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The ‘zombie subdivision’ is a phenomenon identified by the Lincoln Institute as ‘once- promising projects’ now ‘distressed’, with the fulfilment of plans or visions for the site effectively stalled. The pattern of subdivision may also be criticised as inappropriate or unviable in a contemporary context. Services such as water, electricity, and roads are often absent in these areas, leaving them partially- occupied, or more often, completely vacant. These incomplete subdivisions fit into a broader framework of urbanisation, albeit as punctuations in a narrative of growth and development.
Numerous examples exist of inappropriate subdivisions where the machinery of governance and planning have allowed resolution through buy-back schemes and subsequent restructure plans: Summerlands, in Phillip Island, and the Ninety Mile Beach Subdivision along the Gippsland coast, are two such recent local examples. Past research by three of the present authors has established the Solomon Heights estate in Sunshine North, 10 kilometres west of the centre of Melbourne, as a contrasting incidence of a ‘zombie subdivision’ in an urban Australian context where resolution is protracted and problematised; however, it is not a lone example.
This paper identifies two similar sites spanning Western Port and Port Phillip Bays and examines their development histories, locating causes of their arrested development and in turn revealing the numerous factors leading to their enduring ‘zombiefication.’ Particular attention is paid to the commonalities which emerge: these sites were initially poorly-sited and speculative in nature, and were later sterilised through their locations proximate to noxious or dangerous industry. The paper details repeated planning attempts at resolving the atrophied conditions of each site. In particular, this paper notes the difficulties in restructuring estates with splintered private ownership where funding or municipal guidance are largely absent, or not in keeping with the scale of the problem.
In concluding, we outline some of the implications of zombie subdivisions: as literal ‘gaps’, they counter Moltoch’s growth machine theory—of cooperation between government and private interests as a facilitator of development—and assumed narratives of growth and development which exemplify Melbourne’s urban fringe. These idiosyncratic sites are examined as examples of ‘interstitial spaces’, revealing the logics and oversights of growth models and acting as sometimes absurd counterpoints to planning aspirations toward ordered and defined development.