A few weeks ago I read an article in The Age titled “Inside story of how Melbourne became marvellous all over again” http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/inside-story-of-how-melbourne-became-marvellous-all-over-again-20141031-11d7f9.html
The article talked about the Melbourne CBD’s astonishing renaissance over the past twenty years and used some pretty convincing data as evidence – an increase in residents from 2,100 to 116,431; of dwellings 685 to 28,099; of outdoor cafes 107 to 534; and of food and beverage outlets 722 to 1,978.
This growth did not happen by accident. In 1994, Melbourne City Council initiated a very unique study of the city and its people called Places for People. They repeated it again in 2004 and have just completed a third study. Essentially it was about watching people and what they did. Where did they walk, stop, sit? How did they get to the city? How did they move around? They also collected data on the infrastructure of the city – the buildings, the footpaths, the awnings. The Council has used this bank of data to make many of the decisions that have shaped the city into what it is today.
Reading about Melbourne’s transformation caused me to reflect on my own time in this city. We moved to Melbourne from the country in 1994 – the same year as the original study – so I feel as though I’ve been a part of the change.
I worked at the west end of the city from 1994 to 1999. I remember there was a lot of construction happening down that end of town at that time, mostly around the river – the casino, Jeff’s Shed, and the Convention Centre. Southern Cross Station came a bit later in 2002. Mostly I remember feeling like I was a long way from anywhere. King Street, famous for its nightclubs and strip joints, came to life after dark but otherwise very few cafes or restaurants stayed open once the office workers went home.
When I visit the west end of the city now the difference is palpable. There are so many restaurants, cafes and bars, most open until all hours of the night. The city now stretches beyond Spencer Street to Docklands where there are many new waterfront apartments. The distinctive open plan of the new Southern Cross Station means that the people coming and going from the building are very visible adding to the busy feel of the precinct.
I’ve worked at the other end of town, just off Spring Street, since 2000. The Park Hyatt was being built when I first moved there. It’s now hard to imagine a time when it didn’t exist. Although the Bourke Street mall and main shopping precinct are only a 10 minute walk away I rarely venture beyond Exhibition Street as there are so many places to shop, eat and drink nearby.
When we first arrived in Melbourne we often ate at the Waiter’s Restaurant, upstairs in Meyers Place just off Bourke Street. The Meyers Place bar – built in 1993 and said to be Melbourne’s first laneway bar – was on the ground floor. That was it. There are now four restaurants and three bars in Meyers Place – and it’s not a long street. In summer Meyers Place has a street party. A Latin fiesta was held there recently. On most nights of the week – particularly in summer – the place is jumping.
I could go on and on about the changes I’ve observed over the past twenty years – the laneways, Federation Square, food festivals, farmers markets, international students – but I’d love to hear from you. What changes have you noticed most over the past twenty years?