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Some thoughts on Roxburgh Park
Russell Degnan

For those who missed it, there is an interesting, and quite long article on 'McMansion' suburbs like Roxburgh Park in this Saturday's "Good Weekend". Since we went out there, I've been trying to work out why I found the place so disturbing, but without much success, but I'll say what I think and see where we end up.

There are all sorts of problems on the environmental level. Firstly, they are on very small blocks, which means (far more than older outer suburbs) the rain will go into the creek immediately (instead of seeping into the ground, then into the creek). Hence, the need for elaborate lake systems to do storm water management. Secondly, they are often shoddily built with a lot of glass windows, and (again because of the small blocks) they have no surrounding trees and no eaves. Their heating/cooling bills will be enormous.

So to the article. They make two related points on the demographics. One, they are mostly middle-upper income families, not as you'd think that far out, on lower incomes. And two, their house sizes are almost double that of the suburban houses of only 10 years ago. This despite the fact that "average household sizes are shrinking - from 3.7 in 1981 to 2.7 in 2001".

This shows the problem with using averages to prove anything. What is known is that the age that people get married, and start families has been steadily increasing for the last 20 years. Roxburgh Park is the same demographic of young families that Blackburn was in the 1970s when my parents moved there. But, they are also older, and therefore financially better off. The actual number of family-sized houses required has not changed (although there are less large families than 20 years ago). As the Good Weekend article points out, there aren't any family-sized apartments in the inner suburbs, so, people move to the outer ring to get the space.

To summarise then, there are two ongoing housing pressures at the moment. A larger collection of (mostly single) young people trying to buy/rent into the inner-suburban lifestyle, resulting in a denser urban environment in those suburbs. A slightly older family group, looking for a family-friendly neighbourhood to raise their children. Contrary to what is sometimes implied though, this group is not going away anytime soon (eventually maybe, but predicting trends is practically impossible).

What is the problem I have with Roxburgh Park then? Well, obviously, in the absence of any of the family pressures that might make me want to live in a big house, with a big TV (did you see how many satellite dishes were out there?) and friendly neighbours, I don't feel inclined towards that lifestyle. Other people obviously do, even if it it's been constructed of plywood like an over-sized movie set.

What I think it is, is that their treatment of open-space and roads is just plain wrong. The two aren't disconnected (strictly speaking a road is open space), but I'll deal with them each in turn. (It may help if you open your Melway right about now, p.179).

The major roads (Roxburgh Park Dr., Donald Cameron Dr., Thomas Brunton Pde. etc.) are not in any way part of the community. Notice that all the houses had their rears to the road. Now, fair enough, no-one wants to live on a busy road, but the end result is as soulless as a freeway. I pity the schoolkids who have to wait for the bus on it - having waited for a bus on equally objectionable Springvale Rd., it is pretty depressing. The effect is to isolate each section of the estate. The bottom one, has roughly five road exits - exits to nowhere for a walker - and four - giving the benefit of the doubt here - places where the walking tracks cross the road. It is almost like a medieval town then, with meandering streets and small parks in amongst them, but with one crucial exception: except for the odd person tending their garden, or at certain times of the day, you aren't likely to see anyone on your walk. With the exception of a few larger parks, there is nothing on the street to see or do, and therefore, no-one at all.

Open space is a different problem. Councils have a few "measurables" for parks these days. They say everybody should be within 250-500m of one. Therefore, everybody has a park within 250m of their house in Roxburgh Park. In some of the other places we visited, they have the "English Common" between houses, with a playground for the locals to enjoy.

What this ignores is this: in every park I've ever seen that was any good, the vast majority of people don't stop. The park near my house is a constant source of interest, because it is on the way to shops and the tramline. Some people use it for recreation, but most of the people who stop just sit and watch other people go by. Now, this isn't a new idea, Jane Jacob's mentions it in her classic book and no doubt it has been said a multitude of different times by other people I'm not familiar with. Some of the parks in Roxburgh Park might be ok; they are on a walking route near the shopping centre or the schools. But, none of them are placed to relate to the main sources of people. They don't provide a view of their theoretical walker's intended goal, nor do they often provide the fastest, most pleasant and direct route to those goals.

The end result of this "planning" is to slap together a bunch of things that do work, in such a way that they, well, don't. Of course, most people who live there will drive everywhere, so they won't notice. Some of the ideas they thought they implemented will take a hammering though (like higher density, and walkable distances to shops), which is sad.

Planning 23rd August, 2003 14:14:36   [#] 


*cycling along*
I'd drive a truck through some of your arguments but I don't have a truck license - or a truck for that matter.

Aaron Hewett  27th August, 2003 16:25:15  


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