What is inappropriate development?

Posted by on Oct 28, 2012 in Blog, Opinion, Planning | 16 Comments

Over the last two weeks my letterbox has been filled with more than just the latest bargain offerings from Target, and menus from my local restaurants. As a result my evenings have seen me do more than enjoy take away in the comfort of my new Pyjamas. I also perused about 12 different flyers received from those running for local council election. Each pitching what they will do for my local community, if elected.

After the first few flyers arrived, my approach upon finding a new contender in the mail changed. I would scan down the page until I found the words, “I will oppose inappropriate development”; on every single one, regardless of political affiliation. Obviously a pretty hot topic given it was on every candidate’s to do list. So this led me to this week’s blog: what is inappropriate development?

This topic gets me fired up folks. Fasten your seatbelt, forget the call to Houston, Melbourne we have a problem; and it’s costing this city I love dearly. You see inappropriate development has a different definition to different people, and that is at the core of this issue.

Firstly, I oppose inappropriate development. Those who know me know I live, eat and breathe design. It’s my life. So it saddens me that I see so little good design around me when I look around at Melbourne’s housing stock, totally “inappropriate” in my opinion. Good design does not cost any more, but that’s an entire blog of its own, for another time.

In the context of planning policy, inappropriate development should mean one of the following:
– Too high an increase in density for a given area – too many extra houses/ apartments.
– Out of scale – too big or tall.
– Of a purpose not fitting the area eg. a nightclub in a residential street.

Here are some examples to illustrate this. Imagine a street full of single storey houses. If one of those houses were removed and replaced with 20 apartments over 4 storeys, it would be like a limo turning up to the Mini car club, it just doesn’t belong. Alternatively let’s imagine that house is replaced with 4 townhouses, not as bad but still packing a lot of extra people and cars onto a site too small to cope. Therefore an appropriate development in such a case should be about incremental increase in density in residential areas. The main roads should be for bigger buildings, they have the trams, shops parking etc to handle the job.

As someone who submits applications into councils many times a year, I get so frustrated when my clients and I propose to replace one house as in the situation above with just two, and then have to fight with residents and council to get a permit. Is this inappropriate development, one extra house that actually meets all the planning regulations? I think not.

The bigger picture: our attitudes have to change. We all complain about traffic, but then object to increasing densities, which is the only way to make it possible for more people to live closer to where they work and play, and reduce reliance on cars. For most, affording a home is out of reach, so to split a block in half makes it affordable for more; it’s half price land. So when a neighbour who is lucky enough to own a house is scared their property will be devalued by two new townhouses next door, and objects on these grounds, people who need more affordable housing miss out. We all know how expensive homes are here, an article in The Age Newspaper on Friday, talked of the lack of affordability of home ownership for so many Australians.

None of us want worsening traffic; we all want our kids to be able to own their own home. So if you would like to do something about it, understand that not all development is inappropriate, incremental change is necessary for affordability, reducing traffic, lowering green house emissions etc. The same article in the Age predicted we need 1 million more homes in Melbourne in the next 30 to 40 years. Where I ask?

If demand has made our property amongst the most expensive in the world, imagine what will happen to land values with another one million people competing for properties in the next 30 to 40 years. Already the reality is that since 2001, the five areas of highest population growth in Australia have all been on the outskirts of Melbourne (Aust. Bureau of Statistics 31/07/2012). This will only continue if one house becoming two on a standard block, is so often considered “inappropriate”.

Back to “devaluing” of property, a common objection I see submitted to council against my planning applications. There has been a dip backwards in the last 12-18 months. It varies but maybe its dropped around 10% in the last 2 years. Even if it’s more, let’s not forget it doubled in the eight years before that. It was the GFC that bought along this slight dip, not two townhouses next door. Object if a proposed development will have a window looking into your back yard, it’s not fair and should be changed, but don’t object due to the fear of change. If we don’t alter our attitudes, please don’t complain about housing affordability and traffic.

Consider this: I’ve never met anyone who dislikes the city of Paris. Yet the entire city has barely a single freestanding house. Almost the entire city lives in apartments, no backyards. But many of us have probably daydreamed of living there. I’ve never heard a complaint about density being too high from those I know who have been there. The extra people in any given area actually adds life to the streets, that brings with it more shops in walking distance, as there is more demand for more local business. The result, the services they need are right at their doorsteps. Most of us need to get in the car to buy more baguettes.

We are not and will never be like Paris, we are proudly Melbournian. We live in the world’s most liveable city. So please, to my potential local members of government, development is not a bad word. Stop perpetuating people’s fear of it. Inappropriate development should be stopped, but instead recognise that there is a difference between good and bad development. We should stop poorly designed and inappropriate development, and only that. It’s the only way we can keep our mantle as the world’s most liveable city. Your flyers should have said, “We will only allow appropriate development”.

Give architects a chance to design well designed, affordable, appropriate housing for a greater part of our population. To own a house should not be a privilege. I ask the councils, start evaluating design quality; stop letting rubbish through and people will fear development less. If their experience is seeing interesting well designed new townhouses gracing their streets, they’ll be happy to see them everyday.

I’ll dismount my soapbox now, it’s in my backyard, and so is a new townhouse the previous owners built, it allowed me to afford this house when I purchased it a few years ago; because I couldn’t afford a full sized one.

I support appropriate development. Do you?

16 Comments

  1. Geordie Wilks
    October 28, 2012

    Hi Darren,

    Thank you for raising this issue. For engaged citizenry it is important to have people thinking about the direction their city and their communities wants to take.

    In the 1920’s the city planners chose to develop automobile use in Melbourne, hence leading to the transportation and urban sprawl issues that we see today. Contrast this with Toronto, where focus on public transport has lead to high volume ridership on public transport making public transport a viable transport option in Toronto.

    I ask you, do we have sufficient transportation options for radial journeys? Does Melbourne’s buses use a hub and spoke model for linking with train stations to service local communities. The answer is no and no. The issue is that public transport is simply not a viable option for most working adults now and the ridership numbers show this. Given that transportation in Melbourne is the purview of three different government departments with turf to defend, it will take a daring and committed political entity to solve an issue with potentially no see-able economic payoff, as we all have cars now. So what to do?

    The Lord Mayor of Melbourne has recognised that urban sprawl is an issue in Melbourne and they are deliberately increasing the density of Melbourne’s inner city. It could be that viable short-range, non-train transport, which leverages on trams and introducing new technologies, such India’s Tata’s compressed-air powered cars (hopefully hitting the market soon) will resolve this. This growth in density is happening, and this will cause tension amongst the different actors in the inner city areas. I guess we are going to see a lot of angst in the future.

    The aspiring politicians who are flooding your mailboxes are there to represent the local communities who will want to keep their property prices high, because ownership and space is highly valued in the Australian psyche. Our individuality and admiration for the loner keeps us from pulling together to create new solutions that can pay off handsomely.

    Imagine if the community as a whole was to visualise a new way of living and this was storyboarded and presented, it may be a way where a community can WIN by outvaluing neighbouring suburbs by spearheading a new way of living. This is where architects may have a chance to standout by proposing a new and feasible for idea for how a suburb can create a dramatically different way of living, supported by appropriate architectural infrastructure.

    It would require the community and their elected representatives to come together and make a decision on the kind of community they would like to create. Then you need the will and the resources, including money, to make it happen. A big challenge for sure.. but challenges can make us titans of us all.

    Reply
    • Darren Naftal
      Darren Naftal
      October 28, 2012

      Hi Geordie,

      Thank you for taking the time to share such a fantastic response. You raise many great points.

      As I see it there are two main parts to the problem, densities which i covered, and as you have highlighted the lack/ inadequacies of our public transport network. Densities is something myself as an architect together with my clients can do something about now. Public transport as you stated is a massive undertaking and would cost billions of dollars the government is not willing to spend, as they won’t recover it quickly.

      Unfortunately as you said, planners in the 1920’s put all their eggs in the one basket here, and followed the American model planning our cities around roads and cars. This lack of foresight is much of the issue, and helped set land/ home ownership to become so ingrained in the Australian Psyche, over higher density models. This mindset is such an obstacle now to change.

      Our hub and spoke train network is accessible to less people the further it moves away from the hub. Added to this most of it is above ground, so the more train services run, the more time boom gates are down, and the more traffic is held up on the roads. Indeed a catch 22.

      Anyone who has been to Paris, New York, Tokyo etc knows that whilst very busy and crowded at times, their underground rail networks work to move millions more people than we have, and with such a broad coverage of their cities. You can get anywhere there without a car. Sadly the government just won’t spend the money on this here. It’s really is the only solution for transport, as it moves the people off the already congested roads to under-utilised space, underground.

      I was pleased to hear the Lord Mayor’s intent to increase density in the inner city, particularly in the area immediately around the CBD such as Carlton. It’s a good initiative that will be able to accommodate a good proportion of our increasing population. It still leaves those living outside of that with the same issues. I hope my blog though will get those people thinking differently.

      Thanks again for your comments, I enjoyed reading them, and it’s great to bring the other elements of the problem into the conversation.

      Darren.

      Reply
  2. Leon
    October 28, 2012

    Great topic. Very appropriate at the moment!
    You’ve put the case very well, if only it could reach the main stream press!

    Reply
    • Darren Naftal
      Darren Naftal
      October 28, 2012

      Thanks Leon.

      It is such an important topic at the moment. I hope that by putting my experience and thoughts on the matter out there, and getting more people thinking about it, that it will gain more media attention, but most importantly start creating change.

      Cheers,

      Darren.

      Reply
  3. Geordie Wilks
    October 28, 2012

    By the way, I made a mistake. Melbourne does have radial transport options. It is missing ring public transport options.

    Reply
    • Darren Naftal
      Darren Naftal
      October 28, 2012

      No problem Geordie, I knew what you meant 🙂

      Reply
    • Simon
      October 30, 2012

      They’re in the planning process/stages of the Outer Ring Road now (which runs very close to where we’ve just built). It would be amazing if they ran a light-rail along it’s length (either down the middle or beside it) with bus stations/terminals along the way at key points (not necessarily every exit – that would clog up the system &/or reduce efficiencies).

      Can’t see it happening as it’s looking too far into the future for a 4 year government

      Reply
      • Darren Naftal
        Darren Naftal
        October 31, 2012

        Hey Simon,

        A really great idea. They are already carving up space for these huge freeways to pass through these suburbs. Why not as you suggest add public transport to the mix. It makes total sense, however it probably as always comes down to what’s cheapest, not what’s best… It’s just so sad to see. We already have trams, how much extra would it cost to add a light-rail line. Obviously to much. It’s just the wrong attitude, it’s going to cost more in the long run if we don’t do it now. As you say 4 year terms.

        The government has to get out of this antiquated way of thinking that traffic will be solved by more roads alone. We need to get people off the roads and onto public transport, more bike lanes higher density etc.

        We can only hope and keep pushing for change.

        Darren.

        Reply
  4. Geoff Collinson
    October 28, 2012

    Hi Darren

    Wonderful article. One day a politician will frame a point of view from the positive and catch us all by surprise!

    Reply
    • Darren Naftal
      Darren Naftal
      October 28, 2012

      Thanks Geoff. Let’s hope that politician and that day comes soon.

      Reply
  5. Tamara
    October 29, 2012

    Hi Darren,

    Great post! I totally agree: if things had been more amenable density – wise, and price-wise, I wouldn’t be living on Melbourne’s fringe now… though the trees and natural amenity are hard to beat!

    What do you think of the new Plan for Melbourne unveiled by the Minister for Planning, Matthew Guy the other day? Some parts of it sounded good in theory, but a little late to save our Dandenongs from the scourge of the golden arches, unfortunately!

    Cheers,
    Tamara

    Reply
    • Darren Naftal
      Darren Naftal
      October 29, 2012

      Hi Tamara,

      For you and for so many others, we are forced further afield to afford a home. We become more car dependant as a result, which only adds to our traffic woes. So many of us can relate to this.

      Yes i have been reading through The discussion paper on Melbourne’s planning strategy. As you say in theory some sounds good. There is just not enough proposed to help our public transport system though, which is very worrying. Also it speaks of bringing jobs closer to homes to lessen commuting. I just don’t see how enough types of jobs can be created or relocated to make that happen. In many professions offices are in the CBD or inner Melbourne to service a greater area. Similarly certain industries are also located in particular areas to service each other. Lastly, with these sorts of papers it can take years before any action occurs. My concern is by that time anything happens it is too late and the situation will have worsened. A few years back the government released the “Melbourne 2030” strategy paper, talking of higher densities and planning policy changes, it affected little to no change. Fingers crossed this is a call to action and that new policies are implemented soon.

      A big part of the reason for this blog post was to show people how we can implement some change now by allowing more “appropriate developments” through.

      Thanks so much for your comments.

      Darren.

      Reply
  6. Paul Zooeff
    October 29, 2012

    Well said Darren. I think the councils seem to take advantage of the “Inapproriate development” excuse more and more these days. You mentioned the GFC in your blog being a key factor in the decrease of value of property. Being in the constuction industry, I think in times like these councils need to get a grip and realize that the more they reject “inappropriate developments” even when they are not, the more they are taking away from the community and local small businesses that rely on this type of business to flourish and succeed.
    I constantly see and work on “inappropriate developments” and am amazed at some of the designs that the council will allow and reject in particularly contemporary developments because,”the construction does not conform to the local environment”. I don’t know what they are thinking but its 2012 god damn it , not the F@$king 80’s. The councils need to “get with the times”…
    When i see a well designed contemporary development, whether it be an apartment building or individual house, I feel that the world is moving in the right direction. It seems that the council and the constituants that object to development seem to be afraid of change.

    “Change is the parent of progress.”
    ― Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free

    Keep up the good work Daz both with your blog and in particular your designs.

    Reply
    • Darren Naftal
      Darren Naftal
      October 29, 2012

      Thanks Paul.

      You make some really great points there.

      The building industry employs more people in this country than any other, and it is suffering greatly at the moment. The number of projects rejected isn’t helping at all, but having said that many may not be appropriate or very good applications. The blame cannot lie on just one party, as i mentioned in the blog, attitudes across the board need to change. Wait times at VCAT due to the number of applications being rejected, is up to 8 months at the moment. Therefore many potential projects that are appropriate and well designed are on hold, which could otherwise be providing work for struggling builders and tradespeople.

      It breaks my heart too to drive around and see the amount of woeful design getting approved. No wonder people are scared of new developments when the standard set is often so low. Developers are as much to blame. Many are only seeing dollars, and design suffers. In many cases they are sold off the plan to investors and when construction starts corners are cut left and right from the original design, so what the council approved is not what’s built. The council is not to blame in those instances, that’s beyond their control, and is another major issue too.

      There is some amazing stuff happening out there too as you mentioned. There are councils, developers and neighbours supporting great projects, so let’s not forget those who are brave and doing what this city needs. These people are making fantastic contributions to our urban landscape, and should be congratulated. Let’s hope more see the benefits of “appropriate developments”, and get behind the cause.

      Darren.

      Reply
  7. Patience Grace
    November 8, 2012

    Darren,
    It was truly inspiring to meet you during my campaign for La Trobe ward of Darebin council – only wish it was earlier so I could have spread links to this blog then.

    A few observations from my residency in Reservoir (middle northern suburb just beyond Preston) over the past 7-8 years:
    – hub and spoke was designed into the rail system, then deconstructed when roads were built to encourage the growth of the car industry
    – not only were the inner and outer circle lines closed and sold off, but some sections were turned into freeways, which lead to demolishing houses as well (especially around Fitzroy = Eastern Freeway) which has a lot to do with the mentality against “development” = because it decimated “communities”
    – it is easier to set standards in a “new development” = a single developer (or group) shapes the conditions by which a similar demographic are drawn together to create a single entity “suburb” than it is for government to create this; unless it is “social housing” previously known as “public housing” in both the form of re-settlement after “the war” and the “Olympic village” which became highrise “inappropriate development” which was too great an investment by government in too great a concentration of people as suggested to a far lesser degree than here
    – once a suburb has become established under one identity, it tends to have a life cycle for redevelopment which peaks when the whole generation which settled together shifts to more new arrivals than the next generation inheriting = the clash between heritage and renewal begins to really show up, although it actually happens quietly and unobtrusively for a long time before people really begin to notice
    – I live in an area which is under covenant for single dwelling per block; applications to change this go to council one at a time as new purchasers (or inheritors) seek to change their conditions; Council allows this ‘one at a time” process to continue because there are advantages to them in fees for applications, deals behind the scenes for “friends” and so on; and to bring the real issues out in the open creates such a backlash in a reactive community who don’t have the time to understand what is really happening are more likely to vote people out than learn the skills to become creative themselves in the ways suggested in other comments here
    – the reality is that WE as a community have become too complex in our political structures to effectively communicate with each other across the range of issues which effect us. The Reservoir Structure Plan which I have been involved with as a community member for the past 3 years, ONLY covered a section around the station and shops with a push toward implementing the 2030 Vision, but as a slice of bread removed from the whole loaf of what the rest of Reservoir needs to work alongside that. It means a few central players get butter on their bread and the rest of us have to figure out how to do it for ourselves.

    Candidates for local council are allowed 150 words to cover a wide representation of issues to the electorate in the VEC supplied papers. Our local paper only allowed 50 word statements from the 17 candidates vying for 3 positions. Flyers for 20,000 voters cost a lot of money, and so they too are limited in room for “explanation” of issues rather than catch phrases which end up all sounding the same. Such phrases are the ones people themselves are using whether they understand what is behind them or not.
    Unfortunately I was not elected (came 5th), but I would have loved the opportunity to showcase architects such as Darren so that the community could come together and find each other as neighbours wanting to implement “appropriate development” in sections of the community through mutual agreement. Until more people begin to understand the politics of bureaucracy and business as well as residency and visitors or users of an area, we are going to continue to be constrained by how many different issues are grabbing for more immediate attention and action than the longer term plans many of us have dreamed of.

    Reply
    • Darren Naftal
      Darren Naftal
      November 8, 2012

      Hello Patience,

      I’m really pleased you found my blog. I really enjoyed reading your comments. Thanks so much for such a wonderful, informative contribution to this conversation.

      Your knowledge of our city’s history has taught me things I did not know. I’m amazed to hear that our rail system was once more extensive, and sadly it was replaced to allow for more of an emphasis on cars. What a terrible shame.

      I liked your point on suburbs and their life cycle of redevelopment. I too have noticed this to be the case, it’s very much generational. As you say it occurs slowly and takes some time for people to start to notice that change.

      It was really interesting to read of your experience in running for local government. I was not aware of the restrictions put in place on your campaigns for election. I understand better now why the candidates don’t elaborate more on what they stand for and what they propose; because they can’t. That’s unfortunate. I found myself so unsure of who to vote for at my local elections, as I had little to no understanding of what I could expect from them, and how they would go about implementing it. I wanted my vote to count but unfortunately I walked away unsure if I had made the best choice, it felt more like a stab in the dark and fingers crossed.

      I’m really disappointed to hear your weren’t elected; you came very close. Well done on your hard work. Your views and approach to these planning matters I’ve covered in my blog, is what I wish more in local government would be aligned with. I only hope you will try again, we need more like yourself elected to start to make a difference that will help our local communities provide for our rapidly growing populations.

      To your last point, I totally agree, with so much squabbling over smaller issues, and red tape put in place at every turn, we lose sight of the bigger picture and what we need to do now to we prevent the need to play catch up later; as often by then it’s too late and sadly “too hard”.

      I’m grateful to have you onboard fighting for “appropriate development”.

      Regards,

      Darren.

      Reply

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