Comment: Plan Melbourne must enshrine steps to purge our insidious car culture

Comment: Plan Melbourne must enshrine steps to purge our insidious car culture
Alastair TaylorOctober 22, 2015

We are nearing the first anniversary of the Andrews Government, they certainly have hit the ground running and set a lot of inter-related policy areas in a different direction. It is just a pity that the public debate around planning has boiled down to high-rise or skyscraper canyons versus monotonous "European" style development sham.

The two sides of that debate are analogous to the typical trench warfare of "left" versus "right" politics. It does not matter how loony or tory the left or right are, whoever gains the middle ground will win at the end of the day.

It is all a bit quaint and passé, really. And glosses over our real problem: our insidious car culture.

The first two explanations for insidious on state it is "intended to entrap or beguile; [to be] stealthily treacherous or deceitful". However it is the third meaning "operating or proceeding in an inconspicuous or seemingly harmless way but actually with grave effect" which describes our car society ever so succinctly.

Nightingale: when car culture stifles innovation

On October 14, an order at VCAT was made to set aside the City of Moreland's granting of a permit for the Nightingale development (6 Florence Street, Brunswick). Among the many paragraphs in the senior member's explanation of the order (and I encourage everyone to read them), the section which stuck out the most came under the heading "The convenience of private car ownership".

Paragraphs 112 through 118 make for particularly sobering reading, as the senior VCAT member used private car ownership as a convenience as part of his justification.

The private car is a very convenient transport mode in certain circumstances, but it is highly specific to where you live and where you need to travel. Brunswick is a vastly different beast to a middle-ring suburb like Glen Waverley or outer growth suburb like Tarneit.

Some suburbs are highly dependent on provisions for car parking as other transport and societal infrastructure is slow to catch up to the pace of development on the fringes (or simply non-existent). However, this should not be used as a justification for curtailing development innovation and entrepreneurialism in the way that it has impacted in Nightingale's case.

Buyers in the 20 unit Nightingale development will have signed on the dotted line knowing full well their purchase is not going to include a car park, and the location of the development in the Anstey precinct with all the services and public transport services at its doorstep would have also been monumental in attracting them.

The group of architects who are the proponents of this planning application are turning the early stages of the standard development model on its head: a waiting list is devised and then each is surveyed through one-on-one meetings and online questionnaires. This is not marketing trickery, it is a different way of doing business.

After one-on-one meetings with the design architects where potential buyers are taken through the architectural drawings, the potential buyer elects to be added to a ballot. The ballot is drawn and only then are buyers invited to sign up for an apartment.

This is what development innovation is: buyers are taken through a process so they are fully aware of what they are signing on for, effectively vetted to see if their values fit the development's goals. Sources have told that the 20 buyers who did sign up are a diverse bunch: singles, couples, downsizing retirees, young families with pets, generation Y, generation X; most of whom work in socially and environmentally enlightened professions.

They are classic early adopters and by looking at's analytics numbers, there are many more out there.

Consider this: since we published the Nightingale listing in our project database in October 2014 (through standard editorial process), this page has become the 30th most viewed on the site, with 3,934 unique views.

When filtering out non-project pages: only the super-tall Australia 108 (4,097), the skyscrapers Empire Melbourne (4,619) and EQ Tower (4,311), Whitehorse Towers in Box Hill (4,552), Capitol Grand in South Yarra (5,682) and the lower/mid-rise projects of Smith & Co in Collingwood (4,674) and Ikebana in West Melbourne (4,040) have had more views in the same timeframe.

Plan Melbourne should encourage development innovation, not hinder it

To quote Brent Toderian, former chief planner of Vancouver (bold, my emphasis), "We've understood in Vancouver for years that mobility flows from smart land use choices. The best transportation plan is a great land-use plan. That means mixing uses, in compact and complete communities, with strong, consistent urban design."

The recently re-booted Plan Melbourne under the "A more connected Melbourne" section has seen an update of the major transport projects the current Government is pursuing. Likewise it has two options for discussion relating to involvement with Infrastructure Victoria and including the principal public transport network in the entire Plan Melbourne 2016 document.

If Plan Melbourne is to FOCUS Melbourne's future development in a more node-like fashion spread throughout the entire metropolitan area then we need - scratch that, require - Infrastructure Victoria to advise Government on how to reduce car dependency and increase all other sustainable and public forms of transport in these areas.

Pardon a pun however if our insidious car culture can be so brutally used as a road block for new development in inner-urban areas, where buyers are more than willing to join a new community of car-free dwellings, then what hope is there in areas where car dependency is greater? "Balanced" transport investment will do nothing but maintain the status quo, it is time to enact slow progressive change right throughout the metropolitan area.

Transport should not be another bolt-on chapter in a document. It should be present throughout and Plan Melbourne must focus on reducing car dependency and creating a new transport culture throughout Melbourne, so we never again find ourselves in the situation where car culture is a significant barrier to development innovation.

Lead image credit: Wikipedia

Alastair Taylor

Alastair Taylor is a co-founder of Now a freelance writer, Alastair focuses on the intersection of public transport, public policy and related impacts on medium and high-density development.

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