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Spin, spin, and spin again
Russell Degnan

Mary Delahunty has made a fairly piss-weak attempt to defend Melbourne 2030 from the likes of Kenneth Davidson, appealing to history, the noble goals of the strategic statement, and the government's record in implementation. If this was just another op-ed piece I'd probably ignore it as lacking in the substance to be worthy of comment, but since it is the Planning Minister...

Melbourne did not become the world's most liveable city by accident. Our parks and gardens, our wide boulevards, our user-friendly city street grid, our extensive tram and train network and a catchment system that delivers drinking water that is the envy of the world are legacies of visionary planning.

Dodging the debate on whether Melbourne even is the world's most liveable city, or even if urban form has much to do with that tag. This statement is only tenuously related to how Melbourne came about. The parks and gardens, I will grant. The wide boulevards exist around the inner city only; nearby suburbs don't have wide boulevards (think Sydney Rd., Bridge Rd., Swan St. Victoria St., Brunswick St.). And Hoddle himself is quoted as upset about this in the mid 19th century. The street grid is not user friendly, is barely a good idea, would be horrendous without the laneways and has been criticised for over 150 years. Regardless of its benefits, for the most part the tram and train network was built with political handouts and corruption of the worst sort, and very little planning as such - as opposed to the freeway system which wasn't mentioned. And, the water catchments I will also grant,

She then misattributes a quote to Davidson that was from Miles Lewis, and misrepresents his argument as being about one site; before following up with some banalities that hardly refute the point and don't in any way get down to the important matter that is still unresolved: how is the government actually going to implement Melbourne 2030. The results quoted for public transport increase on two bus routes are hardly "spectacular". A 30 percent and 20 percent improvement is a long way short of the 100 percent improvement needed to meet the proposed 20 percent share for all motorised trips. I regularly used to take both the Springvale Rd. and Blackburn Rd. buses and improvements of this magnitude are probably 1-3 passengers extra per trip. Taken from the traffic on those roads that means they have removed barely 1 percent of all cars from those roads!

The Bracks Government is making the hard decisions to protect Melbourne's liveability.

The Bracks government has no opposition to speak of and yet, is still so spineless that Melbourne 2030 is effectively dead as a plan for anything except undeveloped land (ie. the UGB and Green Wedges). They haven't made a hard decision regarding the Melbourne area in five years in office.

Rural areas on the other hand, are having their wishes over-run because of the government's commitment to wind farms. I'm ambivalent on the issue of wind-farms. I think we should be investing in storage technologies instead. But I also think it should be determined locally. This is not happening:

Local councils have been totally excluded from any approval processes. Assessments of the suitability of wind farm locations and government guidelines specifically declare that its environmental targets should have greater weight than community concerns about visual degradation of the coastline.

The 'Greater Good' is not a good reason for ruining a local environment. This is why it is used to justify dams, power stations and freeways at great expense to local amenity. Local residents almost never receive adequate compensation for these kind of schemes, which again, is why I think it is a local issue.

However, noone owns the bay. The Channel Deepening Project will almost certainly go ahead. This article takes what sounds like a relatively nuanced assessment of the EIS and tries to imply that there might be serious implications. There might be of course, particularly near the Heads, but neither assessment seems to indicate a major risk.

Planning 31st August, 2004 13:10:21   [#] [1 comment] 

Monday Melbourne: XLIII, August 2004
Russell Degnan

Late winter sun. Taken August 2004

Melbourne 30th August, 2004 23:41:13   [#] [0 comments] 

Melbourne`s trees
Russell Degnan

City of Melbourne Councilor David Risstrom has a strange obsession. He wants to remove every last non-native Australian tree from Melbourne. This is not news, he said this last year and after a study found that native birds prefer native trees (you don't say!), he is at it again. Specifically though I want to address this quote:

"It's time to get over the cultural cringe (of planting exotics)."

The cultural cringe is a bizarre phenomenon, it seems to exist only in the minds of the people who don't like it. Whereas in this case, as in most others, there are perfectly sensible reasons for preferring something exotic.

Melbourne's gardens and streets were never intended to be purely exotic, and they never have been. They were laid out according to the principles and fashions of landscape and urban design, using whatever species could be obtained, and whatever species would serve the purpose of the designer. But even then they were Australian in nature. The original layout of Flagstaff and Fitzroy Gardens reflected "the importance of shade, the need to check the incursion of dust from unmade roads, and hot summers with limited water".

There has never even been a rejection of native species. The popularity of Heidelberg school painters and poets glorifying Australia's native species in the late 19th century and after Federation meant planting native species was popular then, as now, and at various other times in between. As such, native - though often not Victorian - species are common in all our parks and streets, for their unique qualities, their colour and beauty, and because as evergreens, they maintain their foliage.

Where exotic species are used it is because they provide their own advantages. The shade in summer and sunlight in winter provided by a deciduous tree is a very important and pleasant part of Melbourne's character, beauty and liveability. This view of Princes Park shows the general treatment that has always been searched for. On the one side of the path, gum trees and other Australian natives around the sports fields, on the other, elms. Complementing each other, and giving the advantages of both. Cr. Risstrom should find a better way to spend his time. There are dozens of environmental and urban issues of far greater importance: streets galore with little or no trees at all, council policy that is increasing the number of automobiles in the city, and pedestrian and bicycle spaces that are barely serving their job. Leave the birds to sing in the suburbs where noone leaves their house on foot.

Planning 29th August, 2004 01:43:00   [#] [0 comments] 

Travails with the so-called "SmartGuide"
Russell Degnan

A few nights ago I was in the city waiting at the super-stop. No wait, SUUUPER-stop, on the corner of Collins and Swanston St. As well as the extremely useful tram indicators that tell you whether you have time to run and get a jaffle pie before your tram comes, it also has the moderately useful SmartGuide.

Being a bit of a nerd, I couldn't resist having a play, and having done that, and being a sort of uber-nerd, I couldn't resist coming back again to try and break it. And break it I did. The moderately useful thing is that it has a Melway map built in on which you can plan a route and scroll around the city. The useless part is that the route finder is a little bit "indirect" on occasion.

I chose a route to some obscure place in the South-Eastern suburbs. The short story is you need to take the Frankston train to Ormond.

Above is what it gave me. Since the text is hard to read, here it is in text:

Catch Port Melbourne Tram 109 at 9:24pm from Swanston St. to Flinders St., arriving at 9:42pm

Catch Wattle Park Tram 70 at 9:42pm from Spencer and Flinders Sts. to Swanston and Flinders Sts., arriving at 9:55pm

Walk 81 metres to Flinders St. Station. Catch Frankston Train at 9:55pm to Ormond Station, arriving at 10:57pm. Walk 904 metres to your desired destination.

Total walking distance: 996 metres

Brilliant I first thought. But.... no.

The first terrible assumption it seems to make is that you have some idea where you are going. Which is why it lists a tram to take from that platform even though it is going nowhere near where you want. Now, the first rule of Human-Computer Interaction is that users don't know what they are doing and will actively break your seemingly logical system. The programmer who did this should be embarrassed. But it is worse than that, because there are lots of reasons people might be trying to do any route from any point on the system. This is a massive failing.

At any rate, this assumption results in a bizarre and unnecessary tram sequence. From Collins and Swanston to Spencer and Flinders, then back up Flinders. Taking a measly half an hour to do something that could have been trammed up Swanston in 3 minutes, or walked in 2. (Leaving aside the possibility to tram down Elizabeth, or get off at Spencer St. station).

Worse still, it assumes trams run on time perfectly, because the tram times match exactly (and the Port Melbourne was already late), so you would not actually catch the Wattle Park tram unless it was late.

A similar error is then made for the Frankston connection. Apparently we have godlike powers to transport ourselves short distances in zero time. A walk of 81 metres (I love the exactitude of that distance) will take 2-3 minutes. Scheduling exactly is plain stupid. Not that it matters, not only is the time to Ormond massively wrong - 1 hour, 2 minutes! instead of 29 minutes, and just 18 from Richmond because the loop is slow - but the timetable is wrong anyway. The train runs on the quarter hour and every 30 minutes in that period. You could saunter up to Flinders St., catch the 9:45pm and be in Ormond by 10:14pm.

But that's ok, because if you are sucked in to taking the tram, its times are wrong too! The Port Melbourne comes through at 9:35pm. The Wattle Park at 9:50pm.

In short, the SmartGuide is as dumb as dogshit, confusing, wrong, with hopeless heuristics on time, a terrible sense of direction, and stupid assumptions. I pity the tourist who mistakenly uses it to try and go somewhere.

Update: It occurs to me that the times may in fact not refer to when the vehicle arrives, but instead the time from which you have to wait for them. In which case, the end point times are correct, whereas the start times are ridiculously counter-intuitive.

Tales of the City 25th August, 2004 22:47:24   [#] [3 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: XLII, August 2004
Russell Degnan

Meyer's Place Bar. Taken on a walk (of sorts), 18th August 2004

Melbourne 23rd August, 2004 19:34:59   [#] [0 comments] 

Despotic Planning Systems? Why Not!
Citizen #381277

Why not indeed, especially if the Liberal Party takes power in the next five years. The article raised in the previous post mentions Ted Baillieu, Opposition Planning spokesman.

" Opposition planning spokesman Ted Baillieu yesterday vowed to scrap the State Government's urban growth boundary, a cornerstone of the metropolitan planning blueprint Melbourne 2030.

Yes, Ted, great foresight there. The problem with scrapping the current UGB would far outweight any 'negatives' that are resultant from the recent legislation. Rampant growth, particularly in Melbourne's south west is steadily encroaching on prime farming land and by all accounts, the housing estates are becoming more and more 'American Fucksville' by the year. The problem with development in once rural areas is not only is it quite hard to commute into the city from these areas, but once these houses are built, then the land they are built on will not be reclaimed in the future for farming. In Victoria, we have this misconception that our grazing pastures and fields are endless. They aren't. Hell, even the BBC are aware that our drought hasn't broken yet! ...and here we are developing prime land on Melbourne's fringe!

Mr Baillieu said the boundary was contributing to a land price rise on Melbourne's fringe. The Liberals would probably want to "re-engineer" the blueprint, he said, with legislation to remove the growth boundary and a review of the land designated as "green wedge".

Somehow, I don't think that by 'review' Mr Baillieu is talking about increasing our current Green Wedges with any sizable gains. The fact that the Liberals are even considering to do away with these vital pieces of land around Melbourne signals that environmental conservation is not on high on the agenda. Naturally, we can't have a price-rise on Melbourne's periphery, either, otherwise the poor will reinhabit the inner city, and what a terrible thing that would be. Quite frankly, the increase in prices around the UGB is (in my opinion) just a knee jerk reaction to the one 'tough' stance the Bracks Government has made over development.

This brings me to my final point...

However, Mr Baillieu stopped short of promising to scrap Melbourne 2030, which he described as a "dud".

How can a seemingly well-educated man make such blatantly stupid comments? All the elements of M2030 that Mr Baillieu mentioned have been the successful elements! Of all the directions laid out in M2030, the Green Wedge has had two provisions added to the Victorian Planning Provisions, while all City and Shire Coucils affected by the UGB reconise it in their Municipal Strategic Statements.

Actually, I probably should address the 'Despotic' section of my post...

When we see articles such as this, it really makes me wonder why we, as planners, must pander to the every singular will of every little weekend warrior who just can't have that carport/sign/tree/building erected within a 3 km radius of his $400k castle in Kew. If the planning system is to be brought up speed (and it needs to be), then the State Government and/or VCAT need to stand up tell these NIMBYists to sit down, shut up and accept that no, there WILL be higher density development in the inner city. Of course, the NIMBYists will argue that they don't live in the inner city. Well I've got news for you "I vote Labour at State and Liberal at Fed", the city now reaches PAST Pakenham, Glen Waverley is considered relatively close compared to where those poor single mothers have to live out near 'Lakeside'. Camberwell, Brighton, Middle Park, Kew, the list is endless are now 'inner city', and as such should be treated as inner city, and if 'inner city' includes higher density living and retail, then so be it!

VCAT should have Jubilee year, where they just throw out all the objections to inner city planning permits! Pish posh bah humbug!

Planning 23rd August, 2004 00:36:07   [#] [6 comments] 

It never rains, but it pours
Russell Degnan

Perhaps the Planning Minister and her shadow just wanted to get outside while it is sunny, but there was lots of planning articles in the Age in the last few days.

Kenneth Davidson wrote a diverse, rambling and largely incorrect article on his own bugbears, while obliquely referring to the panel report on the controversial Smith St. proposal (no link, the DSE website is crap). As I've mentioned earlier Davidson is basically anti-development at all, which is why he seems to think Smith St. - a street that was notorious for its drug problem only 5 years ago - will be "ruined" by this proposal. Accusations that developers are being enriched by the planning system are just rubbish. He quote Miles Lewis in the panel hearing referring to compensation - an area that Lewis goes into detail on in Suburban Backlash. The quote:

"An owner or developer should not reap windfall profits due to changes in planning controls. If the council's existing height limits in this area are set aside, whether due to Melbourne 2030 or for any other reason, then the property owner is in effect handed a packet of money. It is absolutely reasonable that a proportion of that unearned gain be garnished for the public good."

This is not consistent with the planning laws. Developers don't get compensation for changes to your potential land uses because of planning controls. To suggest that they should pay it when the lottery wheel swings round the other way - by planning scheme changes, or by simpler things like new infrastructure - is rubbish. Unless Davidson wants to change the whole nature of compensation under Victorian Planning law of course.

In other news though:
Boorondara residents are whiners. Well we knew that. But what about this throw-away comment down the bottom of the article:

Opposition planning spokesman Ted Baillieu yesterday vowed to scrap the State Government's urban growth boundary, a cornerstone of the metropolitan planning blueprint Melbourne 2030.

Mr Baillieu said the boundary was contributing to a land price rise on Melbourne's fringe. The Liberals would probably want to "re-engineer" the blueprint, he said, with legislation to remove the growth boundary and a review of the land designated as "green wedge".

However, Mr Baillieu stopped short of promising to scrap Melbourne 2030, which he described as a "dud".

The problem with writing and implementing a strategic plan is that if it does what you wanted it to do, aggrieved parties hate it and threaten the government until they dump it. And if it doesn't it is not worth the paper it is written on, so the government dumps it. The real beauty of Melbourne 2030 is that it is managing to do both simultaneously.

Want to protect something in Melbourne? Plant trees. The views from the botanic gardens are to be protected again. The green wedges are to be protected, as is the greenery related to heritage or neighbourhood character (if it ever gets off the ground). Views are useless in a larger sense, but they are relatively easy to plan for, so that's something.

Government doesn't consult local council. Government denies it. Local council is insulted. Maybe planning articles just mean it was just a slow news day?

And finally, a piece of madness to warm the heart. Colin Fraser has got all giddy watching the television series on Victorian era engineering projects and wants to build dams in Queensland to send water to the southern parts of Australia. Or perhaps to the Middle East if the last few paragraphs are any indication.

Two points: One, eco-systems work on a purely local level, dependent on a complicated number of inputs. It depends where on the Flinders River you take the water from how much an effect taking three percent will have. Likewise, water tanks on houses might be "small dams" but except that they remove stormwater from some stormwater systems that might need them, they have a fairly neutral effect on the local environment. Big dams do not. Piping water thousands of kilometres to replenish the Murray-Darling means putting the water in the right places at the right time to achieve the effect the original dying eco-system needs.

Which brings me to point two. The great Victorian engineering feats didn't tame their environments. They were a way of protecting themselves from them, but they still suffered within them, be they railways, sewer systems, bridges or ships. Dams are an attempt to tame the environment, and they have been spectacular failures as often as great successes. Damming the Flinders River, and pumping water mostly uphill over several thousand kilometres to put more water into areas of Australia that already have a major salinity problem from over-watering, is a fairly high-risk way to solve non-existent problems.

Planning 22nd August, 2004 22:43:09   [#] [0 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: XLI, August 2004
Russell Degnan

The City Square. Taken July 29th 2004

Melbourne 16th August, 2004 23:54:26   [#] [0 comments] 

I know a place!
Citizen #381277

I know a place...where I can wake up with mosquitoes biting my exposed body.

I know a place...where I'll need a car to get from A to B.

I know a place...where I'll be able to gaze over an endless vista of colourbond rooves.

Yes, I'm talking about the south east's newest "master-planned" community, Lakeside. To get a sense of the utter stupidity of the estate, let us first associate ourselves with its location in Greater Melbourne.

It's about 65kms from the GPO. "So what?" I hear you all call out, well, the estate is located on what is becoming one of the busiest stretches of road in the South East. But I digress, the main topic of this post is to scrutinise yet another Yank-like Legoland Fucksville. Lets start at the beginning, shall we children?

Lakeside covers 222 Hectares, made up of approximately 2,300 lots, with provision for the population to reach 6,500 by 2010.
Now, these figures represent current census figures of 3.2 approx persons to a household, yet Lakeside is billed as the place to bring up a family...of course, there is a school planned for the eventual single mother flood, so lets hope it's a state school.

Sport and Recreation- Approximately 15km of hike and bike trails along Toomuc Creek and throughout Lakeside.
Great, I love hiking. What they don't tell you is the tranquil Toomuc Creek is, at best of times, a rubbish filled cess-pool cleverly disguised by token planting of semi-mature trees. I know I'd want my children (if I ever have any, god-forbid) playing near such a beautiful environmental flow...

The Lake and the Creek
No gated community would be complete without some sort of lake *coughretardingbasincough* or water feature, after all, if you can see water from you're front veranda (mock period bullnose finishing, naturally), then your house price will skyrocket. Ahem. The residents of 'Creekwood Village' got shafted. They get to wake up to the lovely smell of fetid swamp water and the never ending buzz of mosquitoes because, yes, you guessed it, the 'master planners' decided to put the retarding basin for the estate in this area. Crudely disguised as a wetland, the Lakeside retarding basin is nothing more than a glorified sump which is already showing signs of gross inadequacies in it's function. Almost dry in summer, flooding in winter, there is no middle ground in which native fauna might actually find a home.

Now, before I get too angry, I'd best finish with a few closing remarks...

Apparently, Lakeside is a place where you can;
- "enjoy greener, wide open spaces.
Indeed, I love the sight of green colourbond roofs receding into the distance...
- cultivate a 'sense of belonging.'
Of course! Don't worry, it wasn't just you who thought putting random letters into your child’s name was a good idea. Now Bilynda-Jayde can frolic in the green green waters of the lake with Eppony Rae and Dilyn-Lei.
- get the most out of life...
...as you struggle to escape your local cul de sac in time to get to the on-site petrol 'complex' to fill up before driving into the city to get to work. Or even better, getting up at 4 hours before you need to get to work just so you can walk to the station and wait (with some of resident youth chroming) for a shitty, out of date electric train to take you somewhere.

I know where I'm not living in my later years...

Planning 15th August, 2004 22:55:44   [#] [3 comments] 

Links and so forth
Russell Degnan

Hencho en Mexico (via Diamond Geezer) is making excursions to the extremes of Melbourne's rail system. Well worth a look, particularly if you are interested in the technical aspects of rail travel.

Perhaps useful for someone, this history of the competition to design Canberra is pretty good.

As also is this short description of the end of Melbourne's Land Boom in the 1880s. It put our current property boom to shame, with land increasing in value up to 20 times in just a few years.

(Via Crumb Trail) Perhaps the solution to the problems posed by having grass as a permeable surface in a street. This grass paving has dozens of potentially useful applications for urban spaces: carparks, small backyards, quiet streets, public parks and along tram and train lines. As well as being greener and more aesthetically pleasing than impermeable paving methods, it is better for stormwater applications as well. Of course, that could mean a lot of mowing

General 14th August, 2004 17:22:14   [#] [0 comments] 

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