Into the jaws of Southbank

You can argue the case for bravery or stupidity, yet there's always one intrepid soul willing to be that first animal into crocodile infested waters.  A treacherous crossing with potential ruin at the jaws of a true killing machine with a skill set honed over many a year, yet the crossing is worth the risk considering the green pastures that lay beyond.

Unfortunately for me I'm not on safari gazing over the banks of the Mara River in deepest Africa, but rather walking along City Road, Southbank.  In recent weeks that brave soul taking the plunge into one of the more hostile urban environments Melbourne has to offer is  A Taste of France - to most people a French patisserie but in the eyes of Urban Melbourne a venture willing to take on a beast that has the ability to crunch and spit out any unsuspecting prey.

City Road in particular has evolved over decades into the hostile environment it is now.  As apartments towers began their infiltration during the late 1990's and gathered pace thereafter, the urban realm was treated as an afterthought - hey there's no rush given there's so many sites yet to be developed plus so many retail and amenity options within a 15-20 minute walk.  Unfortunately the lax attitude has lingered and the area finds itself in a quandary with an ever increasing population mass concentrated around City Road, with City Road itself almost completely inactive from a pedestrian's view.

Some may recall the best part of ten years ago a plan put forward by Melbourne City council to activate and beautify certain parts of Southbank, with City Road coming in for its share of attention.  Included was a circus, a Piccadilly Circus on Southbank of sorts, concentrated around the City Road and Queensbridge Street intersection.  As expected nothing came of the plan and essentially nothing has been done to correct the wrongs of City Road and many other areas of Southbank since.

There are small pockets of resistance though with the recently refurbished Boyd Community Hub introducing a cafe with outdoor seating while Wine House opposite provides respite for those inclined to enjoy a tipple, yet A Taste of France is the first  commercial/retail outlet to take the fight to the street with curbside seating.

The above picture says it all really, dying tree and all.  Good weather on a Saturday morning should see the masses out and about.  The population is certainly there yet where are all the people?  Quite possibly enjoying themselves elsewhere I'd suggest.  Light penetration is good, footpaths are wide, an ever increasing population and no-one walking the area aside from one or two - it's an indictment on Southbank!

So what cane be done to right the wrongs of Southbank?  Well it's a massive undertaking that requires time and capital yet the first steps in correcting the areas failings could involve:

  • Melbourne City Council devising a capital works program to rid the main thoroughfares initially of asphalt and lay pavers equal to those within Melbourne's CBD.  Simultaneously enlist a firm such as Urban Art Projects to create practical art pieces such as street furniture or sculptures to insert at key locations
  • Nice and simple - plant more trees
  • With a nice new street level perspective, Council should waive any fees associated with any business willing to implement alfresco seating, or possibly even install fixed glass curbside balustrades (similar to Lygon Street or Lonsdale Street) free of charge 
  • Platinum Tower will introduce one of the worlds largest vertical gardens to the streetscape upon completion.  Consider requiring any future developments carry green podiums rather than the obligatory inactive mesh or finned facade over above ground car parks.  This serves to soften the vista and brings and earthy, enjoyable element to the area.
  • Introduce traffic calming measures
  • Address the Kings Way overpass with a similar application to the rail overpass found over Carlisle Street, East St Kilda - a little art can go a long way

As for that zebra I like to call A Taste of France, life won't be getting much easier with the 170 metre Platinum Tower opposite commencing construction in the new year, providing a 'soothing' hum of construction equipment for the next two or so years.  Sometimes, just sometimes though that first animal to cross the treacherous river makes the crossing successfully and prompts many others to follow -  here's hoping!

Ultimately all I've done is highlight one problem and suggested some remedies.  I don't profess to being able to solve the issues of Southbank, the problem is neither can those charged with its success.

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