Melbourne was named the most liveable city in the world for the fifth consecutive year in 2015. Liveability is a concept that by now should be synonymous with sustainability, yet we find ourselves in our top-ranking city with a detrimental dependency on cars and a growing divide between people of inner and outer suburbs in income and services.
The way we choose to travel and the options we are provided with have a large impact on these issues. Air pollution from cars is estimated to cause 900 to 4500 deaths per year; and while other cities around the world are purposefully weaning themselves off of their automobile addictions, decisions like that of VCATs in the Nightingale and Vincent Corporation cases show Melbourne is fumbling.
The brainchild of Breath Architecture and evolution of their groundbreaking development, The Commons, The Nightingale Model is an aspirational housing project based on the premise that architects have an obligation to society to enhance and protect the quality of buildings and cities.
‘The idea of the Nightingale Project, which started in Melbourne as a collaboration between Breath Architecture and six other Architects, is about reimaging the housing delivery system” explains Founding Director of Breath Architecture, Jeremy McLeod, at the recent MRelay talks at MPavillion.
The Upfield Bicycle Track, adjacent to the Nightingale project. Photo: MoreArt.
McLeod suggests that the current housing model is delivered more like a product, with apartments delivered and “sold by property developers to investors, to then be rented for as much as possible” in a highly commoditised market. Conversely, Nightingale is intended to be a true housing project.
“Led by architects, it’s a triple bottom line replicable housing project… any architect anywhere in the world can replicate what we’re doing here and the idea is sustainable and affordable housing that people want to live in… I guess we think naively that we might be able to change the system”.
Initially given the go-ahead by the Moreland City Council, the development’s approval was overturned by the state planning tribunal for lacking car parking spaces. Although nearby to a train station, bicycle route, car share service, bus route and tram line, VCAT senior member Russell Byard wrote in his judgement that “no such arrangements… are as convenient as private car ownership”.
Yet just a few weeks ago the state tribunal overturned the Moreland City Council once again, but this time to approve Vincent Corporation’s car park free East Brunswick development under the condition it increase bicycle spots and reduce motorcycle parking.
In the tribunal’s judgement of Nightingale, it stated that some future residents might be more likely to “avoid car ownership but that does not, by any means, mean an absence of car ownership or an absence of parking demand”. Strangely they decided not to take this into consideration when overturning Moreland City Councils rejection of the East Brunswick development, which was based on the buildings inadequate car parking.
The inconsistency is disappointing and points to real issues with planning controls. Car parking policies need to be evolving with the attitude and needs of society. It’s not about banishing cars altogether, simply minimising the necessity of them for the positive benefits.
Upfield Rail Line, adjacent to the Nightingale Project. Photo: Wagon16, Flickr.
In this case, reduced or no car parking isn’t just cost effective to developers; it lowers the overall cost for buyers and contributes to greater housing choices for those who aren’t interested in owning motor vehicles. All future residents of the Nightingale had already signed a waiver acknowledging the lack of car spaces, along with the inclusion of sustainable transport options like a green travel fund to cover the cost of public transport.
These decisions were not made lightly, with Breath interviewing 57 potential residents to determine what the community saw as the best use of resources for their future home. Taking aggregated results the design was amended to suit these needs including 72 bike spaces instead of car parks.
The Commons by Breathe Architecture. Photo: Andrew Wuttke
“Gen Y’s are living differently than what our bureaucracy understands. Of the people we interviewed from Nightingale, 30% don’t own a car, have never owned a car or have never even had a Victorian drivers license. And trying to explain that to a bureaucratic system that says you have to provide a car park to all of these people even though it pushes the apartment prices up by $40,000 per apartment doesn’t work” says McLeod to the crowd at MPavillion.
Forcing people who don’t own a car to pay $40,000 to have some lines mark some concrete is unreasonable, and most people do not have the money to spare. It comes down to a matter of choice and right now choices are fairly limited for those that have no need or desire to own a private vehicle.
Sydney Road’s Tram 19 which is walking distance from the Nightingale project. Photo:
Hourann Bosci, Flickr.
After the Nightingale ruling Moreland City Council asked Planning Minister Richard Wynne to reassess the planning strategy throughout Moreland and amend state car parking laws. As it stands however, all councils except the CBD require at least minimal parking for new developments.
A big part of the problem is that for these new green living spaces to work, it’s not just car parking laws that need to be changed. There needs to be a shift in the daily commute from cars to sustainable transport and these buildings encourage that, but they can’t provide everything.
Better diversity in the ways people can live without requiring a public vehicle has to be both promoted and implemented; and while bicycling and walking are seeing some significant improvements, public transport like trains, trams and buses are in need of serious attention. For those who live in the outer suburbs or away from main hubs, services are limited and cars aren’t just the best option, they’re the only option.
An artist’s impression of Sydney Road with bike paths and disability tram stops. Image: Oculus
According to Environment Victoria rethinking Melbourne transport study in 2009 “governments have been making it harder to use greener public transport” and the past decade had seen ‘five times more money spent on expanding Melbourne’s road network compared to tram and train extensions – that’s fairly inefficient considering 96% of a cars life is spent idle.
In Central London a concentrated effort has already seen 9% of car commuters switch to other transport, while Helsinki is attempting to create a “mobility on command’”system to make cars redundant within 10 years. Birmingham, a city known for its car manufacturing, is hoping to lower car dependency with its plan Birmingham Connected alongside public education.
Many of our counterparts around the world are striving towards a future with fewer cars proving that sustainable transport and the sustainable city are possible in Melbourne, and in Australia; but to achieve real change the government needs to get involved on all levels.
Words: Eleanor Scott