Trans­form­ing Mel­bourne

‘Mar­vel­lous Mel­bourne’ was the nick­name for Vic­to­ria’s cap­i­tal in its nine­teenth cen­tury hey­day, but a hun­dred years later ‘Mori­bundd Mel­bourne’ might have been more apt. Here’s how it was saved.

Element - - Better Cities - By John Walsh

Mid-twen­ti­eth cen­tury plan­ning had not been kind to Mel­bourne. The vi­tal­ity of the city was sapped as de­vel­op­ment favoured the sub­urbs, and Mel­bourne looked like it was headed for a fu­ture as the frumpy sib­ling of vi­va­cious Syd­ney.

That’s all changed now. The me­dia lines up to salute Mel­bourne as one of the world’s most live­able cities – it’s easy to nav­i­gate, it has great ameni­ties, it has wow-fac­tor ar­chi­tec­ture, it has Cul­ture. These days, Mel­bourne is rather pleased with it­self.

What hap­pened? One man in a po­si­tion to know is Rob Adams, the in­flu­en­tial ur­ban de­signer who di­rects Mel­bourne city coun­cil’s City De­sign di­vi­sion. When Zim­babwe-born Adams started with the coun­cil in the early 1980s he found a city care­less of its built his­tory, such as its orig­i­nal grid lay­out, and ne­glect­ful of its nat­u­ral as­sets, such as the Yarra River. But Mel­bourne still had a lot go­ing for it, es­pe­cially its trans­port sys­tem of trains, trams and buses.

Tak­ing ad­van­tage of the mid-1980s’ re­ces­sion, Adams con­vinced build­ing own­ers to con­vert un­wanted of­fices to apart­ments. The ball started rolling as the coun­cil re­moved ob­sta­cles to in­ner-city habi­ta­tion and com­mer­cial ac­tiv­ity. In 1992 there were 738 dwellings in the city cen­tre; by 2002 there were nearly 10,000. In 1983 the city had a hand­ful of kerb­side cafés; 20 years later, it had more than 1200. “It all starts with streets,” Adams says. “De­sign good streets and you de­sign a good city”. And how do you get good streets? “There are some sim­ple prin­ci­ples,” Adams says. “Keep her­itage build­ings, put in a height limit, if that’s use­ful, and build up to the street edge so you don’t get open space by de­fault.” Bal­ance di­ver­sity with uni­for­mity, he adds. “For ex­am­ple, we’re us­ing lo­cal blue­stone paving for all the city foot­paths. That pro­vides con­sis­tency. Sig­nage, shops, restau­rants and the peo­ple in the streets – that pro­vides va­ri­ety.”

Adams makes sev­eral other points about Mel­bourne’s evo­lu­tion. First, he says, change has come from “us­ing our ex­ist­ing stock of streets, trans­port and build­ings”. Sec­ond, “and con­trary to what politi­cians want to hear”, trans­form­ing a city is a slow process.“It took 25 years to re­con­nect the city to the Yarra.” And third, not all ur­ban de­sign moves have to be big moves. Adams cites in­ex­pen­sive ini­tia­tives such as grant­ing a cheap lease to a flower-seller who will open his stall till 10pm and so pro­vide a city cor­ner with se­cu­rity as well as a ser­vice. Plant­ing trees costs lit­tle but makes a huge dif­fer­ence, says Adams, and so his coun­cil digs in 1200 each year.

Don’t call it den­si­fi­ca­tion

R Rob b Adams knows that only a plan­ner or politi­cian with a pro­fes­sional death wish would try to dis­abuse Aus­tralians of their be­lief in the dream of sub­ur­ban prop­erty own­er­ship. But the tra­di­tional con­stituency for the nu­clear family home-with-lawn at­tached is now a mi­nor­ity seg­ment of the hous­ing mar­ket. Adams says plan­ners and politi­cians can have it both ways: at­tract the ur­ban-in­clined to the de­vel­op­ment cor­ri­dors by de­sign­ing high-qual­ity medi­um­den­sity hous­ing, while leav­ing the re­main­ing 90 per cent of the city as tra­di­tional suburbia which would func­tion as the city’s ‘green lungs’.

5 mil­lion by 2029

The pop­u­la­tion of Mel­bourne is pro­jected to grow to five mil­lion by 2029. Must the city sprawl even fur­ther? Rob Adams says it can fit more peo­ple in­side its ex­ist­ing bound­aries. How? Con­cen­trate res­i­den­tial de­vel­op­ment in the city’s ex­ist­ing tram and bus cor­ri­dors. Adams has iden­ti­fied 34,000 sites along­side trans­port routes ca­pa­ble of sup­port­ing medium den­sity de­vel­op­ment of four to eight storeys. Up to two mil­lion peo­ple could be ac­com­mo­dated in the cor­ri­dors, which com­prise 6600ha, or three per cent, of the 225,000ha in­side Mel­bourne’s Ur­ban Growth Bound­ary.

Right: Rob Adams

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.