By Leanne Edwards – General Manager Marketing, Policy and Communications, MBAV
Adolescence can be an awkward time for cities as well as people. Some parts grow faster than others, making the urban experience feel uneven and frustrating. This is normal, but it helps to learn from other communities and develop a common-sense plan for growth.
Politicians have the final say in how Melbourne will look in the future, but they send mixed messages about urban development. They are quick to portray density as the bogeyman. Yet poor planning for density is the real danger, and governments and regulators have ultimate responsibility for that planning.
To help Melbourne get it right, we need a pragmatic and evidence based approach, including drawing on the experiences of cities that manage density well, such as Barcelona and Vienna. Barcelona, for example, succeeds because it has excellent infrastructure, including high-quality public transport, pedestrian access and open space, and variations in high and low-rise developments. Its liveability wasn’t achieved by rejecting density but through a thoughtful approach to urban planning.
Liveability and density can coexist very well, but government solutions, such as height restrictions, new taxes and levies, and a push to decentralise, make Melbourne’s core unattractive to developers and residents.
Density is seen as a problem, rather than as a challenge from which we can all benefit if we get it right. The worst outcome would be a stop/start approach to development where government controls population through direct intervention. A commission responsible for planning could play a productive role by collecting knowledge, assuming broad authority for council decisions on population, and helping design a comprehensive density strategy for the future of all Victoria’s cities.
Our prosperity has led to population growth, expensive housing and increased urban density, which is being offered as evidence of a city in crisis. We need to manage density well, with increased crime, heightened safety concerns, and inadequate public amenities the result if we don’t.
A bigger Melbourne on its own will not result in a city headed for failure. It’s the quality of planning that will make the difference.