According to an Infrastructure Australia report called Future Cities, Melbourne will hit 7.3 million people by 2046. That’s three million more and would give us megacity status in line with New York, Hong Kong and London. According to the report we are at a watershed moment that could rob us of our most liveable city mantle, so we need to plan smart. With all this in mind, Future Cities offers three potential solutions.

The LA Model

This model proposes unfettered low-density development to accommodate a million new people on the city’s fringes by 2046 – mostly in Melbourne’s west. However, with only 3% of jobs reachable within 30 minutes by trains, trams or buses it means a heavier reliance on cars to get to work. Hospitals, schools and universities would also be less accessible. Two words: 1. traffic 2. jams.

The London Model

This is all about medium-density. It spreads population growth more evenly and puts jobs closer to where people live. Melbourne’s population centre will move west to absorb the extra 900k residents. Werribee, Sunshine and the Tottenham Industrial Estate would become employment hubs. And we’ll need new housing near rail hubs like Footscray and Sunshine or at repurposed industrial sites like Essendon Airport.

The NYC Model

This model proposes compact, higher-density living with housing and jobs concentrated within 15km of the CBD. A dramatic rise in public transport use will be fuelled by new medium-to-high density housing along public transport routes. Importantly, proximity to hospitals, schools and universities would improve. One issue however is a potential fairness problem where jobs will be concentrated in inner Melbourne at the expense of its outer suburbs where housing is cheaper.

The time is now for Melbournians to make some tough choices about our future urban life. Whether we go for low-density, medium or high-density living the debate needs to shift from how much Melbourne is growing to how we can grow it best.

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