Melbourne, Population Growth and the High Rise
Russell Degnan

"The reality is that the population of the world is increasing every 50 years by double. The concept that people will not live in a high-rise is an uneducated dream. Vertical villages will happen because humanity has no choice."
Soheil Abedian

This statement, from the Saturday Age is utter bilge, yet once again The Age reporter has failed to show even the smallest portion of critical evaluation, printing it exactly as said.

There are two issues here. The first is the lamentable rubbish printed above. Based on the falling birthrates in almost every country in the world, the UN's world population projection estimates that the world's population will peak at 9 billion then slowly decline. There is no chance of it being remotely accurate, but I will tip it against the ludicrous doubling prediction of Mr. Abedian.

For Australia, the population is expected to stabilise at around 30 million - a not unreasonable prediction - with almost all of the growth from immigration. This means Melbourne, with a current population of 3.5 million will not grow beyond 5.25 million. This is beyond the limit of the water supply, but not too bad.

Melbourne has no need for high-rise living, not now, not ever. Nor for that matter do most other cities of the world - though Asia might be an exception. Those that have it already are largely the product of geographical and political circumstance - ie. Singapore and Hong Kong.

The second issue relates to Melbourne 2030, and its apparent density requirement that has drawn over-eager developers to the suburbs' activity centres like moths to a flame. Once again, a small amount of mathematics can go a long way. In reaching a peak population of about 5.5 million Melbourne will have 1.5 times the current population.

Melbourne does not need high rise towers to meet this population growth, even in the absence of any more land. The 50% increase in density that entails can be achieved by doubling the density - from detached to row-house for instance - on merely half the stock. Or, if that is too onerous, tripling - ie. a 3 storey block of flats - a quarter of it. Over 50 years! At no point will it involve building 20 storey or more towers. Ten storeys would be more than sufficient to not only provide adequate housing but to leave the current character of most suburbs untouched.

In short, the current interpretation of Melbourne 2030 is nothing short of a con-job by developers on a misinformed public and weak-willed politicians. It is about time someone called them on it.

Sterner Matters 18th January, 2005 01:36:42   [#] 


Thoughtful though I wonder about the last para...
1. Melbourne may not have a "need" for it -- no one does; it is simply a life-style choice and some people like it and some don't.
2. I wouldn't blame "developers" for excess construction -- they are just doing what developers are "supposed" to do: overbuild.
3. Where is the permalink for this post? -- I was going to link to it.
David Sucher  19th January, 2005 15:07:49  

Good points
David, I agree. Unfortunately, lifestyle choice rarely seems to get a hearing in Melbourne planning disputes. Any development will have impacts on surrounding residents and the local infrastructure, as will any alternative housing options. Theoretically, the strategic and statutory (land-use) planning bodies should be able to resolve them simply and amicably. This is not the case though. The state government has attempted to provide a strategic policy - Melbourne 2030 - to encourage greater density; this is often at odds with both local resident opinions and local government planning guidelines.

The result has been a heavily politicised process that has meant long delays for planning approvals and a lot of expensive court cases to resolve them. I don't blame developers for trying to work with the system they have been given. They (rightly) try and find the most profitable use of their land. However, to gain approval for certain projects, they have attempted to conflate Melbourne 2030's expressed 'need' for greater density with a 'need' for high density apartment towers. As demonstrated (I hope), it is a fallacious argument.

Taking the broader view I blame Melbourne's bureaucratic land-use planning scheme. It raises the cost of getting a development approved, meaning they have to be larger to compensate. Instead of a lot of medium density development we are seeing a few high density developments. I'm sympathetic to the view that the whole thing should be scrapped, but it does raise the question of how to manage the potential imacts new developments have on their local area.
Russ  20th January, 2005 02:42:55  

Residents want status quo
Instead of a lot of medium density development we are seeing a few high density developments

I dunno Russ, but I don't think the residents of the leafy suburbs want that either. They want the status quo maintained indefinitely.
Robert Merkel  25th January, 2005 07:12:44  

There are four, nay, six parties involved though... current residents, potential residents, planners, developers, local councils, and state government. All of whom have their different political and economic strengths. In the end, I think that high income potential residents will force through higher densities in a lot of suburbs, in the same way they have gentrified the inner suburbs: by buying property that is a better economic proposition as four houses instead of one.

The very rich leafy suburbs will escape that trend, but there are a lot of suburbs that don't match that description. As an example, in the past 10 years, the very leafy street my Grandma lives on in Mitcham has gone from predominately single dwellings to almost all units.
Russ  25th January, 2005 09:40:45