Motordom
April 9, 2018

Car-Free Superblocks for Melbourne?

From The Age:

Melbourne’s CBD could become largely ‘car-free’ under a proposal to counter a growing pedestrian crush, and planning experts and advocates say change needs to happen soon.

Melbourne City Council is flagging the idea of having ‘superblocks’, which would remove cars from the Hoddle Grid and Docklands and prioritise pedestrians.

The idea comes from Barcelona, where superblocks have already been introduced and span nine city blocks, with speed limits reduced to 10km/h and footpaths decluttered.

The proposals are in two council discussion papers on Walking and City Space, which will inform the City of Melbourne Transport Strategy to 2050 and take examples from Dublin, Auckland and Oslo.

With 57 per cent of space in the city taken up by roads and 2016 data showing roads serve only one-third of all trips in the city, the council wants the city space to be used more effectively. …

However … cities like Melbourne are small (really, only the CBD) and relatively powerless when it comes to transportation.  The power resides with the state government, and the Premier is not persuaded:

Premier Daniel Andrews said he was “unconvinced” a pedestrian-only “superblock” would improve traffic flows or safety.

“This is a Melbourne City Council idea, I don’t want anyone getting confused that this has come from our government,” he said.

“I’m not convinced that this will improve traffic flow, I’m not convinced this would improve safety. Those two things are important.”

He said a better rail and public transport system, including the Melbourne Metro Tunnel project, was the best way to solve any traffic or pedestrian issues.

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I was watching an older SFU video last week on The Melbourne Experience.

… and one of the most interesting things to me was when Rob Adams mentioned that the vibrant Melbourne laneways are not an old thing, just like Granville Island, they are a thing of the 70s, which has become fundamental to the character of the city.
Vancouver has some of the world’s most expensive property values, yet nearly 50% of the ground level building frontage is forgotten, doomed at best to be avoided, dedicated only to waste and maybe graffiti. How is that a good use of space?
Last year, there was a great article about how Seattle wants to ‘Melbourne-ize’ its’ laneways Seattle’s Future Alleys Look Like Paradise 
Nord Alley (SvR Design/Olson Kundig Architects)
Yes, there are a host of logistical issues to overcome, but all have been overcome by other places, and seriously, as valuable as land is, how can there NOT be ‘gold in them thar alleys’?
My friend Patrick Chan send me a few more examples from his Asian travels (below) … I acknowledge it might not work for every alley (a parkade can’t easily have its entrance adjusted), but I have to think that many people share my girlfriend’s view of alleys – she is scared of them – do re really want people to be scared of ~50% of a city’s streetspace?

A lane from Hong Kong… In the mornings a little van (kind of a Mr Bean type van) comes to deliver stuff. During the day this lane is shut.

P.Chan A commercial streets narrower than our 20′ lanes, also from Hong Kong. Patrick added this closing thought:
I would say you can find it in lots of places, and it’s simply the “derp” mentality keeping it from arriving in Vancouver … people just believe “that’s not how we do things here.”
Well, there’s plenty of Rad Shit out there … lets do some here! (if only because, seriously, how can it not be a good idea to monetize the space) Read more »

Greg Vann links to this:

This month Boroondara council banned new buildings of more than three storeys in 31 shopping strips in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs. Last year, Glen Eira council zoned about 80 per cent of its residential land to restrict growth in housing, while Bayside council zoned 83 per cent of its area to prohibit housing higher than two storeys.

These are just the latest steps that councils in Melbourne’s inner and middle suburbs, no doubt responding to the wishes of vocal residents, are taking to stop new homes being built in their area. The trend must stop if we are to keep Melbourne from becoming a divided city.

Debates about housing are often conducted between residents of established suburbs who are hostile to change, and experts making worthy arguments about the benefits of increasing density. But no one speaks for the real losers from restricting population growth in established suburbs – the many Melburnians with little choice but to make their home in outer suburbs that are experiencing acute growing pains. …

These changes are unlikely to please residents of established suburbs who don’t want new neighbours. But we cannot allow the future of Melbourne to be held hostage by privileged vocal minorities. For the sake of residents of outer growth suburbs, and so that our children and grandchildren can afford to live near the suburbs they love, the time for change has come.

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Full column here.

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Some cities looked at the densification of Vancouver’s central core with admiration, and then went too far.  Melbourne was one of them.  The question for Vancouver, with the push for ever denser towers in tighter spaces, is whether we will too.  From The Age:

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Melbourne’s “hyper-dense” skyscrapers would never be allowed in other global centres, a new report finds

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High-rise apartment towers in central Melbourne are being built at four times the maximum densities allowed in some of the world’s most crowded cities, including Hong Kong, New York and Tokyo, a scathing new report finds.

And Melbourne’s hyper-dense skyscrapers are being built “with little regard to the effect on the residents within, the impact on the streets below or the value of neighbouring properties” because of weak, ineffective or non-existent state government policies, it finds.

Leanne Hodyl is the co-ordinator of city plans and policy at Melbourne City Council. Last year she completed a Churchill Fellowship, in work done separately from her council job but with the support of key staff, including the city’s design director, Rob Adams.

The fellowship studied five other cities – New York, Vancouver, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Seoul – to see how they dealt with dense high-rise landscapes.

Ms Hodyl’s fellowship paper, published last week, said construction of skyscrapers in central Melbourne should be supported, because a big jump in the CBD’s population had many benefits for residents, including easy access to jobs, shops and entertainment. And it made the city “more lively and animated”.

But Melbourne had by far the fewest policies regulating apartment towers compared with the cities she studied.

Her study also found that the social and economic consequences of such high-density development were “unknown”, and were not required “to put Melbourne on the map as a global city”. …
In Vancouver, developers are allowed to cram high numbers of apartments into a project only if they agree to help fund construction of things such as parks, plazas, childcare centres, cinemas and performing arts spaces.

In Melbourne, planning controls offer “cheap density” to developers, because they are able to ratchet up the number of apartments in a tower with only a very limited need to make any significant community contribution. …

An Andrews government spokeswoman said a new planning authority would work with the State Architect and Melbourne City Council on new high rises to “restore accountability” to CBD planning.

Former planning minister Matthew Guy had made too many decisions “in secret behind closed doors”, she said.

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The full (and very accessible) report here.  (Thanks to Damon Rao.)

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Cole Hendrigan passes on “the link below is to a well-presented documentary on the discussion – not be confused with action – on the scale of the urban question in Australia.  This show got record audiences to hear Rob Adams’ Rhodesian-accented review of mid-rise and Julian Bolleter (a fellow LA also based in Perth) speak about megaregions.”

Here: Future Cities from ABC Australia’s “Catalyst” science program.

The media abounds with visions of gloomy, automated megacities or totally sustainable ecological utopias but how do these futuristic visions relate to the development of Australian cities over the next eighty years?

Video too slow?  Go to the transcript here..

And if you’re looking for an upbeat view of Canadian prospects (depending on your generation’s self-interest), you can rely on Urban Futures:

Housing Projections for Canada and its Major Metropolitan Regions

Over the next three decades, housing occupancy demand in Canada will continue to grow faster than our population; an outlook that differs from the apocalyptic scenarios of a crash in Canada’s housing market that were predicted years ago.

Why the predictions of a market meltdown? The reasoning was largely demographic, based on the notion that the number of people exiting the housing market (the boomers) would exceed the number of new entrants (the busters) sometime in the mid-2000s.

Rather than crash and crumble, the past decade has seen many of Canada’s housing markets experience one of the most buoyant periods on record. Why did the market meltdown not occur? Simply put, the assumptions underpinning the apocalyptic scenario both over-simplified the forces that shape housing demand–there is more at work than just demographics–and they got the demographics wrong.

Today the baby bust generation (currently between the ages of 39 and 58) is actually larger than the baby boom generation (now 59 to 68) and, while the busters have fully entered the housing market, the boomers have not yet left it. In other words, the baby boomers have not yet had to be replaced in the housing market, and so additional housing was needed to accommodate the busters.

Click here to access the full report as well as the individual regional profiles.

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From Cole Hendrigan at Curtin University:

I was not involved in this, though I wish I had been. I just received a copy. Another great piece of work from Australia further refining the problem and options for the urban century.

Favourite Quote: ” One of the major blockages to transformational change has been a lack of design vision that can capture the public imagination for more sustainable urban futures.”

 

Download here via Dropbox: Intensifying Melbourne.

 

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Says Patrick Condon:

A good report and a massive amount of work.  It aligns with my view of a distributed network to serve “20 minute districts.”

Portland is following this strategy. Vancouver? Not so much.

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Peter Whitelaw passes this along this piece from the Guardian Australia on the East West Link – “the most contentious, emotionally charged flashpoint in next month’s Victorian election.”
It’s a textbook case on how, after the failure of other road projects like Brisbane’s Clem7 and Sydney’s tunnels, Australian governments seem to have learned nothing, even as the momentum of Motordom overrides evidence and common sense.  

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East West Link: the case for and against Melbourne’s $6.8bn road

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… Swirling around the politics, the court challenges and the price tag is a question: is this 18km toll road a good idea? And even if it does have merit, are there better ideas that would ease Melbourne’s gridlock more cheaply?

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The expert view is consistent – the East West Link may bring some benefits, but it should not be the top priority for a city expected to be home to nearly 8 million people by mid-century.

All are sceptical of the finances, dismayed by the secrecy surrounding the project, and convinced that the state needs a big shift in thinking if it’s going to cope well with a surging population. They say what’s needed is a tilt towards a mass public transport system.

But experts don’t make decisions. Politicians do, taking into account a range of factors other than expert opinion. …
Those against all new major road projects may not care about the figures one way or the other, but those who follow these things closely say the project is unprecedented for its lack of transparency. … “Normally we would see more detail, and historically it’s been much clearer on what basis we are proceeding with projects like this,” William McDougall says.
“This is new for Australia,” says John Stone. “The fact that through all these court cases and all this political focus the government has never released its business plan – it released a back of envelope estimate – means probably there’s nothing to back it up. If they had a better number they would have put it out there.”
 

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The government released a 10-page executive summary business case in June last year justifying the project. Included was the benefit cost analysis (BCA) of 1.4, which means that for every dollar invested, there was an expected return of $1.40. That single number isn’t the only reason projects are approved, but it is considered critical in allowing a comparison of projects to ensure public money is well spent.

The government refused to release the full business case for “commercial in confidence” reasons, arguing it would jeopardise its competitive advantage as it sought bidders – that they would up their price if they saw what the government’s projections were.The secrecy goes against the increasing demand to release more information so that Australia’s big expensive infrastructure projects are decided rationally, not politically. Infrastructure Australia wants more transparency, as does the Productivity Commission. … “The business case does not stack up, of what we know of it, it’s kind of crazy that they get away with it again and again,” March says.As for the 1.4 figure, it was a Senate hearing that prised out the fact that the government had included “wider economic benefits” in its calculations. Without that, the figure would be a less defendable 0.80 – a return of 80c for every dollar spent. So-called “agglomeration benefits” can be slippery, the experts say, and refer to the supposed benefits to business when urban density increases. They’re not settled practice and Infrastructure Australia doesn’t use them. And again, we don’t know the details of what “wider economic benefits” the project took into account, because the government won’t release them. …
The experts, too, know that they’re losing the political argument, at least most of the time. The public is warming to the public transport argument, but governments still love roads. Tony Abbott has prioritised road funding, saying the commonwealth will not fund urban rail. It’s about money in the end. If Labor wins next month and scraps East West Link – at huge cost – and champions its Melbourne Metro rail, where will the money come from? There will be nothing from Canberra, and state Labor has committed just $300m for planning and design. The projects that get up are funded, Read more »

Peter Berkeley links to this piece – “An Argument for Alleys” – from Michigan State University:

Alleys provide a space for open air, utilities, access to trash and even a bit of shade. Alleys and lanes function as access to private spaces and the rear of lots.  These street types are one lane wide and also provide access for services such as waste and recycling pickup.
They can range from unattractive places to green, organic, distinctive spaces. A near perfect alley is complex, a place to socialize, with good lighting, low-traffic speed and a place for commerce and living, all while handling utilities.

All true – and a great opportunity in a city blessed with (as we call ’em) lanes that are throughout the city as part of our original grid.  But we don’t yet take advantage of them as residential and retail spaces, except in a few isolated places.  (That will change over time with the new West End plan.)
Given the small difference between Vancouver, third on The Economist‘s list of most livable cities, and Melbourne at No. 1, perhaps one reason is that the Australian city makes such good use of its lanes, arcades and narrow little streets.  (Map here.)
Most of the non-through lanes are still primarily for services like waste disposal and parking entrances:

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But with the addition of a few chairs and tables,  they begin to attract people – and economic opportunity :

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The key, of course, is that retail shops and restaurants create a presence on the lane, where blank walls become transparent.  Add some signs, an awning and a bit of landscaping, and they are transformed:

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Note in the background that there is a parking garage, with its main entrance on the lane. It’s still possible for most of the utility functions of a lane to operate with a little considered planning and tolerance of mixed-use activities.  It’s just not as convenient.

But the trade-off, as Melbourne has so well demonstrated, is worth it:

 

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