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JAMIE STRANG : 11087015 1ST MAY 2012










By the start of the 1980’s Melbourne’s inner city had evolved into a collection of high rise office buildings. Despite the area being busy during working hours in the evenings and weekends it was devoid of activity and was lifeless. This phenomenon, that is common in many cities around the world, resulted in the locals referring to the CBD as the ‘doughnut’ because it had nothing in the middle. In response to this Melbourne City Council ran an extensive urban renewal project in the mid 1980’s and in the early 1990’s the city’s problems were analysed and the volume of city life documented.

This prompted ambitious urban improvements to be designed and implemented over the next decade with the intention of reinvigorating Melbourne’s inner city and the city’s place identity as a whole. The latter part of this essay will look at these interventions in more detail and how the place identity they created contributed to Melbourne being voted as the most liveable city in the world. However, it is important to first understand how Melbourne’s place identity has developed through cultural, historical and political influences.

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COLONIAL INFLUENCES IN THE EARLY FORMATION OF THE CITY In 1835, 47 years after the first Europeans had arrived in Australia, settlers from Tasmania acquired land from the indigenous aboriginal elders and founded a village that would come to be the city of Melbourne. The city lies in the South East part of Australia, known today as the state of Victoria. It had not been discovered by early explorers as it is located to the northernmost edge of Port

Phillip, a bay almost 2000 square kilometre in area, which has a narrow mouth that opens out to the Bass Strait (fig.01). The Yarra River, that runs through Melbourne and flows into Port Phillip, is a vital element in the city’s development and character. It separates the city in two with the City Centre to the North West and the district of St. Kilda to the South East.

During the early formation of the city there are strong colonial influences in both its design and naming. Its name was given by governor Richard Bourke In 1837 after the ruling British Prime Minister of the day, William Lamb the 2nd viscount Melbourne and in the same year the central area was designed on the Hoddle

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grid. Named after the designer Robert Hoddle, the street grid was one mile by half a mile and orientated to be roughly parallel to the Yarra River (fig.02). The main streets are 30m wide and were designed like this in order to prevent horse drawn carts being held up by Bullock carts that would ride through the centre of town. This

PLACES FOR PEOPLE grid still forms part of the city’s cadastral plan today and is where the modern city’s CBD is located today.


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An important moment in Melbourne’s development occurred with the discovery of gold in the bed on the Yarra River in 1851 (fig.03). This sparked a gold rush in the area that continued over the next decade encouraging an influx of migrants from Britain, Germany and the United States. The discovery led Melbourne to become one of the wealthiest

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cities in the world at that time and although it was for private endeavours associated with the gold, much money was invested into infrastructure projects such as new roads and railways. Towards the end on the 19th century Melbourne experienced an industrial revolution that saw major changes to the character of the city. The focus of these changes was centred on the Yarra River. Between 1880 and 1886 the Coode Canal was constructed to shorten the length of the river and the river was widened and deepened to make way for new docks, harbours, bridges and other infrastructure works. This resulted in the formation of Coode Island, an area that had previously been wetland was transformed into an industrial area of 97 hectares (fig.04). Over the next half a century the old river bed has slowly been filled in so while the island no longer exits its name and its industrial use remains.

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In 1892 the Victoria docks were constructed off the new canal, incorporating shipping births and cargo sheds that created a distinctive landmark for the Melbourne ports (fig.06). The ports today are still the largest and busiest in Australia. Located to the West of the CBD the area around the docks was already a major transport hub as the Spencer St Station (now known

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PLACES FOR PEOPLE St. This stretch of rail segregated the CBD from the areas to its West, a problem that would later be addressed in the interventions of the late 20th century. Flinders St Station was redesigned in 1910 following an international design competition. The station, which was the busiest in the world in 1926, was in a French Renaissance style and remains a prominent landmark in Melbourne’s CBD and along the river’s edge (fig.05).


In addition to the rise of the rail network Melbourne is also renowned for its tram system. Dating back to the rapid industrial development of the 1880’s the tram network is now the largest in the world and is a key element of the city’s public transport network. Its importance in forming the city’s identity has been recognised by the council as they have introduced ‘heritage’ trams that circulate the main tourist attractions through the day and serve dinner at night (fig.07).

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as South Cross) had been erected in 1859. Five years earlier Flinders St Station had been constructed to the South East of the CBD using capital generated during the gold rush. Although the two stations were not originally joined, by the time the docks had been constructed they had been and the railway ran parallel to the Yarra River before the line headed north from Spenser

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The post war period saw the increase and dominance of the automobile. During this time the country also witnessed the rise of the ‘Australian Dream’ whereby every family would have ¼ acre plot of home and garden. The consequence of this was rapid and extensive urban sprawl which led to the auto-centric urban structure found today (fig.11&12). Local planning policies also had a major bearing on the

place identity of the CBD as Melbourne had very relaxed regulations on building heights compared to other cities in Australia. As a result numerous skyscrapers began to dominate the Melbourne skyline and five of the six tallest buildings in Australia are found in the CBD (main image). It was a combination of the urban sprawl and the high-rise developments in the city centre that led to people moving out to the suburbs and causing the

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‘doughnut’ effect in the city centre. While urban morphology and planning policies have greatly altered the character of Melbourne it is perhaps the immigration trends the city has experienced in the post war era that has most greatly shaped the city’s place identity. The first wave of immigrants came primarily from Southern Europe and they located into the inner city suburbs where

PLACES FOR PEOPLE rent was cheap and property well located for employment opportunities, particularly in manufacturing. As these migrants became financially established they moved out to the middle and outer suburbs and formed distinct neighbourhoods. Melbourne’s northern suburbs are characterised by Italian (fig.09) and Greek enclaves formed by these early migrants. The 1970’s saw a second wave of immigration from Turkey

and Lebanon (fig.10) in particular and this was soon followed by mass migration from Vietnam. Inner city areas were not as appealing for this next generation of immigrants as the manufacturing had declined and property prices had increased following the gentrification of the area in the 1980’s. These immigrants tended to move to less desirable accommodation near to major migrant hostels, particularly the Vietnamese community which


had a great demand for housing (fig.08). Statistical data from the 2001 census suggests there are a higher level of segregation amongst the non-English speaking immigrants and in particular those from Vietnam and Lebanon. As these distinct communities have developed they have established shops, churches and sporting clubs creating a very strong sense of place identity.

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In 1993 the City of Melbourne Council invited Jan Gehl to conduct a study of the city’s public spaces and public life. On the basis of this research Gehl made a list of recommendations, that incorporated a number of fundamental urban design principles that he suggested would revitalise the CBD area, of which the main solution was to create places for people. Ten years on Gehl was invited back to record the changes that had been implemented on his advice and evaluate their impact. Many of these changes have seen existing place identities strengthened and new ones created. The historic grid plan developed in the city’s forming year’s plays a key role in the character of the new public realm. The wide boulevard roads have been taken advantage of and the sidewalks widened, this not only eases pedestrian congestion on the sidewalk but also acts as a traffic calming measure. One of the recommendations made was to double the number of cafés in the area and this initiative has been so successful that they have experienced an increase of 177% while the total

number of cafés, restaurants and bars has increased from 95 to 356. These retail units have taken advantage of the wide paths and provided outdoor seating which has increased activity at ground level greatly. A café furniture standard has been developed by the local authorities. This has been implemented so that the furniture compliments their context with regards to the surrounding buildings, prominent landscape features and the heritage of the street. This approach has resulted in different areas in the CBD maintaining their individual character and not all blending into one. The smaller ‘back’ streets that were part of the grid pattern have undergone a major revitalisation with the lanes and arcades forming a central part of public realm and place identity (fig.13,19&20). Nearly 3km of these old roads have been reinstated while a further 500m are new. Many of the shops and cafés spill out into these lanes and create a close intimate experience in contrast to those located on the broad boulevards streets.

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The vast majority of both the boulevards and the lanes have been resurfaced in traditional bluestone which is common to the Melbourne area. This acts as a unifying element throughout the CBD and the choice of material embeds local character through these changes. Similarly historic buildings have been preserved and renovated to maintain the colonial influences and heritage of the site (fig.14). Another unifying element is the extensive planting programme that has been undertaken. Trees have been planted throughout the CBD with particular focus on the boulevard roads (fig.17&20). London Planes have been chosen as the preferred species as they form a regular

and continuous canopy and this combined with the regular rhythm in which they have been planted express the symmetry of the street and the formality of the landscaping strategy. A comprehensive ‘light as art’ strategy has been implemented to add another dimension to the area’s public life. The approach has been to use light in a number of different ways, key buildings are highlighted in the nightscape and help with legibility in the area (fig.18), the railway viaduct is lit in a blue light and is now known as the ‘blue line’ (fig.16) and in other areas they are used as a feature in their own right (fig.24). This has encouraged people to stay and maintain a


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/fig.15 /fig.16 /fig.17 /fig.18 /fig.19 /fig.20 /fig.21 /fig.22 /fig.23 /fig.24

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Sculpture, Docklands The Blue Line bridge Swanston St Webb Bridge Collins St Bourke St City Square Sculpture, Swanston St Federation Square Water Feature

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presence in the area long after the working day, with cafés, restaurants, and bars remaining open until late in the evening. With an increased number of people staying in the CBD the area feels safer as not only is the area well lit but the increased number of people provides passive surveillance of the street. The lighting strategy ties into a city wide art programme that consists of an assortment of permanent, temporary and installation works. In providing a platform for temporary and installation pieces the scene is never static and creates a ‘buzz’ around the area as the artwork changes and develops. A mixture of local, national and

international contributors makes for a hugely varied body of work that forms a strong character for the city (fig.15&22). Temporary art installations are often used to attract visitors to areas where there is lower footfall but are character rich while other examples are interactive and encourage passers-by to engage and interact with it on the street. In addition to the informal interactions encouraged by the al fresco dining and increased activity on the sidewalks there are a number of special events that are hosted in public squares in and around the CBD. City Square and Federation Square are the two most prominent in the area and there are over 75

major events held in the area each year (fig.21&23). The area has become the cultural hotbed of the city with art galleries and museums surrounding the squares that host concerts, performances and many other events. Perhaps one of the most crucial changes however, has been the increase in the number of people living in the area rising from 1008 in 1992 to 9375 in 2002. This major surge in population has created a strong sense of community that was lacking in the 1980’s and through the mixture of retail, residential and commercial uses that are now to be found in the area, the CBD has developed a 24 hour character.

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In creating a revitalised and modern CBD the changes have maintained the existing characteristics that originally defined the place. Sympathetic development around historic buildings has meant these structures retain their prominence in the streetscape and through the management of surface materials and cafĂŠ furniture the authorities have managed to strengthen the identity of the area. The significant investment in the two main squares and the city wide art programme the CBD has become much more than the financial centre of Melbourne but the cultural and social heart of the city. It is however the acceptance of these changes by the locals that has seen the greatest change.


The pedestrian focussed changes have brought fresh life and activity to the area. Whether it be stopping for a cup of coffee or a late night bight, or, visiting the regular markets or the latest live performance the central area of Melbourne has become a genuine 24 hour hot spot that has developed a great sense of place. As part of the review he conducted in 2004 Jan Gehl was asked to make a new list of recommendations for the continued development of Melbourne. With a focus on creating greater integration with the surrounding neighbourhoods, and in particular with the Docklands and Southbank districts, will Melbourne‘s diverse place identity benefit from several new layers to its already diverse and complex structure?

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Butina Watson, G & Bentley, I (2007) Identity By Design, Architectural Press, Elsevier, Oxford Gehl, J (1996) Life Between Buildings, Arkitektens Forlag, Skive Gehl, J (2010) Cities For People, The Danish Architectural Press, Copenahgen Davison, G (2nd Edition, 2004) The Rise and Fall of Marvellous Melbourne, Melbourne University Publishing Ltd, Melbourne Forster, C (3rd Edition, 2004) Australian Cities – Continuity and Change, Oxford University Press, Oxford Dovey, K (2005) Fluid City, University of New South Wales, Sydney Hamnett, S & Freestone, R (2000) The Australian Metropolis – A Planning History, E & FN Spon, London Logan, W.S. (1985) The Gentrification of Inner Melbourne, University of Queensland Press, St Lucia Gehl, J (2004) Places for People, Gehl Architects


Wikipedia, Melbourne. Available at (Accessed 12th April 2012) Wikipedia, Southern Cross Station Melbourne. Available at Cross_Station (Accessed 12th April 2012) Wikipedia, W-class Tram, Melbourne. Available at tram (Accessed 12th April 2012) Wikipedia, Hoddle Grid. Available at (Accessed 12th April 2012) Wikipedia, Yarra River. Available at (Accessed 12th April 2012) Wikipedia, Docklands, Victoria. Available at Docklands#1880s:_Construction_of_a_new_Victoria_Dock (Accessed 12th April 2012) Wikipedia, Port of Melbourne. Available at (Accessed 12th April 2012) Wikipedia, Coode Island. Available at,_Victoria (Accessed 12th April 2012)


Page 2-3 Main Image - Melbourne Skyline - melbourne/64778 Page 4 fig.01 - Google Earth fig.02 – Hoddle Grid - Page 5 fig.03 – Gold Rush - fig.04 – Before 1880 - fig.04 – After 1892 -

Page 6 fig.05 – Flinders Street Station - fig.06 – Vic Docks - Page 7 fig.07 – Tram - Page 8 Main Image - Melbourne skyline - html fig.08 – Vietnamese businesses – Google street view fig.09 – Italian business - fig.10 – Lebanese/Turkish businesses – Google street view Page 9 fig.11 – Urban Sprawl image 1 - fig.12 – Urban Sprawl image 2 - story-fn6bfkm6-1225940382992 Page 10 fig.13 – Centre Place - Page 11 fig.14– Corner of Swanston and Flinders - Page 12 fig.15 – Cow in the tree - fig.16 – The Blue Line - fig.17 – Swanston Street - fig.18 – Webb Bridge - fig.19 – Collins Street - fig.20 – Bourke Street - Page 13 fig.21– City Square - fig.24– Water Feature - fig.23 –Federation Square - fig.22 – Sculpture Swanston Street - Page 14 Main Image - Melbourne riverview -

University - Urban Design - Identity Essay  

An essay on the regeneration of Melbourne CBD and the implications of these changes on the city's place identity.