Collie recently attended a VPELA event held at Places Victoria that discussed the benefits of urban renewal and why it is important for all Victorians.  Urban renewal has obviously been a hot topic in recent times with the continued negative media about Docklands and the Fisherman’s Bend Project now muted by the Victorian Government.  We have previously commented on both the Docklands and Fisherman’s Bend projects.

Unfortunately, but understandably, this event focussed largely on Melbourne Docklands and Fisherman’s Bend, rather than exploring other urban renewal projects in Australia and around the world.  Australia is relatively young in terms of urban renewal projects but there are many examples of such projects around the world, both successful and not, from which we have much to learn.  Urban renewal is not solely about the development of large areas but is also about the revitalisation of smaller neighbourhoods often through an anchor development or a particular policy approach as its catalyst.

These projects can be as wide ranging as the creation of local industries through assisting artistic ventures to occupy unused warehouses in Paducah, Kentucky, through to the impact the Guggenheim Museum has had on Bilbao in Spain (and the subsequent trend for ‘iconic’ buildings), through to the large scale urban renewal that occurred in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the 1940s and more recently the London Docklands.  Even in Collie news some time ago we recommend or a major urban renewal initiative in Malmo in Sweden.

What is evident is that urban renewal projects (particularly those on a scale of the Melbourne Docklands or Fisherman’s Bend) will never be perfect and will always be an easy target for negativity.  Many of their benefits are slow to materalise but undoubtedly things could always be down better.  A common thread to the urban renewal projects that are generally accepted as being a success is that they offer something to the city as a whole.

By this measure, Docklands has been somewhat of a success.  It should be remembered that Docklands was largely a wasteland prior to redevelopment.  We now have an area that has had significant investment, providing a major sports stadium, numerous major corporation headquarters and a precinct that is popular with tourists despite not yet capturing the imagination of the broader Melbourne public.

Unlike Docklands and many other well known urban renewal projects, Fisherman’s Bend is not a wasteland or an area with decrepit buildings that are no longer fit for their intended use.  It is a busy commercial and industrial area that is proposed to be redeveloped.

So what is it that Fisherman’s Bend is proposing to provide to Melbourne as a whole?  At the moment it has been trumpeted as Melbourne’s ‘inner city growth area’ but is this enough?  What else will it provide?  What about other features such as new regional open space, schools and affordable housing?  At the moment we don’t know.

Let’s be positive about the opportunities that Fisherman’s Bend presents but let’s also get in place soon a clear strategic plan with objectives about what is intended.  This plan does not need to be rigid in its implementation, nor should it be focussed on matters such as building height.  The plan does however, need to be specific about how a community will be created in the area through place making and the provision of public infrastructure.  It is hard to believe that development in the area can be encouraged without this vision clearly put in place.

Enquiries Jay Hollerich (jjh@colliepl.com.au)