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Tales of the City
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Monday Melbourne: XC, September 2005
Russell Degnan

For the end of football for another year. The MCG under lights. Taken April 2004

Melbourne 26th September, 2005 22:54:28   [#] [0 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: LXXXIX, September 2005
Russell Degnan

We are long overdue for a landscape shot. Taken September 2005

Melbourne 19th September, 2005 22:51:50   [#] [0 comments] 

Melbourne 2030 - Planning Rhetoric versus Urban Reality
Russell Degnan

Ch. 4 - Demographic Constraints

See also: Ch. 1, Ch. 2, Ch. 3

In this chapter, the authors substantiate their claims that Melbourne 2030 won't work, as opposed to merely being a bad idea. They begin by discussing the important change that occured in the inner city areas during the 1990s. To summarise: large numbers of apartments were built, some on brownfield sites, others over existing detached dwellings, attracting a mostly young, single and/or childless people into the area.

The authors then turn to the household projections underpinning Melbourne 2030, and here find a disparity. While it is true the number of single person and childless households will increase, they will be older, not younger. The young people who have been driving inner city gentrification will actually decline in absolute terms.

Older - indeed all - households rarely move from their local statistical area, and don't appear to downsize their houses either. There are few financial reasons to do so because of the cost of apartment construction - a point borne out by the number of approved but unbuilt apartment complexes in the suburbs. The author's conclusion that "it remains an open question whether older childless couples and lone-person households will move in any significant numbers" appears to be justified.

The conclusion then, is that dwellings on the fringe, on larger blocks with room for children will continue to be the primary housing need despite the drop in household size. However, while I agree with this in part, there are two reasons why I don't believe it is clear-cut as that.

Firstly, the financial considerations are not straight-forward. Like farmers on the fringe of towns, a large landlot is a potential nest-egg if it can be subdivided. With the incentive of financial security many older people would be willing to move. However, if they need that incentive their numbers will be relatively small unless there is a market for apartments or detached dwellings. The question then becomes whether that market does exist given the youth demographic is declining in size.

This brings me to the second point. People are reluctant to move as they get older, and at all times generally move along the same corridor, and within their local area. We therefore have an interesting new phenomenon that is only just emerging. Many young childless couples living in the inner city are now having children. It is not clear that these couples, adjusted to living in the inner suburbs will want to live on the urban fringe. Some appear to be moving to regional areas, some are staying in the city in smaller detached dwellings, thereby forcing the younger demographic further from the city.

The urban fringe is now very distant from the CBD, and even more expensive to travel to. Houses there are not substantially cheaper than smaller, closer dwellings, and lack local amenity. Some cities in the US - particularly LA - have already found density levels increasing, and there is no reason it won't occur here. If older people don't move house, then this group will remain the driver of Melbourne's urban form. Unfortunately we just don't know what choice they will make.

Next: Residential Infill and its Threat to Melbourne's Liveability

Book Club 15th September, 2005 23:50:07   [#] [0 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: LXXXVIII, September 2005
Russell Degnan

The State Library is actually quite difficult to photograph, but this came out passably. Taken May 2005

Melbourne 13th September, 2005 16:24:24   [#] [1 comment] 

Melbourne 2030 - Planning Rhetoric versus Urban Reality
Russell Degnan

Ch. 3 - The Urban Growth Boundary

See also: Ch. 1, Ch. 2

Much like activity centres, how you perceive the urban growth boundary makes all the difference. As described by the authors, the State Government perceives the boundary as a way to slow down and manage growth on the suburban fringe, rather than as commonly held: a strictly enforced limit to Melbourne's growth. I base this on two facts: that the government has a policy of maintaining 15 years worth of land inside the growth boundary; and that it wants to retain the green wedges, and guide development. It should be obvious then, that the UGB is a significant market distortion in a field that seems to specialise in them. But what exactly its affects are is complicated, and the basis of the criticisms in the book.

The authors have three criticisms of the UGB. Firstly, that there it is encouraging housing trends that are reviled by almost everyone but the thousands of people buying them: McMansions on small lots. Secondly, that it has substantially increased the price of housing at the expense of first home-buyers. And finally, that it detracts from a more sensible regional planning policy.

Much of the criticism of smaller lots-sizes is based on the lower number of trees in newer housing estates. This is covered more extensively in chapter 5; I won't comment now except to say two things. That the poor quality of design on the urban fringe is an architectural fault, rather than a lot-size issue. Architects who continue to let garage doors dominate will produce ugly houses. And that the lack of trees is a function of the lack of age. Front yards may be smaller, but it is backyards decreasing. If you were to compare them to the houses of the 1920s through 1940s on quarter acre plots they are not substantially different and there is plenty of room for decent foliage for the street.

The pricing issue is more interesting. In their rush to quote the Productivity Commission report on first home buyers as saying price rises were 'inevitable' they missed the section that says current prices were the result of low interest rates and increased demand in the bouyant economy. Even the author's own figures don't support the claims they are making. There difference in price growth was not substantially different between the inner and outer suburbs, nor were changes in the number of first-home buyers substantially different to what you'd expect from the government funds under the first-home buyers scheme. Even when their evidence is correct, for example that housing on the fringe is becoming more expensive and is being filled by older, second and third home-buyers, their conclusions aren't. This trend can easily be explained by the increase in average marrying and child bearing ages, and in any case, having to buy a home nearer the city is hardly a great imposition being, in general, better serviced.

What the Productivity Commission does say is that it will cause long-run changes. Evidence from other cities - notably Portland - is that by disallowing the most cost effective housing type (low density suburban housing on the fringe) will result in second-best choices occuring: movements to regional centres and a longer commute; rural living in areas no longer available for higher housing densities; and increasing densities inside the UGB. These may not be optimum outcomes, but if planners are to actually "plan" then those outcomes are probably acceptable.

The last point, that the growth corridor approach is mindless. That it is causing a strain on infrastructure and creating communities with no identity, and that the implementation is not adequately addressing these problems is correct. It isn't good enough to put a macro-level policy in place that only weakens the ability of the local government to direct and handle growth; nor is it acceptable to put that same policy in place without considering required infrastructure needs (in particular transport). But this is not an argument against a UGB; the alternative could still be worse -- though more likely it will be much the same.

Next: Demographic Constraints

Book Club 6th September, 2005 01:12:13   [#] [0 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: LXXXVII, September 2005
Russell Degnan

St. Patricks Cathedral from the Fitzroy Gardens. Taken May 2005

Melbourne 5th September, 2005 16:09:43   [#] [1 comment] 

Clause 12 - Introduction Melbourne 2030
Citizen #381277

Since its release in 2002, the much maligned metropolitan strategy, Melbourne 2030 has been imposing itself on local planning authorities with the expectation that they will use the document to make decisions. Further, local municipalities have been expected to consider the implications of the strategy when preparing planning scheme amendments. However, up until this last week, Melbourne 2030 has not appeared in the State Planning Policy Framework as a solid clause directing use and development.

Released in draft form on 30 August from here (pdf), Clause 12 is noted as being part of the consultation process for Melbourne 2030, and will eventually form part of the SPPF in all planning schemes in Victoria. Currently without an amendment number, it is unclear as to when this clause will be inserted into the Victoria Planning Provisions although one may assume that this will occur shortly after comments have been received.


While still in its draft stages, one can assume that Clause 12 will differ very slightly from its current form when released as an amendment proper. This being so, there is a wide scope for comments…

As noted on the Dept Sustainability and Environment website, in addition to the insertion of Clause 12 into the SPPF, several sections of the VPPs will need to be updated to reflect the changes – definitions being a main section. Metropolitan Melbourne is an incredibly contentious issue, and will need to be handled carefully lest the definition proves inaccurate when stood against current planning policy. Clause 12.04 - Principles is similarly vague in the definitions of the principles which are to guide the implementation. When using such words as ‘sustainability’ and ‘adaptability’, there is a very large door opening for subjectivity.

At any rate, Clause 12 follows the structure of Melbourne 2030 very closely, setting out each Direction as a sub clause, beginning with the highly contentious Direction 1: a more compact city.

It would take far more than my lunch break at work to critique each individual subclause within Clause 12, but suffice to say a lot of the policies contained within the document seem to be missing a step. That is to say that while the document informs planners of policy that should be used, there somewhat of an uncomfortable step between stating the policy, the manner in which implementation should occur and the work that the planning authority will need to undertake to implement each policy. Example:

Defining the role and function of activity centres, preferred uses, scale of development and links to the public transport system based on five classifications of activity centres comprising the Central Activities District, Principal Activity Centres, Major Activity Centres, Specialised Activity Centres and Neighbourhood Activity Centres.

In order for the above to occur, the planning authority will have to undertake the construction of structure plans for each site identified as an Activity Centre. Now given that Clause 12 only sets vague spatial names for the location of Principal and Major Activity Centres, a lot of the work of identifying the exact extent of each Centre will fall to local councils.

Really, at the crux of the discussion, the implementation of Clause 12 is a step in the right direction by the Minister; it will provide more certainty and credibility to Melbourne 2030 and will hopefully gain greater acceptance among the wider community. Even though it is pretty much just Melbourne 2030 but without the glossy cover, it should achieve the right goals, given the proper support. As an aside, the introduction of Clause 12 into the VPPs would make it rather hard for a new government to throw out Melbourne 2030, and while the VPPs should be read in conjunction with Melbourne 2030, it would matter very little if Melbourne 2030 as an individual document disappears overnight with a change of government. This has been a rant.

Planning 2nd September, 2005 13:56:26   [#] [2 comments] 

The `Big Idea`
Citizen #381277

It's been floating around for the last few days, but as details emerge of Melbourne City Council's Big Idea, the less it seems like a good idea and more just like an individual throwing around ideas.

Without much direction, other than to just 'ease congestion', the plan, which would cost $10bn would implement the following changes to Melbourne's inner city transport:

-A 10-kilometre road tunnel beginning at the end of the Eastern Freeway at Hoddle Street and travelling under the inner-northern and western suburbs to Footscray.

This is an understandable request, given the current state of the 'eastern freeway' as it enters Collingwood moving west. Possibly the most useful of the suggestions.

-A passenger rail line running from Doncaster to North Melbourne station, part of it following the Eastern Freeway to Hoddle Street.

Far be it from anyone to suggest that removing Melbourne's inner and outer rail rings was a bad idea, yet this suggestion appears to be very ambitious, but with very little foresight. The questions raised are many; will it directly run alongside the Eastern Freeway? How exactly will the line be connected to North Melbourne Station? Is the current infrastructure at North Melbourne able to cope with another line?

-A railway station to service Melbourne University and other stops at key locations such as the Royal Children's Hospital.

I don't know about you, but I hate trying to get to Melbourne Uni, especially if I'm stuck on Swanston St...I mean, there's only what, 7 trams and a new super stop servicing the bloody place. As for the Hospital, I'm led to believe that two trams pass directly by, with another not far away. Again, one needs to question where exactly they propose to put stations in for both these institutions; unless they're to be placed underground...

-An east-west freight rail link.

This actually isn't a bad idea, but it's come 20 years too late.

In summary, Melbourne needs to stop building roads and thinking about upgrading public transport infrastructure over the next 20 odd years. Congestion is forever increasing (at least until oil prices rise substantially againa and force people to think about transport options) and this 'Big Plan' seems less like a serious document and more like a wet-dream of the transport consultant who wrote it.

Planning 1st September, 2005 09:06:21   [#] [0 comments] 


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