Here’s a fascinating look back to what planners (the MMBW) were thinking about Melbourne’s future nearly 60 years ago. In some ways not much has changed – like many contemporary planning proposals, this is propaganda but in those days they didn’t bother with thin disguise. I like the ending: “will it achieve your support?”.

It seems that even as long ago as 1954, workers were spending two hours a day commuting and not only were roads congested but so were trams and trains!

The founders of the city could not visualise that one day workers who could walk to their jobs would spend more than one hour each day getting to and from their place of work, that trams would be unable to handle the peak hour crowds, that trains would become hopelessly inadequate for the handling of the enormous flow of commuters into and away from the city, and that with the coming of the motor car the original wide streets would become incapable of handling the ever increasing traffic flows”.

I’m surprised the introduction shows old buildings like Parliament House rather than new ones. After all, this was the new world of modernism and Robin Boyd’s famous attack on Austericanism – the “imitation of the froth on the top of the American soda-fountain drink” – was a mere three years away.

I’m also somewhat surprised that even as late as 1954 the CBD was seen as sucking the life out of inner city retail strips – presumably places like Smith Street – and the inner suburbs were in turn being invaded by industry:

As the city centre has grown in importance, many old shopping centres have declined and the living conditions in many of the surrounding suburbs have deteriorated. Industry had expanded into them and people have moved farther out to live. This has often resulted in an undesirable mixture of shops, houses and factories and the growth of slum conditions

My understanding from the work of people like M. Logan was that industry had already started marching out to the suburbs in the 1950s, at least in Sydney. Some other interesting insights from the video: “60% of factory jobs are located within 3 miles of the GPO”; “Two thirds of hospital beds are within 3 miles of the GPO”; and “More people play tennis than any other field sport”. No wonder Australians dominated world tennis in that era! And suburban sprawl was defined at the time as lack of essential services like sewerage and sealed roads. One thing that really has changed for the better – film makers don’t tend to put cacophonous music on their soundtracks anymore.

Update: I wondered if this was one of the first uses of the term “suburban sprawl”. This paper says that the term was first used at a conference in 1937 by Earle Draper of the Tennessee Valley Authority, but was first published by William Whyte in a Fortune magazine article in 1958. If so, that would make this film an even earlier published use of the term!