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Why the Greens' Plan For a Liveable Melbourne Will Not Save Melbourne - Article by Mark Allen

On Thursday the fifth of November 2015, local, state and federal representatives from The Greens launched their plan for a “Better More Liveable Melbourne” but what impact will this plan have considering Victoria's population is increasing by a hundred thousand a year (especially when most of the growth is in Melbourne)?

Proposed renewable energy public transport

At first glance it appears that it would have a major impact, especially as the aim of the plan is to invest heavily in a wide range of projects including three new railway stations, schools in the Docklands, fifty new trams running on 100% renewable energy, a railway line to Doncaster and an upgrade of the train signalling system.

Of all of the aforementioned proposals, it would not be unreasonable to expect that the signalling upgrade would be one of the more affordable options on the table, yet the current state Labor government has already abandoned plans to enact this legislation, precisely because it is unable to find the funds.

So how are the Greens going to come up with the money for a range of considerably more ambitious proposals? Their answer is “through fixing the unfair tax system such as abolishing subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, making sure that the big banks pay their fair share and by ensuring that property developers contribute part of their profits to pay for community infrastructure.”

Limitations of current paradigm and time

While this sounds reasonable, there is nevertheless no hope whatsoever of this policy framework becoming reality in time to prevent a much worse infrastructure crisis. The policies are so far removed from the current political paradigm (as supported by The Coalition and Labor) that to rely upon change in the short or even the medium term would be grossly unrealistic. We unfortunately do not have the luxury of buying that kind of time.

On top of a growing infrastructure debt, Melbourne will require an additional 355,000 new homes in the next decade alone, just to keep up with demand. The Greens advocate urban consolidation, whereby urban sprawl is replaced with higher density development, normally located within close proximity to established public transport. So far in Melbourne at least, this approach has turned out to be a major exercise in greenwash, mainly because the whole process is directed by free market economics resulting in a situation whereby very few high-density residential developments are even remotely affordable to people on lower incomes. Even fewer units are large enough to house families. A recent study by Bob Birrell and David McCloskey from The Australian Population Research Institute has highlighted the fact that ninety percent of new apartment approvals in Melbourne are no greater than sixty square metres in size, mainly because they are aimed at investors.

Developer resistance to good planning

The Greens would like to substantially increase affordable housing while also ensuring that stronger design standards are put in place. This approach however is likely to meet massive resistance from powerful and influential development interests who would, as a result, be forced to take a significant cut in profits. The decision to also make developers contribute towards infrastructure projects would further entrench this opposition.

Therefore if we are to be serious about saving Melbourne's food bowl (which is now under severe attack from urban sprawl) as well as its diverse inner suburban neighbourhoods, we cannot afford to wait until the Greens become strong enough in number to substantially increase their political influence. Bad planning (as well as being a gross waste of resources) is almost impossible to reverse and poorly envisioned development is happening now at an accelerating pace.

Deceptive not to inform public that population growth massively increases planning problems

The fact that this situation is being massively exacerbated by rapid population growth is another issue that cannot be ignored. Informing society that it is our environmental duty to live in high density developments is deceptive when in reality it is as much about forcing communities to adapt to a population policy aimed primarily at boosting GDP.

Long-proposed Fisherman's Bend development would absorb less than one year's population growth

Our population is now increasing at such a rate that even if all of the Greens' policies were already in place, it would nevertheless be impossible to implement a workable and effective planning strategy that could keep up with this demand. This is because good planning needs to be well considered and should take into account much more than the housing needs of its residents. To take one example, the proposed Fisherman's Bend development has been on the drawing board for a long period, yet upon completion, it will absorb less than one year's worth of Melbourne's current rate of population growth.

Medium density alternative to high density

An alternative strategy (which is promoted by forward thinking planners such as Professor Michael Buxton) is to increase the density of middle suburbs such as Reservoir and Fawkner. They already contain a substantial amount of infrastructure and much of the post-war detached housing stock contained within them does not come anywhere close to the energy efficiency standards that would be required if they were built today. A substantial proportion of this stock could therefore be replaced with dual or triple occupancy developments complete with access to private open space. This would be in contrast to the higher density alternatives that are being championed in the inner suburbs, where space is much more of a premium.

The fact that the Greens have contested local elections on the premise of protecting the village culture of inner suburb areas such as Prahrarn and Westgarth shows that they too realise that there is a limit to the amount of high-density development that is desirable in their own heartlands. A slower rate of population growth is therefore required in order to limit ad-hoc and unsightly apartment blocks in the inner suburbs in favour of a slower, more graceful transition to town house living in the middle suburbs.

Another option is to put greater emphasis on developing regional towns but again population growth would need to be slowed until the appropriate infrastructure and policies are in place to make this happen. Otherwise, any policy relating to population that is not in tandem with infrastructure and affordable housing targets will greatly impact our ability to plan resilient communities. Persuading people to relocate from the metropolitan area would also be a long process because we are ultimately a nation of urban-conurbations, not boundless plains.

For example, forty percent of Australians live either in Melbourne or Sydney compared to only twenty percent of people who live in England's two main cities of London and Birmingham. Therefore our population growth (which translates to a new Sydney less than every 15 years) is far less evenly distributed than in many European countries which are served with a large network of established regional towns.

Grow our population or grow food?

Some would argue that despite our current poor planning models, Australia nevertheless has an obligation to help ease the burden of heavily populated countries. This however becomes counterproductive if people are forced to increase their environmental footprint simply by virtue of moving here. It would be better to focus on protecting our threatened agricultural land from suburban sprawl for the purpose of exporting food to those countries that are most in need. Population policy should after all be primarily focused on doing the most good for people who need the most help.

Refugees

The Greens would not lose any support (and would stand to gain a lot more) if they were to continue to advocate for a higher refugee intake whilst also initiating a wide ranging consultation process on population to include urban ecologists, planning experts and climate scientists as well as the general public. A major component of that process would be determining what infrastructure goals need to be reached (such as high speed rail) as a prerequisite to population targets being met.

In the meantime the full scale and urgency of Melbourne's housing and infrastructure crisis needs to be acknowledged and acted on accordingly. The 'Plan For A Better, More Liveable Melbourne' is not nearly enough to save Melbourne but it is not too late. We must act quickly to demand that population policy and infrastructure policy are in sync and that there is a full and open enquiry into Melbourne's planning strategy.

Mark Allen is an ex-town planner and environmental activist with a particular interest in population. He runs workshops on Population, Permaculture and Planning across Australia and runs a Facebook group of the same name. He can be contacted at themindfulactivist@gmail.com

Comments

I would add that population policy should be to the benefit of people already living in Australia that is apart from refugee policy which is in the interests of the people arriving. There is no chance of Australia being able to significantly alleviate overpopulation globally. As the article points out, 40% of us live in 2 cities. We do not inhabit the whole continent mainly because it is a desert. The worlds population increases by about 80 million per year so if we took the whole global increase of one year over 5 years we would be hopelessly out of our depth and it wouldn't work at all and the rest of the world would still have an extra 360 million people to accommodate and feed. Australia cannot help the world's problem of overpopulation in my opinion. It is an arid land with impoverished soils and a deteriorating environment. That's the reality.

"I would add that population policy should be to the benefit of people already living in Australia that is apart from refugee policy which is in the interests of the people arriving."

Population policy can be about both. Refugees are a small component of our annual intake and they have played and continue to a play a major role in enriching our multicultural society. Ironically, I believe that due to large-scale migration aimed at boosting GDP, we are making it harder for incoming refugees to build meaningful communities, precisely because multicultural areas such as Footscray are in danger of being gentrified through high density apartment development. The savings in infrastructure that we would make by slowing non-refugee migration could free up more money to help refugees whilst also giving us the opportunity to start to catch up on our existing nationwide 200 billion dollar infrastructure debt.

Your are, as is typical in all media today, suggesting Australian Australians look after everyone else, at significant cost to themselves, their society and their land. It's time the bleeding hearts woke up to the bigger issues that affect our world and our lives, and stopped the 'let's rescue everyone' mantra. Because, in particular, those who chant the loudest, don't appear to lose out with the 'humane' 'generous' policies they support. They don't live in western Sydney, they don't live in Dandenong or Springvale. They don't care about loss of native habitat. They are also usually immigrants themselves, or first generation Australians. Not only do they not care what we have already lost through mass immigration, (environmental damage, beyond repair as well as destruction of the very fabric of our society), they have not 'improved' the lives of the people already here, nor do they themselves believe they should. It's merely about improving the lives of the immigrant or refugee.

Multiculturalism is a failure. It's merely the segregation of the population, into an incoherent, non-cohesive mass of human beings. It's the antithesis of culture and community. And while we pander to the needs and wants of 'others', we lose more and more of our own freedoms. The title of the book reflecting on the damage we've done to our country through immigration and subsequent overpopulation should be titled 'At What Cost'. I for one, would say, it hasn't been worth the cost.

It think Mark Allen acknowledged that population growth was at a significant cost to native inhabitants and to our environment. I think he was arguing that we discriminate in favour of refugees over economic migrants. Of course, even this is problematic, given 1. the enormous number of refugees in the world today; and 2. the difficulty in deciding who amongst refugee applicants are genuine refugees.

Also, could contributors, try to specify the subject in the Subject field above the comment? If you don't, the Drupal content management system will attempt to create a subject from the first words in your comment. I this case, the subject was "Your are, as is typical in". - Ed

Australia takes up to 20,000 refugees a year. This is 10% of our annual migrant intake and it is by comparison a modest number of people, so I think it is important to put things into perspective. The question of how we choose our annual refugee intake is complex and it would be completely out of my area of expertise to try to add to that particular conversation.

I am however proud of our rich history of welcoming refugees into Australia and I believe they have done and continue to do so much to enrich our society. If you are against multiculturalism, well that is your prerogative but please do not blame refugees for the environmental impact of large scale migration. Otherwise you are playing into the hands of the big Australia advocates who shout xenophobia every time someone tries to start a serious conversation about the impact of rapid population growth. The issue here for me is about numbers, not about questioning our cultural mix.

Worrying about being called "racist" or "xenophobe" is counterproductive. Making changes to your position or speech, in order to avoid these labels is counterproductive.

The purpose of these labels is not to describe what you are, but to stop you speaking, or adjust your tone and argument, or make concessions, maybe just enough to make your argument untenable.

I firmly believe that the very presence of a "Population Policy" will lead to an evil, regardless of its intention.

Population policy assumes that the state has the right, the obligation and duty to shape the population, ahead of what the people choose to do themselves. This can manifest itself in policy which is designed to remove a particular ethnic group, either through murder, displacement or demographic engineering and assimilation.

A fatal flaw in "sustainable population" arguments, is that it pushes the virtue of a population policy, which thereby supports the position that the government, not the people, decide who makes up the nation. Because the state can argue for population policy based on "economic growth" and "inclusion", it then has the upper hand, and can argue that policy should be based on their dictates, and not the will of the people. In short, it argues for a losing position.

How do the people decide what the population should be? Through their individual reproductive choices. I think, at least in Australia, or the Western world, this alone is sufficient. If it weren't for mass immigration, we would already have stable population levels (thereabouts), without having to cede power to the government to decide for us.

Government policy is therefore ONLY about dealing with our choices. If the population starts to fall, the state must adapt.

Lastly, if we are to accept the places like Footscray are a boon, because of their "diversity", then we are then tacitly back to accepting a population policy, because we are then arguing that demographic engineering and altering is a desirable goal and therefore there is a 'benefit' in displacing one ethnic group from suburbs with another. It then become a paradox to argue that this diversity is a plus and multiculturalism is an enrichment, while simultaneously arguing for policy which slows this enrichment. Again, a mixed, confusing message.

"It then become a paradox to argue that this diversity is a plus and multiculturalism is an enrichment, while simultaneously arguing for policy which slows this enrichment. Again, a mixed, confusing message."

I do not want to get further embroiled in this debate but I will make this final point before bowing out. I am saying that the current policy of high migration is what is slowing down and even reversing this 'enrichment' because it forces planning policy on the hoof with the knock on effect of suburban sprawl and high density development in multicultural communities, the latter of which has a gentrifying effect on the neighbourhood. A slower rate of migration allows for more considered planning outcomes which enables the development of meaningful and cohesive communities.

At the end of the day Dennis we will have to agree to disagree on this issue.

There is a strong element of population growth being pushed onto us, in a type of feudal system. Those making these "growth" decisions, without concerns for human/environmental welfare, are in a sense cushioned from the impacts - and the crush. Their own status, as elites, will allow them to continue enjoying their privileges, and simply discard concerns and debt to the public arena.

They have their pensions, superannuation, homes, holidays, tax breaks and chauffeur-driven cars.

There's a great distance between the public, and mere taxpaying mortals, and the high status of politicians, and economists. There are various techniques used to damped protests, such as PC, the refugee debate, the allure of "economic growth", "xenophobia", "racism" and it's assumed inevitability. They are all ways of social control.

I do get the gist of your point, which is thoughtless planning can undermine multicultural communities due to the haphazard nature in which this planning takes place.

My argument isn't so much that this isn't true (it is), but that this argument is one which appears contradictory and is, at least in my opinion, one which undermines the goal or message by sending mixed signals. It is a line of reasoning which undermines that anti-rampant growth project by implying particular value judgements. That implication is that some communities are more valuable than others, or that some demographic make ups are more valuable, or virtuous than others.

This is a common mistake, and seems to be one the majority of those who push for sustainable growth make. The inaugural Victoria First meeting spend about 1/3rd of the time pushing the virtues of looser immigration policies, either through affirmations that diversity and multiculturalism was good and necessary, or that a fight against immigration restriction in the 60's was a worthy fight. It then seems ironic that the same people would then want tighter immigration controls, after celebrating the results of what loosened immigration restrictions brought. The irony of people who pushed against any policy or party which had a whiff of 'xenophobia' complaining about that overzealous sentiment coming back to bite them was lost on pretty much everyone.

My argument is that affirmations and propitiations to the ideals of diversity and multiculturalism must be left out entirely from discourse, because any support of it then must be explained in the context of wanting to reduce the migration which led to it, which means having to explain your position in further detail, which means your point is lost, because 99% of people WON'T go back for clarification.

The Greens launched their plan for a “Better More Liveable Melbourne” but what impact will this plan have considering Victoria's population is increasing by a hundred thousand a year! Just how are they to propagate the "liveable" policy while this number of people keep swelling our city? What other designers and professions need to try and manipulate and plan around ongoing growth? What we have now as town planning is not really planning at all, but a knee-jerk reaction to accommodate growth, and then tring contradictorily conserve our living standards and open spaces. It's a contradiction in terms. It's more about damage control, and retro-fitting to make the best of a compounding system of "economic growth" that actually creating more poverty and deprivation.
We once benefited from high immigration, when there were advantages for all - the hosts and the migrants. Now, there's little joy for anyone, except for those from the third world, those who are lucky to find employment and others who can take advantage of our welfare system!
The Greens are avoiding the issue of population growth, and are trying to keep "green" above the housing Ponzi pyramid. The power of PC is so great, we may as well live in a country that lacks freedom of speech, such it's is social power!