Today the Victorian parliament voted to extend Melbourne's urban growth boundaries (read Green Land Cut Back as Melbourne Grows Much Bigger). When I read this news, I thought to myseld, "Brilliant! Great idea. Houses are very expensive in Melbourne, and making Melbourne bigger would make it easier for first-home buyers to afford houses."
But reading the comments in the Age news article I linked to above, it would seem as if Premier Brumby had just been caught sexually abusing a child. Why are so many people whinging about an extention to the urban growth boundaries?
I don't pretend to know exactly what the Victorian government intends to do when implementing this policy, but based on what little I have read, everything seems positive.
Wouldn't it increase congestion because more people will have to travel to the city?
According to the news article, suburbs like Footscray, Broadmeadows, Frankston, and Dandenong will be "designated business districts." WIth the expansion of Melbourne's urban growth boundaries there will, I hope, be more commercial and industrial zones outside of Melbourne's CBD. Once many residents are established in the outer suburbs, many businesses that are headquartered in the CBD will feel great monetary pressure to relocate from the CBD to new business districts like Frankston and Dandenong where they will be close to many new outer-suburban citizens and where rent would be cheaper. Lower rent means higher profitability.
Suppose very many workers still travel to the city rather than outer-suburban business districts. If that is the case, the cost in terms of congestion, time, and petrol for workers to travel to work is high, and these workers will demand a higher wage from employers to compensate, which means businesses based on the CBD will need to increases wages. If these businesse move to Dandenong or Frankston, congestion would not a big issue.
Basically, work moves with the people. If people move away from the city, so too businesses will move away from the city to follow the source of labor.
A larger Melbourne will create social division because rich people will live near the city while poor people will live in the outer suburbs.
This is already happening. Rich people in Melbourne already live near the city while poor people live far from the city. Even if Melbourne does not grow geographically, it wouldn't fix this problem. In fact, it would make things worse. If Melbourne did not expand, and if we assume demand for housing remains high, house prices would be high everywhere, even in the outer suburbs. At least if we expand Melbourne we increase the number of houses in the market, which pushes house prices down, giving the poor an opportunity to afford to put a roof over their heads.
If the government expands Melbourne and also increases the amount of commercial and industrial zoning in the outer suburbs, this should make living in the outer suburbs more attractive since it those who work there can more easily travel to work.
What about the green wedges?
Most of the green wedges in Melbourne are actually just garbage tips and farms. It makes no sense to have these things in the city. An argument can be mounted that urban sprawl will harm the environment by clearing forest and increase carbon emissions, but both these problems can be fixed with either taxation or cap and trade. To prevent deforestation or carbon emissions, tax it heavily or sell off permits to individuals or companies to allow deforestation or carbon emissions. This way the government can set how much deforestation or carbon emissions it wants. If citizens or government decide that deforestation or carbon emission is a problem it can increase taxes on deforestation or sell off very few carbon pollution permits. This makes urban expansion very costly for property developers or individuals to buy new land, which makes high-rise apartments more economical.
What about the extra traffic?
Extending the urban growth boundary will allow for the construction not only of houses but also roads and train tracks. Because more roads are built, congestion should not really increase. If very many roads are built relative to houses and businesses, we should actually see a net reduction in traffic congestion.