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 »


– Metro Strategy: (2) what are the challenges?

US petrol prices relative to the world

Yesterday I talked about what I thought the new Metropolitan Strategy for Melbourne should be. That was mostly ‘mothers milk’, so now I want to say something about the substance of the strategy – what it should do. I have (mostly) refrained from proposing specific policies or solutions, preferring instead to point out the key policy challenges or directions.

Among other things (this is not exhaustive) the new Metropolitan Strategy should:

Recognise that 90% of motorised travel in Melbourne is made by car and that there are myriad ways drivers and manufacturers are adapting to higher fuel prices. The great majority of travellers prefer to drive if they can despite the expense – they’re not going to give up driving for public transport unless they’re made to.

There are three key challenges in relation to cars. First, provide incentives to increase  the speed of the transition to more fuel and emissions efficient vehicles. Second, make cars more civilised – make them slower and quieter and remove their priority over other carriageway users. Three, manage congestion so that gridlock is avoided and high value trips are given priority.

Recognise that public transport is only a substitute for cars in a limited number of situations. It has two key but growing roles. One is to transport large numbers of people to and from places with high trip densities, like the CBD, where the car is simply incapable of carrying so many people. The other is to provide mobility for those without access to a car.

The focus of public transport policy should be on these two roles. They mean a different approach to public transport from that implied by the popular idea that public transport must always be provided at a level which provides a “viable alternative” to car travel. Read the rest of this entry »


– 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. Read the rest of this entry »


Should most redevelopment be in activity centres?

Maribyrnong Rd, before redevelopment and after (from Transforming Melbourne)

I noted yesterday that Melbourne @ 5 Million envisages just over half of all new dwellings constructed between now and 2030 – about 16,000 per year – will be located within the built-up area. The rest will be built in the fringe Growth Areas.

This is a significant reduction compared to the 69% share Melbourne 2030 envisaged would be built within established areas over 2001 to 2030.

My view is that the disadvantages of sprawl are routinely exaggerated and the fringe will necessarily be an important location for some of the expected future growth.

But I think home buyers’ preference for the outer suburbs is also commonly exaggerated. I expect many fringe settlers would prefer a location closer to the centre if only the market could deliver a better space/price compromise.

I think one of the reasons they can’t find that compromise could be the Government’s policy of prioritising redevelopment to strategic locations, like activity centres and along main transport routes. Read the rest of this entry »


How much growth is going to the fringe?

Flight & Expulsion - Shows where refugees to Australia came from in 2008. Click map to see all countries, by year, back to 1988.

The Victorian Government set a target in its 2002 strategic plan, Melbourne 2030, that only 31% of new dwellings constructed between 2001 and 2030 would be located on outer suburban greenfield sites.

In fact, it envisaged that by 2030, the proportion would have fallen to just 22%.

This ambitious target reflected the conviction at the time that continued outward growth was unsustainable. The firm view was that a much higher proportion of growth would need to be accommodated within the existing built-up area.

The subsequent update released in 2008, Melbourne @ 5 Million, significantly downgraded the target.

Melbourne @ 5 Million “anticipated” that 47% of all new dwellings constructed over the next 20 years would be located in the fringe Growth Areas.

The new target simply reflected what the market was actually doing. There would be little danger now of getting caught out by a politically ambitious “stretch target”.

The most recent edition of the Government’s Residential Land Bulletin (March Qtr, 2010) indicates how prescient the authors of Melbourne @ 5 Million were. It shows that exactly 47% of dwelling approvals in the preceding twelve months were located in the Growth Areas.

But if you think we need less development in the outer suburbs and more in the inner and middle ring suburbs, it gets worse. Read the rest of this entry »


Is Docklands sinking Melbourne @ 5 Million?

Docklands has been roundly and rightly criticised for its appalling urban design but it has nevertheless been spectacularly successful in attracting business to locate by the water.

In fact it has been so successful that I wonder what the implications are for office space markets in the rest of Melbourne, not just in the CBD and near-CBD markets, but in particular in the six major suburban activity centres envisaged in Melbourne @ 5 Million i.e. Footscray, Broadmeadows, Box Hill, Ringwood, Dandenong and Frankston.

The recent announcement that the headquarters of the National Broadband Network Company would be located in Docklands merely continues the momentum already established in the area in and around the old docks. Current tenants of this end of town include the National Australia Bank, ANZ, Myer, National Foods, CSC, Fairfax Media, Customs, Channel 7, AFL and the Australian Tax Office.

Other organisations planning to move to the area include Melbourne Water, BP, Channel Nine and Chartis Australia. Even the Demons have been mooted as prospective tenants of a new training park (or stadium) proposed for the precinct. Read the rest of this entry »


Should rail commuters pay a congestion toll?

Melbourne’s peak train services are overcrowded and have been for quite a few years. Given the high costs that peak period commuters impose on the rail system, wouldn’t it be more efficient and more equitable if they paid more for their tickets?

After all, the capacity of the system is determined by peak demand – all those trains and the associated infrastructure and personnel required to handle the peaks are under-utilised or sit idle for the rest of the day and on weekends.

Too crowded to get a seat?

As would be the case with congestion charging on roads, a charge on peak hour train travellers should reduce over-crowding (congestion) by suppressing travel, moving lower value trips to off-peak periods and encouraging shifts to other modes. Passengers who continued travelling in the peak would make a larger contribution towards what it actually costs to get them to work.

I’m prompted to think about this issue by a proposal to levy a $0.50 per trip surcharge on customers of Washington D.C.’s Metro system who use or pass through the network’s busiest stations during the busiest period of the peak. If approved, the congestion toll would apply from next month. Read the rest of this entry »