Are “urban villages” living in the past?

The Premier wants a Melbourne which encourages the transformation from a mono-centric to a multi-centred city, “so that people can work closer to where they live”. He goes on to laud Melbourne as “a city we’re all proud of – ‘a city of villages’, a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.”

I’m not completely sure what he intends but I wonder if he’s thinking about “urban villages” where the great bulk of jobs are filled by local residents who live at density and walk to work. This is an old idea in planning and the Victorian planning department ran strongly with the idea in 1996.

Kogarah Town Centre

Whether or not “employment self-sufficiency” can be achieved in practice depends on the level of geography. If we look at Melbourne from a regional perspective, most people already work in the same region in which they live (other than for jobs in the CBD)  – see this paper by Kevin O’Connor and Ernest Healy. The median journey to work time in Melbourne is consequently a reasonable 30 minutes by car (55 minutes by public transport, reflecting longer trips to the city centre).

However achieving something like “self-sufficiency” in employment at a smaller geographic level is hard. There are a number of reasons for this.

One is the increasing complexity of households. In two income households both parties frequently work in separate locations, so they either elect to live near one member’s workplace (and if so which one?) or they select a compromise location. Children who continue to live at home after they’ve entered the work force have no flexibility to live closer to where they work. If changing jobs involves a change in job location then that adds another layer of difficulty.

Another reason is that the journey to work has declined in importance as a determinant of where people live. It now accounts for only one fifth to one quarter of all trips, as people travel a lot more for other purposes than they used to. There is now less reason to live near work. Other factors like the level of local amenity seem to be an increasingly important determinant of the residential location decision. Read the rest of this entry »