Melbourne’s open space system spans property boundaries over public and private lands, and provides key social and ecological services. With significant population growth predicted over the next 50 years, high levels of infill housing will be required. Increasing house sizes and infill development practices are directly modifying the quantity and quality of private open space in inner and middle belt suburbs. The distribution of public open space in Melbourne is uneven, with most inner municipalities, and 6 of 13 middle municipalities, having a shortage of public open space per capita.
The evolution of higher density renewal policy in New South Wales might be described as at first reactive, then passive, and then vigorously proactive. While both Labor and Coalition governments have advocated urban renewal, the methods and mechanisms employed to bring this about have been different. The end result is that the overall policy remains messy and opportunistic, as well as systemic and complex. In order to understand this complexity, it helps to begin with a brief overview of the policy’s historical roots, before turning to examine recent developments in more detail.
Australian cities are some of the lowest density and most car-dependent on the planet: intensified urban development and improved public transport to meet the imperatives of population growth and a low-carbon future is a major challenge. Despite decades of compact city policy there has been little change to the practice of ever-expanding suburban fringe development and freeway building that entrenches and exacerbates car-dependency. One of the major blockages to transformational change has been a lack of design vision that can capture the public imagination for more sustainable urban futures. In 2010 we commenced an ARC Linkage research project called 'Intensifying Places: Transit-Oriented Urban Design for Resilient Australian Cities'. This project seeks to analyse the potentials for Australian cities through developing visions for transit-oriented futures that can achieve broad community acceptance in a democratic framework.
Despite the frequent production of metropolitan strategies in recent years, there has been little examination of how successful they have been in guiding urban growth and change. This is curious considering there are many common features among these plans in pursuing the orthodoxy of the compact city. An examination of the available evidence on the progress and performance of the plans indicates some messy, inefficient, partial and uneven headway. The response of governments to these signals is to make another long-range plan, although a change of government is also a reason for doing this.
One reason for this disjunction is suggested to be the gap between planning proposals and the reality and dynamics of urban development identified when the first of these plans was produced in Melbourne. There is growing recognition of this gap and the need to bridge it. The paper ends by suggesting a couple of current initiatives that could help to do so. Integrating urban research and planning practice may lead to a change in the metropolitan planning process itself and in the nature of the plans.