Now is the time for Urban Planning to shine!
Food for Thought from Hansen Managing Director, David Barnes
Presently there is a lot of political discussion and popular press about the runaway growth of Melbourne (and Sydney) and the inability of the city of accommodate growth without very significant impacts on the quality of life of its residents.
The Federal Government’s answer seems to be to cut immigration and force those immigrants lucky enough to be let into Australia, to live in regional cities.
Much of the newspaper debate revolves around unchecked population growth leading to unacceptable levels of congestion on our roads and public transport systems, lack of jobs, the high price of housing and a decline in liveability.
Most planning strategies and population growth forecasts look out some 20 to 30 years, which takes us to around 2050. If alarm bells are ringing about what Melbourne will be like in 2050, what will it be like in 2200? Melbourne has been here for 200 years. The reality is it will be here for another 200 years and probably for much longer.
In a city the size of Melbourne change is inevitable, and change is necessary. Rather than trying to stop growth from happening, we must decide how to accommodate it in a sustainable way that improves Melbourne and our network of national and regional cities, rather than destroying them.
Current day political responses such as cutting migration are not a solution, they are a knee jerk reaction to a current day political issue. They are avoiding addressing the growing pains associated with transforming a 19th / 20th Century City into a 21st Century City and beyond. They are merely passing inevitable problems on to future generations.
Much of the negative attitude towards growth is because we focus on trying to keep what we already have and what we value as important in our city. Therefore, we are making it difficult for our city to evolve into the city it must become, to accommodate the needs of generations not yet born. Whilst there are certain things that should remain to provide a connection to our history, our culture, our lifestyles and our past, many things need to change for Melbourne to remain globally competitive and liveable into the future.
It is the role of planning to work with Government to identify these future directions. As an urban planner, I am disappointed to read the reports of doom and gloom and the calls to stop growth and change. I am more interested in working out how planning and other allied professions and politicians, can work together to envision a positive future for Melbourne. This will require:
- Balancing the needs of the current generation with those of future generations.
- Providing flexibility to evolve in response to yet unknown issues that will arise.
- A forward-looking rather than back looking attitude.
- Consistent and coordinated action between political parties and between all levels of government, over an extended period.
- An extraordinarily strong focus on investment in urban infrastructure, both engineering and social, to provide for the needs of a growing and a changing population and economy.
- Investing in regional cities to attract people to them, rather than forcing people (and jobs) to move to them.
- The continual evolution of the form and the structure of the city towards one that is sustainable in the long term and which can respond to the changing needs of future populations.
- Innovative solutions to the ‘planning problems of the day’, which in the long term will hopefully be transitional problems that come and go with the passing of time – such as affordable housing, social equity, congestion, access to jobs, etc.
- Better planning of the scarce greenfield future urban land that remains around the fringe of Melbourne. It won’t last forever.
Now is the time for urban planning to shine.