_back to basics: twenty minute neighbourhoods


A Planning Institute of Australia event this week focused on the initial work by the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) to include more prescriptive policies in Victorian Planning Provisions to guide the development and redevelopment of ‘twenty minute’ walkable neighbourhoods.

A twenty minute neighbourhood is defined by a commercial neighbourhood centre and its surrounding neighbourhood within 10 minutes walking distance (20 minutes edge to edge).  The twenty minute neighbourhood model is based on European cities and neighbourhood centres in the inner suburbs of Melbourne such as Brunswick Street, Fitzroy and Errol Street, North Melbourne.  Notably, neighbourhood centres in Europe and the inner suburbs of Melbourne are supported by higher density housing.

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The presentation from DELWP focussed on case studies completed in partnership with relevant municipalities, on neighbourhood centres in middle-ring suburbs, the deficiencies of these centres and how they can be improved to become more viable and attractive.  One of these centres is the Woodland Street Neighbourhood Activity Centre (NAC) in Strathmore, which has a surrounding housing density of 17 dwellings per hectare.  As touched on in the presentation, the minimum housing density required to support a twenty minute neighbourhood is 25 dwellings per hectare.

Residential land surrounding the Woodland Street NAC (see zoning map below) is constrained by the application of the General Residential Zone (shown as R1Z), which allows only moderate housing growth – nowhere near the level of growth required to increase substantially the housing density.  The application of the General Residential Zone around the Woodland Street NAC is typical of what occurs around neighbourhood centres in middle and outer-ring suburbs.

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Notwithstanding this, a NAC in Centre Road, Bentleigh (see zoning map below) is an example where substantial housing growth through the application of the Residential Growth Zone (shown as RGZ1) is encouraged around the centre.  The Residential Growth Zone encourages townhouse and apartment development up to four storeys in height.

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Since the application of the RGZ1, this part of Bentleigh has experienced rapid growth in townhouse / apartment development with this level of development being more in line with the density expectation for a twenty minute walkable neighbourhood.

While many other factors influence the viability of neighbourhood centres, achieving the minimum density target (25 dwellings per hectare) is critical to creating an opportunity for these centres to prosper and to encourage walkability.  The inclusion of policies in Victorian planning schemes, essentially requiring the rezoning of land around these centres, and the implementation of these will be the biggest challenge for the twenty minute neighbourhood.

We will be keen to see some real progress on this but wonder if there is the political will at state level?