I recently moved moved house from inner Western Melbourne (Seddon) to outer Western Melbourne (Truganina), hence my absence from blogging. The most direct way to the nice new house (and it is a nice new house, a vast improvement on the decrepit dump my housemate and I were previously renting) is along a road which has newly constructed, and to-be-constructed, suburbs on one side and dusty paddocks with sheep grazing on the other. (The dusty paddocks are, of course, every bit as much the result of human action as the new suburbs but the former have less biodiversity.)
Since I lived in Canberra for 11 years, the made-for-cars layout of the new suburbs is familiar. What is less familiar is how less well-designed they are. First, in Canberra, the linking streets between suburbs were mostly dual carriageway as a matter of course. The linking streets where I now am are often single carriageway and so easily clog up in peak hour.
Secondly, nothing is in walking distance (and I count something up to 30 minutes walk away as walking distance). Both because, despite the single-carriageway streets, things are more spread out and because there is no shopping centre at the heart of each suburb. Instead, it is the land of streets of franchised megastores and drive-to-malls.
I realise that the push to have developers’ pay for infrastructure upfront, so it is included in house purchase prices, is likely to lead to under-provision of infrastructure. Upfront payment for infrastructure is a pretty silly way to pay for something that will be providing benefits for decades, that is what government debt should be for.
But the point is not to rationally provide infrastructure, it is to maximise the value of land allocated to housing — so incumbents get wealth effects from rising prices, so tax revenues from land are maximised and so government land corporations can maximise their return from the power to compulsorily purchase and control usage. The combined effect of which is to raise the cost of future infrastructure, because the land value is pushed up so much, and lower the benefit to government of providing infrastructure through higher taxes since it is cheaper and easier to raise the tax value of land by restricting its use.
There was an old joke that, if the Soviet Union took over the Sahara Desert, in five years there would be a shortage of sand. The joke seems much less funny as government ensures that land-rich Australia has the most expensive housing land in the Anglosphere (apart from Hong Kong; rather a special case). Watching designed dysfunction in operation makes it much less funny too.