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Shaping our city – a comment piece by David Hall, Chief Operating Officer

Communities, MAB Corporation

Shaping our city – a comment piece by David Hall, Chief Operating Officer

An ongoing community debate quite rightly is the shape and form of our City, from both a community and economic perspective. More often this debate is hijacked in the general media with slogans about urban sprawl and urban consolidation and the participants in the debate have strongly-held, entrenched views about the planning of our City. For our business which has such a stake in shaping our City, the quality of the debate on this topic can be quite frustrating.

The debate should be encouraged but should not only focus on policies around urban growth boundaries, but should centre on the places we are designing – regardless of whether they are within inner, middle or growth areas of Melbourne. The reality is there are good and bad examples of planning and development in all parts of the City, both now and in the past. We need to study those examples and focus on the form and structure of these places rather than where they are geographically relative to the CBD.

At the heart of sustainability in city development is how we plan our new communities to provide proximity between jobs and where people choose to live and importantly, that our planning can keep pace with the growth patterns of such a large city as Melbourne. It is also about mobility and how people connect between home and work, education and recreation.

This requires an integrated, mixed-use approach to planning that is durable and capable of change as the community grows and matures.

When we embark on major projects such as University Hill, Merrifield and NewQuay, we challenge our team during the design development phase by keeping a number of questions top of mind – who would work there…would we work there… who would live there and would we live there? This approach encourages analysis, debate and innovation, rather than merely being led by (in many instances) overly prescriptive planning policies focussed on development control (prohibited uses, height limits, etc), rather than enabling frameworks that encourage what could be created. Our design led approach forces us to think about the future.

One of the more complex components of creating new communities is to facilitate job creation, particularly with the changing pattern of Melbourne’s employment base and the changing needs of business. With the significant growth and changing demographic profile in Melbourne’s growth areas, we have identified a need to provide a greater diversity of employment and particularly an increase in the level of white collar employment.

Dealing with this challenge requires different approaches in planning our City. Projects such as University Hill are leading examples of how a different approach to planning and development with the integration of industrial, commercial, residential, retail and community can respond to this challenge.

At University Hill, which is 18 kilometres from the CBD in the City of Whittlesea, we have seen the integration of these elements contributing to an employment outcome that far exceeds the initial expectations. University Hill is now a commercial hub in Melbourne’s north. It has achieved this through not only responding to the needs of business (access and proximity to customers and suppliers), but also thinking about the needs of the employees (child care, education, housing, entertainment, shopping). Essentially, the key is to bring all of the elements of urban life much closer together.

At MAB, we continue to be part of the discussion about the shape of our City through the evolution of our projects – we hope that the community discussion elevates beyond the slogans about “sprawl” and focuses more on describing the types of places we should be creating to shape our City for the future.