Often when Southbank, Docklands and Fishermans Bend are mentioned in the media, these new urban renewal areas (and in particular Docklands) are criticised and while undoubtedly some lessons can be learnt, there have also been a lot of positives that can be taken from development that has occurred so far in these precincts.  For this reason, it was refreshing to attend a Planning Institute Australia seminar last Tuesday evening that focussed on both the positives and negatives of development in these areas.  What made the evening different to most seminars and arguably more fascinating, was that while there were some presentations from the planning industry, the bulk of the presentations were from residents who are either living in or have lived previously in Southbank, Docklands and Forest Hill (an urban renewal area in South Yarra).

A common theme among many of the residents was that they enjoyed living in the city and having all the amenities of the city at their door step, but being removed from the hustle and bustle of the CBD.  Similarly, residents loved the location and the availability of public transport so that they could catch a tram and walk anywhere in the CBD.  As a result, most residents found that they typically only used a car on weekends with many residents reducing the number of cars owned upon moving in.  Another positive mentioned was the reduced travel time to work allowing more time to be spent at home in the evenings.  One mother stated that her husband spending quality time with their kids after work in the evening, as opposed to spending two hours travelling to work each day, was invaluable and has significantly improved their lifestyle.  Some residents enjoyed the community feel of being able to pop downstairs for a coffee and bump into neighbours.  Residents, particularly those living on upper levels, were also proud of the view from their apartment so much so that some views were claimed to be the best in Melbourne!

On the other hand, residents were often critical of the lack of open space and found overshadowing from some of the high rise towers a problem.  There also seemed to be a general consensus among residents that Docklands had been overdeveloped with too many high rise towers and that parts of it were very windy.  Another major concern for the residents is the lack of community facilities in Docklands.  When many residents moved in, there were no childcare facilities and no schools.  Residents suggested this was being rectified slowly with childcare facilities now emerging and the new Docklands library, an impressive building where the seminar was held, being built recently.  The glaring omission however, is still the lack of schools in Docklands and Southbank and as residents rightly argue, if you want to maintain a diverse demographic and not discourage families from these areas, schools will need to be provided.

Walking away from the seminar I certainly felt more positive about these urban renewal developments whilst acknowledging that there are lessons to be learned in the planning of Fishermans Bend.  Urban renewal development provides opportunities to be more innovative and efficient with how space is used.  For example, the amount of car parking provided in some developments (considering cars are often infrequently used by residents) is an inefficient use of space that could be better utilised by providing more active ground floor frontages and providing car share programs.  Similarly, vertical schools need to be looked at in these areas.  An example of this forward thinking is in the CBD where a kindergarten in Flinders Street has a playground located on the roof of a six storey building with high fencing around its perimeter to ensure kids can play safely.

An example of play space above a three storey building in Southbank.

An example of play space above a three storey building in Southbank.

Enquiries to James Million on 03 8698 9300 or jjm@colliepl.com.au