In terms of the denser city initiative that you just mentioned, do you envision that post-COVID with a lot of corporates downscaling their CBD presence that there will be that kind of opportunity again to welcome even more residents into the city of Melbourne by repurposing commercial buildings?
I’m not sure it will all go to residential because I think residential has moved on from that phase of converting offices. The thing that strikes me, is that one of the groups of people we drove out of the city, unintentionally through Postcode 3000, were the creatives; the people who were going two stories above the street into abandoned accommodation to create studios. So, I think there is an opportunity to invite the creatives back into space that is sitting idle. I think any opportunity that gets creatives back into the city would be a major benefit for central Melbourne.
How did your Postcode 3000 initiative work?
We went out to people in Melbourne and said, ‘if the accommodation was available, would you like to live in the central city and what would you like in terms of accommodation?’
In the late 1980s, we got 700 people who wrote back and said they would love to live in the city, 50% didn’t need a car, and others said ‘I don’t’ need three bedrooms, I just need a NY loft-type apartment’ etc. So, we got this rich set of data and went to the developers and said if you re-develop some of these buildings that are vacant, we will put you in touch with the list of people who are interested in living in the city. We choreographed the marriage between the developers and those people. That became a success story.
How did you implement that community engagement process without digital and social media?
We did a few things. We went out to a broader community and advertised what we were doing through normal media chains. We also started a program called ‘keys to the city’. At that stage, we had converted three floors of a building opposite the Town Hall into six apartments. All they had was an open space, a kitchen space and a toilet. We invited people into the city and walked them around this and a number of other properties. So, we showed people the opportunities and it just grew by word of mouth. People got excited.
We also asked, ‘what are the barriers that need to be fixed for people to change buildings from office to residential?’ One of them was fire regulations and another was land tax. We overcame these by introducing the idea of buying off the plan, the value you’re buying in at is the undeveloped value and therefore the stamp duty was reduced by about $3k on each apartment and the subdivision into multiple ownerships saw the individual land value drop below the State’s threshold further saving costs.
Can you take us through the City of Melbourne’s COVID recovery plan and how that is going to impact those key topic areas of arts, culture, master planning, affordable housing, and people-first design?
There are a large number of initiatives the City has introduced including 40km of new bike lanes, the expansion of the outdoor dining arrangements where we had 800 applications for sidewalk cafes; we have created park-lets for cafes; we have had a business concierge program to help businesses when they’re in difficulty; and we have also put money into the creative sector and put out a number of temporary artworks in the lanes and arcades. We created new jobs for people cleaning up during COVID and much more. It is an impressive initiative by the Council and is helping the city to bounce back.