What’s happened to the idea of the compact city?

Number of Newly Constructed Residential Dwellings by Dwelling Yield Range, 2004 to 2008 (DPCD)

Pending completion of the Government’s new urban strategy for Melbourne, the two major strategic planning documents that jointly guide the metropolitan area’s development – Melbourne 2030 and Melbourne @ 5 Million – are rich with rhetoric about the importance of directing development to established suburbs rather than the periphery. They also emphasise the desirability of concentrating that development around activity centres instead of dispersing it throughout the existing suburbs.

In a show of great political courage, Melbourne 2030 sought to limit the share of Melbourne’s population growth in peripheral Greenfield developments to just 38%. Virtually all the rest would be located within the established suburbs, of which 40% would be concentrated in activity centres.

However the supplementary strategy released six years later in 2008, Melbourne @ 5 Million, relaxed the target considerably. It was clever – it slackened the numerical target to 47% while simultaneously narrowing its geographical ambit to just the six Growth Area municipalities. These six cover an area much smaller than that implied by the term ‘greenfield’ used in Melbourne 2030.

This statistical report prepared by the Department of Planning and Community Development (DPCD), Housing Development Data 2004-2008, reveals that the new Melbourne @ 5 Million target wasn’t very demanding. It merely echoed the way the market had behaved over the preceding four years.

Over 2004-08, the Growth Area municipalities accounted for 44% of net new dwelling construction (after subtracting demolitions). Once the larger average household size of outer suburban households is taken into account, this is much the same as Melbourne @ 5 Million’s 47% population “target”. Rather than seek to change the market as its rhetoric suggests, Melbourne @ 5 Million was essentially business as usual.

In any event limiting the target to Growth Areas could be construed as misleading. They are not the same as the outer suburbs. There was considerable growth in other peripheral municipalities over 2004-08 e.g. Frankston, Nillumbik, Mornington Peninsula and Yarra Ranges. When they are added to the Growth Area municipalities, the outer suburbs accounted for 54% of all new dwelling construction in the metropolitan area over 2004-08. In terms of the share of population growth, the number would be somewhat higher.

So Melbourne @ 5 Million essentially had no real ambition to drive significantly higher housing supply in the established suburbs. Despite what the text sought to imply, it settled for them absorbing just 46% of new dwellings.

Melbourne @ 5 Million also dropped any numerical targets for activity centres. Previously, Melbourne 2030 projected that 40% of the population growth within the established suburbs would be concentrated at relatively high densities, with the other 60% in small infill developments dispersed across the suburbs. Read the rest of this entry »


Are the new suburban ‘supercentres’ attracting residents?

Number of new dwellings by major suburban activity centre, Melbourne

The credibility of the six new suburban ‘supercentres’ announced by the Victorian Government in October 2008 has been undermined by a recent Government report on land supply.

The Government announced in October 2008 that it was upgrading six existing suburban Principal Activity Centres (PAC) to Central Activities District (CAD) status. The CADs are a new top-level category of centre intended to provide “significant CBD-type jobs and services” in the suburbs.

Described as “mini CBDs” by The Age and envisaged to have a mix of business, residential and civic uses, the six designated CADs are Broadmeadows, Box Hill, Dandenong, Footscray, Frankston and Ringwood.

I’ve previously pointed out there’s little evidence that any “science” was applied to the selection of the CADs. It seems the Government picked six centres under the existing Transit Cities Program and designated them as CADs.

They do not appear to be natural centres of commerce or industry. Only one of the six CADs (Box Hill) ranks among the nine largest suburban centres in terms of job numbers.

Now the 2009 Annual Report on the Urban Development Program issued earlier this year by the planning department shows that the CADs aren’t the preferred location of residents or developers, either. The accompanying graph indicates the number of dwellings recently built, under construction, or planned, in major suburban activity centres. Read the rest of this entry »