– Metro Strategy: (1) what should it be?

Flashmob with a difference

The Minister for Planning, Matthew Guy, has apparently told The Age that preparation of the Government’s promised metropolitan strategy has started and will be completed within two years.

I’ve previously pointed out some of the areas where I think Melbourne 2030 was found wanting, so I’ll offer some thoughts on what the new strategy should be and do, starting today with what it should be.

First, it should be a strategy for managing the growth of Melbourne. It can’t just be a land use plan, limited to the Planning Minister’s domain. It has to take a multi-portfolio view because planning is only one force shaping the way Melbourne will develop over the next 20, 30 or 40 years. In particular, it must recognise the intimate long-term, two-way relationship between land use and transport, both public and private.

Second, it should positively embrace so-called ‘soft’ policies like regulation, taxation and marketing. It must not limit its perspective solely to ‘hard’ initiatives like capital works and zoning regimes. These are important because they’re long term decisions, but how Melbourne develops in the future will be shaped as much by how behaviour is managed as by what projects are constructed. There are, for example, a host of regulatory and taxation policies – e.g. road pricing – that can potentially have a profound impact on shaping the way the city develops (and not all of them are as politically fraught as road pricing). Some can obviate the need for capital works.

Third, it should focus single-mindedly on what can be done most efficiently and effectively through a growth management strategy. It should resist the temptation to ‘solve’ every economic, social and environmental issue confronting Melbourne. Sometimes what are seen as urban issues are more the symptom of other processes rather than the underlying cause – I’ve previously suggested that diversity is one such issue. It’s important that the strategy understands how it impacts on, or even exacerbates, variables like diversity, but close attention should be given to whether or not it is the appropriate vehicle to achieve change.

Fourth, it should be set up with an open mind, focussed on clear objectives. It should not commence with pre-conceived solutions – these should be the result of the analysis and consultation process. Reality says that’s not always going to be possible, but it’s a desirable aspiration. For example, as I’ve suggested before, replacing cars with public transport isn’t the only – or even the most plausible – route to a more sustainable city.

Fifth, it should have a genuine public consultation process that really tests assumptions and, ultimately, the proposed solutions, against the views of the broader public. One of the weaknesses of the consultation processes for Melbourne 2030 is that it was largely confined to the interested and concerned – the majority were disenfranchised on the basis that they didn’t show any interest. That’s arrogant and quite simply, not good enough. It leaves the shaping of metropolitan strategy open to the rent seekers.

These points relate to what the strategy should be. It’s not exhaustive and I’m sure there are more that will occur to me later – perhaps readers have some ideas. I’ve also got some views about the content or substance of the strategy that I’ll address later this week.

4 Comments on “– Metro Strategy: (1) what should it be?”

  1. Joseph says:

    Two years to come up with a new strategy! Good to see the new Government is really getting the bureaucrats moving.

    • David Mulhall says:

      Seems to me like a case of reinventing the wheel. By dumping a whole policy, strategic decisions about Melbourne’s future don’t evolve over time. Rather we have disjointed, politically motivated ‘blocks’ of direction leaving an urban fringe which just continues to grow and grow.

  2. Russ says:

    Alan, nothing to disagree with there. I’d add a few more:

    1) Get some historical perspective on previous strategies. It is remarkable how similar the trajectory of Shaping Melbourne’s Future and Melbourne 2030 were. Broadly similar plans failing in identical ways 20 years apart. Work out what policy instruments succeeded, and what need to modified or created to make a strategic plan successful and/or identify where the plan is over-reaching.

    2) Discuss projection variability. Show what elements of the plan are demographic projections, what are predicted changes based on policies being enacted, and the feasibility of different options. M2030 had practically no analysis of what it claimed to be trying to achieve.

    3) Discuss trade-offs. There is no point having “protect Melbourne’s heritage” and “increase density” in the same plan unless there is a decision made on what to do when those policies conflict. M2030 more or less left that to VCAT to determine. Make it clear that the plan actually contains a political direction (rather than merely expressing an aim), explain why that was the chosen path and discuss the consequences.

  3. Chris Curtis says:

    I don’t see the point of a metropolitan strategy that is not part of a state strategy. The concentration of population in Melbourne is unhealthy and unnecessary, yet we are being told we can do nothing about it: growth to 8 million is inevitable, so I suppose further growth to 16 million, then 32 million, then 64 million, will also be inevitable.

    The green wedges and growth corridors of Melbourne were devised as the permanent shape of the city, not as temporary devices under which green wedges were year after year converted to urban areas.

    Why do we have to continue with more than 70 per cent of the state’s population inside just one city, comprising less than 5 per cent of our land area, while more than 95 per cent of the state’s land area accommodates less than 30 per cent of the people? By contrast, the UK, similar in size to Victoria, accommodates only 12.5 per cent of its 62 million in its one really large city, London, and has only four other metropolitan areas with more than one million people in them.

    There are undoubtedly advantages in size; e.g., a city of two million people can provide a real university and a major teaching hospital, whereas a city of 100,000 cannot. However, is there any evidence that a city of 8 million provides something worthwhile that a city of 4 million cannot?

    I have given lots of relevant facts and figures in my posts on What should we do about Melbourne?).

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