More on the Windsor Hotel redevelopment

I had a look on the weekend at the report of the independent Advisory Committee established by the Planning Minister, Justin Madden, to advise him on the application for a planning permit for the redevelopment of the Windsor Hotel. I’ve previously commented on this issue, here: Windsor Hotel Redevelopment.

There is some interesting information in this report that so far hasn’t gotten much, if any, airing in the media. It reinforced my earlier view that approval of this development was the right decision. Read the rest of this entry »


How to ‘green’ the Grand Prix

How could the QANTAS Australian Grand Prix be made greener?

This is a pretext to post on Formula One because the Australian GP is being held in Melbourne this weekend, but it’s nevertheless an interesting question (almost as interesting as this morning’s news that Lewis Hamilton was caught doing donuts in St Kilda last night!). Read the rest of this entry »


What role for high-rise towers in Melbourne?

Do high-rise towers have a role in Melbourne’s future? Peter Newman thinks they do!

This report by VECCI, Up or out? dealing with Melbourne’s population boom, nicely summarises two alternative approaches set out in The Age for planning Melbourne’s future growth. Read the rest of this entry »


Transport disadvantage in the suburbs

One of the perennial concerns about suburban sprawl is transport disadvantage. But just how significant is the problem? Most importantly, is it a problem that can only be tackled effectively by ‘abolishing’ fringe growth and replacing it with multi unit housing within established suburbs?

Research done by Currie and Sensbergs and Currie and Delbosc on outer suburban Melbourne gives a sense of the dimensions of this issue. The data shows that 94% of outer suburban households have at least one car and 61% have at least two.

Compared to the 1970s, much of the transport disadvantage associated with outer suburban living has been mitigated by higher car ownership and to some extent by social infrastructure levies on developers.

However disadvantage is usually associated with low incomes. Currie and Sensberg found that 18% of lower income households living in the outer suburbs don’t have a car. They make up around 8% of all outer suburban households or about 1.5% of all  households in Melbourne. They are typically older, retired pensioners living alone and unemployed single mothers in rented accommodation. Read the rest of this entry »


Ode to Melbourne

Since the Melbourne Urbanist is mostly about, er…Melbourne…I make no apologies for linking to this puff piece, Ode to Melbourne, by Melbourne-booster Lindsay Tanner. I think there’s some wisdom in his succinct explanation for why Docklands lacks vibrance – “these things sometimes seem to be determined by imperceptible and ethereal factors that no-one can plan for”.


Increasing multi unit housing supply

There’s a feature in yesterday’s issue of The Age, The Outer Limits (clever title!), which is the first shot in a new series the newspaper is publishing under the banner, Project Melbourne: Towards a Sustainable City, on the challenges facing Melbourne as it hurtles towards a projected population of seven million sometime around 2050.

One of the key themes developed in the article is the need to increase the proportion of new dwellings constructed within the existing urban fabric rather than on the urban fringe. Another key theme is the need to increase housing affordability across all price segments.

I’m a strong supporter of these priorities. We do need to lessen the constraints on new construction in the suburbs but not, as The Age implies, because sprawl is intrinsically bad – it’s deficiencies are greatly exaggerated. Rather, the key reason is to increase affordability.

Most Melburnites want to live within established areas where they’re closer to everything else that’s going on in the city. They can do their grocery shopping and get their hair done anywhere, but living closer in usually means greater proximity to family, work and major sporting, cultural and entertainment facilities.

Contrary to much of the rhetoric on this issue, most households looking to settle in established areas do not have the option of locating in the buzzy inner city. It’s way too expensive. Redevelopment opportunities are constrained by heritage protection, by high property values, by highly organised resident opposition and by small lot sizes that are difficult to assemble into viable redevelopment opportunities. The inner city is also much smaller than most commentators realise – only 8% of Melbourne’s population live within 5 km of the CBD despite the considerable growth experienced in this region over the last 15-20 years. Read the rest of this entry »


Does sprawl cause obesity?

I’m unconvinced by the argument that suburban sprawl is obesity’s best friend. I’m equally suspicious that higher density living is justified as a sensible response to obesity, as this story in the Sydney Morning Herald, How City Living Fights the Waistband Sprawl, contends.

It’s not that I doubt there’s a correlation between obesity and distance from the city centre. The SMH story reports University of NSW researchers as finding that “those living in the outer suburbs were 30 to 50 per cent more at risk of being overweight and 40 to 60 per cent less likely to be physically active than their inner-city counterparts”.

Nor do I doubt that the physical environment might have some role. After all, 13% of inner city residents in Melbourne walk to work compared to just 1% in the outer suburbs.

But how much of this difference is due to low density living? Is the relationship causal?

Even at first glance, weight gain seems to me to be much more sensitive to what you eat than what you do (or don’t do). For example, you have to walk the dog for an hour and a half, or cycle for an hour, to burn off the calories in just one Big Mac. Isn’t it likely that all those suburban families eat more fast food than inner city latte sippers?

So differences in diet are probably a much more significant factor explaining obesity than low density living. Read the rest of this entry »


If all of the USA (and Australia) were at the density of Brooklyn

If the entire population of the USA were housed at the same density as Brooklyn, it would all fit in New Hampshire with space left over! See more on this infographic here. I calculate that the entire population of Australia could be accommodated at the same density as Brooklyn within a radius of about 25Km from the centre of Melbourne – the boundary in the south east, for example, would be around the intersection of the Monash Freeway and the East Link freeway. That would leave a lot of space left over! Read the rest of this entry »


More on rail link to airport

The Age is continuing its campaign for a new rail line to be built from the city centre to Melbourne Airport (I discussed this previously on March 2 – Possible rail link to Melbourne airport). There are also a couple of follow-up letters this morning supporting the idea of a rail link.

In a story yesterday, Airport ‘exploiting’ public on parking fees, The Age reported on a new analysis by the ACCC of airport performance in Australia, noting that parking charges account for 20% of Melbourne Airport’s revenue but just 8% of Sydney Airport’s.

The Age’s reporter, Ari Sharp, said the figures, “could add to calls for a rail link to Melbourne Airport to help overcome the growing problems – and costs – of getting there by car or bus”.

However contrary to The Ages’s apparent inference, the difference in the Sydney and Melbourne figures does not appear to be caused by a rapacious parking operator ripping off travellers who lack an alternative to driving.

What the story didn’t say was that Sydney Airport’s revenue from charges to airlines is $446 million, compared to Melbourne Airport’s comparatively modest $197 million. Parking revenues are much the same ($88m and $95m respectively), hence it’s not at all surprising that parking makes up a much larger proportion of total revenue in Melbourne than Sydney. Read the rest of this entry »


How to increase commuting by bicycle

I argued yesterday there might be potential to shift a small but important proportion of workers who live and work in the suburbs out of their cars and on to bicycles. This is a somewhat novel view as most of the attention given to commuting by bicycle has focussed on how to increase work trips to the CBD.

The suburbs are an important potential ‘market’ because, unlike commuting to the city centre, the great bulk of suburban bicycle trips to work would be in lieu of the car, not public transport.

I also indicated yesterday that I would look further at possible concrete actions that could be taken to advance greater suburban bicycle commuting. Here are my early thoughts.

The key deterrents to cycling concern safety, compulsory helmets, security and personal hygiene. A possible way of addressing these obstacles could go something like this. Read the rest of this entry »


Attention: Drunks!

We have ‘Koalas next 10km’ road signs in Australia but in Romania they have road signs warning motorists about drunk pedestrians. Perhaps in Melbourne we should erect similar road signs in King St, like ‘Glassing – next 400 metres’. Read the rest of this entry »


What role for commuting by bicycle in Melbourne?

In response to my post last Tuesday, Melbourne will be a car city for a long time yet, a reader asked for my views on the role of cycling in Melbourne.

I have a particular interest in cycling, not least because I’m a keen recreational cyclist and commuted religiously by bike for a number of years. I think cycling has a small but significant role to play in meeting Melbourne’s transport needs but my ideas are a little different to the conventional view.

Despite record sales over the last ten years, bicycles account for just 0.9% of all weekday kilometres travelled in Melbourne, so their present contribution to saving fuel and reducing carbon emissions isn’t large. That figure includes recreational cycling too, so we don’t know how many of these kilometres actually replaced car travel.

Bicycles are more competitive for commuting, where they are used for 2.9% of work trips. The journey to work, however, only accounts for around one fifth of all trips in Melbourne, so again we’re not talking big numbers. Read the rest of this entry »


Melbourne will be a car city for a long time yet

It seems likely that many more Melbourne travellers will drive cars in the foreseeable future than take public transport.

This is not necessarily the disaster that it might at first appear – improvements to the environmental and fuel efficiency of cars will make them much more environmentally friendly and offer a fair trade-off for their many advantages. Read the rest of this entry »


Melbourne flooding no surprise

The scenes in Melbourne over the weekend of extensive flooding, especially in the CBD, didn’t surprise me. Although these were unusual events, I recall reading a report some years ago by the French engineering firm Aegis on the water and sewerage system of Melbourne. Apparently the drainage system in most of inner Melbourne was only designed to accommodate a one in five year storm. In fact some inner areas were designed for a one in two year storm. In contrast, newer areas are designed to cater for a one in one hundred year storm without property damage. They have the space to channel excess stormwater along overland flow paths to parks and creeks whereas in the inner city where the surface is almost entirely impervious the excess tends to flood.


Decentralising population growth

I watched SBS’s Insight program on Housing 36 Million earlier this week.  A theme that recurred during the program and in the subsequent on-line discussion was the idea of decentralising a large proportion of the projected population growth from the major cities to provincial centres.

Decentralisation was tried in the 70s as an alternative to capital city growth but, while it had a measurable impact on major country centres like Albury/Wodonga and Bathurst/Orange, it didn’t significantly relieve growth pressures on the capital cities. Read the rest of this entry »


Infrastructure costs on the urban fringe

It is amazing how quickly supposed facts become accepted wisdom. A feature article in The Age last week, Fringe Benefits, repeated the highly questionable claim that “for every 1,000 dwellings, the cost for infill development (in existing suburbs) is $309 million and the cost of fringe development is $653 million”. Read the rest of this entry »


Possible rail link to Melbourne Airport

The Age ran an editorial this week arguing that a rail line should be built from the CBD to Melbourne Airport to deal with growing traffic congestion on the principal radial freeway route.  I have a lot of difficulty seeing how this could ever work financially, much less why it should be a priority compared to other potential transport projects.   I’ve been on both the new Sydney and the new Brisbane airport rail lines and judging by the low patronage I’m not surprised they’ve both been in deep financial difficulty. Read the rest of this entry »