The great thing about Twitter is common people get to interact with people they normally wouldn't get to. Celebrities, politicians, journalists are all fair game. Where as you'd get arrested if you went round to The Lodge and started yelling at Tony Abbott through the intercom at his front gate, you can go nuts within 140 characters on his managed Twitter account. With a bit of luck, his assistant Peta Credlin may even tweet an inane response about how they've stopped the boats. Ah, free speech at its best.
Of course not everyone is too busy embarrassing themselves on the world stage to tweet for themselves. Matthew Guy is one of those people who lets the world know his own thoughts, and recently I was privileged enough to share some Twitter action with him (all eight words of it!):
@MatthewGuyMP are you seriously gonna expand melb's UGB again? At this rate melb will reach adelaide by the time I die! Sprawl is killing us— Martin Mankowski (@HobosRunning) June 12, 2014
@HobosRunning No, we have made it clear we won't.— Matthew Guy MP (@MatthewGuyMP) June 12, 2014
"Thank god for that!", I thought. In 2012, he expanded Melbourne's Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) by 5,858 hectares, a mere two years after Justin Madden had expanded it by 43,000 hectares. Worse still, he promised to review it every year! Fast forward two more years and it seems common sense had prevailed. With Minister Guy finally putting a permanent freeze on the UGB, Melbourne's obsession with the suburbs will finally be coming to a close, right? Wrong!
As part of Mr. Guy's crusade to reform planning zones, he decided to let councils decide what level of development they would like to see in their municipalities. Lo and behold the inner-city councils of Boroondara, Bayside and Stonnington promptly resigned large chunks of their fiefdoms to two stories. Hands up who didn't see that happening? It would be like letting motorists set the maximum speed limit and watching everyone clean each other up on the freeway at 300 km/h.
Letting NIMBY-driven councils dictate planning is always going to end in tears; local newspapers in particular love a good council bashing story, leaving them to pander to a whinging NIMBY minority rather than implement a much needed long term vision. So much so, that in a recent article in The Age, Mary Drost - convener of the anti-development group Planning Backlash - proclaims to be a proud NIMBY! That's like saying you are proud to be a racist; you're essentially saying you are happy to be ignorant and selfish. Urban Melbourne was right to suggest that article should have been called something else (see below):
Like this comment "This headline should read "selfish baby boomers condemn subsequent generations to housing misery" http://t.co/sTwHC5iCX9— Urban Melbourne (@UrbanMelbourne) June 17, 2014
Of course we have been here before; do we dare mention the failed Camberwell Station development? The perfect place for much needed density due to its enviable transport links, it was shot down by a group of NIMBYs led up by former resident and Hollywood celebrity Geoffrey Rush.
Melbourne is a rapidly growing city, with the state government's own figures forecasting a population of 7.8 million by 2051. Now that we have supposedly contained the UGB (and rightfully so) and blackballed a large chunk of the middle-band suburbs from medium and high density development, where the hell is everyone going to live?
With selfish NIMBYs now refusing to share their close-to-the-CBD, amenity-rich suburbs with anyone else, we'll have no choice but to abandon the boundary and push even more people into the outer suburbs. Further and further the boundary will creep, condemning people to a life of longer and longer car dependent trips to everything including work, entertainment and shopping. We'll have whole generations of kids who think that Melbourne's CBD is nothing but a mythical utopia, a faraway land requiring a Lord of the Rings type quest to reach it by foot or congested freeway.
You can just imagine them walking through the middle-band suburbs, weary from their journey from another world, as they look on jealously at Gollum-style creatures wrapping their protective arms around their single story properties snarling "My precious!!!". The selfishness of these NIMBYs is quite disturbing; I struggle to comprehend the complete lack of regard or empathy for where future generations are going to live just because they are nice and cozy in their renovated Victorian cottage.
So where does this leave Matthew Guy? On the one hand he is a champion of density, one who has overseen massive change in Melbourne's skyline and therefore inner-city housing supply. He has correctly pushed for the creation of Fishermans Bend as a inner-city residential growth area, allowing 80,000 people the chance to live in an area where car dependence will be a thing of the past. And he was right to take planning control away from nominated activity hubs such as Footscray, making sure that high density development happens in appropriate areas along transport corridors.
Yet on the other hand he has endorsed a questionable policy that will prevent many other suitable candidates like Camberwell, Hawthorn, Kew and Sandringham gaining a similar outcome, leaving the conundrum of where to house Melbourne's growing population unresolved. Dare I suggest a real Jekyll and Hyde minister if there ever was one, making great Aussie singer/songwriter Paul Kelly seem prophetic when he sang "What makes such a sweet Guy turn so mean?"
Mr. Guy: which is the legacy you wish to leave? A legacy highlighted by quelling the scourge that is suburban sprawl, or one of appeasing a few selfish NIMBYs... time will tell.