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 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.
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.'