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Concept to reality: Acland Street's rejuvenation in review

Acland Street has always distinguished itself as one of Melbourne's more divergent strips.

It is also the starting point for Tram 96, which sees in excess of 30,000 individuals utilising Acland Street each week. Despite concerns from traders and local residents regarding the strip's overhaul, regeneration works were carried out over the course of 2016.

Tram 96's high patronage required that Public Transport Victoria carry out necessary infrastructure works, thus prompting Council to initiate the mass overhaul of Acland Street. Encapsulating the stretch between Carlisle and Barkly Streets, the overhaul's main aim was to "become an exemplar of innovative place and transport integrated urban design."

City of Port Phillip, Public Transport Victoria and Yarra Trams went about creating a new and inviting integrated streetscape.

Number 96 in its new surrounds. Image: John Gollings

Multi-disciplinary design studio McGregor Coxall and BKK Architects were installed by City of Port Phillip as design leads only seven months prior to the targeted (and achieved) opening of the terminus. According to McGregor Coxall, "a team-based approach was applied to design, spearheading a multi-disciplinary team of consultants and stakeholders including Northrop Engineers, Relume Lighting, Morris Accessibility Consultant’s, PTV, Yarra Trams and the City of Port Phillip."

At the heart of the design was the desire to create a best-practice and more adhesive urban outcome, with the integration of transport infrastructure and a new public realm critical.

‘Kerb to kerb’ thinking was replaced with a ‘façade to façade’ approach that ensured a seamless and fully integrated design of the terminus into its public surrounds, blurring the boundaries between street and infrastructure. By relocating the terminus a new plaza was created, designed as an open community canvas, robust and flexible to offer a wide range of community and arts events.

Overall, a net gain of 30% additional pedestrian space has been reclaimed by the proposal.

McGregor Coxall
The new Acland Street in action. Image: John Gollings & Christian Borchert

The design was closely developed and tested with suppliers in an attempt to de-risk the delivery of the project on all levels. Ongoing community consultation, short tracked approval processes with all authorities and stakeholders ensured the development of a streetscape that met all demands and expectations, while maintaining a holistic design approach right to the end.

This included the customisation of standard PTV approved furniture and platform processes in an attempt to de clutter and de-barrier the streetscape resulting in a seamless and border free urban environment.

McGregor Coxall

Large bluestone circles set across the streetscape are designed to evoke the idea of bubbles, "tying the street conceptually to St Kilda beach - the foam of the sea, sparkling sand crystals, the rising bubbles in your drink on the beach." The circular pattern also affirms the area's individual identity and provides a contrast to City of Melbourne and its rectangular geometry.

Yarra Trams CEO Nicolas Gindt said: "Yarra Trams is proud to work in partnership to create places for people. This plaza project offers new vitality and accessibility to an urban space, and we are happy to see it already being used by its community."

Acland Street in action. Image: City of Port Phillip

It is perhaps the constant and varied use of the new space as a result of the development that is Acland Street redevelopment's best aspect.

McGregor Coxall maintain the new Acland Street is a genuine public space which invites local residents and visitors to enjoy, showcase local art, culture, performances and pop-up events. To that end the strip has and become a focal point for community activity within St Kilda, with music events, yoga classes and art installations featuring since its completion.

‘Vibrant Acland Seed Grants’ provides funding to those wanting to initiate activities in the new plaza across a programme that will span 2017.

Over recent months Acland Street has been home to Regenesis, a public art work consisting of a woven bamboo chamber coupled with a light and sound installation which intends to draw attention to climate change. Its tenure was elongated due to positive public feedback.

The prompt delivery and continuing diversity of Acland Street's regeneration is a benchmark for other similar projects across Melbourne. Here's hoping they are delivered in a similarly timely manner.

Regenesis by Cave Urban. Image: artclimatechange.org
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9 comments

Dean's picture

I recall huge opposition to this venture by traders claiming it would destroy their business' by removing vehicular access. In fact, apart from some short pain during construction i'd say it's done the complete opposite. I frequently dine and socialise along this strip and it's a massive improvement on its previous form.

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George D's picture

It's a fantastic space, and when you're there you wonder why it wasn't done decades ago.

Retailers almost always oppose pedestrian improvements that reduce car parking by even a small amount, and this was no different.

Traders vastly overestimate the number of people arriving directly at their stores in cars, and underestimate the number arriving by every other mode.

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Martin Mankowski's picture

The traders cried blue murder at the time it was announced, staging a protest march to signify 'the death of Acland St' and even taking out a full page ad in the paper declaring the sky will fall chicken little style if it went ahead. They even had one trader make the ridiculous comment 'For every 200 people a tram will bring to Acland St, it will take 200 away'! Give yourself an upper cut son - how stupid do you look now?

Now that its a huge success and its almost certainly resulted in increased business, the traders should be made to take out another full page ad apologising for their stupid stunt.

I know governments take a lot of flak for not doing enough community consultation on some projects, but it must be hard to find the motivation when the above comment from our learned friend is the level of argument they have to deal with.

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George D's picture

The same people even complained that the trams were too big. (Because they bring too many people to shop and eat, I presume)

These people have fear in place of imagination. The Save* Queen Vic crowd are the same, happy to hang on to declining environments indefinitely.

*"Save" used to mean something. A building was being torn down, a forest made into woodchips. Now it means next to nothing, and its power has been weakened.

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theboynoodle's picture

Nothing in the piece addresses whether the fears of the objectors were unfounded.

It's a great space and I give full credit to everyone that made it happen. It feels like a long-term win for the public realm, and I hope it prospers.

But if such schemes were such a no-brainer then business owners would not always come out against them. Good little capitalists never object to a free boost from the government. We don't know, at least from that piece, whether this scheme has benefit some or all of the local businesses which objected. It might have been great for some but poor for others. It may be that some are seeing their landlords pump up the rent to swallow up any gains.

Public art and people doing yoga is all well and good.. but it doesn't put money in the till at the mini-mart. People lingering might be a win for the coffee shop, whereas the pharmacist next door has lost all of the 'pass through' trade he relied on.

Don't misunderstand me.. I am 100% behind schemes like this but there's a bit of a triumphalist 'we told you so' vibe to these comments that isn't supported by the article. It is possible that the traders had a point BUT the project was still a good one for the public as a whole.

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pdoff's picture

I hope Sydney Road is next, although not suggesting full closure but certainly removal of on-street parking.

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johnproctor's picture

Noodle. I think in this case their were no losers. Reality is the 50 car spaces lost on acland street frontage were already completely insignificant in the success of any business on the street. Traders argued about the loss of 50 spaces as if they were the only 50 spaces that exist, there are 1000 on and off street spaces within about 100m of acland street so they lost 5% of spaces. Those 1000 spaces didn't deliver all of their business either despite the traders thoughts, trams, bikes, walk ups are very important despite acland street having a reputation as a destination tourist based strip.

Council completed surveys on this back in 2012/13 presented as evidence to traders (who ignored it) when I was involved in the original in principle approvals of the project at that time.

your point is correct in other locations, some businesses are genuinely reliant on drive up trade, whether because of the type of business or because they are a destination trade (eg. If you are the one cuckoo clock store in Melbourne and draw business from everywhere your customers are much likely to drive, comoared to a generic newsagent). so projects like this are not always good for an individual businesses, however overall they are good for a precinct as their is lots of evidence that the more footfall in an area (often driven by high quality public transport and public spaces) drives higher value retail rents and spaces.

For those individual businesses affected by works a strong business should be able to manage that disturbance and relocate, or tinker with the business model. Too often the 'sob story' associated with projects impacting businesses are actually a weak business finding something to blame for their poorly run business.

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Jon McLeod's picture

Planners and politicians should invest in sustained communication to inform shop owners of the ample body of real-world evidence that shows removing on-street car parking INCREASES customer foot fall, turn over, profitability, and the value of the property itself. I'm sick of seeing infrastructure improvements blocked by a small numbers of narrow-minded shop owners who assume that because they have a shop, they have decision rights over the street in front of their shop and broader rights of the public to improved amenity and safety.

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Jon McLeod's picture

Just back from a weekend in Sydney. The light rail project is clearly having a massive - but temporary - impact on businesses on George Street. When it's complete, someone needs to interview the shop owners and ask them "Are you happy now? Are you making more money?" I love Sydney (I'm from Melbourne) but George Street was a horrible, noisy, offensive, dangerous, high-speed traffic sewer. I'm pleased that the light rail project is going ahead. Someday perhaps people may call Sydney "the world's most liveable city" instead of Melbourne.

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