Urban design is complicated. It’s a web of people, places, natural and built form, drawn together with a dash of social justice, environmental stewardship, and economic feasibility.
That being said, the message that resonated with me at the recent Urban Design Forum was that good urban design outcomes are possible for rural and regional Australia if they are expressed clearly and developed using solid economic principles.
Regional areas can deal with more people – as long as they get the infrastructure right.
In recent years there has been more population growth in regional Victoria than in Melbourne. Melbourne’s geographical footprint is now more than 100km wide.
Greenfield development bears significant costs and inefficiencies: there is often no public transport, low local job provision and services. Commuting by car is becoming unsustainable, for both families and the planet. In view of this situation, regional centres are well placed to accommodate larger populations.
The Municipal Association of Victoria is undertaking work to substantiate how different residential settlement patterns affect infrastructure and service delivery requirements for Council. Not surprisingly, the findings to date indicate that utilising existing infrastructure reduces the cost to Council, upfront and in the longer term. The upgrading and maintenance of infrastructure and provision of services for low density development greatly exceeds income from rates generated by these properties.
Regions must learn from the mistakes of the capital cities and consider infrastructure provision from the outset. The key lessons from the capitals are:
Keep it tight – if people live closer together it is more efficient
Do not allow employment to disperse. Establish high amenity, infrastructure intense areas for retail and commercial activity around the centre.
But how do the regions do this? Easy – they have a plan and stick to it!
Policy documents are plagued with futile ideas about generating income and jobs. Each idea has a catchy label, eco industrial land, artistic precincts. It may have colourful diagrams with arrows connecting words like sustainability, knowledge and imagination.
The City of Greater Bendigo – which has incrementally transformed the City Centre – has a clear and simple strategy. The placed based plan sets out an integrated approach to delivery, clearly identifying the input of the city as well as private and public input.
Key lessons from Bendigo’s approach:
a clear strategy means community understands and supports Council’s vision
the private sector have certainty about how and where development can occur
new Council staff are more likely to pick up the vision and run with it.
The opportunity for regional Australia is now! Living conditions are improved where there is a concentration of good jobs in businesses which are thriving. It is an added advantage if employees travel to work without long commutes in crawling traffic.