The Anstey precinct failing at a basic level

In one of our very early articles, Urban Melbourne covered what we refer to as the Anstey precinct: a tract of land adjoining Anstey Station which was and continues to be subsumed by proposed and under construction mid-rise apartment developments. Now the best part of two years on, the former industrial pocket nestled in behind Sydney Road has seen enough redevelopment to pass comment on the respective successes or failures of the area.

There's clearly no doubt that the Anstey precinct has been a hit with apartment buyers, as evidenced by the seven apartment projects finished in recent years. There seems to be no slowing down either, with 8 Breese Street, Maycon's Hendrix Apartments and Nighingale Apartments the next in line.

In this regard, a massive tick goes to Moreland City Council for advancing the cause for urban regeneration and higher density living in a totally appropriate area. But what of the street level activation and generally public amenity for all these new residents?

Take that, sensible urban design!

Quite simply, there is none. Urban Melbourne raised the issue during 2013 and 2014, but now as Breese Street in particular continues to fill out, it's evident that all things street level have been completely neglected.

What has become a disappointing norm in the area is the practice of building to site boundaries with no setbacks and little articulation in form. This is the case for all buildings bar two - Anstey Square and The Commons - which incidentally happen to be the two more meritorious developments in Anstey, by way of softening their street level interface.

So big deal if there are no setbacks and zero street level consideration. Well you get the above scenario where there's no greenery, no compromise, no incentive or stimulation for passers by and absolutely no urban design nous. Maybe a little harsh, but is it unrealistic to expect that once in a generation change as is going on in Anstey could bring with it an equivalent level of sophisticated, contemporary street level public amenity? No, the plastic chairs in the above photo don't count!

As new buildings appear, footpaths seem all the more narrowed and barren, while greenery… well, don't bother. For mine, Moreland City Council has missed a trick; surely the Anstey of today was not what they had in mind say three, five or seven years ago? Have they fallen behind the development curve or simply given little credence to the need for a pleasant and safe streetscape to service a rocketing population?

Anstey Square provides something for the eye, within its site boundary of course.

Ultimately though, it shouldn't be in the hands of the developer/architect to create these spaces of their own volition, but rather adhere to a well formulated green/structure plan devised by Council. If every high density project within Anstey delivered a little of what 12 Duckett proposes, the area would be the benchmark for urban renewal.

In due course Urban Melbourne will take a pictorial tour of Anstey precinct, highlighting its hits and misses, and why 12 Duckett Street is so important.

Mark Baljak, "Giving something back > 12 Duckett Street, Brunswick" (July 7, 2014)

12 Duckett Street which the above quote refers to, proposed eliminating vehicle traffic on Duckett Street for the sake of a public piazza between two intended buildings. Incidentally the application received a Notice of Decision to Grant a Planning Permit in the first quarter of 2015.

With the piazza comes a string of ground level tenancies expected to draw in pedestrians to a communal focal point, rather than the transient movements currently witnessed to either Anstey Station or Sydney Road.

A piazza for Anstey. Image courtesy MOS Architects

The Anstey precinct to date is an abject let down where arguably it matters most: street level. One thing is certain, it would now take a considerable amount of funding to fix the wrongs as opposed to placing a minimal levy on the sale of each apartment that would go toward public realm works; not an altogether uncommon practice.

Perhaps removing car parking along Breese Street in certain areas in favour of remodelled footpaths and/or water-sensitive urban design raingardens is in order; City of Yarra alone has in excess of 50 on-street raingardens. If no forethought, then a little retrospective effort at least would go along way to bringing the Anstey precinct up to scratch.

Extrapolating the Bend

In some small way there is a viable comparison between Anstey, Docklands and Fishermans Bend.

Where vast areas of Docklands were delegated out to a single developer with the purpose of creating a masterplanned outcome along with the associated services and public amenity, Anstey is much like Fishermans Bend in that there are many sites within the area under the control of a multitude of developers. Anstey is a clear example of what occurs if there is no cohesive overarching plan to which developments need to adhere to, particularly regarding the public domain contributions.

Both Anstey and Fishermans Bend are industrial areas finding a new purpose by way of higher density redevelopment. In certain quarters Fishermans Bend has already been likened to another Docklands: should Fishermans Bend fail to get the critical public realm right in addition to its built form, it may worse yet be likened to Anstey.


Aussie Steve's picture

Granted, small open spaces, be they green or just passive active areas, and street activation are critical, set backs aren't always important to creating good street level amenity. The key to not continuing a commercial street frontage where it is not needed nor wanted, is to create real residential interaction where by there is passive visual presence, and the streets are overlooked by residences which creates a sense of safety and human scale albeit passive activation that isn't of the commercial nature.

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Domenic's picture

While I agree with much of what this article says, is it perhaps a bit unfair to judge the streetscape activation role that the first example will make when it is still under construction and untenanted?

I also wonder how realistic it is to achieve some of these desired outcomes in the context of an underlining Commercial 1 zoning for Breese Street, which essentially encourages continuous retail activation at streetscape, rather than setting aside large areas for plaza or landscaping.

The street wall and minimal (to no) setbacks also appear to be encouraged by Council policy in its DDO.

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