rolling green hills and pastures, few native trees, and a collection of grand churches and public buildings that shames Melbourne (who tore so many of theirs down).

These towns should be shadows of their former selves. The gold rush finished 140 years ago. The towns lost substantial proportions of their populations with the collapse of their major resource. Although away from the coast, their presence on the major routes to Melbourne from the country allowed them to maintain themselves through the early 20th century. But with faster modern transport methods and limited natural resources there is no geographical reason that medium size cities like Castlemaine, Ballarat, Bendigo or Daylesford ought to exist. And yet they are booming.

The Castlemaine post office and streetscape

The reason is their relative proximity to Melbourne, and the benefits of sound urban management 150 years ago. The citizens of the boom towns laid out wide (even too wide), graceful streets, built majestic buildings, planted large trees, and started galleries, libraries and other sources of civic pride. You can tell Melbourne is starting to reach the limit of its growth, not because the government has implemented an urban growth boundary which may or may not hold; but because so many people are moving to country towns to live. While there is a marginally longer commute than living on the urban fringe, country residents reap the benefits of the afore-mentioned urban amenities, and accessible walkable neighbourhoods.

Meanwhile, Melbourne residents come out to those cities on day trips in their thousands. Castlemaine has so many antique shops and cafes (though many were closed last week) as to have no other industry. The galleries started 150 years ago are - through donations and acquisition - now full of Australia's best artists from the past: Buvelot, McCubbin, Streeton, and an impressive collection of modern art as well.

If the boom period of the 1850s was an example of the benefits of sound urban practise, the boom period of the 1950s is a perfect example of the opposite effect. Both saw a rapid increase in population - though the 1850s was an order of magnitude worse - and desperate shortages of housing, and infrastructure. The 1950s however, produced sloppy concrete buildings and ugly townships and suburbs, lacking in any grace, trees, sources of civic pride and basically: care.

If you were to travel in an easterly direction you'll come across the Latrobe Valley. Despite being well within the day trip range of Melbourne, its' cities are largely devoid of cafes and activity. In Moe - traditionally, yet rightly bashed - the job losses from power industry reform in the 1990s have left shops closed and streets deserted. Unlike the gold regions though, Moe can't trade on its' grand buildings, and its' beauty, because it doesn't have any. Whatever money it managed to extract from 50 years attached to the power industry hasn't gone to making the city a better place. Now there is a downturn, all that is left is a dying city.

Economic sustainability is a bit of a myth - particularly if you are involved in mining. All things can and do change. A city is much like a surfer, all they can do is keep their head up and be ready to catch the next wave. For Castlemaine and Ballarat, decisions made a hundred and more years ago are being turned to their advantage. I highly recommend a visit, the galleries are better than I expected, the food is generally excellent, and if you like late Victorian, the architecture is as impressive as any place in the world.

Planning 11th July, 2004 18:04:02   [#] [1 comment] 

Melbourne: A Liveable City?
Citizen #381277

Our dear friend Terry Lane takes a short and somewhat uneducated view of Melbourne's status as 'The World's Most Liveable City', here.

In his article, he describes the 'squalid nature' of Swanston St, and in particular, the Manchester Unity Building. From this, Lane attacks the appearance of the CDB describing the main blocks from Russell to Elizabeth and Flinders to Latrobe as squalid. Continuing this theme, Lane's assessment of the CBD as looking Third World in character is somewhat misplaced. What we see here (in my humble opinion) is Melbourne in winter. The streets act as wind tunnels (especially Elizabeth) and this forces most sensible people to seek alternative routes through the city. The 'squalid' appearance of many buildings, and Lane's condemnation of them isn't entirely justified either. There are numerous reasons as to why they're not kept in tip top condition, none of which I care to list, as it is getting late.

Quite frankly, Mr Lane whines a little too much, the Manchester Unity Building is quite beautiful:

Finally, Lane is sort of vindicated by indicating that Melbourne is no longer deserving of 'the most liveable city' title. Lane notes that the two top most liveable cities (Zurich and Vancouver) have no heritage listed buildings, which raises the question; can a city maintain a delightful (for lack of a better word) appearance, while satisfying its residents and visitors.

Tomorrow I'll think up an answer to that, but now I'm tired, so I'll leave that to you guys to ponder

-Tom (tired)

Thanks to Anthony Malloy for use of his pic of the Man Unity Blding (www.anthonymalloy.com)

Planning 6th July, 2004 23:37:47   [#] [6 comments] 

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