As Ballarat continues to grow is will face a critical dilemma. What kind of city does it want to be with one hundred and fifty even two hundred thousand? Those far away numbers might seem chimerical but steady growth, which it has enjoyed for over a decade, make it almost an inevitability. The question is only a matter of when. The future options are many but all require a careful balancing act learning from the successes and mistakes of other cities.
One scenario with growth is to simply keep doing what we have always done. The Australian love affair with the free standing home shows no sign of abating and the development has flourished in answering this call. Melbourne’s west and north are clear examples of infrastructure lag affecting livability. Worse as has been seen in multiple cities in the United States, the sheer distance creates two cities, an affluent old city; well serviced, rich in amenity, employment and culture and desolate swathes of struggling outer suburbs doomed to isolation or trapped in congested commutes. Ballarat’s residential growth zones may be a long way from this nightmare sprawl but the warning lessons are there. Such cities also also face the danger of the dreaded doughnut effect, another American phenomenon, where an abandoned approach to endless room and market driven planning draws all the energy, investment and people to the fringes - creating ghost towns of Main Street. Despite the pain Melbourne endured and many would argue the ugliness that flowered under inner city development; it has one thing to show for it; a flourishing centre where people live in closer proximity. Naturally this must be driven by the demand. Apartment bubbles are yet another example of over enthusiasm and poor planning.
While now one can envisage anything close to a high rise for central Ballarat, (nor is there demand) that does not mean there are not many variations of an infill medium density future which could solve some of these issues and balance out the disproportionate growth in greenfields sites. Most critically for Ballarat part of this balancing act is about ensuring it retains the best of what it has kept from the past and gives it character of today. Italianate facades, wide streets, deciduous avenues are all features no one wants to loose. At the same time there are multiple vacant sites in the heart of the city which are crying out for tasteful development if only for these key sites to not be festering wounds of dereliction.