2.2 Create thriving urban places
Building more homes in established suburbs can bring substantial benefits, if managed by the right land use policies, settings and models of infrastructure delivery. It can reduce public infrastructure costs,1 and reduce encroachment into valuable agricultural and environmental land from development. Building more homes near public transport and employment centres improves physical activity levels by encouraging walking and cycling.2 More housing choice can support more diverse communities that include people of different ages, abilities and cultural backgrounds, and help create a sense of safety and belonging.
Building more homes in well-located areas also generates broader productivity effects, connecting people and businesses more readily. Closer connections mean businesses can more easily find customers, access workers and share more knowledge and resources.3
Concentrated, specialised and diverse businesses compete more fiercely, adapt more quickly to economic shocks, and generate fertile ground for innovation in ideas and technologies.4 These drivers create more jobs and businesses, improve productivity, and give people more opportunity to find jobs using their skills and talents.5
Building more homes in established areas can bring substantial benefits. More housing choice can support more diverse communities and enhance social inclusiveness and connection.
Better infrastructure and land use planning can produce better outcomes
Plan Melbourne, and its preceding metropolitan strategies, aim to facilitate the supply of more homes in places with good infrastructure and amenity.6 It aims to create local neighbourhoods where people can access most of their everyday needs (except work) within a 20-minute walk, cycle or public transport trip.7 Yet only a quarter of new homes in Melbourne are built in identified activity centres8 with good access to services, public transport, and jobs.
Beyond Plan Melbourne’s identification of six ‘places of state significance that will be the focus for investment and growth’,9 no public Victorian Government document clearly specifies the established suburbs where extra new homes might be built, or how many might be built there. This can mean home-building in established areas occurs in a haphazard and disparate fashion, with only small numbers of extra homes built or new homes being built wherever possible, including places with limited access to services. Inadequate prioritisation and planning of places for more intense development can lead to local disputes, especially in relation to medium and high density development. From 2011 to 2017, more than half of projects with six or more dwellings were referred to the Victorian Civil Administrative Tribunal for decision.10
Inflexible or restrictive land use settings can also discourage more homes being built in well connected places where existing infrastructure can accommodate much more housing. We undertook modelling to investigate the effect of relaxing land use planning requirements in carefully selected locations in Melbourne, around train stations and along transport corridors.11 This also meant overall private motorised vehicle trips were lower than comparable scenarios, as people living in these areas are more likely to walk or cycle to their destination. It also resulted in more public transport use, as more residents live in areas with good public transport services.12
Even with more use, public transport was also less crowded as trips were shorter.13
Building extra new homes in less well-connected places, or without the right infrastructure, can cause problems. For example, building more homes in places with limited public transport access increases local traffic congestion. Short trips by private vehicles contribute significantly to localised congestion that can have cumulative and flow-on effects across the transport network.14 Pollution and noise from increased traffic also negatively impacts health and wellbeing, air quality and social interaction, and produces greenhouse gas emissions. Careful consideration of local transport needs in densifying communities can reduce these impacts, by improving walking, cycling and public transport options.
The delivery of the new Suburban Rail Loop is an opportunity to use integrated transport and land use planning to deliver benefits for Melburnians. The project will shape the city for many years to come. Its planning and delivery can help the Victorian Government progress its transport objectives, and also promote economic growth and residential development in priority locations (such as near planned stations) and a more sustainable urban footprint for Melbourne.15 Our community research on ‘density done well’16 (see Insight box) reveals that it is not necessarily building more homes in established areas that causes community anxiety.
Rather, people want to maintain and improve the quality of their local area and ensure the extra infrastructure needed to accommodate more residents will be delivered. If done well, the construction of more homes is paired with quality urban design, diverse commercial opportunities, and community services, walkable, safe and green open spaces, good public transport, and choice of affordable housing options.
Infrastructure can help create sustainable, inclusive communities
Places need to cater for the people who live there and evolve with those communities as they change over time. This includes meeting the needs of people at different life stages – children, young people, adults, families, and older Victorians. It involves providing for the whole community, including people with low and high incomes, and a diversity of abilities and skills, cultural needs, and genders. It can recognise the inclusion and self-determination of Victoria’s First Nations people, and help Close the Gap in outcomes for Aboriginal Victorians. Rapidly changing neighbourhoods, including established areas experiencing construction of many new homes, need to cater for diversity, and make new people welcome.
The design of communities can physically limit people’s participation in education, work, community, culture and civic life. Building and modifying infrastructure for accessibility and creating easy to navigate environments can make a significant difference. This includes supporting Victorians as they age, people with disabilities, and their families, friends, and carers. It also makes urban environments easier to navigate for everyone, including people with prams and strollers, and those using shopping trolleys or carrying luggage.
Places with good access to jobs, services and amenity are often highly valued by potential home buyers and investors, and often have higher land prices as a result. Construction of higher density housing also often requires high land values so developers can achieve a reasonable return on their investment.18
These factors often mean that rapidly densifying established suburbs do not produce much housing affordable for people on low incomes.
At the same time, many Victorians cannot find housing they can afford, with more than 140,000 Victorian households experiencing rental stress in 2017–1819 with that number potentially higher since the COVID-19 pandemic. It is these same households who can most benefit from better access to jobs and services.
Desirable places to live have good amenities, services and infrastructure, including environmental infrastructure such as open space. Open space takes different forms, from bushland, water courses and parklands to sports fields, racetracks and utility reservations.20 Population growth and development activity is causing private outdoor space to decline in some places.21 leading to more reliance on public open spaces. Restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of easy access to green and public open spaces, and the contribution this made to communities’ physical and mental health, wellbeing, and resilience.22 Green and public open spaces will retain their importance after the pandemic for those same reasons, while also preparing areas for a changing climate. Adequate tree canopy cover on public and private land helps cool urban areas through shading, making neighbourhoods more resilient to hotter weather. Tree canopy cover is unequal across Melbourne’s suburbs, as shown in Figure 11. With increasing density, efforts to improve Melbourne’s tree canopy and public open spaces need to be well coordinated to create connections across suburbs and areas to enhance environmental, recreational, cultural, and social values. This can be paired with integrated water management initiatives (see recommendation 14) to keep more water in local environments for greening, cooling, and amenity.
Figure 11: Tree canopy cover is lower in Melbourne’s northern and western suburbs.
This map shows the tree canopy cover of Greater Melbourne is concentrated in the
north-eastern suburbs, the eastern suburbs and along the Mornington Peninsula.
The map shows very little canopy cover in Melbourne’s north and west.
Changes can deliver thriving urban places
Some former industrial areas can be prime locations for new residential development. Often, these areas are already close to jobs but have inferior transport connections or lack the amenity and services required for thriving communities. Redevelopment with the right type of infrastructure at the right time could unlock their potential.23
Places with good access to public transport can attract other amenities to locate nearby. Melbourne’s iconic trams complement the train network. They support a wide range of trips at different times on any given day, linking different transport modes together to service more types of journeys. As some areas grow faster than others, delivering tram services differently can help keep pace with demand where it is needed and reduce car trips.
Thinking beyond usual solutions can support change and create thriving urban places. This includes reimagining the use of space in urban areas and investing in local solutions.
For instance, roads take up a significant proportion of land for vehicle travel and parking in established areas of Melbourne and regional cities. Other uses may become more important over time but would require looking at a wider range of solutions. For instance, active transport investment can deliver many benefits, such as reduced congestion, improved health and wellbeing, reduced vehicle costs, environmental benefits and infrastructure savings.24 For each person who cycles 20 minutes to work and back, the economy can benefit by $14.30; and each person who walks 20 minutes to work and back could generate another $8.48 in benefits.25 Ways to create more inclusive local places include improving public transport, protecting and enhancing open space, creating housing diversity, accessibility, and affordability, and ensuring infrastructure is accessible to all Victorians. Working with local governments where there are shared responsibilities can improve urban environments for residents and enhance the performance of Victoria’s cities.
Recommendations to create thriving urban places
Infrastructure Victoria makes the following recommendations to create thriving and more inclusive urban environments. We also make specific recommendations to help integrate land use and infrastructure planning (see section 2.1), deliver better access to transport and social infrastructure (see sections 3.1 and 3.3) and improve planning for growth areas (see section 3.4).