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Inner-city life: where to after a pandemic?

By Ellen Sandell 

This COVID-19 pandemic has hit us all hard, but for those who spend their lives in our CBD and inner-city, it’s changed things very dramatically.

Before the pandemic, inner-city Melbourne was the bustling, busy, vibrant heart of our state. But now, we are having to grapple with streets that are emptier and quieter than we’re used to, and so many businesses, cafes, bars and arts venues that have fallen silent.

With the fall in tourism and international students, and people studying and working from home, the city is a very different place than we remember.

Along with the challenges, the pandemic and lockdown has also forced us to really take notice of what we value about our local area: the little pockets of green space, the hidden delights down a laneway, a quick smile or chat with our local barista, and walks with our neighbours and community.

Now, as governments and local councils start to grapple with how we rebuild our vibrant inner-city, it’s the perfect time to think about what we actually want our inner-city to be and how we make it a great place for people to live, work and play from now on.

This is exactly what I’ve been doing in Parliament these past few months.

Do we have to go back to a city where so many people are forced to sleep on the streets, or do we want a city where everyone has a safe home and safe streets?

While apartment living has so many benefits, do we need to rethink how much power we give developers to design our cities, often at the expense of the residents who actually live there? Maybe it’s time to change our owners’ corporation (OC) laws, remove developer donations from our politics and think about creating quality homes for people in the inner-city, not just unregulated quasi-hotels or tiny shoe boxes in the sky.

Do we need to give over so much of our streets to cars, or can we do transport and outdoor living and dining better?

And maybe it’s time we re-thought about how we look at work – so that casual workers and people in insecure work are better protected through the bumps and shocks our world faces.

These are the questions I’ve been taking to the government recently. In Parliament my colleagues and I recently moved for changes to the outdated OC laws to make things fairer for residents and limit developers locking in residents to long, unfair contracts, and to make it easier for residents to do things like put solar on their roofs. These are laws which haven’t changed in the past 15 years!

Earlier last month I also raised the issue of inappropriate development at Treasury Square –  between the Hoddle Grid and East Melbourne. Last year, the Minister for Planning approved a Planning Scheme Amendment allowing the land at Treasury Square to be developed – but he did so without a clear plan for what would go on this site, without many controls, and without any community consultation.

The community has expressed concerns that the proposed development at Treasury Square has no links or paths to the surrounding area and is a poor-quality development that would overshadow Melbourne’s precious parkland, including one of the most important parts of our city, Birrarung Marr. I brought the community’s concern directly to the Minister for Planning and asked him why decisions for higher quality designs and stronger planning controls for the site have been sitting on his desk for the past 14 months. We’ll continue to pursue this matter in March •

Inspired by Italy

Inspired by Italy

May 4th, 2022 - Carol Saffer
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