A recent media release by the Minister for Planning Matthew Guy identified opportunities to expand the Melbourne central business district (CBD) through the construction of high rise development beyond the Hoddle Grid, Docklands and Southbank.

The Minister identified opportunities for high rise development to include Fishermans Bend, E-Gate on its western edge, St Kilda Road in the south and towards Melbourne University on the northern side. He stated that “many people are concerned about high rise towers dominating quiet suburban streets, so we need to ask if high rise should be primarily concentrated in the inner city to take growth pressure off Melbourne’s existing suburbs”.

Media reports often associate achieving ‘higher density’ residential development with the construction of towers and tall buildings, such as those featured in Docklands, as the only way to relieve growth pressures on the urban fringe and to protect the existing suburbs. What is often overlooked as an alternative to the proliferation of towers within the inner city is ‘higher density’ development between three and six or eight storeys in height in appropriate locations including in inner suburbs and the areas noted in the press release.

Docklands, Victoria, Australia

There are many successful and popular cities around the world (particularly in Europe) that support high population densities without large numbers of very tall buildings. One such example is Malmo in Sweden which we wrote about in an earlier blog. Mike and Jenny Collie visited Malmo last year and were impressed with the ‘human scale’ that has been achieved by restricting building heights to avoid tall towers. Malmo ‘new town’ nevertheless, has a density which is about eight times higher than typical Australian urban areas.

A recent report titled ‘Transforming Australian Cities,’ (City of Melbourne 2010) explored practical issues and opportunities around increasing residential densities in Australia. The report contends that “no new building needs to be higher than 6-8 storeys to achieve high density compact cities in the future”. The report estimates that by building development between 4 and 8 storeys “it will be possible to accommodate an additional 2.4 million people on a mere 6 per cent of potential redevelopment sites dotted along Melbourne bus and tram routes’.

Recognising and understanding that ‘high density’ does not necessarily mean ‘tower’ will lead to more constructive discussion about the need for higher densities and will provide a better decision making basis for future planning of Melbourne.

We acknowledge that high rise towers have a role in providing diversity of housing choice, and as landmark features, but they are not the panacea to urban growth.

Malmo, Sweden