Melbourne is a city which I have visited only once. I was attending a conference at one of the universities there. I booked a hotel opposite the host University’s main campus, about 45 minutes outside of the city centre. When I arrived I found out that the conference was actually being held in the city itself at a satellite campus. This meant that I needed to take a tram into the city each day of the conference. While somewhat annoying, it did give me the opportunity to see some more of Melbourne’s northern suburbs as well as its city centre.
And now, apparently, the city’s continued growth into the suburbs is becoming a political topic in next month’s state elections. Each year the second-largest city in Australia (population of 4.8 million, the same as New Zealand as a whole) is growing by about 125,000 people, making it the fourth-fastest growing developed city on Earth. Melbourne is projected to grow to be Australia’s largest city in about ten years – this century it has closed the gap on Sydney from 602,000 people to 281,000. By 2050, projections place the city at about eight million people. The problem for the city (and the state and the Commonwealth) is how to accommodate this continued population growth. How is the infrastructure to be funded and can it be done quickly enough?
Previously, Melbourne has grown outwards. In 2018 alone, 17 new suburbs were added to the north and west of the city. But will that continue to work as the population increases? How far out can one live and commute in a city? The City of Melton is west of the city and the fastest growing municipality in Melbourne. At the turn of the century Melton had 50,000 people; now it is three times that size. By 2031 it will have over 250,000 residents. It needs two new schools a year as well as a hospital according to its council and yet none are planned.
The infrastructure question is a big part of the debate between the main parties leading into this year’s state election. The Labo[u]r party Premier is focussing on big infrastructure projects, including tunnels, sky rail and a suburban rail loop. The opposition is promoting decentralising instead of big ticket infrastructure projects. It wants to encourage people to move to the regional cities and away from the inner suburbs. The question is whether such decentralisation will really cope with the expected population growth in the city: will Geelong, Bendigo and Ballarat be themselves able to absorb the 125,000 extra people in Melbourne every year? Whoever wins the election, it seems as if Melbourne and Victoria as a whole will be spending more money on infrastructure and receiving more money from the Commonwealth of Australia to ensure that the fastest growing city in Australia is able to put up with the growth.