Intensive Boundaries and Liminality: What drives Melbourne’s Suburban Sprawl

Nazareth, Ian | Hamann, Conrad | Heyworth, Rosemary | Gargano, Lisa

Ngā Pūtahitanga / Crossings: A Joint Conference of SAHANZ and the Australasian UHPH Group

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The dominance of protective dispersal then freeway building in 1950s and 1960s Melbourne planning reflects a view of its suburbs as an undifferentiated sprawl, with little internal agency, difference, nuance, cultural or visual texture. It is seen as primarily determined by demands of Melbourne’s CBD, and is assumed to spread in almost magic fashion: landscape one minute, ‘suburbia’ the next. For varied reasons this view is consolidated in planning imagery, responding to concerns at commuting and transport distance, disappearing food-producing land near the city, and concerns at raising population density. The result is urban form perceived constantly through liminality and outer boundary conditions: extensive borderlines. This suited urbanism that dealt with cities through quantification and circulation routes. This paper argues the dynamics of Melbourne’s suburban development come not from concentric spread but from the steady, sequential emergence of nodal suburbs, themselves major generators of commercial, industrial and transport activity.

The original determinants for these suburban nodes were (i) the inability of Melbourne suburbs to remain in walk-to-work scales; (ii) the means to commute lowering urban density – initially through train and tram, and later cars commuting; (iii) these nodal suburbs’ breaking of the long arterial road system that shaped Melbourne’s early suburban form till the 1880s, largely by developing off or away from these arteries; (iv) the imagery of clustered institutional buildings with increased mass and expression beyond those of surrounding suburbs; (v) the specialisation of tributary suburbs as a residential hinterland, not for Melbourne the collected city, but for each of these localised nodes; and (vi) each suburban node gained a series of standard assets in making it an urban focus.

These nodes form part of a series of intensive boundaries: more nuanced and individually distinctive. Intensive boundaries also encompass the miniature urban forms and specific urban models emulated in suburban nodes.