Melbourne Docklands: 10 ideas to fix postcode 3008

The Herald Sun ran a story on Wednesday titled Melbourne Docklands: 10 ideas to fix postcode 3008. The basic premise being that the precinct is somehow broken and requires 'fixing.'

Over the course of its life as Australia's largest urban renewal project Docklands has copped its fair share of criticism, some justified but most unwarranted. I'll comment on and retort where necessary the ideas posed by the Herald Sun article.

1. Turn the concrete into an urban beach. Danish urban consultants floated this idea in a major report, suggesting the beach could include a sailing school, kayak rentals, diving spots and beach volleyball courts. Sounds like fun.

The concept of an urban beach would probably be best suited to an area of Harbour Esplanade and was investigated in earlier schemes for the site. More recently Lend Lease's masterplan renders have suggested an enclosed public swimming pool pontoon could be built in front of Library at the Dock.

A pontoon swimming pool at Victoria Harbour? © Lend Lease

A sailing school seems like a no brainer considering the maritime history and activity around Victoria Harbour and along the Yarra. The Docklands Family Services and Boating Hub will go some way to addressing that with a community boating hub on the ground floor, which will be home to the Docklands Yacht Club, the Victorian Dragon Boat Association and the Melbourne Outrigger Canoe club.

Docklands Family Services and Boating Hub. © Lend Lease

2. Build a dome over it. The biggest Docklands gripe is always the wind, which whips fiercely off the water. So a giant dome — just like in The Simpsons Movie — could mean Melburnians could be blown away by the Docklands precinct, just not literally.

Purely a tongue in cheek idea that will probably also result in one big greenhouse being created. More (mature) trees with greater foliage density would go someway to alleviating the issue.

3. Embrace the area’s waterfront heritage. Recreating freight sheds by the harbour has been floated before, and could help strengthen the area’s culture, offering a home to food and craft markets.

This idea gets a big tick from me particularly if it were to result in a much more diverse and rich material palette for the area which extended beyond glazing, steel and concrete. Rebuilding the sheds along Harbour Esplanade could be fraught with danger as they were originally demolished to open the area up to the water; the last thing needed is to create a physical and visual barrier to the water.

Instead the skeletal structure could be reinstated with smaller pods within. Melbourne also currently lacks a maritime museum and has lacked one since the construction of the Convention Centre.

4. Set up a university campus. It’s the most obvious way to attract young people to the area, who would not only bring a bit of life to Docklands, but would encourage hipster cafes, cosy bars and boutique shops to open.

Another tick from me. A university down there would mean scores of students coming and going throughout the course of the day not just office workers on lunch breaks.

You need only look at the top end of Swanston Street during a weekday to see how busy Melbourne Central and the State Library can get. There are few sites left but at one stage Digital Harbour was mooted to include a series of buildings for the University of Melbourne, back when it was first announced in 2000.

5. Find more quality open space. This is an obvious one, and something town planners are constantly working on, but more peaceful parks and gardens are needed in between the high-rise towers that dominate Docklands.

This is a good one, because while Docklands has open space it could be argued that it lacks 'quality' open space. The City of Melbourne has gone to some lengths to try and address this via the Public Realm Plan.

The obvious area is of course Harbour Esplanade but a number of other pocket plans are planned at NewQuay, Batmans Hill, Yarra's Edge and Victoria Harbour in addition to the planned park at Seafarers Rest on North Wharf.

6. More CBD-style laneways. Hidden little streets are central to Melbourne’s charm but Docklands doesn’t offer much in the way of laneway living. In turn, this might inspire street art to give the precinct some colour and life.

Easier said than done. Melbourne's laneways have evolved over time to become one of the elements synonymous with present day Melbourne. Contrived Laneways don't work and successful laneways take time to establish.

They also generally connect areas of great activity and interest which are usually busy and popular to begin with.

7. Open a cat cafe. Melbourne’s first cat cafe opened near Queen Victoria Market earlier this year, so maybe it’s time it got some competition. A Docklands version could help people escape the wind with coffee and cake in a cosy cat-filled lounge.

Another novelty idea rather than something which would have a profoundly positive impact on the Docklands experience. Docklands has enough cafes but they're not all 'good' cafes. Quality over quantity.

8. Start up Free Beer Fridays. Probably the only thing better than a rooftop bar is a pub by the water. Fremantle has got the Little Creatures brewery — they’ve got the right idea — and while some good watering holes are open in Docklands, free beer would definitely entice more punters.

This idea would certainly have the endorsement of Urban Melbourne. Something akin to the 4 Pines in Manly wouldn't go astray either. Again it all comes down to quality, no point offering free beer if it tastes like... you get the picture.

9. Set up an outdoor cinema. Moonlight Cinema in the Royal Botanic Gardens is a special summer spot, so why not recreate it in Docklands? (It might just need the dome built over it to keep out the wind.)

Again another idea that could be implemented down at Harbour Esplanade in a central location, but Mirvac did set up something similar last summer down at Point Park so it's something that each precinct could potentially offer. If a Docklands Moonlight Cinema were to happen similar to the one at the Royal Botanic Gardens ie. during summer wind wouldn't be as big of an issue. This could also be combated with trees.

10. Build a ferry terminal. The Docklands precinct isn’t a place many Melburnians just stumble upon, but a ferry terminal would attract people to the area, providing easy access to and from Melbourne’s other waterfront destinations.

The end of Central Pier seems like the perfect location for this to happen. It could possibly be coupled up with some other form of programme into a mixed use building. If the ferries were part of Melbourne's public transport system and allowed the use of myki I think it would be quite a popular mode of transport. I'd catch a ferry from Fed Square to Docklands and vice versa, particularly when you get views like this.

Let us know your thoughts on what you think Docklands lacks or requires to improve the experience. Don't bother with 'demolish it and start again' or 'they should have blah blah blah from the beginning.'



Mark Baljak's picture

Laurie your article should have been more idiotic to match some of the suggestions from the Herald Sun article.....

Anyway Kaplan Business School is located on Docklands Drive and does a good job of enlivening the area, as does Kangan Docklands.

A university campus proposal does have merit

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johnproctor's picture

the biggest problem with hte university proposal is the current trend to centralisation of universities.

RMIT has been selling out of its buildings south of La Trobe Street and concentrating around La Trobe. Vic Uni has been selling out of campuses around the CBD with the plan to concetrate (in an as yet unconstructed building) on Little Lonsdale/Queen, in the west Vic Uni is rationalising campuses and focusing more on Footscray. same is occurring with Tafe's.

Obviously some scope for further expansion of Kangan at end of Collins - and most people don't realise that the land to hte north of Collins between Harbour Esplanade and Batmans Hill Drive is also available for development and I think reserved for education purposes.

best bet is to try and pick a winning new uni/training centre which worked well with Kaplan but if it had been a different supplier it might not have worked quite as well as many of the suppliers that popped up in the late 2010's education/training boom didn't survive.

the one with laneways is I think a really interesting one. one of the reasons the first successful Melbourne laneways sprang up was that they allowed for incidental travel off the main blocks - eg. the Degarves/Centre/Block/Causeway strip boomed off the back of people walking through their anyway.

In Docklands the streets that seem viable as lanes (i.e. 2 lane two way small streets without main road frontage) like Village Street, Aurura Lane, Rebecca Lane (in Batmans Hill, IMport and Karlsruhe lane in Vic Harbour and St Mangos, Caravel and other lanes in New Quay) are completely dead today. So there is no incidental passing trade to encourage the first coffee cart to locate there, which then leads to a cafe, which leads to 6 cafes etc.

So a more interventionist approach probably needs to be taken. Eg. the City of Melbourne (or State) taking the risk on opening some pop ups on those streets. inivting food trucks into the streets to get some clientel down there with spill over to other shops. finding a way to penetrate the goods shed (you could make a great through arcade in the good sheds connecting two of the old external loading doors on either side between Aurura and Village Street) so that someone who works in Channel 9 could walk through to shops in Village Street without going up to Bourke or Collins

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Bilby's picture

Free beer and cat cafes ... and you still feel Docklands can be salvaged? Hmm. Ok, I'll avoid the 'd' word, but on a more serious note, the laneway idea is a useful one to pursue. I don't agree that 'contrived' lane ways couldn't work, though. If small allotments along laneways were created between the towers and then allowed to be individually developed according to certain guidelines (i.e. low(er) rise, fine grain streetscapes with narrow frontages), then the result could be eclectic and interesting. Yanaka-Ginza street in Tokyo is a perfect example of this style of development:

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Riccardo's picture

Cat cafes or drinking is a great thing. Last week i drank with this fellow in Aomori. His name is Kori and he doesn't drink much but good company. His human is female and runs the izakaya herself (not much help from Kori) and does excellent Oden for the rail workers.

Also she can run the hole in the wall herself because it is efficient and small, and well patronised and cheap and i suspect low rent.

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Riccardo's picture

Also if they want a ferry terminal it needs to be as close to SXS as possible, not the end of central pier. Public transport is only useful if it connects, expanding possible destinations.

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Bilby's picture

I don't have a problem with cat cafes or free beer per se, Riccardo. In fact, why not combine both - we could create a new Melbourne trend: the cat bar. Or better still, the laneway cat bar? I'm just not sure that we are going to see a cat cafe led recovery in Docklands, that's all. What our city needs is some decent urban planning before major new developments are put out to market, that's all. How long is it going to before we hear the same "demolish and start again" call for Fisherman's Bend? It sure looks like its heading the same way, which is why this article, while constructive, is focused on the wrong end of the game. Urbanists in Melbourne always seem to be playing catch up with the various planning debacles created by governments and developers in recent times - we need more public interest and involvement, as well as a critical attitude from stakeholders at the earliest stages of these incredibly important urban projects.

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Daniel Loudon's picture

Whenever I go to Docklands my first thought is "I'm not supposed to be here". There's also an enormous psychological distance between the City and Docklands. I think the way to deal with that is.

1) Put more attractions in Docklands, especially festivals. Every "Melbourne" event should have significant core components in Docklands. Particularly, the next White Night needs to go into Docklands. There needs to be a reason for people who don't live there or work there to get comfortable with being there.

2) Fix up the east west streets so you don't feel like you've left "the city" when you go there. Latrobe street is an ugly bridge - maybe put pop up street vendors along it. Lonsdale Street ending in a car park is terrible. Bourke St I feel like I'm trespassing - there should be a clear way to go "straight ahead" on Bourke St while never going near a "private" area. Collins and Flinders are potentially fine but they definitely need more "interesting" things on their street frontages. Get all these right and Docklands can start to feel like a natural extension of the city.

3) If interesting drawcards in the suburbs like a trampoline arena, indoor sports, a water park, go karts could be made accessible to the inner city/no car/student set, that would go a very long way and do so much for the city. Some of them would be hard to do, but the Icehouse is probably the best thing in Docklands.

4) Agree with the idea of food trucks and pop ups on a very regular basis. Anything that Melbourne doesn't currently have that's beloved in other cities is a great starting point

5) On the above, and this is in the realms of desperation and insanity, but if the area could become Melbourne's "Bourbon Street" or "Amsterdam", it certainly wouldn't be ignored and "soulless" any more. Pick a reasonably long steet that can be full of 24 hour bars with legal open container and public nudity. Maybe some kind of tribute to the raves that happened in docklands in the late 90s (docklands needs all the "culture" it can get)

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Riccardo's picture

Why not let the market rule, and start by expelling the bureaucrats in Council House or in 50 Lonsdale who decreed it was unsafe to eat with cats. They had no evidence. I brought contrary evidence, a society with even longer life expectancy than here, who do eat with cats, drink too much sake and eat Hijiki despite its naturally occurring arsenic levels. Those rail workers livers will fail long before the cat's diseases spread to them.

But more importantly, why can the cat's human rent barely 10sqm and economically operate it, without being beholden to council planners, ticket clippers, franchise owners or management consultants telling her to merge, acquire, divest, list or otherwise do something that makes them money.

Let the market rule. Crap government decision making, that led to misallocation of private capital, will not be remedied by the same crap government decision making.

Everything we write about here - street activation, human scale, placemaking blah blah - was known, and ignored by the docklands decision makers - so why you would expect them to change, unless you force the issue.

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Riccardo's picture

Sorry Daniel but much of that is window dressing.

Get out your google maps or melways.

Note that each Hoddle Grid 'square' or city block is the same width and height, and if you took EXACTLY 3 of them starting west of Spencer St and symmetrical to it, you reach exactly the waterfront.

Note then, that the goods shed also fits in the extended grid, except that if crosses the line of Collins.

Note that the stadium takes up one block.

Note the proposed e-gate development further north contains the rail balloon loop, pretty much the same size and shape as a football oval, and right next the North Melbourne Station, which topologically equivalent to Richmond which serves the MCG.

Note that pretty well ALL the major railway changes that prevent readily adapting the Docklands and Batmans Hill precincts were made after 1970 when the use of these areas for shipping had already pretty well died.

The worst of these decisions was the City Loop, which rather than divert trains away from Spencer St, actually brought more, making congestion worse.

Have a look at these facts, you,ll see government could have done a lot better.

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Daniel Loudon's picture

Just hoping that the area can be made a beloved part of the city without a wrecking ball or a time machine.

Would it be possible to make a stadium a big community draw during the day? Being a huge enclosed space must be worth something. Who says a stadium/school hybrid isn't possible :P

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3000's picture

No one is really trying to do anything other than dump towers there so who knows if it can be "fixed"

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