For Victorians, Democracy Sausage Day is just around the corner. And by corner, I mean tomorrow, folks. As you would expect, the two major parties have different visions for how our towns and cities should grow. Given Melbourne has already swelled to 5 million and is barrelling towards 8 million by 2050 (just in time for the suburban rail loop), growing in an effective and sustainable way is essential to livability (and our sanity).
But wait, this is not just an article for Melburnians.
Or even Victorians. It's for Australians. And also, the world. Because, as all of our cities and regions grow, it pays to pay attention to how they're growing to ensure we're making to best decisions for the future.
Melbourne used to be described as a doughnut city, where workers would retreat to their homes in the suburbs in the evenings, leaving the inner-city deserted. Clearly, that's no longer the case, with Melbourne's CBD now home to 130,000 residents according to the latest census, making it Australia's most populous suburb.
But forget the doughnut city, if Matthew Guy and Co come out victorious on election night, Melbourne will end up more like the Target city. The Libs' plan to limit development in the middle suburbs, while releasing almost 300,000 new lots on the city's fringes will push development to the outer reaches, to areas lacking employment options, poorly serviced by public transport and lagging behind in the construction of schools and hospitals. But who knows, perhaps a corporate sponsorship from Target might pay for some of that much-needed infrastructure.
To his credit, Guy proposes setting up a population commission to sign off on housing approvals and ensure infrastructure is keeping up with growth, but you have to wonder how excited the population commission will be about building 300,000 new houses on the already stretched fringes given the Planning Institute of Australia already think this is a very bad idea.
While both Labor and Liberal are promising to extend the rail line to Clyde, until recently the incumbent Planning Minister, Richard Wynne, didn't even know where the burgeoning new suburb actually is. "Somewhere near Pakenham?" Eye roll emoji.
Labor's idea of connecting Melbourne's radial train lines via a big, eff off rail loop so you don't have to go into the city and push your way through the hoards at Flinders Street to get to a neighbouring suburb is a great idea, if not 30 years too late. It recognises the fact that Melbourne is no longer a doughnut city, with jobs and opportunities all over the city, not just in the centre. But while it makes for a pretty transport map, you have to wonder whether it's the best way to throw around 50 billion big ones given it wasn't even on Infrastructure Victoria's radar before being announced on Facebook. We have this tendency of looking from the top down and deciding something is a good idea, without interrogating whether that's where the demand is - like that bus from the airport to Frankston, the orbital route looks logical, but the whole trip takes longer than flying to Perth and could likely be better served by a series of smaller, more reliable routes. Personally, I want to get from Brunswick to Northcote on a Sunday, the Suburban Rail Loop doesn't help with that.
In the other corner, envisioning a decentralised Victoria, the Liberals titillate us with a "European-style" fast rail to connect Melbourne to country Vic. No-one's going to pass up fast rail, and decentralisation and better connections to the country is great, but how about we learn to grow responsibly and sustainably first before spreading our cancer to the next transport node.
Both the majors are proposing roads, roads and more roads, despite Infrastructure Victoria's 30 year strategy being all like, 'Whoa up there, everyone. Technology's about to give transport a NutriBullet of a shakeup, we're not so sure how effective building more roads is going to be right now.' And while the two parties agree about the need for big road projects, they can't seem to agree on which one is the 'missing link'. The missing link, of course, comes from that top-down approach to planning where you look at a plan (and both parties, it seems, are still looking at the 1969 Melbourne Transportation Plan) and decide what piece of major infrastructure would make it look 'complete'. The Greens, bless, are prioritising public transport funding over road projects. Probably because they are the only ones who have read the studies that show building more roads doesn't ease congestion.
So what of the two visions of future Victoria and which would you most like to see?
Labor, for the most part, sees Melbourne continuing on as it has done for the past eons: consistently over-eating, but occasionally committing to a health-kick including a shake-based diet of level-crossing removals and signing up for a 10-pack of gym sessions to achieve the Metro Tunnel. Low-quality apartments and houses on the fringe leave the city with cottage cheese thighs which are not just unsightly, but tough to get rid of. Meanwhile, a shiny new FitBit strapped to the wrist in the form of a suburban rail loop is sure to improve the city's overall health, but it's hard to unwind decades of poor planning, over-eating and under-activity.
The Liberal party see a decentralised future, where Melbourne overdoes it during the festive season and unbuckles its belt to the very last notch of its Urban Growth Boundary. While some new roads and keeping the middle ring of suburbanites happy in their quiet streets maintains an illusion of health, visceral fat is building around the organs, creating a ticking time bomb internally and diabetes-induced gangrene in the under-serviced, over-populated urban fringes. Finally, Melbourne, connected to country towns and cities with fast rail, will stop wearing a belt altogether, finding a pair of pants with an elastic waistband which will allow it to spill into the countryside, unhindered and unchecked.
Either way, it looks kind of grim.
Enjoy your sausages, Victorians. And, wherever you are, when you get the chance to vote, give yours to the party who's promising the towns and cities you'd most like to live in. If you're not Victorian, let us know what your pollies are planning for the future of your cities and towns. And do you agree or disagree with their vision?