February 12, 2015

Vancouverism in Excess: The Case of Melbourne

Some cities looked at the densification of Vancouver’s central core with admiration, and then went too far.  Melbourne was one of them.  The question for Vancouver, with the push for ever denser towers in tighter spaces, is whether we will too.  From The Age:


Melbourne’s “hyper-dense” skyscrapers would never be allowed in other global centres, a new report finds


High-rise apartment towers in central Melbourne are being built at four times the maximum densities allowed in some of the world’s most crowded cities, including Hong Kong, New York and Tokyo, a scathing new report finds.

And Melbourne’s hyper-dense skyscrapers are being built “with little regard to the effect on the residents within, the impact on the streets below or the value of neighbouring properties” because of weak, ineffective or non-existent state government policies, it finds.

Melbourne 4

Leanne Hodyl is the co-ordinator of city plans and policy at Melbourne City Council. Last year she completed a Churchill Fellowship, in work done separately from her council job but with the support of key staff, including the city’s design director, Rob Adams.

The fellowship studied five other cities – New York, Vancouver, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Seoul – to see how they dealt with dense high-rise landscapes.

Van - 1Ms Hodyl’s fellowship paper, published last week, said construction of skyscrapers in central Melbourne should be supported, because a big jump in the CBD’s population had many benefits for residents, including easy access to jobs, shops and entertainment. And it made the city “more lively and animated”.

But Melbourne had by far the fewest policies regulating apartment towers compared with the cities she studied.

Her study also found that the social and economic consequences of such high-density development were “unknown”, and were not required “to put Melbourne on the map as a global city”. …
In Vancouver, developers are allowed to cram high numbers of apartments into a project only if they agree to help fund construction of things such as parks, plazas, childcare centres, cinemas and performing arts spaces.

In Melbourne, planning controls offer “cheap density” to developers, because they are able to ratchet up the number of apartments in a tower with only a very limited need to make any significant community contribution. …

An Andrews government spokeswoman said a new planning authority would work with the State Architect and Melbourne City Council on new high rises to “restore accountability” to CBD planning.

Former planning minister Matthew Guy had made too many decisions “in secret behind closed doors”, she said.


The full (and very accessible) report here.  (Thanks to Damon Rao.)

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  1. It would be interesting to see whether this cheap density is improving affordability. Over the last decade, affordability in Melbourne has become much worse, as can be seen in the wonderful maps here. Is the supply provided by these types of towers catching up?

  2. Or are they just building tomorrow’s slums? Like West End mansions that became rooming houses, glass skyscrapers will not stay new forever. Those who espouse this kind of runaway density forget why people fled to the suburbs as soon as the car made it practical to do so.

  3. “The principle at the basic core of Vancouver’s planning is density balanced with community or public benefit.” Dan Garrison – City of Vancouver

    “The effect of the basic core of Vancouver’s planning is utterly out-of-balance housing, at excruciating private cost, with the city now rapidly moving towards achieving the No. 1 spot as the most expensive, unnaffordable place on earth.” Vancouver resident

  4. I’m sure residents of False Creek reading this are smiling about the nice park that Concorde Pacific built for them 15 years ago as promised. Oh wait…

  5. I can’t help think that this:

    But Melbourne had by far the fewest policies regulating apartment towers compared with the cities she studied.

    has led to Melbourne having much better skyscraper architecture than Vancouver.