Flashmob with a difference

The Minister for Planning, Matthew Guy, has apparently told The Age that preparation of the Government’s promised metropolitan strategy has started and will be completed within two years.

I’ve previously pointed out some of the areas where I think Melbourne 2030 was found wanting, so I’ll offer some thoughts on what the new strategy should be and do, starting today with what it should be.

First, it should be a strategy for managing the growth of Melbourne. It can’t just be a land use plan, limited to the Planning Minister’s domain. It has to take a multi-portfolio view because planning is only one force shaping the way Melbourne will develop over the next 20, 30 or 40 years. In particular, it must recognise the intimate long-term, two-way relationship between land use and transport, both public and private.

Second, it should positively embrace so-called ‘soft’ policies like regulation, taxation and marketing. It must not limit its perspective solely to ‘hard’ initiatives like capital works and zoning regimes. These are important because they’re long term decisions, but how Melbourne develops in the future will be shaped as much by how behaviour is managed as by what projects are constructed. There are, for example, a host of regulatory and taxation policies – e.g. road pricing – that can potentially have a profound impact on shaping the way the city develops (and not all of them are as politically fraught as road pricing). Some can obviate the need for capital works.

Third, it should focus single-mindedly on what can be done most efficiently and effectively through a growth management strategy. It should resist the temptation to ‘solve’ every economic, social and environmental issue confronting Melbourne. Sometimes what are seen as urban issues are more the symptom of other processes rather than the underlying cause – I’ve previously suggested that diversity is one such issue. It’s important that the strategy understands how it impacts on, or even exacerbates, variables like diversity, but close attention should be given to whether or not it is the appropriate vehicle to achieve change.

Fourth, it should be set up with an open mind, focussed on clear objectives. It should not commence with pre-conceived solutions – these should be the result of the analysis and consultation process. Reality says that’s not always going to be possible, but it’s a desirable aspiration. For example, as I’ve suggested before, replacing cars with public transport isn’t the only – or even the most plausible – route to a more sustainable city.

Fifth, it should have a genuine public consultation process that really tests assumptions and, ultimately, the proposed solutions, against the views of the broader public. One of the weaknesses of the consultation processes for Melbourne 2030 is that it was largely confined to the interested and concerned – the majority were disenfranchised on the basis that they didn’t show any interest. That’s arrogant and quite simply, not good enough. It leaves the shaping of metropolitan strategy open to the rent seekers.

These points relate to what the strategy should be. It’s not exhaustive and I’m sure there are more that will occur to me later – perhaps readers have some ideas. I’ve also got some views about the content or substance of the strategy that I’ll address later this week.