Boost our precincts to avoid a city of “haves and have nots”

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5 March

Peter Konidaris - PwC Melbourne Managing Partner. This article first appeared in The Herald Sun, 5 March 2018.

To this day, my parents cannot believe their luck.

Leaving family, culture, familiarity and war-torn Europe behind to land at an uninviting Station Pier, in this unknown city called Melbourne.

Fast forward to today, and Melbourne sits at the heart of Australia’s world-record 27 years of uninterrupted economic growth.

The city’s transformation over those 27 years is breathtaking. Our population has almost doubled, fuelled by migration from other states and overseas. That growth shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, Melbourne is Australia’s fastest-growing capital and is on track to be our largest city at some point in the 2030s.

And why wouldn’t people want to live here? Safe and clean, a thriving food scene, iconic arts and sports precincts, a rich tapestry of cultures and of course, great coffee!

But Melbourne is entering the next critical chapter in its story. The population growth that has underpinned much of our prosperity to date is creating new challenges.

Most Melburnians will say decent access to jobs, education, healthcare and leisure are at the top of that list. While Melbourne continues to sprawl outward, these cornerstones of liveability continue to be largely located in the inner suburbs.

The liveability of these inner suburbs can be seen in property prices, as they are some of the most expensive in Melbourne. This is forcing many Melburnians to live elsewhere, further away from many of the amenities that make Melbourne such a great place to live.

Unfortunately, it’s also forcing many Melburnians to commute over an hour to work each day, limiting their time for exercise, time with family and friends and encouraging unhealthy eating habits.

Despite good jobs growth stories in parts of the West, like in Truganina and Tarneit where distribution and logistics hubs are experiencing rapid growth, generally access to the services and spaces we need to live, work and play falls away significantly once you go west of the Maribyrnong River. Major infrastructure projects like the West Gate Tunnel are welcome and will help, but are only part of the solution.

The trend in the North is similar once you cross Bell Street. Unemployment and welfare are very high in areas such as Broadmeadows and Coolaroo, and job accessibility in the rapidly growing Doreen is very poor. Again, significant transport investment is already occurring but focusing on that alone will not deliver the lifestyles Melburnians expect.

The imbalance in liveability standards across Melbourne risks splitting us into a town of ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’.

This is one of the reasons why PwC has just released CityPulse, a high-level view of Melbourne by suburb across three key criteria - Live, Work and Play. Bringing together data from both public and private sources to help identify broad trends across different regions, we hope CityPulse brings diverse stakeholders together and acts as a conversation-starter about Melbourne’s future.

Based on the findings from PwC’s CityPulse, part of the solution could lie in building mini CBDs across Melbourne where it makes sense. These hives of activity would attract all of the amenities that make a city liveable but would be closer to home than the CBD for many people.

The PwC data suggests that hubs are slowly growing organically across Melbourne but could do with a push.

We can see this in Clayton, where Monash University, Monash Health, the Australian Synchrotron and an expanding business park have become a commercial hub. This has, in turn, created demand for a range of support services in the area, leading to more jobs and opportunities. The proposed Victorian Heart Hospital will complement many of the established institutions in the area when it opens its doors in 2022.

Similarly, in Bundoora, where La Trobe and RMIT universities neighbour health services and the nearby Melbourne Market at Epping. The region has an opportunity to leverage its agribusiness reputation to become a gateway to our food bowls in the state’s north and west. There are also significant opportunities in the allied health space that can be realised through building collaboration between local health facilities and education centres.

Thriving precincts can also leverage their geographic location. Close proximity to major road and rail networks, giving access to transport gateways at Tullamarine, Avalon and Port of Melbourne make Sunshine one such site.

Planning for these precincts must be considered and designed to attract amenities which will enhance liveability for the surrounding areas. For instance while the outer West is enjoying good jobs growth, it lacks opportunities for play with not enough cultural, artistic and leisure resources suited to the needs and interest of its residents.

Could we imagine the possibility of an ‘Arts Centre West’ or ‘The Australian Ballet – North Campus’ bringing some purpose-built play to these exploding suburbs?

The Victorian Government has already started the journey. The Victorian Planning Authority has identified strategically important precincts across Melbourne and Victoria, and is building plans in conjunction with relevant stakeholders to bring their potential to life.

To truly build momentum though, we need to start broader conversations in Melbourne about how we move to a Melbourne of multiple CBDs - a ‘polycentric’ city. We can all play a part, whether we be government, business, community groups or individuals.

Today’s generation of Melburnians inherited the world’s greatest city. Let’s come together to make it an even better place to live, work and play for the generations to come.

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