A deluge of density

I’ve written before about the Barcelona meets Bentleigh East plan.

Developed by Rob Adams, it maxes urban density without screwing up the city. Ninety-one percent of the city stays exactly the same, full of stand-alone suburban blocks. But the tram and bus lines are (mostly) free to be developed (heritage overlay areas would be protected).  The density is achieved without creating massive overshadowing towers and without wholesale sacrifice of the urban scape we know and (some of us) love.

However, now Rob’s plan is under attack by a couple of white-hot young philosophers whose radically incisive views the Fairfax press has seen fit to amplify…

Peter Fisher and Len Puglisi have written a scathing indictment of apartment living that is occupying untold square metres on broadsheet opinion pages and LCD screens around the nation.

Their lead-out, knock-em-dead point?  Apartments can cause flooding.  Yep.  If there are buildings right up to the road, the water has no front yards to soak in to.

I pondered this porous analysis, and perused the article to see whether it proceeded past parody.  Perhaps they’d penned some persuasive points on population policy?

Nope. After being unable to untangle the following incoherent stanza:

Previous efforts to achieve medium-density developments by governments since the 1980s saw strong pressure by big developers to ignore their good intentions. It might be hoped that controlling this market outcome can be achieved by prescriptive zoning conditions – putting downward pressure on land prices and keeping smaller builders in the game.


I lit upon their key point:

Apartment living means you can’t own pets.

Is packing up to 1½ million into apartments a formula for “a sustainable future”, with the inhabitants losing further contact with the stuff of the natural world – perhaps missing out on the tangible health benefits of pet ownership or those of local food production?

This is true!  And it’s an outrage!!

(Although, it’s not actually true.  People in apartments all over the world have dogs and cats, window-boxes and communal gardens.  But if it was true, it would be an outrage!)

But I want to give credit where it’s due: Fisher (a planning /climate change academic) and Puglisi (a consultant with a government background) do engage a substantive issue here, briefly, calling for ‘planners and governments to turn their ingenuity to ways of limiting [population] growth.‘ That is indeed a relevant issue. It’s a shame certain ‘planners’ are so obsessed with drainage. I suggest they put the key in the ignition of their stalled ingenuity-mobile and start turning it around.

Just for laughs i want to share with you their concluding sentence:

These are sobering thoughts indeed for a nation that treats the land as some incidental substrate for unfettered human and economic domination.

ROFLMAO. I’d give a grade 12 a B+ for rhetoric like that.

If these were sober thoughts (it reads as though they were produced after the consumption of several ounces of locally-grown) they might be sobering. As it is they’re an incidental substrate to my cat’s unfettered domination of the litter tray.

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Thomas the Think Engine is the blog of a trained economist. It comes to you from Melbourne Australia.

5 thoughts on “A deluge of density”

  1. So, is their solution is to fill the Werribee River valley in with fully detached housing? Obviously, that will mean McMansions surrounded by Astroturf, whether new home buyers want that or not.

    I don’t know that it will protect Melbourne from flooding but the images of exotic animals stranded in the flood would attract international fame.


  2. I must say, I do like that picture you provided of Maribyrnong Road. In particular:
    – the way they’ve kept the foliage of trees clearly growing in front yards, but now a sort of outgrowth from a building on the left.
    – the way the sparsely spaced street trees become a veritable forest at the front of shot, providing a sort of green framing.
    – the way the existing stubby street trees have bloomed into large trees, obscuring the buildings behind. (well, that one is fair enough)
    – the way the existing 16 large wires on the street have been trimmed to two, that just sort of hang there without being connected to anything in particular.

    and, less facetiously, because these matter:
    – the way the road space, parking and traffic remains unchanged, as if everything will remain just so, except more people live there.
    – the way every building is dense, providing a grand sense of visual order, despite the average turnover rate of those types of dwellings being decades, and therefore, the likely outcome for most of the next thirty years (barring compulsory acquisition and massive voter revolt) being a hodge-podge of deeply set-back single storey dwellings and over-hanging apartment blocks.

    Having said that, yes, that article was the typical slop that written about planning in Melbourne. The problem I have with Rob Adams plan is not that it couldn’t work; but that it represents a kind of defeatism with respect to integrated land use/transport planning. As if, because we must assume that the public transport system will remain a slow, partially connected network, the best we can hope for is to dump people on top of it, in the hope that they use it for some of their trips.

    Melbourne 2030 might have been a mish-mash of partially conceived ideas with no government support, implemented without any reference to the existing planning system, the acknowledgement of transport planners, or, to be honest, Melbourne 2030. But at least at its core, the idea of nodal activity centres had a certain forward moving rationality to it, that held out a promise of better connected and faster transport. Rob Adams plan’s best hope seems to be that if we congest the existing tram routes badly enough, we’ll be forced to put them under-ground.


    1. Hi Russ,

      Thanks for contributing – I appreciate someone throwing around some considered points, and especially enjoyed your critical interrogation of that photo!



      1. Thanks TTTE, I like you blog by the by. It is good to see someone talking about planning issues, and a rejoinder to myself for not doing the same on my own site.


  3. Good work. The piece by Peter Fisher and Len Puglisi was weak in the extreme. I have been following the series of articles in The Age and their comments columns with much interest. There is definitely a generation game going on with the older generation basically decrying any change, but cleverly coming up with all kinds of sophisticated but ultimately deflective arguments. The suburban “Australian way of life” began it’s demise when people started working longer hours, having dual income households and weekend trading meant there was more to do on weekends than mow the lawn. I live in a leafy suburb with nice setbacks, but it is obvious that the majority of residents don’t have the time or inclination to maintain their gardens, some of which are weed infested fire hazards. These days I regard front yards as a waste of time and space. It’s basically inertia and lack of imagination that is keeping the ugly suburban sprawl going. In any case it’s a completely false choice between suburban living and high density. There will just be a continual but slow increase in density around existing valuable infrastructure. The existing low density wastelands will still be there for those who want cultural impoverishment.


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