Go West, Young Man

Maribyrnong City Council

Much has happened in Melbourne already, with the Docklands project and the precincts south of the Yarra River, but more is in the pipeline. There is a sense from the western side of the urban area of feeling a bit neglected but attention is now focussing on this formerly industrialised area, with a real emphasis on growth and expansion. As Nigel Higgins, Director of Sustainability for the Maribyrnong Council, told us recently, until now people have been “blind to the opportunities here. What has previously been a missed opportunity is now the opportunity itself and the council is bringing it to the fore.”

At state level, there is a new Metropolitan Planning Strategy in place to provide a blueprint to guide Melbourne’s future over the next thirty to forty years. Among the most important elements of the vision are the Melbourne-Geelong corridor (and the pressing need to upgrade connections between the two centres), the Ballarat corridor and the Fisherman’s Bend Urban Renewal Project three kilometres southwest of Melbourne’s central business district.

But just to the north of Fisherman’s Bend is Maribyrnong, the city created in 1994 when Footscray merged with Sunshine. The smallest and most densely populated municipality in the metropolitan area, the city has a population of around 75,000, with a high multicultural element. Much of the population in the area is from Vietnam or Africa; 40 per cent of the population was born overseas and 43 per cent speak a language other than English.

This city is going places, says Nigel. “Footscray is the gateway to the broader West [of Victoria], which is the fastest growing region in Australia with the highest population change.” As the discussion document puts it, “Melbourne should strengthen its ‘green wedge’ planning approach with a ‘green belt’. It should be obvious where Melbourne stops and rural areas begin.” The intention is to concentrate the resources available to the city and build higher rather than wider.

The idea is to make Maribyrnong into a centre for creative businesses, attract new residents, radically improve transport infrastructure, build new housing and change the relationship between the city and the University of Victoria. More jobs are also needed; as of the September 2012 quarter, the unemployment rate was 7.9 per cent, compared to the Melbourne average of 5.5 per cent and the national average of 5.2 per cent.

Footscray in particular was an industrial suburb and has recently been a “massive focus for urban renewal,” says Nigel. “We will be attracting some 10,000 to 20,000 more people to this centre over the next twenty years. We have approved a large number of developments in the form of residential towers up to thirty storeys and there has also been a lot of state government investment including a seventeen storey office building in the heart of Footscray which will house a lot of government and private-sector business when it is finished.”

As to transportation, the railway station is being “completely transformed” as part of a $4.4 billion project (the largest rail project in Australia at present) to revamp the line between Melbourne and the west of the state, while there is also talk of an underground station to link to Melbourne’s Tullamarine airport. “This is one of the most transport-connected transformation locations in Victoria, probably in the nation,” says Nigel.

A new road link (the federally funded East-West link, which current opposition leader Tony Abbott has promised would go ahead if he is elected) between the CBD and the outer suburbs is being examined, and this would use a long tunnel and hopefully avoid the fiscal pitfalls that have beset a similar project in Brisbane; the mooted ‘second Melbourne airport’ at Avalon is just a bit further west; and, as Nigel points out, the transport links are completed with the knowledge that the city is just five minutes from Melbourne’s port. Plans are in place “to knit that infrastructure into a liveable city.”

Of course, it is also a challenge to ensure that the city does not descend into becoming a building site for the next twenty years, or into feeling like a ‘new town’. Certainly, there is a lot of infrastructure already in place such as the Highpoint shopping centre, which in 2011 began a two-year $300 million two-stage redevelopment that added one hundred new stores. It is Australia’s third largest centre (the second largest, Chadstone, is on Melbourne’s east side, assuring Melbournians of the ‘champion shopper’ tag).

The demographic nature of Maribyrnong is changing and the age profile is getting lower, unlike the national trend. “A lot of community infrastructure is underway and we are planning a lot more,” explains Nigel. “The council is committed to renewal and projects are aimed at delivering a lot more people and placing a lot more jobs in Footscray. There is something of a baby boom here, so we have a lot of young families.”

Nigel says now is the time for the council to prepare its prospectus, selling the advantages of the renewal to parties who may want to invest in Footscray. “We are about to step up our efforts to bring the area to the attention of more people – in the development industry and the property sector. We want to do that this year.”

One interesting aspect of the overall plan is to redesign the relationship between Maribyrnong and the University of Victoria, which has two campuses in the city. The aim, says Nigel, is to break away from the traditional and rather stilted approach and integrate the university more effectively into the fabric of the community. Campus-based institutions encourage an ‘us and them’ attitude on both sides – from local residents and students alike, and this is far from just an Australian problem – and cities where the institutions form part of the local infrastructure, rather than being fenced off, are almost always considerably better off for it. In this case there is no hard building plan to achieve the effect, but a transition is envisaged during which the barriers will be gradually removed.

The government’s discussion document comments: “A single integrated land use, transport and social infrastructure strategy means ensuring that infrastructure investment supports sustainable land use patterns and drives productivity. Partnerships between Commonwealth and State Governments, State Government and local councils, public and private sectors, councils and their communities, are fundamental ingredients to achieve a positive future for Melbourne.”

More retail, entertainment and food and beverage facilities are planned. Nigel points out that, through the amenities, the growing, young population of the city will be encouraged, both short and long-term, to work and play locally and commute less. “Start packing now,” he advises, “and become an early adopter of this new lifestyle.”

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

January 18, 2019, 3:26 AM AEDT