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Monday Melbourne: XCVIII, November 2005
Russell Degnan

The Supreme Court. Taken November 2005

Melbourne 21st November, 2005 23:30:58   [#] [2 comments] 

Housing Associations versus Local Government
Russell Degnan

Marginal Revolution linked to an interesting column on peoples' reactions to mansions in older suburbs in the US. The first sentence sums it up beautifully:

"In the town where I live, a once-placid Washington suburb, the mayor has just sent out a letter asking the natives to stop throwing eggs at one another's homes."

The trend in the States is to protect your neighbourhood through a homeowners association. Some 50 million people live in areas governed by quasi-governmental organisations regulating everything from the colour of paint to where you can hang your washing (if at all).

In Australia we have no such organisations, but the same issues arise; governed instead by ineffective, ill-defined 'neighbourhood character' and 'heritage' designations. Despite the difference, it is almost certain that people conceive of the planning system as being similar to a homeowner association at local government level: that is, it is there to protect their streetscapes from undesirable demolition and housing. This is an issue when you consider the broader aims of planning the residents tend to disagree with: finding a place to build houses, businesses and industry that has minimal impact on amenity at a reasonable cost.

Home owner associations offer an interesting comparison with our own system. They represent a stronger (collective) property right that would almost certainly put an end to higher density development in most of Melbourne, forcing the people who would have lived there further out. On the other hand, their sense of certainty and community control is less arbitrary than our planning laws and advantageous from a political and legal perspective (and those associated costs).

The hard part is finding a balance between the two.

Planning 21st November, 2005 08:00:46   [#] [6 comments] 

Stupid criticisms of indifferent government
Russell Degnan

Is it really possible housing developers don't understand the first thing about the housing market? Does the IPA have so little self-respect that it is willing to succumb to pitiful conspiracy theories to justify opposing a Labor policy?

Given the IPA is a body supposedly in favour of 'user-pays' and supposedly quite knowledgable about economics, surely charging for the limited as well as undesirable parking in public spaces, thereby discouraging a non recreational use of the land, and providing a revenue stream to maintain and improve the facilities would be a positive thing. Instead Alan Moran ties himself in knots trying to explain why its a political decision to help their union mates by attacking car drivers. It is bad enough when politicians engage in this sort of unsophisticated fear-mongering; we don't need think tanks to join in.

But what do we make of the developers? The complaint is an $8000 levy, a mere drop in the ocean when you consider the public infrastructure costs it will supposedly cover. On the other hand they are all in favour of more development land on the urban fringe, even if the planners (who can hardly have not seen it coming) are not happy. The arguments on both issues are that housing affordability will be affected (downwards) by the levy, and (upwards) by the availability of land. But did they bother to read the Productivity Commission report on affordability? Like the part that said:

"The Productivity Commission report finds that fluctuations in prices and affordability are inherent features of housing markets and that there is limited scope for governments to improve affordability for first (and other) home buyers in the short term."

The reality is that most home-buyers mortage themselves to the hilt and prices reflect what they are able to lend and repay. In the short term, these measures will affect developers' profits and nothing else.

Over the longer term, both will affect affordability on the margins: the levy by making more affordable land making smaller less profitable; the change in boundaries by increasing development opportunities and the supply of land. But neither is a good, nor a bad, idea on afforadbilty grounds. They are good or bad ideas because of the other (substantially larger) cost of public infrastructure in new developments. And presumably, because if you are going to create a plan for urban development, it is worthwhile pursuing it.

Planning 17th November, 2005 18:13:12   [#] [6 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: XCVII, November 2005
Russell Degnan

St. Vincents Hospital. Taken November 2005

Melbourne 14th November, 2005 22:30:58   [#] [0 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: XCVI, November 2005
Russell Degnan

Old Treasury. Taken July 2004

Melbourne 7th November, 2005 23:35:22   [#] [0 comments] 

Density as a positive externality
Russell Degnan

Over at Marginal Revolution, Robin Hanson has an interesting post on how cities are too sparsely settled:

"This externality, however, mainly comes from the people on nearby land, and not from their gardens. So when we consider how much land to use for our homes or offices, we do not consider the gains to others from our using less land, and so allowing more people to be nearby.

I am not so sure it is being improperly valued, except, as Hanson notes at the end, where local governments restrict densities through the application of height controls and maximum density requirements, and others I'll mention directly.

"Nearby" is the defining word here. In cities of two centuries ago, nearby meant walkable, but that isn't the case with public transportation and automobiles to get people quickly from place to place. Most people have access, even at Melbourne's very low densities, to a substantial amount of the city, and the services it offers.

More importantly, there are diminishing returns for more services nearby that greater densities would provide. Against that diminishing value, there is the value placed on private open space, and quality of housing.

Therefore, while it is true that higher densities are more economically efficient, people are making (probably correct) choices between housing consumption and their economic vitality. The real inefficiencies are coming from mostly government based decisions. Ergo, planning restrictions that limit those choices and reduce densities (leaving aside potential reverse externalities from the impact of greater numbers of people on neighbourhood liveability); transport infrastructure subsidies, particularly for automobiles, but also in the form of public transport; and arbitrary service provision that favours central locations and attracts higher densities in those areas instead of pockets of higher density across a city.

Planning 6th November, 2005 13:05:52   [#] [2 comments] 

Angling for Public Transport
Russell Degnan

For what must be the third time in a month, The Age has gone all out with stories on public transport. Today's batch focus on two things: a report (not online yet) from the Metropolitan Transport Forum on public transport in Melbourne, headed up by Perth planning superstar Peter Newman that basically lays the boot into government for under-investment, poor planning, and for lagging behind other (mostly European) cities; and further articles on rail and tram network "congestion".

The cynic in me might suggest that they are only complaining about congestion because take-up in the outer suburbs has impacted on Age readers, writers and editors ability to get seats (and sometimes standing-room); but it is a welcome change from printing press releases from the business lobby about the need to subsidise their freight transport. While I don't share the sentiment from Peter Newman that it could cause Labor to lose the election -- this would entail, amongst other things, a competent opposition -- there is a groundswell of public support for three propositions:

- That having public transport is a good thing (three cheers for middle class welfare)
- That the outer suburbs don't have public transport adequate enough to be usable.
- That investment in infrastructure for public transport over freeways might be worthwhile.

It is the last that the Age is currently pushing, and indeed, that public transport advocates have been pushing for as long as anyone can remember.

It would be nice at this point to think that the best option will be chosen based on intelligent assessments of the economic, environmental and social advantages of each. If it does occur, it will be a first for transport planning in this state. This is a political bumfight, with the inner-suburban, trendy, and environmentally friendly Age, and to some extent the outer-suburban, woe-is-me, where is my handout Herald Sun on one side, and the entrenched engineering culture of the Dept. of Infrastructure and fiscal conservatism of Treasury on the other.

I fully expect some sort of policy change by Labor before the next election, but that raises two other, more interesting, problems. Firstly, this is a government with a penchant for the half-arsed, cheap solution, completely lacking in vision, and unlikely to find any within their bureaucracy or their party [1]. You can hope, but it would be a remarkable change if the end result was anything but a tightly spun ball of marginal, and largely ineffective, improvements. Secondly, unlike some people, I am not so enamored of public transport to believe it will provide a solution to all our ills. Pissing money away for political expediency is hardly the best way to achieve a decent transportation network. Transport of all types -- walking, cycling, car, tram, train, bus -- shapes the city, and people's choices. Drawing lines on a map showing a bunch of new railway lines does not count as a plan.

Update: Well that was fast. I'd have been more impressed if any of the proposals listed had been either visionary or not already announced.

[1] To quote Principal Skinner, "prove me wrong kids, prove me wrong".

Planning 5th November, 2005 11:31:20   [#] [5 comments] 

Melbourne 2030 vs Toronto`s `Places to Grow`
Citizen #381277

As the Victorian Government struggles to sell the increasingly troublesome Melbourne 2030: Planning for Sustainable Growth, it is interesting to see other authorities attempting similar initiatives.

Portland, Oregon has had a rather successful urban growth boundary for quite a while, and now Toronto, Ontario has just released its draft Places to Grow document. Released as a draft growth plan for the ‘Greater Golden Horseshoe’ area (think Greater Melbourne’, the plan has similar goals to Melbourne 2030 in that it is attempting to manage, in a sustainable manner, the growth of Toronto over the next 30 odd years.

It seems to be quite advanced when stood next to Melbourne 2030, with a bill passed this June that introduced the plan as legislation under the Places to Grow Act 2005 (Melbourne 2030 is similar through its inclusion as Clause 12 in the VPP). Yet even the most casual observer will note that Places to Grow is a far more powerful than Melbourne 2030. For example, when Melbourne 2030 speaks of urban intensification - Direction 1: A more compact city - there is a lot of talk about what should be happening, not what is happening.

In contrast, Place to Grow not only identifies growth areas (or activity centres) much better than its counterpart, but also sets minimum density requirements for these areas. At any rate, both documents seek similar outcomes, but it would appear that despite the glossy cover and lofty goal, Melbourne 2030 falls behind Toronto’s Places to Grow substantially.


- Melbourne 2030 - As if we haven’t all seen this before…

- Places to Grow - Draft growth area plan, Feb 2005-11-04

- Place to Grow Act 2005

Planning 4th November, 2005 16:13:04   [#] [1 comment] 


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