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.