22 years ago, in 1996, Moonee Valley City Council was one year old.
Email had been widely used for just two years. No one had a DVD player. MP3 did not exist. Google and Hotmail were just barely born and no one had a smart phone.
Cassette tapes and videos. Yep.
Wifi, Bluetooth, climate change – who’d even heard of these? The Inter-what? People bought newspapers.
Girls didn’t play football (well they did, of course – they just weren’t recognised or supported).
22 years ago, the world was very different. So was Moonee Valley.
In 1996, parts of Kensington and North Melbourne were in Moonee Valley. There was no CityLink near Debneys Park. The highest building was probably the Flemington housing estate. Ascot Vale had Orica.
There was no Coles at the Showgrounds – we listened to the Big Day Out there instead.
There were tram conductors. And no one had personal solar panels generating household energy.
A lot has changed in the past 22 years. Some changes have been predictable. Other evolutions are the products of human madness – tweet that.
In 1996, what did we imagine our 2018 future to be?
Did we know our plastic bags would destroy marine life? Did we think about building energy efficient homes to prevent catastrophic climate change? Did we know what services our next wave of migrants would need?
The reason for asking these slightly existential questions is not to look backwards. Rather, it’s to ask, can we really predict where we’ll be in 22 years?
Moonee Valley City Council has just approved a plan for the municipality for the next two decades in their omnibus MV2040.
The plan sets out what the Council expects, hopes, wants the area to look like in 2040.
While long-term planning and setting goals and visions for the future can be strategic, predicting how our lives will change over the next 22 years is brave, if not impossible.
We just don’t know what technological, environmental, economic, and social changes will alter the way we live and the way we need to plan our streets, services and facilties.
Soon after 1996, Moonee Valley planned to develop an urban village around Racecourse Rd. There was no sense of the intense development pressures that have impacted heavily on Flemington, and no social and transport planning for extra residents. Flemington was described in the policy as having limited potential for development due to the heritage streetscapes.
At the same time, Moonee Valley planned to protect heritage close to Essendon Station and support the development of urban villages around train stations:
Things change. Policies. Governments. Technology. The climate. The world.
So how do we balance planning for 2040 and keeping ourselves open and flexible to unexpected events that alter our trajectory?
My sense is that in MV2040, Moonee Valley have got this half right. They have set aspirational themes for a ‘green, fair, thriving, beautiful and connected’ city.
These are valuable guiding principles, and come with high level targets and objectives.
There are multiple actions connected to each objective:
But then they have jumped to 160 capital works actions they intend to achieve over the next 22 years. These are connected directly to the themes, but not to the targets, objectives or actions.
These 160 actions are in MV2040, the Long Term Capital Works Plan, the Community Facilities Plan and the new MSS approved by Council.
That means these 160 actions for the next 22 years in Moonee Valley are set in concrete of some strength. That’s what we’re getting in MVCC for the next 22 years.
It’s this level of prescriptive detail that, I think, is unreasonable.
The time frame is too long. The changing context is too unknown. Not many actions are objectionable, but priorities might change.
In ten years time, generating energy through community solar farms might be a local necessity.
Drought conditions might mean we can’t wait until the long term for storm-water harvesting.
We might need a hub in which community members can share tools, cars, bikes, exchange food, clothes and books to manage community disadvantage. We might need to create more local employment hubs and social enterprises to manage unemployment.
Most concerningly, these 160 actions have been embedded in the local planning scheme (in the MSS) which goes far beyond the strategic planning normally found in Municipal Strategic Statements.
In approving the plan, councillors spoke of their excitement about the vision they were setting for Moonee Valley.
“This is us sitting back and thinking about what we are going to deliver for the community, ” said Cr Gauci Maurici.
“It’s so great to think about what our city is going to look like in 2040,” said Cr Byrne.
Cr Marshall said “it is the most comprehensively consulted on document. There has been no strategy that has had this level of consultation”.
But does it really tell us what Moonee Valley is going to look like in 2040? How can we really know?
Unexpected evolutions will confront us and we need to be flexible, nimble, resourceful, and community oriented in our response.
Embedding this detail across council and in our planning scheme gives us little room to move.
And, to be honest, do we really want to know exactly how things will look in 22 years time?
Can’t we plan a little way ahead, but also be ready for new surprises?
Isn’t that more exciting?
Isn’t life just more fun when we don’t quite know what will happen next, and we can dream of what might happen.