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How Melbourne Became The Most Liveable City In The World_____

How Melbourne Became The Most Liveable City In The World - Tract Consultants

How Melbourne Became The Most Liveable City In The World

An article written by Steve Calhoun and Helen Wellman has been featured in this months' PIA Planning News Magazine.

How Melbourne Became The Most Liveable City In The World: A Personal Journey by Steve Calhoun of Tract Consultants

Co-authored by Steve Calhoun & Helen Wellman

Melbourne 1976

Upon arriving in Melbourne in 1976 at the invitation of David Yencken for a one-year sabbatical (which became 40) I found the Melbourne I had come to was in the grip of a post-industrial malaise. I had just arrived after three years in Boston and five years in San Francisco, two of the US’s most progressive and vital cities.

Whilst Melbourne had a great structure of grand inner-city parks and river corridors, the CBD at that time was shabby. Southbank was made up of one and two story derelict factories and the foreshore along the urban edge of Port Phillip Bay was treeless, with water and sand washing over Beaconsfield Parade during storms.

Tract’s first major civic project was to prepare a Landscape Master Plan for the St Kilda Foreshore in 1979. Council’s engineer was preparing a plan to upgrade Beaconsfield Parade so that it was not subject to storm surges. Tract was invited to prepare the plan which eventually went from Station Pier in Port Melbourne to Elwood – making a cohesive whole from previously disjointed elements.

My colleague, co-director and friend to this day Dr Rodney Wulff and I, had both studied in the USA, and were trained in large-scale master-planning; skills we brought to the St Kilda Masterplan. Landscape Architecture was a nascent profession in Australia at the time.

The council implemented the plan in the early 80s. The Tract Masterplan included planting the entire length of Beaconsfield Parade and Jacka Boulevard with the hardy Canary Island Date Palm (Phoenix canariensis), to visually unify the foreshore, and stitch together pockets of public open space. The Palms all came from private gardens though a ‘donation’ scheme. The story was that the First World War diggers brought back palm seeds on their return and planted them in their gardens. Over time the palms became too large for suburban gardens and people were all too happy to donate them to the council for this purpose.

Melbourne 1980s

When John Cain’s Labor Party swept into power in 1982 they elected Evan Walker as the Planning Minister, who in turn appointed David Yencken as the Secretary of the Ministry for Planning and Environment for the Victorian Government, a position he held from 1982-87. Together the two of them created a vision for Melbourne that involved reinvigorating the Inner City and creating District Centres in the middle and outer city precincts to give Melbourne an urban structure.

The first major urban renewal project in the early 80s was Southbank. We were commissioned to develop a Masterplan that introduced the riverside promenade and Southbank Boulevard, reconceiving Southbank as a dynamic new precinct ‘of’ the city, rather than its industrial backyard. We then went on to be involved in a number of major projects along the river; Southgate and Riverside Quay, the cumulative effect of which was to create a new extension to the CBD, on the south side of the Yarra River.

Throughout the 80s Tract was involved in many inner-city projects which revitalized Melbourne. In addition to the Foreshore and Southbank they included;
  • Docklands Master Plan
  • The Tennis Centre
  • MCG Southern Stand Redevelopment
  • Melbourne Park
  • The Arts Precinct in Southbank
  • Lower Yarra Study
  • Port of Melbourne Study
  • Sandridge Master Plan
  • Bay Links Master Plan (linking the bay to the CBD and St Kilda Road - which was never implemented)
Melbourne 1990s

Jeff Kennett’s Liberal Party heavily defeated Labor in the Victorian State Election in 1985 on the back of ‘the recession Australia had to have’. To lift Melbourne out of its dire economic situation the Kennett government invested in a series of high-profile capital works projects to revitalise the city. We worked on a number of these, re-energising Melbourne in a cultural as well as economic sense. They included;
  • Docklands Redevelopment
  • CityLink Tollway
  • Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre
  • Museum of Victoria
  • National Gallery of Victoria Expansion
The New Millenium

Throughout the early years of the new millennia, the Tract team worked on numerous projects that contributed to Melbourne’s recurrent appointment as the ‘world’s most liveable city’. Each complex project we successfully completed opened up opportunities for new projects.

The Commonwealth Games Village, Royal Park, continued the large-scale urban planning & design work we had become known for.

We were the landscape architects and urban designers for the Eastern Freeway Extension and subsequent EastLink motorway. These two projects- which read as 2 stages of the one project, redefined the look and function of large infrastructure, creating a sculptural landscape within the freeway corridor and a series of connected parklands, wildlife habitat, and bio-remediation areas ‘outside’ the noise walls, for the community.

We worked on nature-based tourism projects, both publically and privately funded, such as
  • 12 Apostles Visitor Centre
  • Healesville Sanctuary
  • Vineyard Estates in the Yarra Valley
  • Domain Chandon
  • Tarrawarra
  • DiStasio
  • Medhurst
  • Levantine Hill
  • Balgownie
As part of the broader growth of Melbourne’s education sector, our work included numerous schools and universities, three Monash campuses, the University of Melbourne, and Deakin among them.

In the area of Housing, we enjoyed working with Merchant Builders to help them pioneer new ‘cluster code’ developments such as Vermont Park in Vermont, and Wintergarden in Doncaster. Subsequently it has been important to deliver innovative new communities on the urban periphery, middle suburbs and inner city, affecting the home environs of countless thousands of Melbourne residents.

This tally of 40 years of work demonstrates the cumulative effect of an opus. It is also interesting to reflect that the genesis and expansion of our team with these projects, has mirrored that of Landscape Architecture as a profession in Australia. It would be pleasing to assume that the majority of Melbournians have experienced our input into Melbourne’s liveability in some form – as a conduit for transport, during leisure, work, study, or through where they live.

The Future

In the forty years I have lived in Melbourne the population has doubled. It is predicted to double again in the next forty years. Melbourne can no longer continue to expand only outward. Increased urban density is inevitable, necessitating a shift in what we regard as the norm for housing and community development models in Melbourne.

Concurrently, household size (number of residents per house) is shrinking. Inner city apartments are prolific in number but typically modest in size, while outer urban house footprints are growing, filling their blocks, leaving little room for gardens and canopy trees.

One of the consequences of this is that the public domain will become increasingly important to urban dwellers.

The challenge for current and future generations of planners and designers of our built environment, is to optimise civic outcomes. Environmental remediation is critical to ameliorate the pressures urban dwellers bring upon ourselves, but while tree-lined boulevards provide amenity - it is really our social capital that defines our liveability.
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