The push is on for the decentralisation of major cities and the fast rail that will facilitate this concept, says the co-author of a new report aimed at inspiring conversation on the subject in Victoria.
The report issued by RMIT, University of Melbourne and Monash was commissioned by independent think tank Balance Victoria. The objective of the Balance Victoria project is to coordinate ideas and conversation regarding decentralisation policy in Victoria. The project is supported by RMIT University and sponsored by Jay Grant and his wealth management firm Newhaven Group, which supplied seed funding to Consolidated Land and Rail Australia (CLARA) before leaving in 2016.
Says report co-author RMIT deputy pro vice-chancellor, research and innovation, Professor Ralph Horne, the report is intended to change the conversation regarding decentralisation, and determine why it’s not occurring in Australia.
In spite of its historical barriers, Horne believes that the case for regional development is strengthening as Sydney and Melbourne are dealing with impaired models of urban development.
These communities are developing at a fast rate. The contemporary model of low-density residences grows less efficient as people face extensive commutes in and out of the city.
Higher density apartments provide one solution, but Horne says that not everyone is right for apartment living.
Housing affordability is another concern, with many millennials unable to afford new homes.
Horne says that pressure is escalating for a new mode of planning urban development.
One model proposes connected satellite cities that permit residents to travel by train for 15 minutes to work as opposed to driving in traffic for an hour.
These towns would be designed to achieve the density sweet spot for maximum livability. Not as dense as high rises, but with active street fronts.
Due to their workable size, Horne said, these settlements could maintain self-sufficient water supplies, and create their own renewable energy. They can be walkable, with streets not reserved for private cars.
These settlements would be hyperconnected into the metropolitan areas of Melbourne and Sydney.
Australia is the only continent lacking in high speed rail and not investing in it. This is one surefire method to relieve pressure from congested urban centres, providing that livable sustainable settlements are available for residential living.
However, the concept of the high-speed rail is financially challenging for Australia. Horne says that there would be limited places to stop between Sydney and Melbourne. The possibility exists that the line could be extended to new settlements as they are constructed, leveraging value capture mechanisms associated with the initial developer contribution to develop these cities.
Another problem is the stereotype that new cities have no character. But Horne compares the development of new cities liken the planting of a forest, as both need to grow.
Canberra is cited in the report as an example of decentralisation.
Chosen as Australia’s capital city in 1906 for its placement between Sydney and Melbourne, its flourishing has been attributed to its role as the site of federal administration; one that comes complete with community, culture, and state-of-the-art infrastructure.
Horne asserts that a more decentralised model of urban living will attract people otherwise confined in suburbia. They will get the livable assets of the suburbs, and the urban services of the city.
Urbis director Nathan Stribley said that the natural growth and character of areas around Melbourne, such as Bendigo, Ballarat and Geelong, should be supported.
These areas boast expensive infrastructure and services. In communities like Geelong, employment opportunities are emerging.
Many of these areas are growing at a regular rate, and serve a more extensive region beyond their own catchment.
Stribley asserts that any response should take into account the amount of investment needed to support the long-term life of these regions; and that the development of a new settlement is expensive.
The report examines the history of decentralisation and regional development policy in Australia.
RMIT Professor Ralph Horne says that, in order to succeed, decentralisation must be integrated into a wider framework that includes affordable housing, accessible transport, high speed rail, and long-term economic planning.