I’m no architect. But neither was Winston Churchill who famously said, “we shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us”.
Architecture, unlike, say, painting or theatre, is unique; it’s the art form that every person has to walk through and live in every day.
The City of Melbourne’s new building review panels that will assess applications for architectural merit and quality.Credit:Eddie Jim
Am I alone in thinking that it’s hard to walk through the wind-whipped, steel-grey tundra of our modern urban landscapes and not feel alienated from the city you grew up in and you thought you loved?
So, two cheers to the City of Melbourne’s new building review panels that will assess applications for architectural merit and quality.
It’s easy (and correct) for deputy lord mayor Nicholas Reece to declare that Melbourne has allowed too many “crap” buildings. But if those horses have bolted who’s to say more aren’t galloping out the stable door now?
I’d like to trust the expertise of these new panels, although, ominously, developers sit on them along with planners and architects. And the panels only offer vague advice to councillors.
Good luck to the ordinary citizen who tries to wade their way through the arcane maze of planning laws.Credit:Eamon Gallagher
But what about us, the people? Good luck to the ordinary citizen who tries to wade their way through the arcane maze of planning laws and how they operate in the complex interplay between the Victoria Planning Authority, the Minister for Planning and local government.
Ordinary citizens get fobbed off with the usual box-ticking community consultation when there should be deep engagement putting the needs of the community past, present and future equal to the short-term profit motive of developers.
Because bad planning affects every part of our lives. It leads directly to greater rates of depression, whilst poor design of new suburbs leads to childhood obesity – no safe place to walk or cycle and no public transport means everyone simply has to drive.
Australian cities are by and large unattractive because historically (Canberra aside) there’s been a complete absence of planning, allowing developers to do as they may.
Additionally, Australians have an intellectual diffidence about beauty and so developers have never felt the need to justify the design or scale of their buildings. It’s time we were more confident in stating what is and isn’t beautiful.
After all, urban beauty is not the preserve of a wealthy minority. It is a public dividend. Walk through Paris or Prague and tell me otherwise. Conversely, as an art historian said of New York, “Once, we entered the city like gods. Now we scurry in like rats.”
It’s a stark choice. If the experts listen to and work closely with the people then we might pass onto our children a truly great liveable city.
But does Melbourne have the foresight to do it?
Duncan Fine is a lawyer and regular columnist.
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