Melbourne is full of Urban Sprawl, and it's a Problem

Melbourne, known globally as the most livable city, soon to be Australia’s biggest city, full of opportunity and possibilities, it would be hard to argue that it is not an excellent place to be. But what is not great about Melbourne is the seemingly endless urban sprawl it has come accustomed to. 

Melbourne is geographically huge, bigger than Paris, London, New York, pretty much any city you can think of while only having a fraction of the population. This is due to the fact Melbourne’s development took place during the era of the car, allowing people to live further and further away, it’s a trend we see all over the globe, older cities are denser and more urban. In comparison, newer cities are often plagued with urban sprawl. Well, what is the problem with this? Why is urban sprawl bad? On the surface, urban sprawl may seem harmless, but it is one of the biggest mistakes urban planners ever have made. Urban sprawl reduces the number of people that have access to high-quality essential services such as schools, hospitals, and transportation. It creates areas of poverty and areas of extreme wealth. It hugely impacts the surrounding environments, lowering air and water quality, reducing native habitat, and produces large amounts of light pollution. Are you convinced yet? Because we are just getting started.

Urban sprawl ultimately reduces the level of access residents have to essential and non-essential services and amenities. Every service and business has a maximum area of people they can serve; this area is not based upon how many people live there but merely the distance, how far people are willing to travel to use that service. For instance, there is a limit to how far people can travel to reach a school. And since schools are essential service governments are forced to build lots of smaller schools in a low-density area instead of one large school in a high-density area to serve the same amount of people. This ultimately means the quality of the smaller schools will be lesser since more money is required to build multiple schools, staff, and maintain them. In contrast, the larger school can invest more in the quality of education for the same amount of money. This concept is known as economies of scale, a proportionate saving in costs gained by an increased level of production. This does not just apply to schools but everything from hospitals to a park. We can solve this issue by simply stopping outwards expansion and focus on development within.

Melbourne’s obsession with urban sprawl has created the housing bubble and negatively impacted the working class while benefiting the wealthy. We have essentially created a system where the closer you are to the city; the more expensive your house will be. This is a massive issue since people with less money are forced to move outwards, where there is less opportunity for careers. In outer suburbs, there is less public transport, healthcare, schools, employment, and recreational activities. All of these services help escape poverty are being kept from those who need it most. The saying ‘’ the poor get poorer and the rich get richer’’ rings true here. Melbourne’s housing prices are at an all-time high, with the median house price sitting around $900,000. This is what happens when Melbourne becomes such a desirable city to live in without increasing housing density. This is why people are fleeing to outer suburbs, not because they want to but because they have to. The idea that people want to live on a quarter acre block is a myth; a majority of people would rather live in a townhouse/apartment closer into the city, according to the Grattan Institute. If we ever want to fix the housing crisis and assist in ending poverty in Melbourne, we need to stop urban sprawl and start looking at inner-city medium density housing solutions.

We have seen how urban sprawl negatively affects humans, but what about our fellow earthlings?

 Many people assume high-density cities are worse for the environment because they create more pollution, but the opposite is true. Low-density suburbs are much worse environmentally than medium-density urban areas. This is because a city focused on low-density housing uses a lot more land in comparison, this increase in land usage results in increased deforestation, higher amounts of energy consumption, and an increase of air and light pollution. Suburban development also tends to rely on roads and cars as a primary means of transportation, only furthering the effects just mentioned earlier. If we ever want to live in a sustainable green society again, we need to put an end to urban sprawl.

In overall terms, urban sprawl is not just Melbourne, but globally is ultimately harmful to society. As we have discussed, it reduces access to essential services, drastically increases the cost of living, and is detrimental to local ecosystems. But luckily this is changing, Urban planners globally realise their mistakes and are working to fix them. Melbourne is now full of medium density housing projects such as townhouses and small apartment buildings. Medium-density housing is the future of our cities.





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