Getting the most out of your architect (at the outset)

EDIT_Corner

Architects that work with local government project managers are part of the team charged with delivering public works for the community. As such, a focus on working effectively with architects and designers can help to minimise time, expenditure and professional frustration for the benefit of the project and everyone involved.

As a director and project architect in a boutique practice whose raison d’etre is to serve the public, we hold the same values as local government and are grateful to be able to work for the community.

For the most efficient and successful building projects, the following points warrant careful consideration:

• how to work with your architect to develop the brief (only once!)

• other skills and expertise your architect has that go beyond ‘building design’

• why each project needs a ‘guardian angel’.

Recently, on local government projects of varying scale in sports, public infrastructure, community, and early childhood and health services, I have been working closely with local government project managers. These professionals are fundamentally at the coalface of delivering projects for their constituents. Their role cannot be understated!

I have the privilege of working with project managers who have come from a range of building and design professions, some who come from a hands-on building and trades background, and others who have practiced as architects and designers on large city-building projects. Regardless of their background, the best project managers come with a lot of experience, and also a unique way of doing things that is related to their professional and project experience.

EDIT_Outdoor Play

Notwithstanding the levels of administration and reporting they must generally adhere to, project managers are fundamentally the ones responsible for delivering to their community. They also have a lot on their plate and, in my experience, they appreciate as much help as they can get!

I’ve also tendered on a lot of local government projects, with varying levels of success. Most local government organisations engage with professional services outside their walls to provide professional design, documentation and procurement services. Sometimes this is out of need, as they don’t have the expertise in-house, and sometimes it’s driven by commercial and derisking imperatives, which makes sense given the number of ratepayers and the amount of money allocated to civic services.

When it comes to new capital projects, the project managers reading this article will know better than the author, but there are usually months, even years, of planning, feasibility, investigation and conversations to work out where the community need is, and where ratepayer funds might be best spent on new projects. Often, project managers, in conjunction with their service departments and relevant community stakeholders, will put together a document like a functional brief. This is usually well before they have engaged any external architects.

Functional briefs are usually very prescriptive, quantitative documents, and this is intentional. Their tone is quite factual. They often come with minimum sizes for certain types of rooms, and design principles that are not industry standard. These documents are a great starting point for preparing a return brief; but when they are treated like a project Bible, a disconnect between architects and project managers can occur.

FCCDBV Com Engage

Above: Community engagement seminar for Belvedere Community & Child Centre (author centre).

Getting something in writing from the client on the outset is great – I wish more clients did this. On some of my smaller projects, I ask clients to fill out a questionnaire before I meet them. We always write a return brief and ask the client to sign this off before we start design work. I see this questionnaire as a living document that is written in partnership with the client, not just created by my team. The purpose of this process is to understand the client’s expectations about what the project is, and it also gives us design guidelines about what we are working on. Often, through the process of roundtable discussions with the project client group and stakeholders, different ideas and approaches come up. As independent advisers, architects can ask the difficult or unspoken questions in the room, getting to the crux of what a project actually needs, what a project could be, and how a project could contribute to its urban and social context into the future. Writing a return brief in partnership with the project client group is as much about confirming the quantitative (the functional), as it is about confirming the qualitative (the pragmatic, and the other intangible qualities that are desired).

There are also financial incentives attached to the return brief. If you have signed your architect’s return brief, and if, during the design process, you as project manager have asked them to change or add programmatic items not previously discussed, commercial-minded architects could use this as an opportunity to claim a variation for cost and time because the nature of the work has changed from what was previously agreed; however, on the flipside, if the architect has not addressed items specifically listed in the brief, unless there are
mitigating factors as to why this was the case, having a return brief is for your benefit.

Even when my team has designed a fantastic building that’s within budget and program, it’s not up to me to decide whether a project gets built or not. Clients are the ones that drive this. Celebrated Melbourne-based architect Adj. Prof. Peter Elliott AM says that as much as a project needs someone to lead it, public projects need a guardian angel to really help them along. These are the people behind the scenes who believe that the design is worthy of getting built, and do everything within their power to make it happen. Project sponsors fulfil this role, but project managers can also step into the breach and get behind a project.

EDIT_Entry Courtyard Open

Your architectural team will ask difficult questions to challenge expectations with long-term thinking in mind. Working in a conscious partnership with your architect when writing your next project brief will result in the best outcomes for your professional team and the local community.

Redmond Hamlett is a director of Woollan Hamlett Architects Pty Ltd. The company specialises in community, education and small projects. For more information phone 0414 838 317 or visit www.woollanhamlett.com.au.

Article originally published in the Australian Local Government Yearbook, Edition 26 2019.

Apple at Federation Square – State Government Response

Dear Reader,

See below the response to my open letter to the Premier regarding the proposed Apple Store at Federation Square. Make what you think of the response from John Eren MP.

fed square gov response page 1

fed square gov response page 2

In the meantime, our friends at ‘Our City, Our Square’ are taking meaningful action to raise awareness about why our state government needs to listen to the people, rather than lobbyists when it comes to the decision making for public projects which have strong community interest. Will keep you posted.

Open letter to The Premier

Att: The Honorable Daniel Andrews, MP

Re: Apple Store proposal at Federation Square

Dear Sir,

I am writing to you to seek the immediate reversal of the State Government’s proposal to demolish the Yarra Building at the Federation Square Precinct in place for a new Apple Store, as announced on your Facebook feed on 20/12/2017. We as Victorians deserve to have our cultural institutions and public places, regardless of their age, protected for the use and enjoyment of future generations, but we also deserve to have our say. Based on what Victorians are saying on social media, my take is that the electorate understands public land and places such as Federation Square are places where communal cultural memory and history is made through the cultural activities that occur, and that they are for the public good first and foremost, above all over interests.

The announcement to demolish the Yarra Building runs counter to this understanding, and shows that the State Government is prepared to sell both the process (considered urban design with the involvement of the public) and the product (leaseable commercial retail space) to the highest bidder and not acknowledge that this building sits within a context which has generated significant cultural capital since opening in 2002.

There are several issues I want to raise with you for your consideration.

1) Expressions of Interest from Design Teams to submit Concept Designs for shortlist by an Independent Panel

Federation Square is probably the most significant public space in Melbourne, and any future works and proposals are worthy of a considered response from Design Teams best able to deliver these. Obviously this shouldn’t be limited to that of Melbourne or nation-wide practices, as was the case with the recent Flinders Street Train Station redesign proposal, or the original Design Competition for Federation Square held by the State Government in 1998. The State Government has several precedents for holding an EOI and design competition process for significant public buildings.

If the State Government took the time to produce a Request for EOI, which includes writing a design brief, budget and timelines for the project, at least Design Teams can compete on an equal playing field based the RFEOI information and respond appropriately.

Futhermore this type of process gives the proposals the opportunity for critique and review by peers in the profession but also accept public submissions. Obviously the original architects LAB would be part of that selection panel. The current proposal is devoid of this process, and sets a worrying precedent for future public projects in the State.

2) Selection of Fosters and Partners as Lead Consultant

Notwithstanding all of the above, there is an elite design and architecture culture here in Melbourne. You would be familiar with who the main firms are that work on projects of this scale and public significance. The size of the architectural practice doesn’t necessarily lead to the design success of the project, but even so the smaller practices that enter design competitions for significant public buildings would all have their own love or hate of Federation Square, but at the very least an appreciation of the cultural context which the precinct sits within and has generated over the years by virtue of their immersed experience.

As Donald Bates pointed out in the Sydney Morning Herald on 21/12/2017, the everyday experience of Federation Square as casual waypoint, where the lines between civic and cultural life are blurred – it is seen as a in-between destination from the train to the footy, or to the gallery, or wherever. Design Professionals from Victoria have an experience of this, they would understand this and have an appreciation of this notion.

On an economic level, selecting a local firm keeps high-skilled jobs in the country, and this idea is easy for any politician to sell.

3) Design Response of the proposal ignores the context

The Yarra Building acts as something of a shield of the view of the main SBS / ACMI buildings from the Yarra River approach, and creates a sense of surprise when we move from inside and outside of the precinct from this approach.

The new design could be described as a modernist pagoda, a pavilion style building that is outward looking and through the use of extensive glazing and slim lines is elegant in its presentation – if it were viewed in isolation. But the context is messy, disjointed, maybe even a bit ugly! The buildings at the precinct somehow come together with complex geometries, and the Yarra Building is part of the equation – the success of the design is because of the sum of its parts rather than any individual building standing out.

Apple Fed Square

The current design for the Apple Store could be described as being sympathetic to its context in its simplicity, but it is an easily repeatable design. You could locate this building pretty much anywhere – what is it exactly that makes this building special to its place and cultural context?

Let me put it another way – McDonalds, Aldi, Bunnings, Safeway et al do a very good job of being able to set up shop reasonably quickly with their own off-the-self store designs. There is a level of familiarity here when we approach these buildings, they all give their customers some kind of reassurance. We all know as soon as we pass the Golden Arches, (or the Gable End Roof at Bunnings, complete with trellis facade) that they know what they are getting into – goods and services at great prices, complete with guarantees and assurances. However, none of these buildings respond to their place or cultural context – only in that they offer goods and services in exactly the same way that their fellow stores do.

Bunnings Fed Square

So again, I ask the question what is it that makes the Apple Store special to its place and cultural context? What place does it have to be at Federation Square in its own specific building on this scale?

Commercial business are not incongruous with the Federation Square precinct – it has always been part of the makeup of activities here, but businesses have managed to fit their operations within the existing architecture and urban environment. Over the last few years I have noticed food trucks and “pop-up” stores open shop on the Flinders Street plaza and steps, and these are great for civic engagement. If the Yarra Building is in need of alterations for a future tenant, then Apple or any other business could fit into the space and still maintain the existing conditions and design integrity of the precinct. Rather than total demolition of the Yarra Building, re-purposing it could be seen as an environmental act – this would save a lot of money in capital costs and still get the State Government the same result, and the overall precinct is maintained.

4) Apple is a successful business, they don’t need State support

There is more than ample leasable commercial within Melbourne CBD. It truly seems redundant to write this, Apple do not qualify as a business that is in need of State support to establish a premises in the city.

I am sure they can find a tax-positive way to find a suitable, centrally located tenancy in the CBD so they can continue to sell their products – without the need for State support. I own an iPhone 6+ and it’s a great piece of technology, for which I was prepared to pay. But surely supporting a successful business which pays dividends to its shareholders is not a great investment for the State Government.

The State Government’s proposal for the Apple Store design by Foster and Partners has completely ignored the public consultation process that most, if not, all significant public building projects go through. The public has a great deal of cultural capital invested in the Federation Square precinct, and this includes the Yarra Building. Furthermore your announcement for the project days before Christmas has not given the Design profession ample time for the project to be critically assessed, and assumes that public submissions will not be accepted. It appears the goal here is to get something done, quickly, for the benefit of a multinational business, rather than doing the right thing by all concerned.

If demolishing the Yarra Building is the intent, then the State has the opportunity to have a truly great piece of architecture that acknowledges the context by taking a few steps back and conducting a thorough Expression of Interest for Design Concept Competition rather than rushing the process.

Federation Square is a much loved and much used precinct, the public deserves a considered response to maintain the cultural heritage this space will continue to build.

Yours sincerely,

Redmond Hamlett

Thursday 28th December 2017

ArchiTEAM Awards 2017

Hi,

We were recently shortlisted for the ArchiTEAM Awards 2017, and the winner have been announced.

In the Unbuilt Category, we entered the Gasworks Arts Park – Courtyard Refresh

V1-1 revised

In the Contribution Category, we entered our essay “Hipsters join the Westside Tribe”.

eff off

We had a lot of fun in entering and thoroughly enjoyed the awards evening. Thank you to Mr Sophanara Sok for the renderings. All the entries were excellent. Congratulations to the winners and commendation recipients.

Designing with the child in mind

KM_C308-20160804165533

When considering the development of a new childcare centre, it is vitally important that the design takes into account the needs of children, and can work above the minimum requirements to assist educations in delivering the best possible outcomes for children.  The ultimate goal when designing a new center is to create a nurturing environment for children away from home.

Before you begin

There are several questions you, a would-be developer of a childcare centre, might ask yourself right at the start.  These include: what is the typical family size in the area, is there likely to be population growth here and what is the economic profile?  Before progressing with site selection and design, you must ensure that there is a high demand for your future centre in your chosen area, and that population growth is likely to occur.

The design

Designing a new childcare centre is only as straightforward as the brief that is developed between the client and their architect, so it’s important that you choose a professional with whom you can establish clear communication.
When thinking about the design of a space, we often ask our educational clients what pedagogical model they use, and we think about how the chosen pedagogy is represented in the design. Often, it is the small things, such as colour and material choices, which emphasise natural environments, or the framing of views to the outdoors.

It can also be the big things, like giving children choices as to which space they want to be in for their learning and play. Choice gives children the opportunity to take their own decisions about their learning, and this ultimately develops independence and confidence.

The concept of choices can be reflected in other aspects of the design, too. Small nooks are not just places for children to find respite, they could be used as places to keep toys, or read a book with other children and staff. Bag stores and lockers are not just for storage, but could be used by staff as mustering points. Versatile spaces also allow for the varied use of learning aids and equipment, with sufficient storage imperative.

When planning the entry area, it’s easy to think it as simply a reception point for families and deliveries, but you could also think of it as a ‘community hub’.  Have somewhere for parents and staff to relax; fill it with children’s artwork and information; and provide viewing windows into the childcare rooms and the outdoor play areas if possible – parents will love watching their child play happily. Create a space that encourages parents to meet up and socialise, and all of a sudden, you have a welcoming community hub, not just a reception area.

Of course, regardless of the design, childcare centres need to be robust and clean in nature so that they can be hygienically maintained, and can withstand the everyday activities of children.

Repurposed buildings

All sorts of existing buildings can be repurposed to suit a new use as a childcare centre– I’ve even worked on turning a former cinema into a new early education facility! One of the arguments for the repurposing approach is that it is environmentally sustainable – adaptive re-use of an existing structure and materials is a form of recycling.

A building’s former use is also a great way to frame your overall design concepts – try scratching the surface to find out if your building has an interesting history. If your design team is deft enough, they can convey this history to the children, thereby making the building the third teacher!

KM_C308-20160805145953

A child’s perspective

As designers, we make a conscious effort to see from the child’s perspective; we believe that a sense of familiarity and a home-like environment is the least we can provide for our youngest users, helping to put them at ease.

For the child, the childcare centre represents the beginning of the lifelong learning that occurs outside of the home. To nurture this early learning, the architecture and design of childcare centres needs to comprise a combination of residential and
educational spaces.

Now, by ‘residential’, I simply mean that spaces need to feel somehow familiar, and therefore comfortable, to their users. While you might struggle to remember what you did last week, you can probably remember your first day at school or even child care. How fond that memory is probably has something to do with the quality of the space.

As an example, in the cinema adaptation project I mentioned earlier, existing windows were far too high, and the children could not look out onto the bay. Lowering the sill height was a simple solution to give the children views to the outdoors and beyond.  The same principle can be applied to your reception desk – using a low desk allows children to better communicate with frontline staff.  Seeing the design from a child’s perspective helps you create a centre that offers children a sense of ownership

Consider your site, your target market and staff ratios; how your space offers all the functional requirements; your educational objectives; and how you will create a sense of safety and familiarity and you’ll have the right ingredients to a successful childcare centre!

About the author

Redmond Hamlett is a Director of Woollan Hamlett Architects based in West Melbourne. The firm specialises in education facilities, including childcare
centres and schools. For more information, visit www.woollanhamlett.com.au

Article originally published in Belonging Magazine, November 2017 Volume 6 No 3.

Merchant Builders Rectangle House Review

As part of the Robin Boyd Foundation open day for the Merchant Builders Vermont Park housing estate, we were invited to write a short review of one of the houses.  We had the privilege of meeting the owners of the Rectangle House to learn about their story and why this example of housing typology should be revisited in the current market.

Robin Boyd Vermont Park_FINAL PRINT.pdf

Robin Boyd Vermont Park_FINAL PRINT.pdf

Robin Boyd Vermont Park_FINAL PRINT.pdf

Robin Boyd Vermont Park_FINAL PRINT.pdf

OR read it here

Hipsters join the westside tribe

Words by Redmond Hamlett

Dear Reader,

On 2 January 2017, it was reported that several popular eateries and bars in Footscray had been vandalised, including the perennially successful 8 Bit Burgers on Droop Street, and Up In Smoke on Hopkins Street. 8 Bit had the warm new year’s welcome gift of 14 smashed windows and the words “F*ck off hipster scum” spray-painted on their entrance. Meanwhile, another popular coffee haunt Rudimentary had rotten meat thrown into their premises. The stench of it was so bad it took the staff several days to remove [1].

eff off hipster scum

Source: heraldsun.com.au

This wasn’t the first instance of vandalism to a new hospitality business in the area.  Littlefoot Bar reported that anti-gentrification stickers had been pasted on their facade shortly after opening in 2015. Some of these had messages like, “People said it was too dangerous to live here, but you can actually find a couple of nice cafes now”. These stickers stopped shortly after the owners posted their own story about being a local family of 8 years and wanting to start a bar on Barkly Street where none had previously existed.

I’ve tried three out of four of these businesses (sorry Littlefoot, I’m a bit of a dag to be hanging out late at night drinking whiskey and listening to groovy music), and the products and services they offer are of a very high standard, with price points to match. Clearly their success shows that the price point is appropriate for the market they are targeting.

Reading about these acts, I feel awful for the owners of these businesses and can only imagine how hard they worked to establish themselves. Who exactly are the “hipster scum”? Do they mean me? (Probably). And what does ”hipster” even mean? Is that like saying “yuppie”? What does that even mean? That could mean anybody.

The great minds on the Urban Happiness: University of Melbourne Facebook group got talking about these incidents, and most were in agreement about how senseless the vandalism was. Others saw it as an act of protest by locals resisting social change and gentrification. I suggested that perhaps if businesses such as these weren’t charging $25 for fries, milkshake and teeny burgers, maybe more people could try them and incidents like this wouldn’t occur so often, or at all. But observations like this miss the important issues. Another clever comment from another user was that just because people like $2000 Prada bags, it doesn’t mean every suburb needs a Prada shop.

Everyone knows that Footscray has a rich culinary history, and a wide range of food from the Asian and African continents can be enjoyed with much gusto at a range of price points (usually between $9 and $14 for a large, satisfying main meal). Until the untimely demise of the Little Saigon Market, it was possible to enjoy all manner of Asian dishes with a side of rice for under $12, and usually with an entree (mung bean pie or crispy fried squid) or a drink.

It could be said that the hamburger was once part of the everyday suburban food experience, but at its core is a symbol of US imperialism; selling and consuming such things only prolongs this hegemony. Until the recent gourmet burger proliferation, burgers have been a fast food that is accessible to anyone, along with meat pies, pizza and, of course, ”Friday night fish n chips”. So, what is under attack here? Is it the individual businesses, or the culture they represent? Our culture has been formed out of many, including American. Let’s set aside the hegemonic hamburgers and look at the bigger issues here.

Gentrification is widely accepted as the process of a new socio-economic group moving into a suburb alongside the established cohort, and when too much of this occurs to quickly, the result is that the existing cohort moves elsewhere. Gentrification can result in a change of place, a change of demographics and an increase in property prices. An immediate effect of this is new businesses popping up and attracting new customers, and new financial and social capital, which gives life to existing buildings and streetscapes that have been in disrepair, therefore contributing to ”civic literacy”, where everyone can take ownership of the space by engaging with the place [2].

Maribyrnong City Council (MCC) has been actively trying to promote Footscray as a town that is “open for business” through attracting new businesses to enliven the streets, but also by moving the ”undesirables” along [3]. Footscray has a reputation for being a rough place. At its most benign, it’s viewed as a post-industrial town coming out of a decline, and at its worst, as a town with a reputation for street violence and drug abuse, regularly frequented by transient people with antisocial habits. MCC has been trying to improve Footscray by changing the street-furniture and urban design in Nicholson Street and near the train station, which is cleaner and well lit at night to discourage people from hanging around in public. Private sector enterprises (both commercial and social) have been embraced and are changing the area by bringing in new customers and new activity.

Dr Maree Pardy, social and cultural anthropologist, has described MCC’s approach as ”vengeful with a cappuccino”![4]. The ”undesirables” who used to have somewhere to meet are being moved away, and MCC gets what it wants: new business that activates the street frontages and brings in new residents, and new trade. But these approaches fail to recognise the causes of anti-social behaviour in the first instance and/or why they come to Footscray [4], and this is where local and state government need to step in and help in a big way, or get behind social enterprises that can.

Dr Pardy also talks about the fact that the visceral (or voyeuristic?) experience of meeting familiar faces and watching people is probably lost as a result of council’s clean-up. The Wominjeka Tarnuk Yooroom rock sculpture, meaning ”welcome bowl”, was much derided as a waste of money by the Traders’ Association when completed in 2013, on the corner of Paisley and Nicholson streets. The artwork fulfills the meeting place aspect, but without offering shade for hot and wet days. In fact, the whole Nicholson Street Mall is without decent shelter from the elements. Even though the mist of water that sprays from a few of the rocks is a welcome relief on a summer’s day, this is annoying for the remaining three seasons of the year; the sculpture, therefore, has a tinge of the vengeful.

Welcome Bowl

Source: maribyrnong.vic.gov.au

If the vandals targeting these four businesses are class warriors trying to resist demographic changes in the area, they have missed the boat by at least 5 years – the residential property prices and rates of growth tell us that Footscray is now firmly on the radar of first-home buyers trying to get a bargain. It might be a coincidence that these businesses all popped up around 2015; the 2015-16 financial year demonstrated an 18% jump in the median 2 bedroom house price, from $627K to $745K [4].

Between 2010 and 2012, Footscray and the surrounding suburbs of Seddon ($875K), Yarraville ($865K) and West Footscray ($721K) all had either steady or no growth, but since 2012 have had about 11% growth per year (obviously from differing median house prices)[6 & 7]. Consider further that the median 2 bedroom house price in inner city Melbourne is $1.336 million. Footscray offers a lot of housing close to the city and is well-serviced by public amenities for considerably less money than other areas that have a strong multicultural working-class background, such as Brunswick ($899K), Richmond ($1,119 million) & Flemington ($875K) [8]. The steady growth in Footscray, Seddon and West Footscray is a reflection of the popularity of the area and its affordability – or rather, they are less expensive than all the other options.

I see Footscray as being relatively self-contained compared to other inner city suburbs that enjoy cultural spill-over (Collingwood, Fitzroy and Abbottsford, and Brunswick, Coburg and Preston) by virtue of being located close to the Port of Melbourne, bounded by the Maribyrnong River and Old Geelong Road, and surrounded by manufacturing and industrial complexes to the east and south. Even the rest of Melbourne shares this impression – a current series of postcards published by Public Transport Victoria promoted the suburb with a design aesthetic straight out a 1930s travel magazine, making the Footscray Market appear like an oasis in a dense jungle.

come-to-footscray

Source: Photo by author

The bike ride I take most days between the city and Footscray is either via Dynon or Footscray roads – the greyfields that separate the rest of Melbourne from Footscray. Regardless of its isolation from artistic hotspots, there’s no shortage of creative happenings. The locals create their own artistic (Footscray Community Arts Centre) and creative (100 Story Building) opportunities. Perhaps this is why the place feels very tribal, for want of a better word, and residents want to protect that as much as possible. A great example of this was seen during the Grand Final, when picket fences all around the west were pained in Western Bulldogs red, white and blue.

The class warriors vandalising a few small businesses are prepared to act in an ugly way to protect their westside “tribe”. The west offers some of this city’s few remaining suburbs where it is still possible for the average Melbournian to own their own home in a vibrant and diverse area within 10km of the cbd. In the mind of the vandal, you have to match the reputation of Footscray to join the tribe, otherwise you are a threat. Frankly, asking new businesses, or even new residents, to “prove their rep” so they can be accepted is childish in the extreme! What I would say about these businesses is that start-up ventures such as these could easily have failed, and surely the proprietor’s struggle is admirable. They don’t need to prove how much of a Westie they are because they obviously love the suburb and are doing their best to add to its diversity.

In simple terms, the benefits of these new businesses to Footscray are:

  • They offer a variety of goods and services at different price points.
  • They provide new employment opportunities that previously did not exist (and not just for those who work there, but for professionals and tradespersons facilitating opening their premises).
  • They pay council rates and taxes.

But what do these businesses actually do for the street?

  • Late night trading makes streets safer for pedestrians and residents at night.
  • They add a sense of vitality, movement and progression: there is somewhere to go.
  • They contribute to an enriched urban experience and civic literacy.

So, I wouldn’t say that bad gentrification has occurred here in Footscray… yet. In The Life and Death of American Cities, journalist Jane Jacobs says that a little bit of gentrification is good for all the positives listed earlier, but that too much means the existing diversity is stamped out, and the only choice for existing residents is to move on[9]. In the case of Footscray, perhaps it is just that some of the negative effects of gentrification have occurred sooner than anticipated: for instance the sharp increase in property values, further dividing those who own and those who rent. Of course, expensive niche food and drink such as $6 cold-drip coffee doesn’t appeal to everyone, nor is it readily accessible to all residents. Cost differences aside, the fact that these things exist alongside $10.50 burgers, $9 bowls of pho and $12 platters of beyaynetu in this wonderful, crazy place means our new “hipster” cafes are making a bigger contribution to diversity than they probably thought.

Redmond Hamlett is a Director of Woollan Hamlett Architects

Article originally published in Urban Melbourne, Tuesday 17th January 2017

1 – Manix, Liam, Bag of meat thrown into Hipster cafe in Footscray, (03/01/2017), The Age, Fairfax Media, Docklands, Australia, accessed 05/01/2017, http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/rotten-bag-of-meat-thrown-at-hipster-cafe-in-footscray-20170103-gtl8yr.html

2 – Storring, Nathan, Jane Jacobs on Gentrification, (29/10/2014) accessed 05/01/2017, http://www.nathanstorring.com/2014/10/29/jane-jacobs-on-gentrification.

3Pardee, Maree, Happiness, Optimism & Revenge (2012), The University of Melbourne School of Gender Studies, School of Social and Political Sciences, Parkville, Australia, p. 6.

4 – Ibid, p. 8.

5 – Footscray Suburb Profile & Property Market Trends, (2016), Domain Group, accessed 6/1/17 https://www.domain.com.au/suburb-profile/footscray-vic-3011

6 – Seddon Suburb Profile & Property Market Trends, (2016) Domain Group, accessed 06/01/2017, https://www.domain.com.au/suburb-profile/seddon-vic-3011

7 – West Footscray Profile & Property Market Trends, (2016), Domain Group, accessed 06/01/2017, https://www.domain.com.au/suburb-profile/west-footscray-vic-3012

8 – Median House Price Data for Melbourne, (2016), The Real Estate Institute of Victoria Ltd, Camberwell, Australia, accessed 06/01/2017, http://www.reiv.com.au/property-data/median-prices/median-house-prices.

9 – Jacobs, Jane, The Life & Death of American Cities (1961), Random House, New York, p. 243

10 – Carmody, Broede, Footscray restaurant’s windows smashed twice in one week as residents fear ‘class war‘, (07/01/2017), The Age, Fairfax Media, Docklands, Australia, accessed 07/01/2017, http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/footscray-restaurants-windows-smashed-twice-in-one-week-as-residents-fear-class-war-20170107-gtni55.html

Paid parking – not quite the death of retail

Dear readers you may recall last November we had some fisticuffs in Footscray, just like in the good old days, or so some might think. Maribyrnong City Councilors Cr Nam Quach and Cr Grant Miles were assaulted by two angry crowd members, upset by the outcome of a vote on paid parking in Yarraville Village. There is video footage showing attendees being herded away from the scene after the bedlam, while someone yells, “You are a dead man!” to Cr Miles in the chamber [1].

I felt disgusted after reading this: a feeling widely shared online, including on the Facebook forum “Inner West Buy Swap Sell”. I had a notion that this sort of behavior belongs in a different time and place, not here in Footscray, much less Melbourne.

Later when the dust settled Council placed a moratorium on paid parking in both Yarraville and Footscray until February 29th 2016, uundoubtedly in response to the events at the November meeting, and in the interest of fairness to both activity areas. The suspension of paid parking is understood to create a $600,000 deficit in the Council’s operating budget, as a result of which reduced spending on services and/or cuts in new projects appear likely. [8]

Regardless of what anyone might think about the Council’s process on implementing paid parking on a popular shopping strip, or whether it is even warranted, clearly we as Melbournians need to talk maturely about the elephant in the room – we all hate how cars degrade our environment, and how dependent on them we are; until, of course, we get in one.

After the melee at Council, a spokesperson for the “No Paid Parking” (NPP) group appeared on ABC News 24 suggesting Yarraville has experienced an economic downturn compared to other activity centres since the introduction of paid parking, and that Councilors provoked the melee by “smirking” after the vote [2]. Yet Yarraville, in theory, has sufficient housing density and residents within walking distance to support the types of businesses that operate here. Implementing paid parking should have little impact on business.

SJB Urban’s research piece ‘Shall We Dense’ [3], questions the state government’s Melbourne 2030 housing policy and provides recommendations on dwelling density to support new activity centres. The premise is that the greater housing density, the greater the economic growth for businesses, and the better the potential for social cohesion. They recommend that high-density housing within about 500 metres of a retail centre is enough to support thriving businesses, without relying on customers travelling by car.

NPP made the claim that since paid parking was implemented in September 2014, traders in Yarraville are defaulting on their mortgages, and small businesses have been going under[2]. Where is the evidence to support this claim?

NPP also talked about business booming in the nearby Yarraville Square, which has free parking. But Yarraville Square has always been busy because, up until recently, it had the only large-scale supermarket with lots of carparks in the Footscray/Yarraville/Seddon pocket, in relative isolation from others. In these suburbs, there are only convenience shops, independent grocers or up-market delis, with the closest Coles in Williamstown and Footscray, and Sims Supermarket in West Footscray.

Consider, also, the Blockbuster Video franchise at Yarraville Square, which closed down recently, despite free parking. Yes, it was an outdated business model, but was nonetheless someone’s livelihood. I’d hardly describe this area as ‘booming’; it’s business as usual. NPP proponents have argued that, for example, stay-at-home parents who live near Yarraville Village rely on their cars to buy groceries; if $15 Dutch liquorice is part of the weekly shop, then the $1.80 parking fee is negligible. It is more likely that they are driving to the nearest large-scale supermarket for the weekly shop, but walking to the village for everyday bits and pieces.

It is worth comparing Yarraville to Footscray, which does have parking meters. For all their differing character and scale, these two suburbs could be cities apart, not a few kilometres, but they’re both well connected to public transport, and share a similar density, on paper, of about 25 residents per hectare [4 & 5]. Nonetheless, paid parking in Footscray hasn’t stymied the opening of new businesses (including the unfailingly successful 8 Bit Burgers). Paid parking has hardly been the death of retail trade in Footscray.

In the ABC interview, the NPP spokesperson warns that Seddon is Council’s next target for paid parking because it is a booming retail strip that suffers from traffic congestion [2]. But, according to SJB’s hypothesis, Seddon also has adequate housing density to support large businesses.

With a population density of 51 residents per hectare [5], Seddon is the most dense suburb in the city of Maribyrnong (on paper, at least). If you were to make a crude extrapolation of SJB’s theory of dwellings per hectare and apply it to the Seddon Village, bigger types of businesses can thrive on patronage from local residents alone – who walk or ride their bikes – not from east-of-the-river visitors who drive on the weekend, lining up on Victoria Street to breakfast on dukha eggs with a pomegranate jus, or $8 loaves of bread about the size of an AusKick footy. Business should be booming.

Having been a resident of the area for the last 4 years, I’ve seen Seddon become a hospitality hotspot. My own misgivings aside – about the loss of local traders, including a lead lighter and even the Croation video rental shop, which contributed to Seddon’s village-y feel – change in the area will probably continue as the professional class becomes the dominant demographic here. It makes sense that other similar businesses would set up shop and feed off the competition.

The central activity centres of Yarraville and Seddon have at least a density of 28 houses per hectare (SJB talks about dwellings per hectare, and the Maribyrnong Planning Scheme’s Municipal Profile estimates 28 dwellings per hectare for Footscray, Yarraville and Seddon [6]. If you add a dose of salt to the research findings by SJB Urban, there is enough housing density to at least support a ‘small centre and a primary school’ – by local residents alone.

I think it is inevitable that city councils will want to find new ways to raise money to keep streets clean, keep libraries filled with new books and run social services – basically create the framework for all of us to be able to continue to enjoy all the things that go with liberal democratic societies. I also hope that we can have another council meeting without the need for security guards to prevent disgruntled attendees carrying out vigilante justice on Councilors who make decisions they don’t agree with.

The lesson here is that well-run businesses, that effectively target their market, serve their customers’ needs and respond to the zeitgeist of the area will thrive. I don’t think the reason for a business to go under in Yarraville, as the No Paid Parking group suggests, can be solely laid at the feet of paid car parking.

Now that we have a moratorium on paid parking, the onus lies with the No Paid Parking group to clearly demonstrate, with real evidence, not hearsay, why we are all better off with free parking.

Redmond Hamlett is Director of Woollan Hamlett Architects.

Article originally publised in The Westsider, Issue No 13 February 2016

References

1) B Millar, Maribyrnong Council Fight (video), Keilor Park, Star Weekly, source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PCNdORBZHJg, accessed 18/11/2015.

2) M Rowland, “Anti-parking activist explains why local councilors were punched at meeting”

(video), ABC News, Sydney Australia, source: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-11-18/anti-parking-activist-explains-why-local/6950678, accessed 18/11/2015.

3) S McPherson & A Haddow, Shall We Dense?, Melbourne, 2011, source: http://www.sjb.com.au/projects/shall-we-dense, accessed 18/11/2015.

4) “Footscray Community Profile”, Profile.Id, 2011. Source: http://profile.id.com.au/maribyrnong/about?WebID=110, accessed 18/11/2015.

5) “Seddon Community Profile”, Profile.Id, 2011. Source: http://profile.id.com.au/maribyrnong/about?WebID=150, accessed 18/11/2015.

6) Planning Department, “Municipal Profile – Clause 21.01-3”, Footscray, Maribyrnong City Council, 2006, pp. 4-7. Accessed online 18/11/2015.

7) “Yarraville Community Profile”, Profile.Id, 2011. Source: http://profile.id.com.au/maribyrnong/about?WebID=170, accessed 18/11/2015.

8) B Millar, “Paid parking switch-off to cost $600,000”, Star Weekly, Kelior Park, Australia, source: http://www.starweekly.com.au/news/paid-parking-switch-off-to-cost-600000, accessed 10/12/15.