FAVOURITES – 20 May 2010 – Early this year leading Sydney planner and vocal advocate for planning reform in NSW Julie Bindon joined The Fifth Estate on a mini scouting expedition to Melbourne to see if the Victorians could shed any light on better planning systems.
As part of this expedition we met with Melbourne architect Ivan Rijavec, a co-director of NOW+WHEN Australian Urbanism, the Australian Architecture exhibition at the 2010 Venice Biennale who has developed significant insights into metropolitan planning issues, not the least from his involvement in several inner city projects in the North Fitzroy area – some of which stirred fierce opposition. Bindon is also deeply steeped in the practicality of dealing with the development process. She is a founding director and chairman of JBA Urban Planning Consultants, where her work involves major metropolitan projects and is a member of the Heritage Council of NSW and immediate past president of the Planning Institute of Australia (NSW Division).
A key starting point for discussion was Melbourne’s planning system and the model for future development proposed by Melbourne City Council’s Rob Adams, director design & culture, in his study, “Transforming Australian Cities”. The work proposes ways to house an additional 2.4 million people in Melbourne along transport routes, utilising only 6 per cent of all metropolitan sites.
The session revealed many similarities between Melbourne and Sydney – especially in deep concerns that seem widespread rather than geographically related, and especially in terms of resident frustrations and sometimes anger with development in general and densification in particular. Key themes that arose included the sense of betrayal expressed by residents who believe that “consultation” processes will result in favourable outcomes for them but which invariably do not. Another was the rural origins of many now-urban dwellers, and the predilection this brings for low densities living.
The venue was Sarti restaurant, next door to the uber-green CH2 headquarters for the Melbourne City Council, and with a view over architect Nonda Katsalidis innovative factory-built high rise city apartment building, Little Hero in Little Bourke Street, that was well under way.
This is the first part of Following is an edited transcript of this meeting.
Ivan Rijavec: Lets consider the “Transforming Australian Cities”, study commissioned by The Victorian Department of Transport [and adapted by The City of Melbourne.] In simple terms it recommends the densification of public transportation routes, for instance train stations, tram and bus routes. The study analyses how many sites are sufficiently wide, large enough, that aren’t heritage listed, et cetera, that could sustain developments of between five and eight stories. It concludes by indicating that projections in Melbourne’s growth can be sustained along these transportation routes. When you consider its probability of occurrence, it relies on the property market to push the values up so high that it makes development along the routes highly profitable, the trade off being that the wedges in between are preserved as one to three storey development areas. The long-term consequences of this initiative would be five to eight storey ridges of densification along our public transportation routes
The Fifth Estate: [Rijavec is also concerned about the closure to traffic of the residential areas, saying these residential streets and lanes and streets were designed on democratic principles allowing a freedom of choice of routes]
Julie Bindon: I think in the sphere of urban planning, well there’s three things: planning, economics and politics. Planning is the least important. Politics and economics are the two key drivers and in New South Wales, in Sydney, the politics is what prevents a lot of planning initiatives from proceeding, particularly densification in the established urban areas. It is the same as Melbourne with groups such as the Save Our Suburbs people. So I think what they’re trying to do is they try and sell densification by this message of containment: we’ll contain it to certain areas, and that’ll protect the rest, so the residents in those “no growth” areas can relax.
Ivan Rijavec: Yes, but if you take [urban planner] Jaan Gels’ idea of… the quality of the street, for instance whether the noise level either prevents or frustrates conversation, whether traffic makes it dangerous, whether it’s overshadowed, et cetera, there is no doubt that substantial increases in density in buildings of five to eight stories along these routes will result in overshadowing the street, increase noise levels and traffic volumes. The paradox is that if this is deemed to be acceptable for the future residents along these routes, ( ones that don’t have a vote because they don’t exist yet), then why wouldn’t the densification of interstitial residential areas be equally acceptable. Today you can walk into any of the interstitial areas and you’d see comparatively few mobile cars or people walking the street, whereas along the tram and bus routes the traffic can become grid-locked; the competing interests of pedestrians, parked cars, bikes, mobile cars, trucks and trams have already resulted in political protests. Malvern council has for example refused to enforce clearways along its high streets. Increasing densification along these routes will inevitably exacerbate these competing interests and reduce the quality of these streets. Why not spread the densification to interstitial areas, remove the speed bumps and roundabouts and restore a democracy of travel choice? In urban terms wouldn’t that be more democratic than creating traffic canyons along the high streets on the one hand and areas “gated” to outside traffic on the other? The roads airports, trains and trams, our water fronts and parks serve us all; our cities serve us all; it is an anachronism to consider cities today as an agglomeration of competing conjoined villages of different political constituencies. We should be considering our cities as a symbiotic network serving the greater good rather than political zones that are “owned” by locals at the expense of the remainder. In planning terms it’s ironic that our democracy has created divisions between communities rather than symbioses.
TFE: [Rijavec says that despite planning incentives to redevelop property through favourable floor space ratios, many passive investors are more interested in long term capital gains rather than development risks. These individuals won’t sell so densifying transportation routes might take a few generations to come about as a result of market forces.]
Bindon There are those people who are not motivated by money, as you’ve rightly pointed out, who won’t care that they’ve got an uplift in value.
Rijavec: Some of that will happen, whether you change the planning regulations or not, anyway, because people with the right sites who want to develop them along those strips are doing that now.
TFE: To the sort of densities and heights that are proposed?
Rijavec: Yes to between five and eight storeys. That has happened for example in a radius of approx 800 metres, around the intersection of Johnston and Brunswick Streets in South Fitzroy. This will happen whether “Strategies for Australian Cities” are adopted or not because the economic pressures on certain areas are so high as to make it inevitable. But there are other sites in this 800 metre radius where nothing will happen for the foreseeable future, because the owners prefer passive investment to development.
TFE: [Rijavec talks around some ideas of a radically different city design, looking 100 years into the future which might include building on shallow parts of Port Phillip Bay and linking the urban centres across the bay. Who would have thought, 100 years ago, that Melbourne and Sydney would have developed as massively as they have, he asks?]
Rijavec: Linking Geelong, Frankston, Mornington, St Kilda and Altona with a ferry system across the bay, to constructed islands, would transform the character of Melbourne, refocussing it on the water. This would be a spectacular prospect.
Bindon: Yes, that’s what I mean about thinking long-term strategic. But there is the port issue that you’re talking about, the port may not want to move, so that’s a political situation, isn’t it?
Rijavec: But everything’s political. Everything!
Bindon: Absolutely, political and economic.
Rijavec: Given that we have sprawled our cities over hundreds of kilometres in a century, then why can’t we, in the next 100 years, refocus Melbourne on the bay? We could have a Manhattan island out there…if you think this is far fetched then bear in mind that Venice, which predominated in European history for 1300 years was constructed in a swamp surrounded by a lagoon. So why not do something really visionary here, what are we afraid of…things Venice had no fear of so it would seem? It’s a pity Dubai has given contemporary futurism a bad name. As a consequence of this and climate change, grand visions have become politically incorrect at a time when they are needed the most. Port Phillip Bay is an untapped urban resource.
Bindon: It’s vast.
Rijavec: Yes vast. The one thing Melbourne hasn’t got [is] Sydney Harbour…that wonderful relationship to the water. If Melbourne refocussed on the bay Sydney might just pale into insignificance – [joking of course]
TFE: Rijavec moves on to his theory that most Australians have developed their urban preferences on the basis of the sensibilities they acquired in their early years growing up in country towns.
Rijavec: Our cities have expanded at the expense of our country centres siphoning their youth to universities, TAFE colleges and employment in urban centres. This has been happening for generations and that’s why we’re 89 per cent, urbanised.
Bindon But what they take with them is a sensibility. Now if you’ve grown up in a country town…
Rijavec: Then what feels good? A very low density. The problem with that sort of sensibility is that its unsustainable. The fact that people might prefer its leafy ambience is unfortunately beside the point. Taking an extreme opposite condition in contrast: a sustainable high density highly serviced urban setting where people live in apartments and have a plethora of service and entertainment options within walking distance, is preferred by a lot of people to suburbia. They love this totally opposite form of urban connoisseurship. Living in Hong Kong, for example, can be like this; you can traverse tracts of the city entirely within buildings using escalators, going through shopping centres and arcades, et cetera. Some people thrive in highly urbanised environments. In these terms its useful to think about urbanism as a form of connoisseurship, instead of as a set of “10 commandments”, then suddenly you see a very different picture of urban possibilities.
TFE: As a connoisseurship?
Rijavec: Yes, like an array of wines; where you can sample different types…of urbanism that is.
Bindon It’s really about choice. Unfortunately what’s happening in Sydney is there tends to be this polarising of the debate that says; “my God, it’s all going to be Hong Kong towers, or low density suburbs.” It’s about those two extremes. And not realising that there is a whole host of options in between, and what we need to be doing is providing that choice of the in-betweens. But there’s a lot of people also who won’t want to live in a totally new and fabricated environment. There are a lot of people who want to integrate into, and are attracted to an area where there is already a pattern of the evolution of the city, the accretion of generation upon generation, and I think you’ve got to provide for that. I think you’ve got to do what Rob’s saying.
Rijavec: I would agree that it might overcome political intransigence in the first instance, however I would prefer to see a re-democritisation of our cities where they grow organically, densifying in a less predictable manner; a variegated urbanism with a variety of connoisseurships if you like.
Bindon I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all.
Rijavec: You’re absolutely right. That’s precisely my point. It really is a whole lot of different things. Our high level of urbanisation has inevitably made us all urban connoisseurs of sorts; we actually sample different suburbs and inner city conditions. Our lives are set in a collage of urban settings located in different parts of a city and for frequent travellers in different cities nationally and internationally. Urban diversity is a positive quality. A lot of different solutions is what is required.
Bindon: Of course. That’s the way it’s always been.
TFE: [Bindon doesn’t like to admit it, because she is a professional planner, she says, but she believes Canberra has been over-planned. Perhaps she needs a bit of chaos?]
Bindon You do. I’d rather drive down King Street, Newtown and see the chaos of that. But the Canberrans really like [their planned city]. An interesting paper I read once many years ago – it’s a post-occupancy survey of people, and their level of satisfaction about where they lived: invariably after living in a new place, having moved for whatever reason, after a period of about two years, it was almost to the clock, people’s satisfaction level went right up. And so people adjust. It might take two years to do that adjustment, but the adjustment happens, and…
TFE: Then they don’t want change?
Bindon You’ve hit a really important point on the head about the ageing and the reduced capacity for change, as people get older. And we’ve got an ageing population. This problem of inertia, unwillingness to move, is going to get worse, as we’ve got an older population [that becomes] more conservative.
Rijavec: There are some contradictions there, because a lot of empty-nesters buy flats in the inner city.
TFE: Perhaps it’s not about age, perhaps it’s about what happens when age gives you a sense of insecurity, a fear-related thing, an insecurity-related thing. There are a lot of young people who don’t like change. Perhaps it’s about the “world out there” – threatening and insecure.
Rijavec: Instead of familiarity breeding contempt, it just as often breeds content. The more you get to know a place [the more contented you can become]. I sometimes have the sensation of playing the city like an instrument that sounds the “score of my life” – places I work, places where I meet friends, places where I get things I need and places I go to for pure satisfaction – each place has a different melody of urban sensations. In these terms the city becomes a network that “services” our needs and aspirations. It embodies, work, friends, family; all the places where these interactions are set. It takes a while before you can develop a sense of contentment, and it only comes through familiarity.
Bindon And that’s what the post-occupancy studies that I was talking about came to conclude as well, that after two years, people start to develop that sense of familiarity, that sense of belonging; they know where everything is, they start to know the guy who runs the deli; it’s about community and connection. That’s really important, and you see that developing even in the new communities, like down in places like Jackson’s Landing, a former industrial site in Sydney, [with] people moving into apartments from all parts of Sydney. Often elderly people, as you’re saying, empty-nesters and so on, possibly for security reasons, or a lifestyle change. There is no existing community, and then they developed their own community, which now, is becoming an incredibly strong community. It’s really interesting.
Rijavec: But having said that, then I wonder what the cut-off point is. The “urban Stockholm Effect,” where you begin to empathise with your urban environment irrespective of its potential to serve your needs and aspirations can be damaging, where your life is moulded by what is on offer rather than your dreams and aspirations. In this negative form particular urban qualities can become just as addictive as positive urban qualities and in developing a taste for them, it can be difficult to let these tastes go, even though it might frustrate your hopes. Moving to an outer suburb or country town can be isolating for instance and moving from an outer suburb to the city centre can be alienating despite the density of services it offers.
TFE: Rijavec talks about the right of objection in the planning process
Rijavec: The right of objection [to planning] is considered to be a democratic principle, yet in practice it often has very undemocratic consequences. In my early career I designed a house my client dubbed “The Blind House”, because it wasn’t allowed to see anything. It was landlocked by the back yards of surrounding houses that it wasn’t allowed to look into despite the fact that all the back yards of its neighbours were allowed to look back into its yard. The objection for this minor construction was supported by council, so to get it approved we had to appeal the decision through VCAT, i.e. through the courts. Despite having won a tightly contested and emotionally fuelled battle, at the end of the day, my client was so upset by his neighbours’ attitude he couldn’t bear the thought of living next to them, so he sold the property. In considering the rights of objection we are not talking exclusively about major developments; the smallest of planning applications can be scrutinised and frustrated in this way. Objection to planning applications has become a cultural norm. It’s now embodied in our [culture] and often surfaces as an urban neurosis complete with actor heroes leading the resident throng. The consequence is that most new developments in inner urban areas are made at least “partially blind” since the right of existing structures in our cities have precedence over the rights of new ones. Another way of describing this is to say its “first in best dressed” principle of planning. It isn’t fair in my view to preference rights in this way because it isn’t fair and it invites conflict. The illogicality of preferencing existing residents over new ones in the name of democracy is patently contradictory. The rights of existing residents are given precedence irrespective of how much they will compromise future residents and that isn’t fair, they should have equal rights. Adding to this, objections are often irrational and selfishly motivated. They can reflect the worst aspects of human territoriality and nature.
TFE: So what we’re fighting here is not a reality, but it’s a perception and a feeling and an emotion.
Rijavec: And it’s all a massive deception, one characterised by our politicians ducking their political responsibility.
TFE: Perhaps it’s about psychology and we need to look at how you change people’s emotions and feelings.
Rijavec: It would help if instead of shirking their responsibilities by promoting a democratically contradictory process, politicians would just tell the truth. The truth is that state planning policy has generally been relatively progressive looking as far ahead as Government’s planning “predictioneers” have been able to forecast. Unfortunately the politicisation of local planning administration results in the frustration of state initiatives. And so on the one hand you get State government saying “increase densities” and on the other hand local government [NIMBYs], “saying not in our back yard.”
Bindon: Or otherwise known as “Not In A Million Bloody Years.”
Rijavec: They’ve set up a planning administration system that contradicts itself at state and local level, and going against the grain of the “first in best dressers” would be political suicide, so irrespective of how good or necessary a planning policy might be at state level, politicians are very reluctant to enforce it at local level. And the ugly face of this contradiction is that people are given to believe that if they object hard enough, they can stop things. The consequence is that planning applications refused by local governments are submitted to VCAT for approval where they are assessed both in terms of local and state planning policy and where local planning decisions are often overturned. Objectors invest the powerful emotions associated with their homes; working unpaid after hours and on weekends enlisting celebrities to garner support and prepare their objections. They sincerely believe in the moral righteousness of their objections. I won’t forget the elderly couple who objected on one of my projects in Fitzroy. They were in the last 15 years of their life cycle, and came into the VCAT hearing every single day testing the consciences of the panel members presiding over the case with their heartfelt concern. It was heartbreaking. They were put through a process where they were given to believe that if they objected both sincerely and strongly, that they could stop the project. The objector group was aided and abetted by people who had successfully stopped the Franklin Dam, and even Bob Brown threw his hat in the ring with reported commentary. In my experience, the Greens have generally been against increasing densities and this is puzzling since higher densities are more sustainable in urban terms. State Government’s 2030 policy set up a process which enabled developers to propose multi storey developments near high activity centres, but local government opposed this, garnering community support to this end. Planners within local government gave objectors the confidence to believe they could stop the development. As a result of this residents put themselves through several years of absolute hell. They were doing 10pm doorknocks to garner support and some people felt they were being badgered to object. One of them became a “mole” passing information on. The issue divided the community and then at the end of the day, backfired on them. Residents like the elderly couple I mentioned were heartbroken. The local government heaped all blame on VCAT. The experience was a corrosive one, not one that breeds confidence in the community.
TFE: But how do you stop it, though? What are you saying about changing that system?
Rijavec: To change the system we need political leadership. Rather than shirking voter backlash the government has to instil the notion that a city is a symbiotic system that we are all part of; that though we may own property, we don’t own a precinct, its roads, its footpaths or its parks. And the State government has administrated in all of our best interests. The planning process is adversarial because it has been set up in that way. The improper administration of the democratic right of objection unnecessarily pits resident against resident, resident against developer and local government against state government resulting in highly expensive gut-wrenching futilities, ones that divide communities. For the record, the traumatised elderly couple sold their house; they moved within a few months of VCAT granting approval.
TFE: Well, what was their big objection? Were they opposite it?
Rijavec: They were quite near it, and were signatories to the objector groups who block opposition which suggested the development was too bulky, too high and out of character with the precinct. Ironically, when a new developer heeded the objections and submitted alternative designs they were rejected in favour of my original design. In granting approval, VCAT had described the original design as being exemplary. The original urban design originally named NKYA, [dubbed the “Cheesegrater” by objecting residents and now called “The Artist”], is now under construction. Conditions imposed as a result of the council’s urban design consultants advice ironically favoured the original design – a complete turn around. During the process it occurred to me that planners had misinterpreted the urban character of the precinct in which it was set. Boyd described it as “featurism,” referring to Melbourne as Australia’s “featurist” capital. He said, direct quote; “…every block down the entire length of every street is cut up into dozens of different buildings, cheek to cheek, some no more than 12 foot six inches wide, few more than 50 feet, some only two storeys, some now days over 20 storeys and growing higher. And every façade is a different colour, differently ornamented, and within its two dimensional limitations a different shape. It is a dressmakers floor strewn with snippings of style”
But planners don’t see it that way; they look for consistency and intactness rather than for diversity and variation, thereby placing an entirely different emphasis on the urban interpretation. Boyd hated it, branding it “The Australian Ugliness”. Ironically now, urban character and planning provisions conserve Boyd’s ugliness whilst they administrate a species of planning regulation that I would call “Urban dentistry; filing all the teeth down to the same level, ensuring they are straight and look in character”, presumably to ensure we end up with a winning urban smile. But urbanism isn’t about cosmetic enhancements that address the eye – its an agglomeration of symbiotic connections not urban eye candy.
TFE: But there are bigger picture fears occurring. An ABC program on planning in Sydney revealed heroic-like passion from protestors, such as the Save Our Suburbs organisation. The thinking was; “Look, our village is lovely; Ku-ring-gai, it’s very nice.” And what happens with high density is people end up fighting each other, like rats cornered in a small space. So people seem afraid of the woes of the world and of possible squabbles or worse. What they said was, in theory we like society being pluralistic; but community is not at all pluralistic. It’s very homogenous.
Bindon: It’s just like Ku-ring-gai.
TFE [Rijavec says it’s a challenge to know how to deal with these attitudes in view of the growth projections for Melbourne – of seven million by 2050 – and that of other cities.]
Bindon: What I think planners are trying to do [in] managing the expectation of these people, is to say; “these are the rules; if you comply with the rules, you, the neighbour, cannot reasonably object; bad luck. That’s just the way it is. So don’t come to us and complain, we’re going to let this happen.” And other areas too, like conservation areas, we’re saying: “we’re going to watch very carefully any new development in these areas.” So if somebody comes along with something that’s completely out of character or completely out of scale, they’re going to find it very difficult. So it’s about the expectations as set by the rulebooks.
Bindon: I know, it shouldn’t be. At the rule-setting stage, in my view, is when you have your main consultation, and get some kind of community engagement and acknowledgement, and you have to go through a certain process. It can’t be just imposed. But once the rules are set in the plan, then it should be a case of notification. So neighbours are notified. In fact, that’s what consultation of a development proposal primarily is in New South Wales. Neighbours are notified, they’re asked to view the plans and invited to put in submissions. They have no appeal rights in New South Wales, which is one of the better things about our system, I think. As a result many feel even more irate, because they can make their submissions and they can have some influence only through the political process, by going to the council and saying; “I don’t like this, it’s going to cause all this nuisance, I want this changed.” So they get involved when they really don’t have any power. And when they realise that they don’t actually have the power, it can cause more frustration.
TFE: It can feel insulting to be told that someone wants to consult me, and I know they’re not going to pay any attention whatsoever. It’s not fair.
Rijavec: Yes, it is, it’s a political lie, in the sense that people are given an expectation which can never be realised. The myth is that democracy prevails however the unfortunate reality is that the duress of a prolonged and overcomplicated planning process exhausts and humbles participants who inevitably develop a cynicism toward the planning process. Rather than clarify the process and champion a progressive planning policy, governments allow opposing interest groups to fight it out between themselves to the point of emotional and financial exhaustion and make them pay for the torture of the process; one that has become progressively more expensive counting in the millions on major developments thereby adding to the increasing unaffordability of Australian housing. Its worse than the taxation system.
TFE: Planning has the problem that for most people it is hard to visualise what is proposed on plans and people tend to not get engaged until something is about to affect them.
Bindon: That’s true. That’s the big argument, and by which stage some say, it’s too late. That’s where some of our modern tools are much more helpful. The sort of stuff that, again, Rob [Adams] has been doing, and visualising some of these things through really good computer generated imaging of what the streets will look like, that is something that people can understand. Photo-montages of “before” and “after” streetscape developments is much easier to understand than just rules and regulations and stuff like that. So I think that’s an important avenue there to assist. In my experience when people see it presented in that way, a lot of the fear disappears. But the problem is, and I keep flogging this in New South Wales, is we’ve been abusing the “planning system”. They call it the “planning” system, but really it’s the development control on development assessment system. Planning is the future; of where we’re going and how we’re going to get there. The rest is the minutiae on how to do it, of regulating building controls. And that’s not planning as I was trained to do. But that is absorbing all the energy, all the angst, all the resources, and a lot of money, and human resources. Most of the planners are, working in this space.
Rijavec: It’s also psychologically and culturally corrosive. Individuals and communities inevitably feel slighted by the system.
TFE: Is there anywhere a model of good planning?
Rijavec: There’s no such thing as a perfect model, but my view is that we should be considering planning as a creative process rather than an adversarial one focussed on developing and administering regulations. We should be considering it in terms of urban connoisseurship where a diversity of tastes are catered for and where new urban tastes or “addictions” are fostered.
Bindon: Yeah, and we are seeing some generational shift in all of this, aren’t we? I think we are. And there’s far more sophistication in the cities about what people want and where they want to live.
TFE: But there’s a contradiction. Developers are not liked, but people like the many of the buildings they create, such as trendy new apartments.
Bindon: I think developers are completely maligned actually. Developers just provide the infrastructure that we need, they provide the roofs over our heads. Why are they so maligned?
TFE Perhaps because they’ve got such a bad track record, of bad developments unfortunately. There’s lots of evidence everywhere of crappy development. But then that addiction thing kicks in, and people say, yes it’s ugly but we like it now. Like 1960s red brick flats are now trendy.
Rijavec: It is important to note that sprawl is underpinned by the fact that you can build a three-bedroom house on a block of land for about half the price that you can buy an inner city apartment. [This is mainly because union allowances don’t apply to suburban low rise residential development; trades people can work off the ground, there are no lifts and single storey houses are comparatively simple structures.]
The government has allowed sprawl on the pretext of providing affordable housing, for instance without factoring in infrastructure costs. This is of course politically motivated. It goes without saying the familiarity of our suburbs has bred a lot of content, they have inspired the most successful Australian soap, “Neighbours” and a host of others. If the government had been complicit in a different urban model, that fostered higher densities in more urbane urban contexts they would no doubt have bred a different type of content that might have inspired a different kind of “soap”, a more urbane one like “Seinfeld” or “Sex in the City”, for example. Now governments are recognising the infrastructure costs of sprawl, which are tipping the economic pendulum of urban development back in the direction of higher density development.
TFE: It’s still cheap, though. Are you saying it’s not anymore?
Rijavec: Well, it isn’t if you factor in the cost of freeways, roads, footpaths, the associated landscaping, essential services such as reticulating water sewerage, electricity and gas, providing schools, hospitals, police and fire stations, et cetera.
TFE: What about high density in the suburbs, where the little shopping centre is?
Rijavec: I don’t have any problems with that.
TFE: But they don’t do it, do they?
Rijavec: Well, they are starting to. I think we all get used to things. And given different circumstances and different times we can come to like the things that we once hated the most. This is exactly what happened to our inner suburbs between the crash of the 1890s and the post war years when dunny carts rattled along the laneways of inner suburbs once a week. Inner suburbs got progressively more dilapidated and got on the nose. Residential preference consequently moved out to a leafy suburban idyll where people had large back yards and where the houses were widely spaced. Inner city suburbs like Fitzroy were described as slums then, and now they have become one of the most sought after inner city domiciles; now the inner suburbs is where everyone wants to live.
Bindon: Why wouldn’t you?
Rijavec: Given that sort of transformation in urban values in the space of 50 years, is it impossible to imagine that the majority of Australians might in the future develop a preference for high density.
Rijavec: The idea of a fast train from Noosa to Geelong would be a fantastic prospect. You could get on a train at dusk in Melbourne, and wake up in Noosa the next day.
Bindon: And it’s actually old thinking and old technology, when you look at what they’re doing in Japan 30, 40, 50 years ago, with the bullet trains. If we’re going to have 35 million people, we can then support a fast train system.
Rijavec: The impact would be massive. It would change national consciousness.
TFE It might be appealing for Australia to retain a sense of inaccessibility, or remoteness.
Rijavec: Given the population forecasts, it will happen along the east coast of Australia eventually. And given the forecast expansion in WA, it is also likely it will also happen along the west coast. The only question is whether the two will link up creating a trans-national fast train.
Bindon: I’m interested in the 2050 [competition] idea with the Biennale. I keep trying to promote the notion of looking at the future, because to me planning is a long-term thing. We’re totally reliant in some form or other in our thinking on the car. And the sooner we can get beyond that the better. I put that to some people, and they’ve said, “Oh, so that means we’re going back to horse and cart,” and stupid responses like that. But if you give someone a brief and say that you can’t have a car, how would you design our cities without them, using alternative forms of transport?
Rijavec: The new citi-cars that have become increasingly popular will have major impact as they increase in numbers replacing larger cars for example.
Bindon: [Melbourne] has such an advantage over Sydney, because of [the] terrain and your history of the tram system.