Monday Melbourne: CLX, February 2008
Russell Degnan

Strangely, bluestone is an underused building material in Melbourne. Taken September 2007

Melbourne Town 11th February, 2008 20:24:52   [#] [0 comments] 

Fitting a public square in a private triangle
Russell Degnan

What conclusions should you draw about planning in Melbourne, when an architecturally progressive development that hints at and preserves local heritage, adds to public space, and provides significant local amenity, built over a derelict and ugly building site that has been an eyesore for the better part of four decades, attracts thousands of innumerable celebrities in protest, while hundreds of horrid concrete slabs, devoid of pedestrians, character or life itself, bloom like a thousand weeds around the outer suburban road network with nary a raised eyebrow?

There are innumerable reasons why the site has become the focal point of community outrage, but few seem to relate to the development itself, rather than the general under-current of change, the planning process generally, and the expectation of residents for the site.

The shops became a major point of contention. The scale of the development scared local retailers, fearing for their slice of the local economy. Perhaps for a few businesses this is right, but it is just as likely the added attraction will add to their customer base, and few future changes will be attributable to this development, rather than something else.

More complex is the response of residents. An emotional attachment to a place through its culture of shops, architecture and people is an essential aspect of urban life, but like children, places invariably grow and change. Theoretically, it might be possible to prevent aspects of these changes, but it would require more severe planning laws than we have, and that we would accept. Instead, we can only make choices that slow or hasten change.

Ironically, the proud defenders of St Kilda's eclectic heritage seem determined to prevent something that may slow, not hasten change. They protested the range of shops, worried about chain stores, and no doubt the clientele. When the developer promised not to allow them - a move of questionable legal basis - the protests shifted to the number. Neither complaint makes sense if residents want to protect a retail culture in St Kilda. St Kilda is an attractive place for retail businesses. The residents are young, increasingly wealthy, and it is nearby other, even more attractive, areas. Up market shops and chain stores will increasingly invade St Kilda's streets and it is not possible to stop them pushing other businesses out of Fitzroy or Acland Street. But it is possible to create space for them, lowering rents across the suburb, and slowing the rate of change. The triangle development provides this space, enhancing, not out-competing the retail shopping strips.

The legal challenge ahead seems to rely on interpretation of more mundane planning issues. But here, the case is flimsy. From the report produced by Prof. Roz Hansen the main claims seem to be that:

  • "[T]he site was not a designated activity centre under the Melbourne 2030 planning scheme and local planning guidelines failed to support the inclusion of 25,000 square metres of retail space."

A completely spurious claim. St Kilda is a major activity centre, and this includes both Acland and Fitzroy Streets, respectively 200 and 500m from the site. That the planning scheme doesn't propose substantial new retail space is equally irrelevant. If buildings were only built as anticipated by the planning scheme most major developments would need to include amendments to the scheme.

  • "The level of development envisaged in the UDF was for a public recreational space and not a massive commercial development"

Semantics, semantics. The Urban Design Framework makes no claims of size. It specifically asks for the triangle site to be "sympathetic" to the visual and spatial qualities of public open space. But it also refers to the triangle site as an "activity node", and regardless of the intention of the UDF the state government has always been quite clear that the site was for commercial development with public space included. A matter that relates to the last claim:

  • "The broad grounds of the challenge will include the proposal's failure to comply with the [...] public purpose requirements of the St Kilda Triangle Act"

The St Kilda Triangle Act is quite clear here:

"The committee of management of the St Kilda triangle land may grant a lease of that land for the purpose of the construction or use of buildings, works, facilities or public open space for retail, tourism, entertainment, commercial or cultural purposes."

Clearly, what has been told to the residents in public meetings hasn't matched what has gone into the planning of the site. And herein lies the problem. The public clearly believe they have some claim on the site, because it is iconic (heritage buildings being quasi-public in nature), because the land is Crown land, and because of the important position of the site in relation to the foreshore. The state government and council have left the developer to produce their vision, and unsurprisingly the developer has proposed something that maximises their value from the site. Arguably, as always, parcels of land could have prevented a development of this size, but parcels reduce the grandiosity of the vision.

What the residents want, in other words, is to develop the site, their way, through state government funding. To inundate an area already teeming with cultural spaces with more cultural spaces. I don't disagree that it presents an attractive vision, but it is grossly naive in thinking it deserves such largesse, when so many other places go without anything.

Some years ago, I posted on the planning process for this site, but left open the question of whether heavy handed planning seeking particular outcomes was actually beneficial. Now, I think, I can say no. In a pattern repeated in Docklands, Southbank, QV and others, the consolidation of large sites, for significant and prescribed outcomes has always produced the same thing: large, commercially orientated development, where the sheer cost and scale prevents any close scrutiny of the little things that matter.

Moreover, the expectations raised by the consultation and planning process lend themselves to these sort of excessive outcries over fundamentally reasonable proposals. It is not healthy for the planning process, not even particularly democratic, and certainly not helpful for a developer who rather than being granted some sort of certainty has become a political and legal football.

In each of the cases cited above, there was a fundamental tension between the intimate scale the residents wanted (and the planners hinted they might be getting), and the major retail, housing and business hubs that were created. The public space in each case varies from very good to poor, though none is so bad as that found in less prominent locations, and each has grown on people as they accustomed themselves to it. As with those places, the St Kilda triangle was destined to be a large development from the moment the State government closed the Lower Esplanade, parceled the land together, and wrote an act allowing practically any commercial or entertainment use.

Ultimately, though, and as I've said before, these developments would be much improved if governments stop reneging on their responsibility to the aspect that really matters: the provision and protection of public space. At the commercial end, encouraging unrealistic public expectations about likely development only brings trouble when commercial reality intrudes.

Sterner Matters 10th February, 2008 19:41:00   [#] [4 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: CLIX, February 2008
Russell Degnan

The flower stall out front of the GPO. Taken August 2007

Melbourne Town 5th February, 2008 01:19:52   [#] [0 comments] 

Ratings - February 2008
Russell Degnan

Australia v India

Opening Ratings: Aus: 1447.38 Ind: 1155.78
1st Test: Australia by 337 runs
2nd Test: Australia by 122 runs
3rd Test: India by 73 runs
4th Test: Drawn
Closing Ratings: Aus: 1393.31 Ind: 1196.37

An undoubtedly fascinating series, full of very good cricket, and stretches of tedium brought on by horrific over rates and the feeling that neither side had grasped the opportunities given to them. Preparing via no more than a few overs of rain affected cricket against Victoria hrurt India in Melbourne. They did well to keep Australia under 400 twice, but the running and fielding was shoddy (though for the most part it remained so), the experiment of Dravid and Jaffer opening failed horribly, and they were worked over by Lee, Clark and Johnson in a big defeat.

Too much has already been written about Sydney, most of it rubbish, and too little focused on the cricket. This is a pity, because behind the rancour the game was both a classic and a microcosm of the series as a whole. India should have won, but most of their frustration at Symonds' fortune (in an otherwise admirable 162 no.) comes because they failed to impose themselves on the game at 6/134. Australia should never have got to 463. Certainly India are disingenuous complaining about their luck, with both Laxman and Tendulkar lucky to get past 50. But like India earlier, Australia let themselves down with poor catching, in what became a recurring theme, and in a manner that didn't do justice to continued excellent bowling in tough conditions.

However, it was the second innings that India lost the second test. In a manner oddly reminiscent of Adelaide last year, with all bets on a draw, India began to play the game out, ceded complete control over proceedings, and subsequently lost. Australia began the last day sensing that quick runs could give them a sniff, promptly collapsed, but set about stifling an Indian side that should have backed themselves for the win (not least by opening with Tendulkar and Ganguly). Umpiring errors inevitably favour the dominant side, though arguably there was only one, and that after Australia had spurned Dravid's many gifts. In essence, it was an undeserved test victory for Australia, but a thoroughly deserved loss for India, who will never reach the pinnacle of cricketing excellence if they can't realistically assess losses like this for their own failures, and not of others.

As poor as India were in the first two tests, they should be commended for their performances in the final two. Ironically, it was the pacy Perth pitch that finally showed what Australia is missing now Warne has retired. Most obviously, a relatively reliable slip fielder while in Hayden's absence, Clarke and company repeatedly embarrassed themselves. But more notably, while Lee and Clark have admirably filled McGrath's shoes when ripping through the top order, that ability to prise out the tail, and take control of games has gone. Australia batted poorly in the first innings, held by excellent bowling from Singh, Pathan and Sharma, but at 5/125 the opportunity was there to win the test. An opportunity rarely missed in the past, but let slip here as Clarke and Symonds bowled most of the afternoon session. The chase was admirable (though someone needed to go on), but ultimately short.

Given the opportunity to draw the series, India again showed little interest (or ability) to press the advantage in Adelaide. Comfortable batting and bowling on Australian pitches, and the Australian catching now such a disgrace that no victory could be countenanced, the game slipped away. A 2-1 result was fair, which is indicative of both India's gradual ascendance (now easily second in the ratings), and of Australia's coming gradual decline. The next two years will be tortuous for Australia with 20 odd tests leading into the Ashes, most of them on difficult tours. That Gilchrist walked when he did was wise. It will be interesting to see who remains further along.

In the run getting, Tendulkar (493 runs at 70.4) and Hayden (410 runs at 82.0) batted best, but no player on either side made a decisive big hundred, nor dominated the bowling for long periods, even when big scores were posted. Brett Lee was clearly the best performer with the ball however, (24 wickets @ 22.6) and the support from an unlucky Clark, an improving Johnson and a handy Symonds was enough to win the series. Kumble was best for the Indians but although their bowling was good, they never managed to assert themselves for long enough to properly challenge Australia. Ultimately it was only poor catching that stopped Australia winning more easily than they did.

South Africa v West Indies

Opening Ratings: SAf: 1139.37 WI: 833.77
1st Test: West Indies by 128 runs
2nd Test: South Africa by 7 wickets
3rd Test: South Africa by an innings and 100 runs
Opening Ratings: SAf: 1116.53 WI: 858.28

Being woefully inconsistent but immensely talented always endears a side to its opponents, and frustrates its fans. The West Indies took this to extremes though, finally winning a test (Bravo's first unbelievably) with the sort of fighting knocks and controlled agression that made them a great side in the 1980s, tempered by the sort of collapse that has made them an embarrassment in the 2000s. This is not the first time South Africa has dropped the opening test recently, and they once again took control of the series, first grinding the West Indies down through Steyn, Nel and Ntini, in a low scoring second test, then pummelling a Gayle-less side as Smith, Prince and De Villiers produced big hundreds, and Pollock made his swan-song. Samuels (top scoring in the series with 314 @ 52.3) and Bravo showed some fight in the final innings, indicating that this series may yet mark the beginning of an improvement in West Indies fortunes. But evan though South Africa's batsmen consistently fail to make the big hundreds required to dominate a test, they scored consistently enough for the bowlers to get to work. Steyn continuing to impress with 20 wickets @ 19.1.

New Zealand v Bangladesh

Opening Ratings: NZ: 1034.17 Ban: 597.99
1st Test: New Zealand by 9 wickets
2nd Test: New Zealand by an innings and 137 runs
Opening Ratings: NZ: 1038.23 Ban: 594.51

The sort of series New Zealand suffer in, when their weather contrives to draw games they should otherwise win. But having effectively two rest days helps, and both were won with ease as Bangladesh continues to fail at this level. Tamin Iqbal was the only batsman of note for them, unfortunately ill in their worst display of the series, and no New Zealand batsman cashed in with most of the un-makign continuing to occur in the lower half of the order (albeit a half that begins at the 3rd or 4th wicket). Martin was the best bowler, but no New Zealander did badly and the wickets were shared around.

Forthcoming Series:

New Zealand (1038.23) v England (1129.08) - 3 Tests

A series that doesn't actually start till March, but one that promises to be interesting. The ratings say it will be very even, though England, more than most sides, should be capable of handling New Zealand conditions. Neither side has done well of late, though New Zealand have probably made the poorer showings as their batting continues to struggle. It is almost impossible to see this being a high scoring series, but the English batting must be favoured to grind out scores they can defend. Expect them to scrape a win.

Bangladesh (594.51) v South Africa (1116.53) - 2 Tests

Another perfunctory tour to Bangladesh, given such short shrift by CricInfo that they didn't put it on their program until it started. South Africa's efforts in first tests have been abysmal recently, but Bangladesh are abysmal generally, so noone will take much interest unless the unthinkable occurs.

Sri Lanka (5th) 1105.82
Pakistan (6th) 1083.60
Zimbabwe (9th) 672.64

Idle Summers 4th February, 2008 14:18:56   [#] [0 comments]