Planning for a Swelling Population

By Jacqueline Kirwan (town planner)

Victoria’s population is growing by more than 2800 people per week, and Melbourne is on track to surpass 5 million by 2020.

So what is Melbourne’s solution to accommodate the ever-increasing number of people hoping to find a new home? At the moment, much of the urban growth is being directed into the urban fringes, which is unsustainable and becoming unmanageable.

While Melbourne’s total population is almost comparable to global cities such as London and New York, its population density of just 453 people per square kilometre is far less than that of London and New York, which have 5,590 and 28,210 people per square kilometre respectively. This suggests that Melbourne’s sprawling growth is unfeasible in the long-term, and with population approaching that of other global cities, the way in which we plan our city needs to be revised.

Such a low population density in a city growing so quickly is reflected by the outwards radiation of the metropolitan footprint, defined by ever-stretching car-dependent suburbs and peri-urban zones of mixed use. Even with a welleducated population and a growing public consciousness about climate change, recycling and resource consumption issues, the city is quickly becoming less sustainable.

Large developers establishing new communities at a faster rate than essential social and physical infrastructure can be provided (such as public transport and local shops) are at the core of such unsustainable growth.

Urban sprawl is correlated with mobility challenges, neighbourhoods that are not pedestrian-friendly, loss of valued non-urban land and associated environmental impacts. Despite the social, environmental and economical impacts that urban sprawl is causing, consolidation is also criticized for the impact it has on housing affordability and housing choice, and some even considered it to be ‘un-Australian’.

In 2002, the Victorian Government introduced the Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) as a means of limiting long-term urban development in non-urban land. During the 16 years since it was established, the UGB has been expanded four (4) times to accommodate projected population growth. Such extensive growth is currently and will continue to, eradicate thousands of hectares of Melbourne’s greenwedge land as well as fertile foodgrowing areas.

At a more local level of decisionmaking, local government policies are encouraging regulated urban consolidation in areas of high consumer demand such as surrounding major activity centres and major public transport routes. Though this growth is limited to strict planning regulations and subjectivity, it does not provide sufficient opportunity for development at a scale that would accommodate the high rate of growth Melbourne is experiencing.

Melbourne has been labelled the ‘world’s most liveable city’ for the past 7 consecutive years, which suggests town planning decisions have been successful in the past. Though as a swelling population is being pushed into the urban fringes with minimal access to essential infrastructure, residents are facing challenges of poor liveability that must be addressed by planners.

About Jacqueline

Jacqueline is a recent town planning graduate from Melbourne University. She has joined St-wise in a part time capacity and is enjoying working in a private consultancy and learning firsthand about the trials and tribulations of operating a home-based business.