What if
the street was the only boundary?

Melbourne has proven incapable of planning at the scale of the precinct and at the scale of the urban block. Our serial failure is confounding. We enjoy the self-congratulation of a vibrant design culture and an abundance of individual buildings of excellence. But individual moments of excellence do not make a precinct and proximity alone does not make urbanism. Divergent expectations of individual landowners and our inability to direct collective outcomes are resulting in a mercenary city with poor precinct design outcomes. In this city, the whole is the consequence of the its parts rather than the sum of them.

A particular culpability rests with the standardised tools of the Victorian Planning Provisions which see making the city as a process of pre-emptive control then counter proposition then mediated conflict. Speculating that these provisions are inadequate and that VCAT is no fit urban arbiter, we will explore the consequences of a single counterfactual question:

What if the boundaries that separate the individual allotments that form a city block are erased?

The response to this provocation reveals another set of tools that are discursive, deliberative, and spatial ways of working. A space of aggregated ownership gives us permission to speculate with the actions, entrepreneurialism and tactics that are available to us as spatial designers of the city, many of which are better able than planning to deal with the complex forms of sharing and exchange that are required to deliver the connected communities and successful urban projects that we seek to create. Collective ownership and deliberative development of the block can enable shared and efficient infrastructure, can recast the role of heritage and preservation, can enable ways of maintaining and programming urban spaces and can consolidate open space and open space contributions, allowing for a scale, generosity and common ground.

Mark Jacques