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Monday Melbourne: XLVII, September 2004
Russell Degnan

101 Collins, from the south. Taken March 2003

Melbourne 27th September, 2004 19:50:38   [#] [1 comment] 

CRITICAL Cities Conference

CRITICAL stands for
City-Regions as Intelligent Territories: Inclusion, Competitiveness and Learning.

Date: 29 September 2004
Time: 8:30 am 4:00 pm
Venue: Zinc, Federation Square, Melbourne

*** FREE PLACES *** WED 29th Oct. *** FREE PLACES ***
Innovation, Communities and Sustainable Regions:
A CRITICAL Dialogue Between Five Cities

Who should attend?
Regional economic development policy makers, industry leaders, local and state government agencies, academics, educational administrators, urban planners and built environment professionals.

See both the Career/Education section of this web site and your RMIT student e-mail for the attached flyer. RSVP ASAP!!

Career/Education 23rd September, 2004 10:32:10   [#] [0 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: XLVI, September 2004
Russell Degnan

The statue of Burke and Wills, St. Pauls Cathedral and the Arts Centre. Taken September 2004

Melbourne 21st September, 2004 00:31:15   [#] [0 comments] 

The Changing Face of Swanston St. - Part I
Russell Degnan

Slightly less than ten years ago, when I first moved to Melbourne, the entire length of Swanston St. was relatively squalid. Full of empty lots, ugly service stations, or run-down businesses. It is now around halfway through the most rapid change of almost any street you could name in Melbourne. More interestingly however is that it is rarely commented on; despite it being the best example of the potential streetscape that the wailing objectors to high-rise apartment buildings are trying to prevent.

This post - and the followup - are an attempt to address that problem. In particular I want to assess three points: whether the buildings built are sympathetic to the area; whether the street is better for pedestrians as a result of the developments; and what this says about land-use planning (if anything). I will start by looking at the changes north of Victoria St.

Almost every change in the past decade has been on eastern side of the street. On the west the brewery site remains undeveloped, although the Sidney Myer Centre has been built at Melbourne University (bottom photo). What has been built are apartments, modern in style, set against the street, very square, and austere but for the splashes of colour, with small balconies. Almost all of them are 10 storeys high, but - particularly interestingly - no higher.

The height is very important in making the apartments sympathetic to the street. They don't dominate the remaining few buildings of interest - particularly the Canada Hotel and the old fire station. They are tall, and making good use of the land but don't overwhelm you as a pedestrian. In this way it is a similar sensation to that given by the buildings built under the 40 metre height restrictions in Melbourne, or to buildings in Europe that by-and-large conform to similar standards.

Aesthetically I am less convinced. When they were going up I thought the street was being over-run with the worst kind of cheap, drab concrete-box architecture (second picture). While the finished product is better, I fear for their condition in ten or twenty years time. They are certainly not inspiring, and in many cases they are downright dull. But that is an argument that could be made against most housing.

For pedestrians nothing much has changed. Well, almost. In years gone by you just wouldn't walk down that side of the street. It was not pleasant at all. Now, it is still not pleasant - none of Swanston St. is although Melbourne University is improving - but it is walkable. What hasn't improved is the amount of cover, the amount of greenery is very sparse, particularly in winter; the footpaths are still narrow, and the buildings don't address the street very well, producing a dull experience.

More generally, the urban design elements seem to be checked off a list of minimum requirements rather than actually trying to improve the space. To some extent it is council responsibility, but it is in the best interests of the owners to improve these spaces. The lack of attention to these elements says to me that neither the developers or the approving planners actually addressed the underlying goals of good urban design when they did these projects.

I think both of the questions I addressed above go to the heart of the system of land use and development controls we have in place. In almost no way could you point to these developments and say they are markedly inferior. Their height is well controlled, and they don't reduce the amenity of pedestrians, or other buildings, they are reasonable aesthetically, and produce a reasonable street frontage. But in no way do they exceed what you could expect from the controls either. The spirit is not there, the urban spaces are still drab and meaningless, they are just meaningless in a new and slightly less obnoxious way.

Swanston St. has changed a lot, but it doesn't inspire at all. Not in the way the Parisien end of Collins St. does, or in an entirely different way: nearby Lygon St. or even Drummond St. In a way that might not matter, because a street doesn't have to have character, and it may grow it over time. But I also think we need to better address what gives them character so we can maintain it when it exists, and find it when it doesn't.

Urban Design 20th September, 2004 01:36:46   [#] [1 comment] 

Monday Melbourne: XLV, September 2004
Russell Degnan

From the corner of Queen and Bourke Sts. Taken June 2004

Melbourne 14th September, 2004 13:44:52   [#] [3 comments] 

Connex gets fined $2.4M
Aaron Hewett

Connex has finally been fined for cancelled services, late trains and general operational tardiness according to this article in The Age today.

They were fined $2.4 million dollars by the Victorian Government.

This does bring up a dilemma, however. The service provider (Connex) is paid by the State Government to provide an efficient and timely service to us (commuters). They also receive revenue from ticketing and fines.

If their level of service drops below a certain level (measured by train lateness and no-shows), they get fined by the Government.

However, since Connex's main source of revenue is from the government (in the form of state taxes and from the GST), the burden for paying this fine rests with the taxpayer and the commuter (and lucky for me - I'm both).

So what exactly is the government going to do with this $2.4M? Run the extra trains that Connex won't? Train drivers like they should have done while running the defunct M>Train network? Upgrade rail services? Or will they simply label it "surplus" for the timebeing and use it to buy votes at the next state election?

The reality is that Connex is hardly going to be in a position to improve services with less money. So while taxpayers have got an extra $2.4M to play with, the quality of their rail services is going to diminish, and there will be more pressure at the end of the year to raise ticket prices.

We are in a ludicrous situation which relies on competition but there isn't any (because who really has the expertise and the want to run a city's PT services?), and where fining service providers actually has the reverse effect on service delivery.

To my mind, the entire reason the Victorian (Labor) Government persists with a privatised public transport system is so it is removed from direct responsibility (and direct blame) for the problems that eventuate. They, afterall, have had many opportunities to end this costly charade.

General 11th September, 2004 19:19:41   [#] [5 comments] 

The Things we Take for Granted: Stormwater and Roads
Russell Degnan

In January 1992, along with thousands of other boys, I went to the scout jamboree in Ballarat. Naturally, because it is Ballarat, it rained the whole time we were there. Rain and thousands of people in a large park creates a remarkable amount of mud. Mud stinks. We traipsed around the goldfields of Ballarat and Bendigo wallowing in filth, hand-washing our clothes in cold water, and eating nothing but sausages and potatoes. It was as close to the 19th century as I ever plan to get.

In January 1852 all of Melbourne's streets were mud. Or, if it was dry: dirt. They were unsurfaced and dusty, horses were the principal means of transport, and they left their leavings everywhere. A few poorly paid scavengers were supposed to keep them clean, but they would never be in sufficient numbers to make a difference. Melbourne was a filthy colonial outpost, with bad drainage, and a horrific smell.

But it was also rich.

In her novel set in the goldrush period, The Fortunes of Richard Mahony, Henry Handel Richardson (a pen-name, hence the 'her') describes the changing face of Melbourne's streets.

In the heart of the city men were everywhere at work, laying gas and drain-pipes, macadamising, paving, kerbing: no longer would the old wives; tale be credited of the infant drowned in the deeps of Swanston Street, or of the bullock which sank, inch by inch, before its owner's eyes in the Elizabeth Street bog.

Writing in the years prior to the Great Depression, the author was far too generous with both the roads of 1854 and those of her childhood in the 1870s. Macadamised roads - constructed with successive layers of compacted broken stone - needed constant upkeep. Council neglect meant that muddy streets were common until the 20th century when modern asphalt became the norm.

The drainage system was the biggest problem for the roads - and Elizabeth St. in particular. The impermeable surfaces of the city created a large outflow of water when it rained. Until the large underground drain was built Elizabeth St. was regularly a quagmire or worse; in 1840 it "was seriously proposed to put on a punt or two for the transit of goods and passengers". Deep open gutters were built along the streets to improve drainage, but low-lying areas were still often under-water: Flinders St., Swanston St. and Elizabeth St. being the worst affected, and residents took to referring to the streets as "creeks".

Such flooding also extended to the river, which flooded every few years. The plaque on an 1890 painting by Aby Alston in the National Gallery of Victoria refers to the flooding as "tragic, if it were not so common". By then they had made substantial improvements to the river and more followed, particularly after the MMBW was given control over drainage in 1924; but floods in South Melbourne and Richmond still occured until after the Second World War.

Other techniques were tried on the roads themselves. Large stones - still commonly found in laneways and the gutters of the inner suburbs proved to wear too quickly, leaving a rough, slippery and dangerous surface. Wood blocks - made with Australian hardwoods and lain in concrete were used after 1880; starting with just the new tram-tracks, these were found to be quite suitable, and by 1897 roughly 18km of Melbourne's roads were wooden.

The streets of Melbourne in the late 19th century were often an encumbrance to its citizens: wretched in smell, often flooded, and if not that, dusty, with large potholes and poorly lit. A visitor from those days could only be struck by our streets cleanliness and drainage, by the low level of pollution in the air, on the ground, and in the rivers. That they could be improved further is no doubt true, but, its a start.

Tales of the City 8th September, 2004 13:04:06   [#] [0 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: XLIV, September 2004
Russell Degnan

The improved Driver Lane. Taken August 2004

Melbourne 8th September, 2004 12:44:46   [#] [1 comment] 


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