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Peter Rogozik Property Consulting

The decline of the Melbourne CBD

Over the last 10 years the Melbourne CBD (central business district) has experienced a gradual decline like no other major CBD in the world. I am not referring to the excessive street litter, the ever increasing violence or the people that have no other option but to live in doorways.

The Melbourne CBD was once renowned for its open spaces and secluded public squares. These attributes have slowly but surely been lost.

Successive state governments have filled these spaces with more concrete and glass. We have now arrived at a situation where the only substantial open space is on the outskirts of the central grid e.g. Royal Botanic Gardens and Flagstaff Gardens.

The Melbourne CBD got off to the best possible start with a grid lay out compliments of Robert Hoddle. He would be rolling in his grave to see what our modern bunch of politicians have done to his early meticulous planning.

These terrible urban planning decisions have occurred for various reasons. If recent history is anything to go by then it is highly likely that political parties have gifted planning permits to their cronies in return for a donation. In other cases it has been just pure bad judgement combined with short-sightedness.

387 Little Collins Street, the forecourt area at 525 Collins Street and the so called Pantscraper development at 447 Collins Street are three recent examples of appalling urban planning decisions.

387 Little Collins Street was a rare open space in the heart of the CBD. A predominately shaded square where people could sit down, enjoy a bite to eat or just watch the world go by. Recently, two mainly glass and steel monstrosities being fast food outlets have been plonked there.

Another example of pure ugliness is the new retail development at the Rialto building at 525 Collins Street. Five retail outlets have been built over what once was a courtyard frontage. Gone is the feeling of openness and space it once possessed.

The development was completed about a year ago yet two of these retail outlets still remain vacant. It seems that every CBD urban planning decision is now based on the almighty dollar.

The Pantscraper development at 447 Collins Street is another debacle in the making. It once was a large open space that many people enjoyed on a warm day. It has been a construction site for what seems like a generation.

What is being constructed? More concrete boxes stacked on top of each other known as an apartment and office tower. How imaginative!

To add insult to injury the state government now wants to build an Apple store in Federation Square. No public consultation, no due process, no shame. Federation Square is already highly over developed.

A basic fundamental of a central public square is that there needs to be open space. This concept isn’t rocket science however successive state governments planning ideology has been all about approving revenue raising commercial buildings on every square inch of available CBD space.

A public square doesn’t need to be over-engineered. All that is required is space, grass, trees for shade, some seating and you can throw in a water feature for good measure.

Most people use a square to get away from the hustle and bustle of their day, sit down, have some lunch, do some people watching or meet a friend for a chat. These spaces don’t need to be masses of concrete, glass and steel.

On a world scale Melbourne rates highly when it comes to poor urban planning decisions. Even countries we mock like Russia and Iran give their urban centres more protection.

The good news is there is still one city in the world that has allowed more inappropriate development than Melbourne; that city is Dubai. At least they have an excuse having recently been built from scratch in the middle of a desert.

It’s time for Melbournians to rise up against the incompetent planning decisions that are ruining our once great CBD. Let’s draw a line in the sand starting with the proposed Apple store in Federation Square.

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