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.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Carlins: 6 to 78 Buckhurst St

The Age's Marc Pallisco reported on Saturday 1 June that Carlins has lodged an application for a staged development of 4 towers,  the tallest of which will be 38 storeys, for their massive site on Buckhurst St. The proposed development includes 1023 flats.
The application, lodged on 27 May 2013,  is listed on the Minister's Planning Permit register with scant further information at this time.
As you can see from the photos below, the site is large and Buckhurst St is very wide. It was envisaged as the main street and community heart of Montague in the City of Port Phillip's plan for the suburb.
Since a different future to that imagined by Port Phillip is unfolding, where is a precinct plan to show the role of streets such as Buckhurst in the new Montague, and how positive community benefit will flow from the many developments now under consideration by the Minister for Planning?
Buckhurst St frontage

Buckhurst St frontage

cnr Kerr and Buckhurst St

Connecting Fishermans Bend with the rail network

Urban Melbourne responded to Jason Dowling's  article in The Age today on the future traffic load on the Westgate Bridge by highlighting the contribution that rail will and might make on these scenarios.
UM prefer PTV's  (Public Transport Victoria) long term plan for a connection from Southern Cross to Fishermans Bend - a Mernda to Fishermans Bend line - to a second bridge crossing.
PTV's plan says
The Fishermans Bend area will undergo significant redevelopment in the coming decades and become an important new hub in the expanding CBD. This area will need significant additional public transport capacity and connections as it develops and it is anticipated that the initial enhanced bus network will not be sufficient to support the longer term needs for passengers wishing to access the area. This project enables a fast and frequent train service to be provided [p130 of 140]
Urban Melbourne cautions against thinking that further road based projects will ease current or future congestion. However, given the current debate on the merits of the East-West Link relative to the Melbourne Metro, it is hard to muster any confidence that there is the vision or the will to plan for a liveable future for our great city.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Over the line

A pedestrian bridge used to cross the railway line here at the end of Boundary St. The piece of concrete in the foreground is all that remains of that bridge.
People would cross the line from densely populated Montague to work at Kitchens or Dunlops. I'm told it was called the Tipperary Bridge. At that time, the railway line was busy - so much busier than today - carrying freight as well as people.
When it came to be demolished, people occupied the bridge and were forcibly removed by authorities. Without the bridge, they had to walk round by Ingles Street to get to Boundary Street and the factories on the other side.
These two pictures that follow show the bridge as it was experienced by people living close by and from the air.
image Fred Nicholson

State Library of Victoria
The pedestrian bridge as well as the Railway Reserves and Dunlops can be seen in this aerial image - one of many by Charles Pratt. This image is just to tantalise you into following this link to see the image at a high resolution where you can explore the world of the photo by zooming in.
Do you have any recollections of this place?

Monday, May 6, 2013

This will be the site for a school

Following a sustained campaign by Two Schools Now, the Age brought the news on Sunday that money would be set aside in the state budget to purchase the site for a new school. In case you are not familiar with the site at 129-161 Ferrars St, here is a picture of the frontage of the site which is currently owned by Melbourne University.  The site is well located for South Melbourne, Southbank, Montague and public transport. The budget allocation is expected to be for the site acquisition and site planning. Further funding will be required to build the school by which time other developments in Montague will be well underway.
129-161 Ferrars St
Good news though this is, it is clear that there is still a long road ahead. Involving parents, community leaders and educators throughout the long gestation of the school will be important because this will not be a conventional school along familiar lines. It will be a school in a high rise high density context. Examples of other schools in such locations around the world will need to be explored for relevance and adaptation to this context. The site is surrounded by many potential high rise development sites. It makes sense that all developments being planned and their surroundings should be child and family friendly. Every new development near the site should now actively consider its proximity to the school in the analysis of the site context. The interfaces of the new residential developments to Ferrars St will need to be pedestrian friendly and entry points to garages will need to be thought through. The current approach is driving the kids to school will not be an option in this location. That means that even though the site is very well situated for the 96 tram route, the access and approaches will need to be strengthened and made safe for pedestrians. The processes for establishing not just a building but a community around Albert Park Secondary College are a good starting point for this long haul towards a new model school of excellence for the future.
All this suggests that community involvement in a precinct plan for Montague that considers community infrastructure, open space and access and movement networks is essential.
See also Shaun Carney's excellent piece in this morning's Herald Sun

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Looking towards the future

At three quarter time when it looked like Port could never come back, the late afternoon sun shone on North Port Oval. The Norm Goss stand is a great place to contemplate the current and future shape of Montague and Fishermans Bend - with the former Kitchens industrial complex in the foreground and the towers of Yarra's Edge behind.
While thus distracted, Port went on to beat the Casey Scorpions 15.11.101 to 14.14.98. What was it that Gary Ayres said at the three quarter time break when Port was four goals down?

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Where is ... FBURA?

Well, having established that it is not Fishermans Bend as locally understood, but the Fishermans Bend Urban Renewal Area, where is it exactly?
Follow this link to the former Department of Planning and Community Development map.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

What's in a name and does it matter?

There's a bit of confusion over terminology. The name Fishermans Bend itself has been the subject of debate over the years. Fisherman or Fishermen? Allan Meiers, in his book Fisherfolk of Fishermans Bend offers this definition: 'Fishermans Bend: A term used by Sandridge Council to designate all the land bounded by the seashore at Hobsons Bay, the northermost bend of the Yarra River and Boundary St which divides South Melbourne and Port Melbourne'(piv) The Register of Geographic Names VICNAMES has it definitively registered as Fishermans Bend with some interesting historical information about the fishermen who lived there in the early days. Even this apparently neutral entry is a red rag to Port Melbourne as Fishermans Bend is listed as being in the municipality of Melbourne.
The Minister for Planning, Matthew Guy, has thrown a bit of confusion into local minds by the designation and delineation of the Fishermans Bend Urban Renewal Area - beginning to be known as FBURA. As understood locally, Fishermans Bend also covers some of the established residential areas of Port Melbourne including the Fishermans Bend estate - yet they are clearly not contemplated to be part of the FBURA. To add to the confusion, Montague is included within the FBURA. Speak to any person who grew up in Montague and they will be fierce in defense of its being a place in its own right - never having been part of Port Melbourne. While Montague was in South Melbourne's jurisdiction, it was most definitely first and foremost Montague.
Where it does begin to matter is when it if put forward as a design rationale for a development.
Thanks to Urban Melbourne for giving the opportunity to look at the  proposal for 132-134 Ferrars St in some detail. The amazing visualisation technology available today even shows the retained street trees in Thistlethwaite St. The architects, Rothe Lowman*, say that the major driver for the design was the early name for South Melbourne, Emerald Hill.
That inspiration is quite misconceived and suggests a lack of understanding of the historical and geographical context of the site.  Every single description of Montague calls up its relationship to the Yarra River as does the planning report. The proximity to the river drives the above ground carparking, and the anticipated sea level rise.  Montague was always prone to flooding, many of its residents worked on South Wharf - Montague was definitely a river place.  Emerald Hill, by contrast and and by definition was a hill. In those days (and perhaps in the future too), those topographical distinctions really mattered.
And is it just me? I thought emeralds were green, not purple but I wouldn't know since I've never owned one.
Sources and further information
The Fisherfolk of Fishermans Bend is available from the Port Melbourne Town Hall Assist counter or directly from the Port Melbourne Historical and Preservation Society.
*also architects for Aqueous apartments in Nott St, Port Melbourne

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Proposal for 134 - 142 Ferrars St fails the test, 1

134 - Ferrars St, cnr Ferrars and Thistlethwaite St, Montague
Not unexpectedly, the Port Phillip Council did not support the proposal for a 49 storey development at 134 - 142 Ferrars St, and has asked the Minister for Planning to refuse the application.
Not unexpected because the proposal failed the Council's assessment on a range of tests - most importantly that it greatly exceeded the height and scale preferred in the Council's adopted Montague Structure Plan. The environmental performance of the proposal was not considered adequate.
The proposal was assessed against the Montague Structure Plan in the absence of a plan for the Fishermans Bend Urban Renewal Area (FBURA). There is also no development contribution plan in place. The planning report recommended that no permit should be granted until such a plan is in place and added that 'this is preferable than piecemeal agreements between the Minster for Planning and developers, which may result in ad-hoc, uncoordinated and inconsistent works within the FBURA.'
Port Phillip Council's adopted Precinct Structure Plan is sensitive to the fine grain of the Montague precinct - of which more in future posts on Port Places.

Never has there been such wholehearted support for urban renewal as in the Montague area - it is the scale, integration and coherence of the precinct that is the issue.
Minister Guy told the Herald Sun on Wednesday 24th April that "We are deeply worried about liveability in some of our outer urban areas in places that we've inherited, which had no infrastructure upgrades for a decade or so"
Observers are equally concerned that liveability is created in the FBURA. Liveability is not an artifact in itself, but the product of a range of attributes. Considering one application in isolation when there are another 21* apparently in the pipeline in the absence of any plan for development contribution, cumulative impact, community facilities and streetscape improvements does not give confidence that liveability is being created here.
*Marc Pallisco The Age 27 April 2013

Friday, April 26, 2013

125-133 Thistlethwaite Street

The property, zoned Capital City Zone (CCZ1), was sold on the 24 April for $4.2m.
Lemon Baxter described the property as representing "an unprecedented future high rise development opportunity. Similar sites within the area are proposing applications for high rise of between 21-50 Levels (STPA)."

As reported by Marc Pallisco in The Age on April 20, 2013 the "Thistlethwaite Street site is the first offered for auction in Montague since last year's Capital City 1 rezoning. The agents expect $4m which would reflect a land rate of about $3,300 a square metre. Before the rezone, the rate per square metre of land was about $2,000."

Sunday, April 21, 2013


I am first and foremost a Port (Melbourne) person.

I heard that massive change is ahead at Montague. So I thought I'd cross the border from Port and get to know the place - as it is now, and as it was in the near and more distant past.
My journey begins at Boundary St - the former border between Port and Montague.

I'll keep you posted on my travels, and also on any planning news I read along the way.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Fishermans Bend in the news, 1

Lord Mayor Robert Doyle wants the City of Melbourne to take planning control of the Fishermans Bend area, according to an article in today's Age.