The Melbourne Minister for Planning, Matthew Guy, recently approved five new towers to be situated in the Southbank area of Melbourne’s central business district (CBD). This comes with the recent release of Plan Melbourne, a document focusing on the future of Melbourne as it battles rising congestion and scarcity of affordable housing. The greatest dilemma brought into focus with this document is the control of urban sprawl versus the Hong Kong-like skyline associated with an abundance of high rise buildings in one area.

Plan Melbourne will attempt to enforce a permanent urban growth boundary around Melbourne, which will limit high density development in a ring formation over Melbourne’s CBD. Zooming out, the new plan aims to develop the CBD to its full potential as well as allow growth around urban transport hubs.

The Prima Pearl Tower - A new development in Melbourne, Australia

These actions point to an interesting solution as proposed by the Planning Authority. Instead of focusing on either high rise development or urban sprawl, they focus on both. Limiting the urban growth ring will force high density development to fall within a defined area and allow suburban development to fall outside. This is good for two reasons. Firstly, the CBD will be developed to its full potential because of this plan, thereby achieving maximum efficiency. Secondly, it allows for the development of secondary cities within the larger city of Melbourne, as public amenities will be developed along transport hubs. This means that access to various public necessities will be improved. The Plan has been dubbed the “20 minute city,” where public amenities are within twenty minutes of a person’s door step.

This is a focus on a more pedestrian-friendly city. It has the potential to increase the relevance of these secondary cities by providing jobs and housing, in turn reducing the need to travel for work. The development of suburban housing is also key on the list with new neighborhood infrastructure currently in construction around Melbourne.

Zooming out one more time, let us think about what this could mean for a local city with its own heritage and acclimatized culture. Without significant steps on an enforcement of architectural development that focuses on “place,” one can envision a future with scatters of homogeneous high rise developments in the city skyline. In a recent post, I discussed Melbourne’s segregated communities within the structure of the city. These segregated communities usually thrive in specific areas of Melbourne’s suburban network. With this plan to develop “cities with the city,” there is the possibility of the opposite of homogeneity occurring, where individual cultures completely thrive and create their own “place.” What the city will need is architectural balance between the City of Melbourne and the local cities in question. One must be able to identify themselves in Melbourne as well as in the specific area.

The Homogeneity of Melbourne suburbs, Melbourne, Australia

These are just some of the cultural problems that might face Melbourne’s future, but for now planners have other obstacles to deal with. There is a lot of development happening in and around Melbourne, and although it might seem questionable, it might just be necessary. It is almost a sobering thought to think about New York, its history and how the city was shaped by decisions such as these. We are in a time of change that will affect how we interact with our cities and it is important for us to think about how we want this to happen.

What is your opinion of high rise development versus urban sprawl dilemma? Are any cities doing it differently?

Credits: Images by Kunal Matikiti. Data linked to sources.