Sunday, September 1, 2013

Bike City: Melbourne Writers Festival

31 August 2013
Bike City: a discussion chaired by Greg Foyster, with Eben Weiss, Alan Davies and Pip Carrol

Bike Snob NYC, Eben Weiss, conveyed a laid back New York state of mind. He has always been a bike rider ‘no matter what’, negotiating the dynamic city. While welcoming New York’s new bike infrastructure, he had a ‘however’ qualification. The lack of enforcement of driver infringements and incursions into bike lanes is highly frustrating. Sanctions are few and prosecutions rare.  He just wants bike riders to be ‘ordinary’, not special’, one of the crowd.
Alan Davies's impressive fluency with the statistics and graphs illustrated Australia’s dismal performance relative to the world’s leading bike riding country: the Netherlands. Whereas Melbourne’s Inner North has impressive cycling rates, that rate is not replicated even south of the river and is very low in outer suburbs. Davies has a particular interest in bike trips substituting car trips which leads to his interest in the journey to work census question as a data source. Davies went out of his way to stress the importance of the quality of the cycling experience and how that can be positively influenced by the design and attractiveness of streets. Asked what it will take to increase bike riding in Melbourne, Davies stressed safety, safety and safety, and putting further constraints on car use - ‘cars have got to give'. Roads need to be designed in such a way that drivers have no choice but to drive slowly. He suggested that Melbourne might consider a bike riding target relevant to our dispersed city rather than the Netherlands. While dedicated bike infrastructure is the gold standard, he made the obvious point that if you could get to a point where bikes and cars could share the road safely there would be no shortage of excellent infrastructure.
Pip Carrol’s amusing and highly visual presentation challenged the notion that infrastructure alone is enough to get Melburnians riding. Cultural change that taps into Melbourne's cultural scene is also needed. A different story about bike riding is waiting to be told. She drew on the portrayal of bike riding in the media as an extreme sport, inherently dangerous and law breaking.  Instead, there are tales to be told of riding that are ‘delightful and inclusive’. Carrol wondered if we’re focusing on the wrong thing – the journey to work - rather than on local trips using the quieter streets. Invest in women, was her strong recommendation. The SqueakyWheel is creating a different story around riding a bike: that its fun, everyday, convenient, ordinary. Turn the paradigm upside down as Roll Up bike valet parking does - giving bike riders the red carpet rather than the finger.

 What are your thoughts about growing bike riding on the south side of the River?

Friday, August 2, 2013


I surprised myself by how upset I felt on finding out that Bunjil is to be moved to make way for Lend Lease’s new development at Docklands – the last remaining uncontracted parcel of land in the Batmans Hill precinct.
In the restless landscape that is Docklands where place has been made and re-made, there is something about Bunjil’s steady presence that is reassuring – it is at once full of gravitas and lightness. And the way he looks over everything. 'Batmans Hill' itself disappeared in the 19th century to make way for the railway.
I set out on this wintry afternoon to pay my respects. I wanted to make a point of looking at Bunjil intentionally rather than just in passing as I usually do – on the train or in a car. From the elevation of the Collins St extension, I looked directly at Bunjil - or did he look at me? - and the sun came out briefly to illuminate the whiteness.

Then I sought to view the the sculpture at ground level. This proved more difficult. That part of Docklands is mighty confusing for walking - the only people who seemed to be out and about in the cold ground level underworld were smokers.  Wurrundjeri Way itself makes no provision for pedestrians – which is perhaps just as well because it is such a high speed environment, but it was very hard to get close.  

As I rode away, on the basis of the experience I had just had, I could see that it might be good for Bunjil to be moved to a more accessible place but may it be a place where he can still look over us.
The order of proceedings seemed quite wrong. Acknowledgement of our indigenous history and traditional owners is not a casual matter to be put aside when its inconvenient, but central to our having any meaningful sense of place and belonging. 
Bruce Armstrong's work, in place since 2002, was commissioned as part of Docklands public art program, under which an amount equal to 1 per cent of the development cost of each precinct is spent on public art.
Will such a scheme be put in place for Fishermans Bend so that public art can create meaning and uplifting public experiences.
It would be good to see an equivalent opportunity for public contribution to the Flinders St Station redevelopment on the sensitive relocation of this artwork.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Fishermans Bend Forum reflections: 'Not another Docklands'

It was hardly surprising that a recurrent theme expressed by many at the Fishermans Bend forum on 7 July was 'not another Docklands'. Port Places is keen to delve a little deeper into what this means to different people and what direction it offers for Fishermans Bend.
At Open House Melbourne's speaker series, Minister Guy declared himself frustrated by people's criticisms of Docklands on the basis that it is only 48% complete. At that same meeting, he suggested that Fishermans Bend would complement other urban renewal areas, rather than replicating them. That seems to be at odds with what is happening on the ground.
On the Fishermans Bend panel there were sightly different views about Docklands. Perhaps a distinction needs to be made between the original aspiration for Docklands and what has been delivered. Port Places is very interested to hear and understand more from planners and community members who were involved in planning processes at that time.
Dr Darragh O'Brien observed that Docklands has never been formally evaluated so it is hard to say whether what was intended has been achieved.
An early critique of Docklands in Architecture Australia September/October 1998  by Anthony Styant-Browne has a prescient quality. In describing Docklands he says:
‘A mixture of philosophy and pragmatism has produced a unique laissez-fair development process inconceivable prior to the Reagan/Thatcher years. Government funding for infrastructure was out of the question, given the state of the public purse; confidence in the ability of conventional planning processes to deliver a successful outcome was low; and there was a born-again faith in the market as the driving force for urban development.’(p87)
Sound familiar?
O'Brien emphasised the fundamental importance of attention to the public realm. Styant-Brown shared this concern for a more comprehensive approach to the public realm in Docklands. What was needed was
'careful attention to linkage at interfaces between precincts, common attitudes to the waterfront edges, a considered system of public open spaces, a tree-planting program and the nature of connections (physical and visual) to the CBD'. 
What do people really mean when they say 'Not Another Docklands'? What might the positive 'not Docklands' features of the Fishermens Bend precinct be? Picking up on O'Brien's comment, what can we learn from the community engagement, planning and built form outcomes at Docklands to inform the approach to Fishermans Bend?
Meanwhile people living in Docklands are fighting back. Take a look at these images and see Docklands in a different light - literally. Several of these stunning photographs show some of the urban art including Bunjil presiding over us all. Would urban art feature in your preferred future for Fishermans Bend and how would it be paid for?

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Fishermans Bend Forum reflections 1

A forum on the future of Fishermans Bend was hosted by the Community Alliance of Port Phillip on Sunday 7 July. A thoughtful panel addressed the theme of  the urban renewal of this area from different perspectives.  Readers will need to forgive the clumsy acronym FBURA, the Fishermans Bend Urban Renewal Area, which will be used in this and future posts.
Introducing the forum, Peter Mares set the scene. At 240 hectares, the FBURA is bigger than Docklands and Southbank combined. It is the largest urban renewal project in Australia - bigger than Barangaroo in Sydney. On the Melbourne planning scene, a new metropolitan strategy is anticipated.
Dr Rory Hyde kicked off the forum. That was appropriate. He has recently published Future Practice. Alone of all the speakers, he showed some familiarity with the area.  The current tabula rasa approach being taken denies what is actually happening in Fishermans Bend right now. He spoke about the creative energy constellating around Globe's refurbishment of the former Cadbury building in Fennell St. Instead of a staff canteen, the Salford Lads Club has got people flocking from around Melbourne and even walking across Williamstown Road - something that rarely happened before.  That has been followed by a barber, the Matilda Bay brewery and a vintage car race. Their approach has become a bit of a case study for the re-use of industrial buildings. He made the point that creative industries and the knowledge sector have a recognised role in urban renewal.
outside the Salford Lads Club, Fennell St, Port Melbourne
Rory also highlighted the influence of Fishermans Bend's underlying topography on future development scenarios. Port Places has always been fascinated by how the area's topography has influenced activities in Fishermans Bend since white settlement.  Unsuited to housing because of its sandy, swampy nature, Fishermans Bend's logistical advantages and proximity to the river made it well suited to the industrial focus of the post-war period. Those industrial uses have, in turn, left legacies of contamination that will add significantly to the cost of future development. In addition, the swampy character of the area will require expensive construction techniques which will likely lead to tower forms.
The creative industries are not only located in this part of Fishermans Bend. There is a very significant cluster of film related industries in the Montague precinct. These uses will be difficult to sustain with land value increases.
Hyde made the dire prediction that the (lack of) planning for the area 'will lead to the worst part of Melbourne ever to be built.'
It is the intention of generating community debate on the future of Fishermans Bend to ensure that doesn't happen.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Colour, cranes and mid-winter blue

This weekend, Jeffrey Smart died. The papers were full of his urban images. I love the strong colour in his work and that he addressed stark urban subjects, like containers. Colour was central to his work. This is in my mind as the Port of Melbourne Corporation invites people's views about crane colours as part of the Port expansion project. There are a bewildering 18 colour options offered. The Port of Melbourne's publications have always drawn on the very strong colours of gantry, container and ship. But it seems that at this stage the public's preferred option is for disguise, camouflage and grey. Don't know about you, but grey and camouflage communicate uncomfortably about navies and war. I much prefer to look the Port to look like the Port. The mid-winter sun on the Port this morning confirmed just how much I like that red.
Since we (in Port) are going to see quite a few of these gantries along the eastern side of Webb Dock, it is worth expressing an opinion on the crane colours since your opinion is being invited.
What do you prefer?
You can try out all the crane colour options at the Port's Capacity Project page and indicate your preference.

Down river from the Bolte Bridge

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Banks of the Yarra

Last week I loved listening to My Brown Yarra sung by Homebrew Verandah Music in Federation Square. If you don't know this affectionate homage to our River written by Frank Jones for the Whirling Furphies, the chorus is 'when I die, put me in a barra, wheel me down to the banks of the Yarra.'
Yesterday, I sat on Needles Beach on the banks of the Werribee River and this is what I saw.

Today, I positioned myself under the Westgate Bridge on this little beach to watch for the arrival of the new portainer cranes destined for Swanson Dock.
While waiting in the company of much more patient fishermen, I picked up just a fraction of what the river  conveyed to this little beach in last week's rain:  43 plastic bottles, these assembled straws and endless broken pieces of polystyrene - but no portainer cranes came into view.

The cranes are now coming up the river tomorrow at 13.30.
What you can do:
Pick up litter anywhere anytime to prevent in ending up in our beautiful river and bay and support the government's Cleaner Yarra River &Port Phillip Bay: A Plan of Action 

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

For sale: Montague

A property at 123 Montague Street is offered for sale by CBRE by international public expression of interest.
The property, advertised in today's Age, notes that an application for 680 apartments and 3,000 sqm of retail has been lodged.