A City With No Vision - What is the Plan for Melbourne?

The following is an article by Max Walton, Senior Urban Planner at David Lock Associates. 

Whilst the announcement of a ‘bold’ new vision for Melbourne’s Central Business District was identified by the Minister for Planning as the prelude to much broader engagement on the new Metro Strategy there remains a genuine lack of transparent discourse on city planning in Melbourne and Victoria.  The lack of such an open and honest discussion on the future of Melbourne has created a vacuum of strategic planning policy.  This could be a missed opportunity to re-evaluate city planning in Melbourne and the State.  This paper argues that a more spatial approach to planning in Victoria is required, one that results in a clearly understood and agreed city vision and framework.

To frame this discussion, firstly it is important to understand the recent and significant planning policy work delivered by the State.  Melbourne 2030 and Melbourne@5 Million have provided a sound framework for strategic planning in Melbourne.  They outlined key principles of intensification in Activity Centres and locations well served by public transport.  They should be remembered for delivering some key planning and development successes.  The DPCD has worked with Councils to facilitate activity centre structure plans.  The GAA is working tirelessly to produce PSPs for the delivery of sustainable growth areas whilst the establishment of Places Victoria has positioned urban renewal back towards the top of the development agenda.

There is a fear that the new Metro Strategy may ‘throw the baby out with the bath water’ by the present Government distancing itself and not supporting those strategies so closely associated with previous Governments. The lack of any city vision for Melbourne has led to an adversarial, legalistic and political approach to planning decision making.  Developers are competing with each other in the growth area and with local authorities and residents in municipal Melbourne.  It appears that planning decisions are increasingly being based on political pressures or what is merely acceptable from a purely legal interpretation of planning policy.  As a result, new development is being approved all over Melbourne that meets minimum standard criteria and appears detached from what is appropriate in practical terms for the City and its residents.  Instead of this approach, what is needed is an agreed and clear strategic vision building upon the previous work that has been done to bind the elements together.

Melbourne and the broader Victorian region need to define a clear vision and strategic framework.  It should be a vision that combines creativity and innovation with pragmatism and deliverability.  Further, it is important for the vision to articulate a unique identity for Melbourne and Victoria reflecting community aspirations.

The challenges that face Melbourne over the coming years such as housing affordability, infrastructure deficiencies and resilience to climate change are diverse and complex.  They transcend municipal boundaries, involve multiple resources and therefore cannot be solved through land use planning alone.  A more spatial approach to strategic planning in Victoria is required.  A spatial framework, drawn up in collaboration with multiple agencies and stakeholders would co-ordinate development and use of land with plans for economic development, transport and movement, retention of biodiversity and other physical infrastructure strategies.

There are many examples around the world of cities with a clearly defined and generally agreed city vision and strategic framework.  These include European cities such as Stockholm and Copenhagen and South American cities such as Curitiba.  Such examples demonstrate what can be achieved when a plan
provides a clear idea as to when, where and how a city should grow.  This article doesn't debate the relative merits of various spatial city models; it does seek to outline what the key constituent parts of a city vision and spatial framework should be:

An easily understood plan - No matter what planners would have you believe, strategic planning is not rocket science.  A simple, easily understood plan with key diagrams to help illustrate ideas and concepts helps to avoid fashionable language, minimise potential conflicts and curtail the need for long winded or complex briefings.

A sense of ownership – It is essential that collective consent for the lifestyle and behavioural changes needed to ensure sustainable growth is attained.  Collective consent creates a sense of ownership across a community.  This requires open and  transparent conversations, using a range of techniques and media, in developing a vision for the future of Melbourne.  It also requires strong political and civic leadership that is generally committed to carrying the vision forward and not intent on derailing the process for short-term political opportunism.

Stakeholder commitment – Creative thinking, active involvement and delivery from stakeholders is essential.  An agreed city vision backed by a sound strategic framework can provide the basis for more partnership-based and cross-border working.  Understanding the City and regions from a more regional or sub-regional structure provides a stronger basis for greater co-ordination in relation to essential infrastructure delivery.

A forum for debate – Melbourne, as with all Cities, is a dynamic and ever changing entity.  Whilst it is increasingly difficult to predict what will happen to the city in the future, an identified vision for Melbourne will at the very least spark some form of debate as to how it should grow and will place its future in the hands of stakeholders/residents.

Whilst the pressures remain to meet the challenges of population and economic growth, housing affordability and climate resilience, the current situation represents a threshold opportunity for planning in Melbourne and Victoria.  Full steam ahead under the current adversarial planning process will be costly from an environmental, social and economic perspective for the city of Melbourne and the people who live and work there.


  1. Instead of having a single high-density city core, with lower development density radiating outwards, the most likely urban shape in the future will be one of more even distribution of housing density throughout the city.
    urban planners

  2. Enjoyed every bit of your blog article.Really thank you! Will read on…


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