Melbourne-Manhattan: Rhetoric and Response

In 2012 the Victorian Planning Minister announced a “bold new vision for Melbourne’s central business district”, proposing a considerable expansion to the capital city zone and inviting public debate around the nature of urban growth in Melbourne.

The plan intended to alleviate pressure in existing suburbs by concentrating intensive development within the new city footprint, maintaining the liveability of established residential areas while providing new opportunities for Melbourne to be a world-class city. Beyond a basic map delineating the extent of the new zone, very little visual material accompanied the announcement and few details provided about what it would achieve. The ‘vision’ was propagandised in mainstream media; the rhetoric was alarmist.

Under the plan, development controls would be “abolished” resulting in “wall-to-wall skyscrapers” and a “Manhattan-style metropolis five times its present size”. A shallow and reactionary dialogue ensued, largely criticising the present city’s failings and the government’s motivations for the zoning change. There was a notable lack of debate about the future of Melbourne.

The 6th International Urban Design Conference welcomes Mr Tom Morgan of MADA, Monash University who will present this paper at the event running from 9th to 11 September at the Novotel Sydney Olympic Park.  Tom will speculate on the potential realisation of the Melbourne-Manhattan provocation and examine the kinds of density, amenity, services and infrastructure that could be delivered and how it might alter the built form and quality of the city.

Importantly, it questions what it would mean for the broader metropolitan area should a Melbourne-Manhattan come about. Through a design-led research process, the authors reveal alternative urban conditions that challenge conventional strategies for delivering sustainable urban growth through poly-centric activity areas, linear transport corridors and urban fringe expansion. The speculative scenarios ‘unpack’ the rhetoric of the Minister’s announcement and subsequent media reports as a way of examining notions of quality and liveability in contemporary cities.

Finally, the research asks, what could instigate a more ingenuous public debate about these complex urban issues?

You may register to attend Tom Morgan’s seminar or any other of the sessions being delivered under the conference theme of “UrbanAgiNation”.  Simply click here to register your attendance.  The full program can be viewed here.

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