Transcript

City planning in Australia

Trevor Budge
t.budge@latrobe.edu.au

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Matt Smith:
Welcome to a La Trobe University podcast. I’d be your host Matt Smith and with the world’s population continuing to grow exponentially, most people are living in urban areas, and our cities are struggling to cope. Trevor Budge is a Senior Lecturer in Planning at La Trobe University and has been looking at how our cities grow and change.
Trevor Budge:
Most of Australia’s cities are faced with growth rates that they haven’t seen before. So, there’s an emerging debate about how do you manage that growth. A lot of people are advocating that the solution is to pack more people into the inner city areas and in fact there’s quite considerable evidence that this is a desirable trend by a large proportion of the population. But the reality is that most of the growth of cities in the last generation or so has been on the edges. That’s got a lot to do with price but it’s also got a lot to do with the fact that many people are not used to living in high rise city centres and don’t necessarily really see that as desirable. Unfortunately most of the high rise, high density development in the inner cities has been associated with high priced, upmarket boutique accommodation. But there is an adjustment happening in Australia and people are living in six or eight storey apartment blocks, five, ten, fifteen or even twenty kilometres from city centres. So we’ve got some emerging changes. To come back to the critical issue – what’s the best way of actually running our cities? It seems to me that we’ve always run our cities on the basis of choice and there’s still going to be a demand for choice. But the critical thing is, where do we locate new housing. Simply locating the housing in a sprawling way on the edges of cities is not sustainable. It’s causing people to have long commutes to work and in which the network of facilities we’d normally expect in a well developed community are not there. So the critical thing seems to be, locate these concentrations of new residence into areas that are well served by existing services and facilities and that are close to public transport.
Matt Smith:
So it seems to be the real problem is a mindset of the Australian people. I believe the term is McMansions for the large houses, two garages, four bedrooms, a back yard for a dog. At the moment in Melbourne to get anything like that that’s affordable you’re looking at Craigieburn, Eltham, so it’s, you know, a good 45 minutes drive from the middle of the city, and while this sort of thing is happening, you’re saying that that’s maybe not the best way to go. So what sort of issues come along with this sort of urban sprawl?
Trevor Budge:
Interestingly, if we look over the last 25, 30 years, the size of the average house in Australia has gone up by 50%. The size of the average family has gone down by 50%. We all know that the old quarter acre block, a thousand square metre block, is long gone and many people are now living on blocks of between 400 and 600 square metres. But as you say, some of the things that people are demanding now, and wanting, upfront in their houses, it’s not only the double car garage, the bedrooms and the lounge room, but people are having home theatres, they’re having studies, children’s entertainment areas, family rooms and so on. The back yard has almost disappeared as the traditional back yard, in fact some of the recent evidence would show that the back yard is really now an incorporated entertainment area, an extension of the house. One of the real dangers of that in which we’ve got relatively small blocks on the edges of our cities, with relatively large houses with almost no private open space in them, traditionally what we were able to do with our suburbs was to take the quarter acre block, with a relatively small house on it and actually put two or three units on the back of that. If you look at all the new housing that’s happening in the outer suburbs, the McMansions as you say, there’s no possibility of reconfiguring those without actually demolishing the existing housing stock and rebuilding it again. So we’re not only building a very different sort of suburb demanded by a very different type of household, but in fact we’re actually, I think, predetermining the way in which we can recycle and rejuvenate these suburbs in the future. There’s another interesting trend which has emerged. It now comes out that about 25 to 30% of all households are single person households. This reflects a different changing social situation but elderly people living much longer by themselves, and of course we’re going to have the situation with the baby boom generation coming through society, we simply will not be able to house all the aged people who would normally have gone into aged person’s housing. People are going to have to stay longer in their own home. So there’s an enormous social agenda, demographic agenda, underlying a lot of these changes and I don’t think there’s been enough research into just how this is influencing the changing role of suburbs and how people will consume land and build houses.
Matt Smith:
I’m thinking from a Melbourne perspective here, but it sounds like the ideal housing to fit the most amount of people to make the most use of the land, would be the early twentieth century style narrow houses that are butted up right against their neighbour, so you fit more houses in, you fit more people in. Is that the sort of thing that we need to move back towards?
Trevor Budge:
Well, I think what we need is housing that’s much more flexible. If you look across the suburbs of Melbourne, the housing is of one type. It’s generally developed on the basis that the average family, mum and dad and two or three children. In actual fact, mum and dad and two or three children is only about a third of all households now. So we’re still churning out a model of housing which is actually predicated on a family type, which is actually now a minority. But of course, if you’re in the building industry, that’s a very easy market to appeal to. It’s a market that you’re used to. It’s a market that you can turn out relatively cheap housing. What we need to do is be building suburbs that have a variety of housing in them. As you go through a family life cycle, why should you have to change suburbs because you can’t find the sort of housing you want in the suburb that you want to live in? And this is what is facing some people. Some experimentation – it was a suburb called Golden Grove in Adelaide, some twenty, twenty-five years ago, where they actually put different types of housing, even in the one street, so people could actually age in their housing stock, in their suburb, but even in their one street. They could move from one house to another because there were different houses – a smaller house for say a professional couple, could then move into a larger house which could accommodate two or three children, and then could move back into accommodation which would suit aged people. Now, one of the advantages of having a variety of housing and also dealing with it as a total package is that some of the services and facilities that perhaps we would have once wanted to generate ourselves or would have expected the community to generate, say sporting facilities, the fitness club or something like that, if you do housing at a reasonable scale, that can be incorporated into the package. But you need to have a minimum number of three or four hundred units to actually build a range of commercial and community facilities. It’s the sort of package that in fact many high rise developments now currently provide. You get a range of these facilities by buying into a high rise development. So what I’m advocating really is a much more comprehensive way of which we plan residential development in our suburbs, rather than the sort of ad hoc style that we’ve been used to.
Matt Smith:
The current model which we seem to favour is to build outwards from the city, so at the moment my wife and I are looking at buying land – we’re looking at Craigieburn – we can see Indonesia from the back yard though, that’s the only problem with that. But there’s other cities where they’ve got a lot less room, a lot more people to deal with, and instead, they’ve built up. Are there any cities that you can think of that we should be maybe following their example of?
Trevor Budge:
It’s probably easier to refer to the cities that we shouldn’t be following the example of.
Matt Smith:
Oh really?
Trevor Budge:
Yes because I think we can actually see what will happen over time. If we particularly look at some of the examples from North America I think, is the classic we usually look at. But rather than focus on the negatives, let me focus on some positives. There’s two cities in North America which seem to have got the mix right, that’s Vancouver in Canada and Portland in Oregon, generally held up to be the two best planned cities, certainly in the North American sphere. And I think it’s more proactive to look at North America than Europe because traditionally the way in which cities were built in Europe is far different to Australia so we need to look at similar sort of settler societies. There’s three or four characteristics that we find in Vancouver and Portland. One is, they have a comprehensive metropolitan plan which they don’t keep changing every few years. Secondly they’ve had a massive engagement of the community in that process, not a tokenistic consultation program but a real ongoing engagement, so the average citizen knows roughly what the planning is about. Thirdly, what they’ve done is they’ve focused new housing into distinct localities which are well served by public transport. Now, the irony is that if you look at both those cities, Melbourne has far better public transport in the total in terms of rail and tram. Portland is progressively building a light rail, replacing a system of course that was pulled out years and years ago. Vancouver has got some rail but neither of them have got anything like the rail and tram system. But what they’ve done is, that they’ve invested in the rail and tram and their bus systems around nodes, where they’ve said, these are core places where in fact you’ll see a substantial focus of development. In both cases you can see higher density development around these nodes. Now the second thing that they’ve done about the city’s shape, is to actually focus on their central business district. And I’ll give you an example of what Portland’s done, which is sort of a complete reverse of what we’ve done. If you build into the CBD, wherever you build offices or you build residential, they’ll actually lower the car parking requirement. What we do in Australia, the bigger you build, no matter where it is, you have to provide more car parking spaces. So what you are doing is attracting more cars onto the road to use this. So Portland gives you a bonus. If you build in the CBD, you build along their light rail system around a station, they’ll reduce the car parking requirement. Their theory is, of course, to encourage people who will not use their cars. They also have programs to encourage employers, rather than as we often tend to do, is subsidise somebody’s private car, they say, subsidise their public transport usage as part of a package. So there’s some really interesting initiatives. And both of them are finding that what you do is, you find the areas of the city where you want to revitalise the area and that’s where you direct the public transport. In Portland’s case, their light rail system is being focused on those areas where they want development to take place. In some cases, these are quite rundown areas. They’ve turned the area around substantially by focusing the light rail, and all of a sudden, the developers are moving in and redeveloping areas. And some of these areas are quite close to the CBD, some of them are quite distant. So here we have examples in cities that are comparable to Australian cities, where they’re combining transport investment with land use change and trying to change that psyche that we have that is that the only thing that you can do is go and build on the very edge of the metropolitan area because that’s where you find land, and as you say, you’re further out from the CBD than you’ve ever been, and you’re wondering whether in fact you’ve got any connection back to the very city that you’re building in.
Matt Smith:
Yeah, yeah, so it’s very much not trying to go with almost a spider web sort of thing going out. I notice the public transport in most cities as well seems to be focused on the CBD and then everything moves out from that. Setting up separate nodes is a better way to kind of centralise everything that way.
Trevor Budge:
Yes, and also of course, including employment in those nodes. As cities get larger, I mean, I was talking to a person the other day and this was a person who lived out Pakenham way. They said they hadn’t been in to the CBD for ten years. They actually didn’t know the CBD. So what we’ve got is, we’ve got people now in many cities around the world who are living their whole life without that relationship to the CBD. What you do is you end up with a multi-nodal city. And to some extent, this is what is being developed in Melbourne, and particularly Frankston, Dandenong, Ringwood, Greensborough – these places have been developed as major nodes. The best example we’ve got in Australia is Parramatta in Sydney, which has almost developed into a sort of a secondary CBD. But this idea that you actually have these nodes around the city, not just as shopping centres, but they need to be places of employment, places that you would actually want to go to, to enjoy facilities. Now these things don’t happen overnight. They require sustained effort to change the mindset of people to get the private investment, but there are ways of doing this. Government departments are always putting in new offices, putting in new facilities, whether it be schools, whether it be police stations, so instead of just dispersing them anywhere, we should concentrate these. Once governments start to invest in these areas, the private sector will follow. Now the greatest incentive for private sector is to see rising land values in these areas and if you make the area attractive and you make people want to invest in these, and you can bring people to these areas, you will get that revitalisation.
Matt Smith:
So how does city planning differ in a regional area like Bendigo, as opposed to a major city in a state like Melbourne? So just as a point of reference for people, Bendigo and Melbourne are a good … well, it took me two hours to get here today.
Trevor Budge:
Yes, 150 kilometres apart.
Matt Smith:
A sizeable enough thing – you can’t see the Melbourne fringe suburbs from here yet, so I imagine there’d be different factors here in that you’ve got the kind of balance between a rural lifestyle and an area that’s becoming more city and more urban.
Trevor Budge:
It’s a very interesting question because it raises issues of scale, it raises issues of comparison. In scale of course, there’s no comparison, because about 100,000 people here in Bendigo, in Melbourne you know, approaching 5 million. Bendigo is growing at about 2% per annum, but that will still only produce say, 140,000 people in twenty years time. It’s really a very big suburb. However, when you start to compare, there are some very substantial differences. Suburbs in Melbourne of that size are generally fairly homogenous. Because what we have here in Bendigo, we have a bit of everything. So we’ve got high income housing, low income housing. We’ve got industrial areas, we’ve got purely residential areas. We’ve got a CBD, which is just as important for the Bendigo community as the CBD is for Melbourne. Plus, we’ve also got a lot of people who can relate to Bendigo who live in rural residential lifestyle hobby farm blocks that are probably only ten or fifteen minutes from the CBD. Relative to Melbourne, you can actually move very quickly across Bendigo urban area, in your car, this is one of the problems. Public transport becomes not only extremely difficult to make it attractive, but in fact of course the volumes are much lower. Unless you just happen to live right on a bus line and it takes you exactly where you want to go, it’s almost invariable that the car’s going to be cheaper. So there’s a much higher reliance on car travel. The figures for Bendigo that perhaps only 2% of people are actually using public transport, whereas in Melbourne it would appear to be about 10%. However, all the same sort of issues that we’ve talked about are relevant to Bendigo in terms of the demography, the changing household structures, the demands of different forms of household on housing. In fact, there’s a distinct lack of choice in a place like Bendigo. Now development of even three storeys is considered to be quite unusual. So most people are actually still looking for that traditional house – the mum and dad and three kids type house on the edge of the urban area. People would argue that their lifestyle is quite different because far less congestion and traffic overall, you can easily access rural areas. I can jump on my bicycle and I can be riding in the forest in three minutes, and yet I live virtually only five minutes walk from the CBD. But it’s interesting that with a single council, it’s like dealing with a metropolitan area at a micro scale, but of course the comparisons are quite substantial.
Matt Smith:
How successful was Canberra, which was a planned city. They had the opportunity to do everything from scratch which doesn’t usually happen. Was it successful? Did it have any good ideas?
Trevor Budge:
It’s an interesting comment you make. You say they had the opportunity to build from scratch. We’ve had the opportunity to build our suburbs from scratch but what we’ve tended to do is just replicate what we did before. The Canberra story is an interesting one. I think the first thing we need to realise with Canberra is that it was only ever designed to be for 25,000 people. No one envisaged how it could get much bigger than that. I mean, it was built at a time when Australia’s population was only 4 million, so how many people do you need to run a capital city? And that’s of course the second element – the nature of Canberra is that its function and ceremonial aspect as a capital city gives it a different style. However, it’s completely exceeded everyone’s expectations in terms of growth. We’re now talking about 350,000 people, and it’s a city that’s got a particular style of living which has replicated the original plan of Walter Burley Griffin and that was to, one, have a central business area which would function like any other area, and it would have an administrative area, it would have a parliamentary area. But in fact it would sit in the landscape and it would use as much as possible of the natural landscape. Now replicating that model throughout Canberra has meant it has developed at an incredible low density if you take the totality of the urban area. But of course you’ve got magnificent open space, forests, waterways etc, that permeate right across the city. But they’ve actually adopted that same model of building a multi-nuclei city. So you go to Belconnen, which was almost a rival CBD, Gungahlin, which is a new area. You go to Tuggeranong, Woden and so on. Because the city’s been so low density, these have actually worked in a sense because to go from the extreme outer areas into the CBD you’re now talking 25, 30 minutes to make that journey. The city is unbelievably sprawling but what they haven’t done is filled up the whole city. There are vast areas where you’re driving through a forest, where you’re driving through open landscapes, even farmed landscapes, to get between places. Now, in an ideal world, if petrol cost nothing and if we weren’t worried about greenhouse gas emissions, this looks like a great model. One of the ironical things of course is that Burley Griffin actually proposed a suburban rail network even for a town of 25,000 people. It’s interesting to reflect how Canberra might have grown if it had a fixed rail network to service it. Because those distances wouldn’t have made a lot of sense and you would have probably had much more dense development in and around some of those nodes. The reality I think is that the CBD is just starting to recover from a long period of neglect. It’s still not a greatly attractive CBD to be in. And the town centres are not much more than just large shopping centres with a few offices. Overall, I think Griffin would be immensely satisfied that the theme of integrating the city into the landscape has been picked up – I think he’d be horrified at the type of sort of social environment that’s been created with this large sprawling city and these fairly anonymous types of activity areas that have been created in Canberra.
Matt Smith:
That’s all the time we’ve got for the La Trobe University podcast today. If you have any questions, comments or feedback about this podcast, or any other, then send us an email at podcast@latrobe.edu.au. Trevor Budge, thank you for your time today.
Trevor Budge:
Thank you.

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