I think it’d be true to say that Melbourne hasn’t done high-density development in the suburbs very well.
For example, this monolith in Camberwell, a bit too far away from the railway station, out of scale with (some of) the buildings around it, and I’m sure not well liked by many of the locals.
But that doesn’t mean high-density around railway stations is a bad idea.
The topic came up yesterday in an Age report that Metro’s plan to upgrade the Dandenong includes such development around stations such as Murrumbeena.
Residents of Melbourne’s politically sensitive south-east face the possibility of high-rise development at their rail stations including Murrumbeena, under a confidential deal between the Napthine government and a consortium led by the city’s private rail operator.
The deal for the proposed multibillion-dollar upgrade of the Pakenham-Cranbourne rail corridor – contained in documents leaked to The Sunday Age – includes a specific clause about development around sites identified for level crossing removals.
In some ways this shouldn’t be any great surprise — Metro’s parent company in Hong Kong makes a lot of money from development around stations, and there’s been a lot of talk in the past few years about development around stations helping to pay for grade separation. The tiny (in comparison) development of a cafe at Caulfield was a flop, but a grade separation, new station and re-development of the whole precinct would actually work… if done well.
Population growth is happening. Planned, targeted in-fill development is better than never-ending sprawl, and better than a free-for-all that destroys local streets and leads to more car dependence because you get lots more people living where public transport isn’t convenient.
I’ve lived in Murrumbeena twice — for a couple of years last decade, as well as in the 80s when I was a teenager. In that time the shopping centre has always moribund. To an extent, the railway line split it east-west, and the busy road split it north-south, and it could never compete with Chadstone and Carnegie, both nearby. Getting a lot more residents in the immediately vicinity of the station could re-vitalise it, and make much better use of the land currently used for parking.
I’m not sure about how high they should go. Chris Hale proposes 15 stories in The Age article; having seen the blocks go up around Footscray, and the Camberwell example above, I don’t think in most suburbs (outside the inner city, at least) you’d want to go above 8-10 for now, staggered downwards as you get further from the centre/station.
There are provisos to all of this, of course:
- as Chris Hale says, good design, including green space — Melbourne seems to be lacking good examples, but experts cite cities such as Vancouver as having got this right
- mixed use development so people can do much of their daily shopping without going elsewhere
- in a some areas, particularly inner-city, you’d want to be sensitive to the heritage strip shopping streetscape
- upgrades to rail services to 10 minutes, 7-days, so it really is an option
- ditto, upgrade to local bus services to other major nearby destinations (in the case of Murrumbeena, the obvious one is bus 822 to Chadstone and Southland)
- bike paths/lanes on nearby corridors/roads
- limit of one car park per residence, with the option of none
- in fact, set up a car share pod or two to further reduce car ownership
- given much of the most obvious land for development is currently station carparks, I’d imagine it might be politically courageous to end up with a net reduction in car spaces, though improvements in bus services could counter this. A reduction in spaces is perhaps avoided via development such as in Elsternwick, where existing parking was converted to multi-storey.
- and of course in the case of the Dandenong line, the grade separation should include provision for future track amplification and platform extensions
The fact that this one is being planned in secret is obviously a concern. And is Metro’s “value capture” going to actually save the government (and taxpayers) any money? It’s not clear.
But that doesn’t mean that the concept high-density around transport hubs is a bad idea, provided the community get some say, and if it’s done well.
Based on past Melbourne experiences, that’s a big if.
What do you think?