Melbourne 2030 - Planning Rhetoric versus Urban Reality
Russell Degnan

Ch. 4 - Demographic Constraints

See also: Ch. 1, Ch. 2, Ch. 3

In this chapter, the authors substantiate their claims that Melbourne 2030 won't work, as opposed to merely being a bad idea. They begin by discussing the important change that occured in the inner city areas during the 1990s. To summarise: large numbers of apartments were built, some on brownfield sites, others over existing detached dwellings, attracting a mostly young, single and/or childless people into the area.

The authors then turn to the household projections underpinning Melbourne 2030, and here find a disparity. While it is true the number of single person and childless households will increase, they will be older, not younger. The young people who have been driving inner city gentrification will actually decline in absolute terms.

Older - indeed all - households rarely move from their local statistical area, and don't appear to downsize their houses either. There are few financial reasons to do so because of the cost of apartment construction - a point borne out by the number of approved but unbuilt apartment complexes in the suburbs. The author's conclusion that "it remains an open question whether older childless couples and lone-person households will move in any significant numbers" appears to be justified.

The conclusion then, is that dwellings on the fringe, on larger blocks with room for children will continue to be the primary housing need despite the drop in household size. However, while I agree with this in part, there are two reasons why I don't believe it is clear-cut as that.

Firstly, the financial considerations are not straight-forward. Like farmers on the fringe of towns, a large landlot is a potential nest-egg if it can be subdivided. With the incentive of financial security many older people would be willing to move. However, if they need that incentive their numbers will be relatively small unless there is a market for apartments or detached dwellings. The question then becomes whether that market does exist given the youth demographic is declining in size.

This brings me to the second point. People are reluctant to move as they get older, and at all times generally move along the same corridor, and within their local area. We therefore have an interesting new phenomenon that is only just emerging. Many young childless couples living in the inner city are now having children. It is not clear that these couples, adjusted to living in the inner suburbs will want to live on the urban fringe. Some appear to be moving to regional areas, some are staying in the city in smaller detached dwellings, thereby forcing the younger demographic further from the city.

The urban fringe is now very distant from the CBD, and even more expensive to travel to. Houses there are not substantially cheaper than smaller, closer dwellings, and lack local amenity. Some cities in the US - particularly LA - have already found density levels increasing, and there is no reason it won't occur here. If older people don't move house, then this group will remain the driver of Melbourne's urban form. Unfortunately we just don't know what choice they will make.

Next: Residential Infill and its Threat to Melbourne's Liveability

Finer Things 15th September, 2005 23:50:07   [#]