Traffic jams? No jobs? Ghettoes? Blame poor planning
Ask any poor wage slave trapped in rush hour traffic or crammed like a sardine into a sweltering carriage on their hour-long daily commute and my guess is you’ll find no shortage of strong opinions on Australia’s less than terrific track record in urban planning.
As our major cities have grown in population over recent decades the unimaginative response of state governments has largely been to drive new housing towards our metropolitan fringes.
But as many of us experience daily, on the whole they’ve done so without putting in place the economic and social infrastructure to accommodate such expansion – public transport, training and employment opportunities and access to essential community services such as childcare.
And when the housing is poorly planned – as much affordable accommodation has been over the past 20 years – residents have had to grapple with an additional set of challenges on top of the slog of travelling two hours each way to get to work.
How do you invest in your child’s education, sport or health when your heating and cooling costs are so high?
How do you manage the expense of purchasing and maintaining a car because public transport is either non-existent or a bad joke?
The other repercussion of poor planning is that on the fringes of our major cities we’ve succeeded in building communities where disadvantaged and low-income individuals and families are clustered in areas where opportunities for social and economic participation are limited.
Building communities takes time and resources – new and growing communities even more so.
That sort of society is ripe for the creation of a range of problems, including intergenerational unemployment – families in which neither parent nor their young adult children have ever had a job.
Our governments and planning bodies need to learn from the past. We all know the answer isn’t the creation of monolithic housing estates; but nor is it, as a result of unbridled investment and development, the gentrification of inner city and suburban areas where those few pockets of affordable housing remain and in doing so price low income people out.
All of which made the Victorian Government’s recent announcement to redevelop the Fishermans Bend precinct – 200 hectares of factories and vacant lots a few kilometres from Melbourne’s CBD – into an “inner-city growth corridor” very welcome.
The noise coming from those associated with the project seems positive – up to 15,000 dwellings, mostly medium and high density, and a commitment to both affordable housing and not repeating the sins of the past via a consultative process that takes a 30 year view.
Also welcome is the fact that a yet-to-be-established Urban Renewal Authority will examine a range of Melbourne inner-suburban ‘brownfield’ sites that can be developed in the years to come.
All very encouraging, but if the state government is looking for parts of the city most deserving of urban renewal I’d be happy to suggest a few.
Some of the areas in which Mission Australia works assisting disadvantaged individuals and families – suburbs like Doveton and Heidelberg West – need a long term vision that embraces community ownership and integrated planning.
It’s the only way we’ll reverse the cycle of unemployment and disadvantage – including some of the nation’s highest youth jobless rates – that has plagued them for 30 years or more.
Urban renewal isn’t just about bricks and mortar – it’s not just about knocking down old buildings and putting up nice new units – even if they are earmarked as affordable or public housing.
True urban renewal is about ‘cross the board’ efforts to address an area’s endemic problems – joblessness, poor health and wellbeing, family conflict, crime, social isolation.
As such, governments embarking on urban renewal would do well to recognise that the process shouldn’t just be the domain of town planners, architects and bureaucrats.
It must also involve, not just the contribution, but the ownership of the community and local business and integrate their perspectives on employment and the potential need for support services.
My challenge to the Victorian Government is to show it can both ‘chew gum and walk’ on urban renewal.
To embrace the need not only to focus on the decades-long project that is Fishermans Bend but also those forgotten regions of Melbourne that are crying out for regeneration and a chance of progress.
Fishermans Bend and Heidelberg West – it shouldn’t be an either/or proposition.
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