In the last week of 2015, Victorian Planning Minister, Richard Wynne, made the unfortunate, but not unexpected, announcement that the public transport into the rezoned Fishermans Bend region would “most likely” consist of simply a single tram. Dumping the idea of a Metro station in Montague Street area. As a result, everyone who had high hopes for the inclusive development of the area had their hopes severely deflated.
For Fishermans Bend to truly be part of a Grand CBD vision, with the opportunity, wealth, and vibrancy that that entails, it needs the public transport infrastructure worthy of a CBD. And one single dead-end tram line (no multiple direction entry or exit) frankly does not cut it.
What the area needs is a dedicated, multiple entry, train that connects the area to both the CBD and, ideally, across the river to the fast-growing western suburbs.
Train stations are hubs liveliness that attract not only economic activity, but also all the added components that bring an area its vitality, wells from which both energetic chancers and sullen teenagers both spring.
They are the junctures for a wide range of social groups, and they are the connection points that allow people access to areas that distance or cost my otherwise isolate them from. They are at their core engines of social and economic integration.
When an investment as creative and inclusive as rail infrastructure is considered too difficult by governments, then it is obvious that they have become disconnected from their primary functions. Governments today occupy far too much of their time trying to play whack-a-mole with every inane tabloid outrage and subjective distaste, rather than investing in long term viability and opportunity.
This is a symptom of a much bigger picture. As governments have become weakened in their ability to control global interactions, they have refocused their attention on controlling local interactions instead, micromanaging people with numerous petty laws that indicate both a distrust and disdain for the general public.
This overextension of the state has left it hamstrung in its ability to tackle the bigger issues that the state was designed to resolve (the pooling of resources to create structures individuals or smaller groups couldn’t do by themselves). To put it simply, it has become so expensive nowadays to simply keep the government maintained, that there are no funds available to create any essential infrastructure.
Alongside this there remains a significant provincial psychology within the city, a refusal to acknowledge that Melbourne is now a city of 4.5 million people, and an even greater denial that it will be approaching of city of 7 million within 30 years time.
There are forces in both the government and civil society who are repulsed by this grander vision for the city, and this repulsion is hampering its future-proofing. It has to be stated these people are not interested in creating more widespread opportunity for those who require it. Their insular and protectionist vision is focused solely on themselves and their fear that all change is inherently negative. They see Melbourne’s growth as a burden, not an advantage.
But in order for this advantage to flourish essential infrastructure needs to put in place. Yet the state seems paralysed by its fear of the future, unable to take the necessary reforms in its structures to evolve as the world, both locally and globally, does.
The fact that the only major challenger to the two entrenched political parties is a party whose tendencies lean even more towards patronising micromanagement makes these essential reforms unfortunately seem more unlikely.
However, there will become a breaking point where if both Labor and the Liberal parties wish to maintain their privileged status they will have to start making tough decisions. Their downfall will come from maintaining the status quo, not challenging it.
If major parties do not evolve, and equally importantly, do not rationally explain to the public what the role of government should be, and especially what its limits should be, then they cannot complain when they experience major threats from other forces.
From Trump and Sanders in the US, the rise of populist parties on both Right and Left in Europe, British Labour’s election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader, and the recent Spanish elections, these are all forces that have come to attack status quo parties due to their laziness.
This may all seem a rather long bow to draw about a simple tram line, but decisions such as these come from much larger sources. It is a symptom of a state apparatus that cannot make rational judgements about which expenditures should be given priority.
The government is so paralysed by the idea of weighing up the importance of its expenditures, that it can only muster limp responses to essential functions, like a single tram into an area marked for major densification (in full knowledge that retro-fitting will be even more expensive). It’s like adding a lawnmower engine to a car because you can’t do without the spoilers, mag wheels, audio system, tinted windows and woolen seat covers. Yet accessories are not the government’s job, it should stick to functionality instead.
If we wish to prevent Fishermans Bend from becoming nothing more than a sterile suburban office park with one dull and ineffective tram, then the government needs make the hard decisions required to give the area the proper infrastructure in needs to thrive. It will be an act of self-preservation if they do.