The Original Draft Plan Melbourne

acdraftI am quoted in this Age story on the original Advisory Committee draft of Plan Melbourne, which has now been released under Freedom of Information laws after an application by former Labor staffer Andrew Herington. The full draft can be found here.

I didn’t have long to review the documents so my comments were quite high-level, but it doesn’t take long comparing the documents to get a sense of the kinds of changes made. The Departmental versions (the May 2014 final, and the October 2013 draft) are broadly similar but strip a lot of the detail out: there’s an all-pervasive softening of the language. The Advisory Committee draft is not perfect either – they were working within a highly problematic process that had, amongst other things, been largely pre-empted by other policy announcements – but it is certainly a more serious policy document.

Hopefully its release will allow more complete and detailed analysis of where the changes were made, and give some insight into the journey from strategy to coffee table book.

Continue reading

Posted in Urban Planning | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

“Preferred Development Overlays:” A Better Way to Facilitate Development

It’s an interesting moment for the planning reform agenda in Victoria, and not just because of a possible change of government.

This year we have seen two key planning reforms rolled out, with the new residential zones and VicSmart both reaching the climactic phase of extended gestations. I have previously argued – here and here – that both have been problematic, but those concerns are secondary to my purpose here. What’s more important is that the ideas of code assessment and “three-speed” zones have dominated discussion about planning reform in Victoria for most of the last decade. Across multiple reviews variations on these ideas have bobbed up repeatedly as the solution to our problems.

Now both are done (even if code assessment morphed into something different in VicSmart.) And whatever you think of these reforms, either as conceived or as in fact implemented, we now have an opportunity to outline some new directions.

Continue reading

Posted in Urban Planning | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off on “Preferred Development Overlays:” A Better Way to Facilitate Development

Two Bits of News

rcilogomedAs you might have noticed things have been quiet around here, with this site serving mainly as a repository for the occasional things I’ve written for Planning News. However, I do have a couple of biggish bits of news to update with.

The first is that I am officially now at work on a book. This has been coming for a while now, but I actually have contracts and so on all lined up now. The exact title and production schedule are still TBA, but it will be with Palgrave Macmillan and I assume is likely to appear sometime late next year. It will be based on my PhD research, which blends film and urban planning topics together to look at the interactions that have occurred between how we picture cities and towns culturally, and how we build cities in real life. Obviously I’m super excited about this, if only because it gives me a decisive answer to those who complain I never write about film any more.

The other news relates to the life changes I am making to get this done. For the last year I have been working part time in local government and part time at RMIT. While I have enjoyed this dual balance, it hasn’t been terribly well suited to doing the writing I wanted to (whether on my book or other projects likes this site). So with considerable regret I have now left my old local government job, after fifteen years in state and local government planning.

I’ll be filling the gap with some consulting work under the banner of RCI Planning. In the initial phase at least (while I write my book) my main target will be local government VCAT advocacy though the website lays out some of the other intended areas of practice.

We’ll see how this goes, but the hope is it will give me a bit more flexibility to do the writing and other projects I want to pursue. Who knows, maybe I’ll even start writing on film here regularly again.

Posted in Film, Miscellany, Photography, Television, Urban Planning, Urban Planning and Film | 1 Comment

The Residential Zones: The Non-Hysterical Case for Concern

the great aussie nightmare

This article was written for (and as far as I know will be appearing in) the May 2014 Planning News. As it says, it is a response Liz Johnstone’s article “Stop Panning Planning” in the April 2014 issue.

Readers of Planning News will have read Liz Johnstone’s Executive Officer Report in last month’s magazine, endorsed by Brett Davis’ President’s column, which suggested that scaremongering was occurring by opponents of the new residential zones, and that the potential negative impacts of the rollout were greatly exaggerated.

There is no doubt that there is inaccurate reporting going on: the complexity of planning challenges the media’s ability to carry a coherent debate. I also agree with Liz that many of those who are suddenly vocal are, as she put it, the “beneficiaries of ambiguity.” (My own personal version of this frustration is that many of those most agitated about the new zones were silent throughout the assault on activity centre policy though amendment VC88 and the new commercial and industrial zones – I wish they would find a voice on that even more egregious example of #badplanning). It is also true that the areas in which problems occur may be outweighed, in sheer numbers, by areas in which we see a largely neutral rollover to the General Residential Zone.

Nevertheless, I am troubled on a number of fronts with the process surrounding the implementation of the new zones. I believe that there are many planners expressing legitimate concerns, and that these don’t amount to hysterical “Henny Penny” style alarmism. I am concerned that Liz and Brett’s pieces may have created the impression that PIA does not hear or speak for these views.

Certainly there are a range of views on the committee, of which my own is just one. However I think it is important that the industry understand that this perspective is represented on the PIA committee, and that in fact PIA’s submissions to various reviews (such as our comments on Plan Melbourne) have already outlined much of this perspective.

I therefore thought it was important to outline the contrary case for why, scaremongering aside, I believe a reasonable planner should in fact be concerned about the residential zones rollout.

Continue reading

Posted in Urban Planning | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on The Residential Zones: The Non-Hysterical Case for Concern

The Circle of Life: Plan Melbourne, Zones, and Notice Rights


The big planning story of the last few weeks has been the release of the draft new metropolitan strategy, Plan Melbourne. I don’t yet have any detailed comments to make on the plan itself, as I haven’t had a chance to look through it in detail. However I did want to highlight one aspect of the plan relating to notice rights around housing, as it closely relates to a few things I’ve written about before here (namely the new zones and VicSmart). This is something that I know has been widely discussed in the industry, but I haven’t seen an informed version of the discussion in the wider press. I also thought it would be worth covering just to spell out some of the chapter and verse of what has previously been said on this topic, since a fair few of the relevant documents are either hard to find or simply no longer available through the Department’s website.

On the day that the strategy was released, there was a fair bit of publicity about proposed exemptions from notice and review for medium and higher density housing. This is an important issue because it relates to the roll-out of the new zones that is happening as we speak: the government launched new residential zones in July, and Councils have a year to choose where to apply them. Any change in how they are to work is therefore an urgent issue, which potentially needs to be resolved much sooner than the metropolitan strategy.

Continue reading

Posted in Urban Planning | Tagged , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Circle of Life: Plan Melbourne, Zones, and Notice Rights

The Wrong Idea Not Implemented Properly (Submission on VicSmart)

Wile E. Coyote, Super Genius!

This is my submission to the recent VicSmart review (with a few minor corrections). Obviously it is partly based on my Planning News article “Breaking the Land Speed Record in an Engineless Car,” but it is considerably expanded.


The new VicSmart provisions are the culmination of a long push towards implementing two closely related reforms: Code a\Assessment and a fast-track permit process. These ideas have been central to the planning reform agenda of DTPLI and its predecessors for some time. It is seven years since Code Assessment was put on the reform agenda by the Cutting Red Tape in Planning report, and ten since Better Decisions Faster floated a “short permit process.”

Throughout this period there has been a lack of clarity about how code assess and a short permit process would work. These measure have been sold in reviews such as the Modernising Victoria’s Planning Act work by floating a false idea that the system currently operates on a one-size-fits-all model. This is not the case, as myself and many other submitters to previous reviews have pointed out. The system currently includes various systemic measures to fast-track simple matters (permit exemptions, notice exemptions and the like) and Councils routinely employ streaming measures of various degrees of sophistication.

The confusion on such points, and the lack of focus throughout the refinement of Code Assessment on drafting specific codes to use with the system, has now led to a seriously compromised fast-track process. The proposed VicSmart measures show a poor understanding of the distinctive challenges of simple / fast-track statutory planning work. They create unreasonable demands on Councils while not providing Councils the tools that will be genuinely helpful in pursuing applications more quickly. Instead they create additional complexity that will actually hinder existing successful fast-track measures.

VicSmart as currently released will be counterproductive. It should be abandoned in favour of more genuinely facilitative measures.

Continue reading

Posted in Urban Planning | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off on The Wrong Idea Not Implemented Properly (Submission on VicSmart)

Links for my Talk Tonight

Hill Valley

I am talking tonight at Loop, and this post should appear by the magic of WordPress as I’m speaking. I thought it may be worth providing links to a few of the pieces of writing that explore things I touch on in my presentation.

Continue reading

Posted in Film, Urban Planning, Urban Planning and Film | Tagged , , | Comments Off on Links for my Talk Tonight

Breaking the Land Speed Record in an Engineless Car: The Challenge of VicSmart

Neil with his pedal car

This post was originally written for the August 2013 issue of Planning News and hence was a bit constrained for length. My full submission, with quite a bit more detail, is here.

The new VicSmart provisions, announced during July and currently open for comment, are the culmination of a long push towards implementing two closely related reforms: code assessment and a fast-track permit process. These ideas have been central to the planning reform agenda of DTPLI and its predecessors for some time. August marks seven years since code assessment was put on the reform agenda by the Cutting Red Tape in Planning report, and ten since Better Decision Faster floated a “short permit process.”

Throughout that time the measures have been sold in terms that make them hard to argue with. Certainty! Speed! Efficiency! Yet in the absence of the specifics it has been unclear how the Department would resolve the challenges to realising such a best of all-possible-worlds outcome.

Now, with the release of draft provisions, we have our answers. VicSmart is code assessment… only without any codes. And Councils are expected to drive this engineless car very fast indeed.

Continue reading

Posted in Urban Planning | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off on Breaking the Land Speed Record in an Engineless Car: The Challenge of VicSmart

I’m an Event!

All I Desire

For anyone who is interested in hearing more about my PhD research, I will be discussing it at Loop Bar in Meyers Place, Melbourne, on 25 July. Details about how to book at this link, although oddly it doesn’t mention the price ($20 for PIA or WPN members, $25 otherwise). (Update: here’s a proper flyer).

The write up of my talk is as follows:

How do the media’s depictions of cities and towns inform the way in which we would like to live? And what happens if we try to build the media ideal?

In the 1940s Hollywood movies such as It’s a Wonderful Life depicted the ideal small town; in the 1950s TV shows such as Leave it to Beaver and Father Knows Best painted a similarly idyllic picture of suburban life. Such imagery helped to market the new postwar era of suburban prosperity; but they were also a source of discontent as people grappled with the reality of dispersed, centreless, car-oriented suburbs and found them wanting compared to media imagery. Are Hollywood’s fictitious communities an impossible fantasy? Or are they a cultural memory of aspects of community that we left behind in the postwar era?

This presentation will trace the evolution of such images of community in post-war Hollywood films and television, and look at attempts by planners and developers to build places that live up to that imagery. It will draw on fictional examples from the 1940s through to more recent productions such as the The Truman Show, Pleasantville and Mad Men, as well as a photographic tour through built environments such as studio backlots, the New Urbanist town of Seaside, and the Disney-built town of Celebration.

It will be a multimedia extravaganza, so come along. The booking link again: here.

Posted in Film | Comments Off on I’m an Event!

World War CG

World War Z

Max Brooks’ novel World War Z is a faux-documentary account of a zombie apocalypse, comprising a series of first-person accounts from around the globe as the undead take over. It essentially tries to game out the zombie apocalypse: if such an outbreak really occurred, using the rules we saw in George Romero’s classics, how it would actually play out? Could humans survive? And if so, how?

It’s an intriguing book, and its single-mindedness in thinking through its scenario to logical conclusions has justly made it a classic of the zombie niche. Yet it presents some obvious problems as a basis for a film narrative, and especially a big summer blockbuster. It lacks a central protagonist (the witness accounts are told to a central investigator character, but he’s essentially a passive, off-screen narrator). Its events take place over a decade, and in disparate locations. And it involves such massive, large-scale carnage that it presents budgetary problems for any adaptation. At the same time, those things that make it challenging to adapt are also much the same things that offer a point of difference from the glut of other zombie properties on the market (the 28 Days films, Romero’s Dead films, the Zack Snyder Dawn of the Dead, Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland, TV’s Walking Dead, and all the rest).

Continue reading

Posted in Film, Film Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on World War CG