New book giveaway: Black Glass by Meg Mundell

I have two copies of another wonderful book about Melbourne to give away courtesy of Scribe Publications. This time it’s a novel set in a dystopian future Melbourne. Those inner city places you know and love (or hate), from Crown to the city loop to Footscray, have a new life in this dark and sinister world. It’s a compelling story in its own right, but as with The Slap, it’s fascinating to see familiar places and landmarks. There’s an added dimension here, though, because the writer re-imagines new and sometimes ominous purposes and populations for these places.

To be in the running to get one of the two copies of Black Glass, all you have to do is say which café, restaurant or bar in Melbourne you think has the most interesting ambience. Not so much food, more the design, setting and people who frequent it. Follow this link to enteror go to the Pages menu in the sidebar (don’t enter on this page). Entries close in ten days at midday Thursday, 15 September 2011. One entry only per person. And the odds are much better than Crown!

As always, the quality of your nomination has absolutely no bearing whatsoever on whether or not you’ll win a copy of the book. The winner will be determined at random. However, explanation is encouraged. If you’re really at a loss and don’t care what the world thinks of you, “Pascoe Vale RSL Club” will do.

If you’re one of the winners, you’ll have to provide Scribe Publications with an Australian address they can post the book to (I won’t know who you are or where you live).

I probably live a sheltered life, but I must say I haven’t seen a ‘book trailer’ before (other than those execrable things on First Tuesday Book Club). There’s lots more info about the book at Scribe Publications and I’ve got more on the entry Page. But I think Chris Womersley sums it up well:

Black Glass is a superb debut novel. Meg Mundell has invented a compelling futuristic version of our urban world that is not only original but — like all great speculative fiction — frighteningly recognisable. In addition, she has populated it with a cast of charismatic characters, notably the resourceful sisters Tally and Grace — truly an endearing and heroic pair.’

Don’t enter here – follow this link.


Are these planners planning ahead?

Ivanhoe Activity Centre Framework Plan (proposed maximum building heights added by Save Ivanhoe RAG)

The familiar story of residents pushing back against higher density development hit the press again this week, this time in Ivanhoe, where Banyule Council is seeking feedback on its draft Structure Plan for the Ivanhoe Activity Centre. Council is proposing that some areas be zoned to permit development – largely residential – up to five and six storeys in height and, in two locations, up to eight storeys.

I have a personal interest in this issue because Ivanhoe is my nearest strip shopping centre. Unlike the members of the new Save Ivanhoe resident action group, I’m not personally concerned about potential impacts like loss of views, noise and traffic. I live far enough away from the proposed development areas that I don’t expect to be directly (adversely) affected.

In fact if done right, I see further development of the centre as a way of making me and my family much better off. Increased development has the potential to provide a wider and more diverse range of shops and services and make Ivanhoe a vibrant and exciting place to spend time in. The existing strip has its virtues, but at present it’s a bit dull and lacking in personality – it doesn’t give you enough reasons to stay local rather than drive somewhere more distant.

Higher housing density wouldn’t just benefit me personally, it would also increase the supply of dwellings in a highly accessible area and hence help moderate housing prices. If supported by improvements in supporting infrastructure, Ivanhoe is an obvious location for higher density housing – there are, for example, two closely spaced rail stations within the study area’s boundary and a large base of existing shops, restaurants and community facilities.

Having said that, I sympathise with residents concerned about issues like noise from apartments. It underlines the importance of giving attention to non-physical ways of managing the inevitable conflicts inherent in higher densities. As I’ve discussed before, the law around issues like noise simply hasn’t kept up with the shift to new housing forms.

Council has done itself no favours in the way it’s put together the draft Structure Plan. It’s poorly edited, outdated in places, and inconsistent (as Save Ivanhoe point out). It gives equal weight to the minor and the significant, it mixes physical strategies with process strategies, and it’s weak on the big picture. Unforgivably, consultation with residents has been patchy at best – while it’s hard to credit, it’s almost as if no one anticipated the reaction of residents.

A key failing in my view is that it does not explain and justify the very proposals, like building heights, that worry some residents. Why, for example, does medium density development extend west in that ‘finger’ along Livingstone Street (or perhaps it’s the barrel of a pistol!), rather than expanding on a broader front closer to the existing commercial area? Why is the maximum building height in the southern ‘finger’ around Darebin station six storeys rather than, say, two storeys (or, as I would prefer, eight or more)? And why are residential buildings in this finger required to have a zero setback along both sides of Heidelberg Rd?

I can make a guess at the logic Council is using, but a consultation document needs to be framed with its target audience in mind. It’s not enough to have a few high-level paras at the start of the document about sustainability and Melbourne 2030. Residents need to understand on their own terms why the proposals are a good idea. They need to understand what Council’s purpose and logic is otherwise there’s little chance they’ll be convinced the plan is in their interest.

This highlights another failing of the plan – it doesn’t paint an adequate picture of the benefits of growth and development. There’s no excitement, no tantalising suggestion of what a stimulating, even exhilarating, place the centre could be with more people, more shops, more mixing of land uses, and more density.

While I’m personally broadly happy with what’s proposed, I think the plan has some other deficiencies that, without getting too far into Ivanhoe-specific issues, have implications for activity centre structure planning in general.

One is it doesn’t seriously engage with how the centre is envisaged to function in the future as a retail, services and business node. There’s nothing on the emerging challenges to retailing or what sort of centre it will be. Will it be more of the same, will it have a specific character (e.g. restaurant strip), will it specialise?  What sort of retail formats does Council see within the centre? What are developers’ requirements – if they favour some sort of mall, would there be a place for it? Are the areas set aside for retail suitable? Are they enough? Nor is there anything on how many, or what sort, of new businesses and jobs the centre might hope to host (although we’re told specialist medical will be restricted to Heidelberg).

In short, there’s not a lot of vision in this plan about the very essence of what an activity centre is. There’s plenty of ‘by the book’ stuff on physical planning and design (sometimes in ludicrous detail) but not much on the fundamentals. Read the rest of this entry »