A summit, involving key stakeholders from government, business and the local community, will soon ask the same question; one of growing importance as Docklands continues its slow recovery from the pandemic.
It’s a question too rarely considered by Docklands wardens with any significant sincerity. Engaging in consultations and developing plans doesn’t get you far. What does Docklands see for itself? What does the vision look like?
Although this proposal is often discussed in a vacuum under the guise of vested interests, it has never been considered collectively “around the table”. Too often we see bursts of vision and ideas, but nothing connects them.
This will be the almighty challenge that the City of Melbourne and other key stakeholders will seek to address when it hosts a Docklands summit, and while a date for the high-level talks has yet to be determined, it is an initiative that is long overdue.
The council first announced it was planning the initiative in February when it heard an update on its storefront activation program from director of economic development Andrew Wear.
“Significant investment has gone into short-term activations within Docklands, such as storefront activations, the Drone Show and other innovative activations. However, these activities alone will not solve the long-standing structural problems plaguing Docklands,” said the report tabled at the February 15 meeting of the Future Melbourne Committee.
“A fundamental review of the compound is needed to establish a new vision and direction for Docklands post COVID-19. A Docklands Summit hosted by the Lord Mayor and the relevant Minister would increase the urgent need for action and generate enthusiasm for the regeneration of Docklands.
Such a summit would discuss ideas for addressing the state of Docklands physically, socially and economically and identify immediate and longer-term interventions that would support regeneration and determine the way forward.
Recognizing that “during COVID-19, Docklands has been one of the hardest hit neighborhoods in the country”, the council under its CEO Justin Hanney and Docklands resident Cr Jamal Hakim are busy fine-tuning the schedule and the scope of the talks.
But the issue surrounding vision is complicated. Geographically, the Docklands is a suburb made up of “precincts” that interact poorly with each other.
The council is also still stuck in a power-sharing deal with Development Victoria (DV), and with an upcoming state election to be held in November, the prospect of bringing politicians to the table would seem a major hurdle this year.
As mentioned previously in an editorial in the October 2021 edition of Docklands News – ‘Docklands: time for a plan’ – this power-sharing deal between DV and the City of Melbourne continues to see Docklands operating in a state of paralysis.
The council’s current ‘Participate Docklands’ project aims to provide the local community with some certainty about their future as they embark on new neighborhood plans under the leadership of their newly appointed neighborhood partner, Fadi Qunqar.
But despite his best intentions, feedback from locals on how the process has gone for them so far has been mixed, to say the least. “Bumping your head against a wall” was the sentiment shared by one resident.
The council is to be generally applauded for its efforts with Participate Docklands. While how he engages with locals will forever remain a shifting space, the intentions are good. However, when it comes to planning, the elephant stays in the room.
It’s the same challenge any summit in Docklands will have to try to overcome. Unless the council and DV can reach an agreement that gives the local community some degree of confidence that they can co-exist for the good of Docklands, then it’s time to ask some tough questions.
With Docklands now highly developed, DV’s role as urban renewal manager seems increasingly obsolete. While his exit from Docklands would no doubt help ease decision-making paralysis, his group leader Geoff Ward said News from the Docks that “there remains to be done”.
“We are delivering urban renewal in Docklands by facilitating infrastructure, driving development, navigating planning and working with key stakeholders,” said Mr Ward.
“We know there’s still a lot to do in Docklands – that’s why we continue to look for opportunities and events that will draw people to the area and support local businesses.”
“We continue to work with the City of Melbourne to create one of Australia’s premier waterfront destinations – and ensure that Docklands is rejuvenated in a way that reflects its heritage well into the future.”
The long-term vision of Docklands must encompass its waterfront. This is a vision that is still far from being realized.
While that ambition is not lost on DV, Mr Ward said the long-term vision for Docklands was to provide lasting benefits to the economy, the Victorian community and the precinct as a whole.
So what’s the plan to get there? And where does DV continue to see its role in “filling the gaps” that council and the ordinary planning process could not otherwise fill?
Looking around Docklands, the two remaining NewQuay sites are well advanced in terms of development plans, AsheMorgan’s plans for Waterfront Way are now approved, as are those for City Harbour.
Moving through the compound, Lendlease still has some way to go at Collins Wharf, while Mirvac has just a few more projects left at Yarra’s Edge.
So what’s left for DV to do here as far as the Docklands community is concerned?
The two obvious projects, which are at the center of conversations around “embracing our waterfront” and providing vital civic spaces, are Central Pier and Harbor Esplanade.
DV says he continues to work with Heritage Victoria, the council, local businesses and the community on long-term plans for Central Pier. But just how ‘long-term’ remains the biggest question, with decaying eye pollution continuing to sit dormant in Victoria Harbor and disrupting Docklands recovery efforts.
This leaves Harbor Esplanade – the most important piece of community infrastructure left to the Docklands community.
While the community went through a consultation process nearly 10 years ago, it has gone completely unanswered ever since.
So what does DV plan to do with it?
It’s a question that went unanswered when posed to DV by Docklands News last month. But one would assume that given its importance in the ‘weaving of the Docklands’ it, like the Bolte West site at Yarra’s Edge, should ideally be handed over to council to fulfill its potential as a waterfront civic space.
The Docklands representative group reiterated their desire for the vision, which they said risked descending into “commercial blandness” without better management.
“Impressions of a city are very much influenced by the quality of our public spaces,” said a DRG spokesperson.
“But more than that, these spaces provide opportunities for a community to interact and connect – both with people and, if we’re lucky, with nature.”
“The Harbor Esplanade and Victoria Harbor are such – rare – public spaces in Docklands. And the benefits they provide are so necessary for those of us who don’t have spacious homes and gardens to retreat to.
“But without better stewardship, Harbor Esplanade and Victoria Harbor are likely to descend into commercial blandness.”
“Better management” continues to be the dominant wish of Docklanders. How to achieve this when the two chefs cook in the same kitchen will be a big question for the Docklands Summit, whenever it is held.
But it can only start with a real plan, backed by a real vision. May those in control have the courage to compromise for the good as this vision proves to be key in determining a successful future for Docklands.
So what does success look like to you? What is your vision of a prosperous Docklands?
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