What is it?
The State Government released a media statement a couple of weeks ago announcing a new metropolitan planning strategy for Melbourne and Victoria. According to the statement, it “will be focused on land use and transport options that respond to and integrate social, economic and environmental issues facing the metropolitan region. The strategy will take a long-term view of growth and change across Melbourne and its influence on and relationship with regional Victoria, other Australian capital cities and internationally.” Sound familiar, anyone?
As part of the lead-in to the new strategy, Planning Minister Matthew Guy has launched a dedicated website whose aim will be to seek community feedback and discussion around ten broad themes including people, housing, transport, economy, communities, infrastructure and environment.
The website provides fact sheets for the ten themes as well as discussion forums on each. We urge our readers to contribute to the latter - the more voices dreaming of a socially and environmentally sustainable future, the better. Let us know if you do, and we’ll post your comments here.
What do we think?
Despite its grand aspirations, the last State Government’s future planning strategy, Melbourne 2030, has proved itself an unremarkable failure. Receiving significant impediment from local councils and NIMBY residential action groups, it has not even come close to achieving the planning and environmental reforms contained within its agenda.
In predictable political fashion, the new State Government has elected to start afresh rather than adapt or update the existing strategy. Positioned as we are at the very forefront of this new political arc, with many many months of community consultation, discussion papers and advisory panels ahead of us, we will reserve our judgement until a clear vision for the strategy emerges.
We dearly hope that this vision champions a sustainable future for Melbourne and Victoria, that it acknowledges the truths that roads do not make for liveable cities and that an ever-expanding suburban growth boundary disadvantages both the individuals that live on the fringe and the community at large. We hope that Melbourne instead continues to develop as an egalitarian city well-serviced by high-quality public infrastructure with diverse, accessible suburbs.
So in the meantime, what is our future vision for Victoria?
Investment into transport is directed towards public infrastructure: trains and trams primarily. A commitment is made to ensure every single residence in the metropolitan area is within a 10 minute walk of a train or tram stop. Services run 24 hours a day with never more than an 8 minute interval between.
The existing spiderwebbed train network is augmented by new strands filling the gaps between established lines, as well as successive radial connections between stations: an inner city radial line connecting South Yarra, Clifton Hill, North Melbourne and Newport; a suburban line connecting Elsternwick, Caulfield, Camberwell, Ivanhoe, Thornbury, Brunswick, Essendon and Footscray. An outer suburban line connecting Sandringham, Mordialloc, Dandenong, Glenwaverly, Ringwood, Greensborough, Reservoir, Upfield, Broadmeadows, Sunshine, Laverton and Williamstown. The radial and linear lines are isolated from one another: no more city loop timetable clashes.
With the greater density of train lines, the tram network is retooled as a high-volume, short trip facilitator. Trams are restricted to local municipalities, looping around train stations and commercial hubs.
Both train and tram networks are separated entirely from roads. Level crossings are replaced with tunnels and overpasses. Trams are given dedicated lanes throughout the metropolitan area. Every train and tram stop provides equal access for all.
Public transport users still pay to use the service, however prices are kept low through taxation income generated by levies applied to car registration and petrol. The frequency, reliability and high quality of public transport achieve a remarkable reduction in fare evaders, down from 10 – 20% of all users in days past to almost zero.
The metropolitan growth boundary ceases to expand, even beginning to contract back in on itself along corridors with high landscape or farming importance. To handle the housing needs of an ever-increasing population within this contracted boundary, the entire city undergoes significant densification, achieving minimum densities similar to those that already exist in inner-city areas like Carlton North, with high density zones clustered around well-serviced public transport hubs.
The average house size is drastically reduced, from the world’s largest at 284sqm to an area less than half that. Smart design compensates for compact dimensions with multifunctional rooms well connected to outdoor spaces. Finally acknowledging Melbourne’s temperate climate, all houses are oriented appropriately and well-insulated, with highly efficient appliances powered by roof-mounted photovoltaic panels. Each and every house achieves at least a net zero energy demand.
Though the quarter acre block and large back gardens are both ideals sacrificed to achieve increased housing densities, they are replaced by communal parks of every scale: street reserves, playgrounds, sporting grounds, parks. With the water-intensive, under-utilised private garden a thing of the past, and public green spaces under popular demand, the streets are revitalised and made safe by the presence of families at all hours of the day.
With the metropolitan boundary firmly restricted, more state and national parks are implemented than ever before. The already extensive tracts of preserved landscapes are augmented by additional old growth forests and sacred Aboriginal sites, to be protected and nourished indefinitely.
Within the city, day-to-day car usage is reduced from 80% of all trips to less than 20%, replaced by environmentally friendly alternatives, including public transport, cycling and walking. This statistical exchange is assisted by the implementation of expensive tolls for cars entering the central business district and an uninterrupted, city-wide network of cycling lanes.
The environment in and around Melbourne is substantially improved, with noticeably cleaner air and waterways. Thanks to the reduction in pollution and further softscaping water treatment initiatives, the Yarra River is now so clean it attracts year round swimming and fishing activities.
These changes, together with high levels of public transport patronage and walking-friendly urban design, have the unintended side effect of enhancing the health and general wellbeing of the city’s inhabitants. Obesity is significantly reduced as a health issue, as are heart disease and diabetes.
Melbourne is healthier, more environmentally friendly, better connected, more accessible and more liveable than ever before.