The following is an abstract of a paper I wrote about the new Melbourne Metropolitan Strategy. Hope it's not too boring ;-)
Cities have been said to be engines of innovation, the real solution to the world’s problems and the most productive places on earth (Glaeser 2012). To achieve this, cities have required to develop, implement and redevelop ways to adapt, grow and sustain the majority of the world’s population. Most of the time, this has come in the form of a carefully followed city strategy that sets a vision, goals and a plan on how to achieve these.
In Melbourne, the Metropolitan Strategy is the document that sets the vision for the city.
The new Metropolitan Strategy for Melbourne has been released to “build on its liveability and ensure the future prosperity of the State” (DTPLI 2013). The strategy, according to the State Government, will “contribute to the overall vision for the State including links with regional Victoria and shape how the city changes, which areas take more people and which planning rules should change to facilitate new and more diverse housing” (DTPLI 2013).
The success of this vision will depend on a recognition of a wide variety of metropolitan and State issues, making clear differentiations between them and state those issues that cannot be addressed in a city strategy.
Genuine public consultation process that tests assumptions and, ultimately, the proposed solutions against the views of the broader public are essential in any decisions that affect the public. One of the weaknesses of the consultation processes for Melbourne 2030 (the previous city strategy) was that it was largely confined to the interested and concerned (Davies 2013).
The development of the Metropolitan Strategy began with the Planning Minister’s appointment of a Ministerial Advisory Committee. Consulting with industry, community and government, the committee developed a discussion paper.
Regrettably, similar to Melbourne 2030 most people barely knew the discussion paper was underway. For example, the public forums on the web site registered only 382 comments in three months (DTPLI 2013). The community forum held on 2nd of March did manage to engage over 700 individuals to hear about some of the strategy’s priorities such as a 20-minute city and housing affordability along with government and industry representatives. While this is a great outcome for the broader community to hear about the strategy and the process being undertaken, attendance to a forum is not an indication that the public is being consulted.
In order to engage meaningfully with the task of designing the city’s vision, there needs to be a different approach to consultation. Current public consultation approaches rarely make a difference to the issue that is being consulted (ACELG 2012). This is due to the lack of openness, accessibility and attractiveness, but also to the fact that when something is being consulted on, it rarely changes after consultation (Bosman 2013). Meaningful consultation should jointly analyse and collaborate the current issues and forecast challenges, define key priorities, and canvass policy and community options for implementation.
The discussion paper, prepared by the Ministerial Advisory Committee guided the development of the Metropolitan Planning Strategy and identified nine principles to inform and generate discussion.
The nine principles provide a guide to some of the priorities the Metropolitan Strategy has, however some of the principles seem to be solutions rather than a proposition that serve as the foundation for a system of behavior. A polycentric city model or a 20-minute city are approaches to achieve an outcome, which should flow out of the process of analysis and consultation.
The emphasis on increasing public transport is essential for any city strategy, something that is highlighted across Plan Melbourne. To build an effective public transportation network however, the existing network needs to operate more efficiently by improving reliability, punctuality and networking across services and across modes (Davison 2013).
The strategy highlights the location of where attention needs to be given to expanding the geographical coverage of the rail network. While this is crucial to improving transportation systems, it should not be the priority for all areas. A more effective way to improve transportation would to concentrate on improving suburban links to the existing rail network and facilitating expansion where those networks are effective.
Urban and regional growth
Plan Melbourne recognises the important role of economic activity outside the CBD, particularly with the emphasis on a polycentric city. The emphasis on a polycentric city however, is not very clear on the agreed rationale for the selection of the suburban central activities districts. To complement it, it could provide facts about activity centres such as the number, location, size, the proportion of jobs and infrastructure they have and will most likely need (Baker 2011).
Under the banner A State of Cities, Plan Melbourne proposes a strong focus on regional development, as it will absorb some of the expected 2.5 million increase of the capital’s population (Plan Melbourne 2013). To achieve this, it proposes attracting Melbourne’s commuters to the country.
This is a common trend in cities like London, for example, where satellite towns like Hemel Hempstead and Milton Keynes make an integral part of London’s working force (Economist 2013). The towns are closely tied economically to the centre, particularly by providing more affordable housing.
The effectiveness of this vision will depend on big investment in multiple high-capacity inter-regional road and rail links, as most satellite towns outside Melbourne remain poorly connected through rail (Bosman 2013). This will have to be complemented with provision of major services like hospitals, universities, specialised schools and smart water saving strategies.
The challenge of affordable housing is also recognised in the strategy. However, it fails to state that affordable housing is not a challenge singly compromised by planning regulations, but the building industry and taxation policies (Davies 2013).
Overall, the strategy recognises significant issues and opportunities that Melbourne and Victoria face today. It uses a land use plan and calls for partnership models between the private and public sector.
One of the key implementation elements of the strategy is a new Metropolitan Planning Authority (DTPLI 2013). This is something many people interested in planning would favour given the lack of direction under which the state has function for the last few years. The Authority however, is missing key representation from local councils and the community (Bajkowski 2013).
For successful implementation, The State government should positively embrace soft policies like regulation, taxation and marketing (Glaeser, Davies, Baker). These have been highly successful in cities like New York, Toronto, Medellin and Portland (Glaeser, Baker). The Strategy must not limit its perspective solely to ‘hard’ initiatives like capital works and zoning regimes. Soft policies are important because they are long-term decisions that involve cross-sectoral support and recognise that a city is shaped through how behaviour is managed as well as the projects that are constructed. An example of this could be “regulatory and taxation policies like road pricing that can potentially have a profound impact on shaping the way the city develops” (Davison 2004).
An effective strategy should be a strategy for managing the growth of Melbourne. Plan Melbourne cannot be a land use plan only. For this, I think the development of the Metropolitan Planning Authority is a great asset. However, the strategy must take a multi-portfolio view because planning is only one force shaping the way Melbourne will develop over the next 20, 30 or 40 years. Importantly, it must recognise the profound relationship between land use and transport (Davison 2004).
The Metropolitan Strategy should resist the temptation to ‘solve’ every economic, social and environmental issue confronting Melbourne and understand how it impacts on variables like diversity, and pay close attention to whether or not it is the appropriate vehicle to achieve this vision (Davies 2013).
Plan Melbourne should not commence with pre-conceived solutions like having a polycentric city model or a 20-minute city; these should be the result of the analysis and consultation process. Moreover, it should identify clear objectives such as increasing sustainable transportation. To achieve this, more investment in public transport will be necessary, but incentives to increase the speed of the transition to more fuel and emissions efficient vehicles will also be crucial (Davison 2004).
To be successful, Plan Melbourne needs to recognise that whilst planners and urban designers make a valuable and significant contribution to the future of Melbourne, planning is not the only force shaping Melbourne’s future. Importantly, it needs to recognise that the idea that government officials can create or plan some idealised future based on today’s values is ambitious to say the least (Davies 2013). Some decisions will have to be made today, but Plan Melbourne should nevertheless focus on maximising the ability of our cities to adapt to new and unforeseen circumstances.
Having flexible and efficient institutions and processes should be a priority for effective implementation of today’s and future strategies. In doing so, public officials should be “wary about privileging today’s technical understandings and political views; because there’s a good chance they’ll be wrong” (Davies 2013).
At the end it’s going to take us all and it’s going to take forever, but then, that’s the point.