The crossroads of growth: is Ballarat ready to take the infill step?

The question is not a new one: What kind of city should Ballarat be with 150 or 200 thousand? 

The dilemma this presents is where all the people will live; at the outer fringes on the greenfields sites that have proved so successful in the west or in medium density infill developments close to the centre, often on empty or underutilised blocks.

The contrast is not to argue that they are mutually exclusive but rather that successfully absorbing this growth will be a challenging balance . So much so that The Courier maintains this is a conversation the Ballarat public should be having now and the appropriate work should be embarked on now to best inform these decisions. If this kind of growth is a matter of inevitability it makes this work all the more important and pressing.

One scenario with growth is to simply keep doing what we have always done, proliferating free standing homes and the risk of an attendant shortfall in infrastructure as suburbs sprawl ever westward. Melbourne’s west and north are clear examples of infrastructure lag affecting livability. As has been seen in multiple cities in the United States, the sheer distance creates divided cities, an affluent old one; well serviced, rich in amenity, employment, culture and desolate swathes of struggling outer suburbs doomed to isolation or congested commutes. 

Ballarat’s residential growth zones by contrast up to this point have set a moderate and manageable pattern with some commendable proactive approaches to infrastructure that sees shops, health facilities and community centres built before the houses. The key is to ensure this continues and avoid stranded suburbs. 

On the other hand Ballarat wants to keep its centre alive and that takes people. Not just working there but living in the environs of activity centres. This means infill development, most particulalrly on the many  wasted and vacant sites which circle the CBD. But for the market to absorb and foster this it needs several things. One is the market appetite for close proximity living as well as the developers incentives to utilise multiple dwellings.  Finally it needs to the design features and architectural vision to fit in.  But all these can directly into collision with those who feel the city they knew is vanishing and fear heritage will be swept aside in a horde of high rises. The balancing act for a city as heritage rich as Ballarat is so critical the conversations should start now.