The Urban Sprawl Debate Part 2

In part one of this debate, I looked at the drivers, arguments, problems, and some solutions for combating urban sprawl. In the second half I will turn my attention to what the Victorian Government has recently announced on this matter.

What was announced?

In summary there were three main developments

  1. The Growth Corridor Plans were finalised and released.
  2. Six precinct structure plans were approved.
  3. 5958 hectares were added to the urban growth boundary due to the completion of the ‘logical inclusions’ process and report.

 The Growth Corridor Plans

This document is a broad strokes strategic planning document similar to Melbourne 2030 but in this case only pertaining to Melbourne’s four identified growth corridors.  To me this document seems quite fluffy. It has plenty of obvious statements and great ideals but is fairly low on measurable content.

There is, however, one principle that jumps out of the report as being elevated in its emphasis;  local employment creation. This is a very good thing. Many of the problems discussed in part 1 revolve around the distance of travel that outer suburbs require. Greater employment locally is a good objective to have.  In order for this to work, density will need to be kept tight. Not in the apartment high rise sense but in combinations of terrace housing, semi detached and detached dwellings.

There is no point zoning land for a local shop, if the low surrounding density makes the business not financially viable.      

 Precinct structure plans

Precinct structure plans identify a vision for how a local community will be developed. They are used in areas where significant change is anticipated to help guide that change.  Combined into the announcement last week was the approval of the Diggers Rest, Lockerbie, Lockerbie North, Manor Lakes, Merrifield West and Rockbank North precinct structure plans.

These new suburbs are all either north or west of Melbourne. As I said in part one, as we reduce our reliance on low density housing, we should be focussing on the North and west, where we have the most chance of reducing those long travel distances. There is no benefit in increasing the already ridiculous south east corridor which now extends beyond Pakenham.

‘Logical inclusions’

The logical inclusions process was initiated in May 2011 and as the name suggests attempts to even out and rationalise what is happening at the urban fringe.  This process is a very long and incredibly bureaucratic one which has been run by a specifically set up advisory committee. The inclusions on this list were progressively culled via input from various government bodies. Local councils, the Growth Area Authority, the Advisory Committee and the Planning Minister all had input before the final ratification from an Act of Parliament. This to me shows how unlikely it is that corruption or even ‘political contributions’ from developers could change this process. As for what has finally been decided it amounts to 5,958 Hectares which in the scheme of things is only a ‘small tweaking’. A comparison to the previous adjustment of 43,000 Hectares in 2010 under the Labor Government, shows that this is a mere 13% of the size. Hopefully this will be the last change for a long time. I fear however, it will not be.

Links between health and planning

Finally as last word I return to the links between health and outer suburban planning. In Part 1 of the urban sprawl debate I highlighted these seemingly obvious links. It is therefore with a great deal of astonishment that I found this on the Growth Areas Authority website.

“Commentary that blames growth area planning for incidents of obesity is ill informed and misleads the public on a number of levels.

Age, diet, lifestyle choices, income, education and genetics are all known to be key factors in determining a person’s weight.”

http://www.gaa.vic.gov.au/  25 May 2012

This statement is provided by a government body which has a vested interest portraying the creation of outer suburbs in a positive light. The statement is spin and here is why.

Firstly, within any community diet, lifestyle choices, income and education are all themselves affected by planning. Secondly, lifestyle choices in particular go to the heart of the issue. It is possible to make a lifestyle choice to walk five kilometres each way to a bus stop in your daily commute. A 400 metre walk however is much more likely to become a daily event. Low density housing and long commute times reduces the opportunity to make healthy lifestyle choices.

Just because you’ve found some key factors, doesn’t mean they’re the only factors and it doesn’t rule out other things contributing to those factors.

In addition, the statements by the GAA ignore the other health issues associated with low density outer suburbs. These include

  1. Mental health issues.
  2. Hospital and ambulance services being further away
  3. Reliance on motor vehicle transport increasing the risk of accident trauma.

The Growth Areas Authority does however seem aware of these criticisms, as it has also announced a five year study by Vic Health. Let’s hope that in five years time this report provides strategies to combat the health impacts of living on the fringe.

Architecture is for everyone

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About Michael Smith

Architect and Director of Atelier Red + Black based in Melbourne, Australia
This entry was posted in all posts, Government Policy, Urban Design and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to The Urban Sprawl Debate Part 2

  1. livsmith21 says:

    A facebook question from a friend transferred here: How is low density housing associated with mental health?

  2. Mental health problems have many factors which can contribute. The exact cause for many mental health issues is not known. What we do know is that things like feeling isolated, socio -economic inequality and problems with employment can be factors. We also know that an active lifestyle and good food choices reduce the likelihood of some mental illness. I am connecting the dots here and saying that outer suburban communities, who are time poor and car reliant, are quite likely to have a higher incidence of mental health issues. On the flip side to this is the argument about the amount of open space that is available to outer suburban communities. I think if you can set your life up so that you can work close to where you live and give yourself every opportunity to utilize these open spaces you may be better off than those who live in the city. Unfortunately statistics tell us this is not the common experience.

  3. Yellow'n Black says:

    “There is, however, one principle that jumps out of the report as being elevated in its emphasis; local employment creation.
    Firstly, within any community, diet, lifestyle choices, income and education are all themselves affected by planning.
    In addition, the statements by the GAA ignore the other health issues associated with low density outer suburbs. These include

    Mental health issues.
    Hospital and ambulance services being further away
    Reliance on motor vehicle transport increasing the risk of accident trauma.

    The Growth Areas Authority does however seem aware of these criticisms, as it has also announced a five year study by Vic Health. Let’s hope that in five years time this report provides strategies to combat the health impacts of living on the fringe.”

    — How can you state that the GAA, ignore the other health issues, yet seem aware of these criticisms in the same paragraph (if we can call it that)?

    Oh we’re from Tigerland!

  4. My point is that in their recent media statement proclaiming healthy suburbs the the GAA ignored any of the health issues, other than obesity, which are associated with low density urban fringe development. They used spin to suggest these suburbs would be healthy, by addressing just one issue in a poorly reasoned argument.
    Despite this they still are undertaking this VicHealth Study which to me suggests that they are very aware of likely other problems.
    Imagine if there was a strong hypothesis, that a new building material that was to be used in all new dwellings, caused cancer and other health problems. Would you be satisfied with a government department’s response stating that “it has been proven that there are many causes of cancer, but we are also doing a five year study into the health effects?”

    In short, the GAA are aware, but without a valid counter argument or data to back their side, choose to ignore.

    Thanks for the question
    R+BA

  5. Pingback: Volume house builders and the great Australian nightmare | The Red and Black Architect

  6. livsmith21 says:

    An interesting article about some of the issues associated with outer suburban living
    http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/what-problems-government-skims-over-transport-nightmare-20121122-29rgc.html

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