Equality within our city is inadequate. The further our cities sprawl the greater the social disparity between those who live in the inner and outer suburbs. This issue currently centres around housing affordability and access to jobs, and only becomes more intense as we begin to deal with issues surrounding climate change and impending population growth both locally and globally.
As we come to terms with the likelihood of Melbourne doubling its population by the year 2050. It is at this point that we look to the issue of Melbourne’s density. For many years now the rhetoric surrounding the issue of density has been a question of if? This is no longer valid, the conversation needs to be reframed. The choice is already made, as we struggle to service the suburbs that already exist.
Density is a traditionally volatile conversation in this country. The Australian community is weighed down by a disparate collective consciousness and cultural identity. Historically we have prided ourselves on the upwardly mobile nature of our middle class. Status epitomised by home ownership; detached bungalows, multiple garages, front yards and back yards symbols of this middle class suburban dream. Just now are we beginning to see seeds of this changing, as people increasingly focus on the inner city as a place to live.
Meanwhile, Melbourne has one of the largest urban footprints in the world, due to vast amounts of low density housing. Our city sprawls endlessly outwards, further away from public transport, jobs, community facilities and basic amenities. These forgotten and unserviced outer suburbs are fuelled by mass houseandlandpackage developments. Recently rezoned cheap agricultural land surrounding our cities is being divided into blocks and sold, to huge portions of our population; people in search of the frontyardbackyardbungalow status symbol, or at its most basic a place to live.
The infrastructure of Melbourne is struggling to cope with the vast and growing number of car dependent residents living in these suburbs. This suburban sprawl creates a social issue of inequality, isolation, financial strain and pressure on residents quality of life. It also creates many environmental issues including the continuing degradation of fertile soil, carbon emissions from over use of personal vehicles and dependency on nonrenewable resources.
The good news; Melbourne is very sparsely populated. If our city is to grow it must first grow back upon itself. This is not a question of space but infrastructure, resources and equity. These ideas are not new, in fact well-versed within certain pockets of the community, but ideas that need to become the norm rather than the exception. If we are to grow as a city whilst increasing social equity and diversity, we as consumers need to reposition ourselves to the front end of the ‘developer’ model. Not just coming in at the end to purchase the processed and prepackaged goods but to assert a level of agency over the market.
While these ideas speak to the dynamic of Melbourne and the issue of population growth, our cities need to be shaped with a much larger vision. Introducing a broader idea of social sustainability to begin to layer the complexity of these issues, informing how we might inhabit and function within our cities. Rather than dividing these issues into separate categories they should be thought of as a whole; not individual departments but a singular reality, inextricably linked and indivisibly bound.
Words: Julia Collins
Kelly, Jane-Frances & Donegan, Paul, (author.) & Grattan Institute (issuing body.) 2015, City limits : why Australia’s cities are broken and how we can fix them, Carlton, Vic. Melbourne University Press
Lowe, Ian 2006-03-13, A Big Fix: Radical solutions for Australia’s environmental crisis, Black Inc