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How to transform a blank canvas

02 Apr 2019

How to transform a blank canvas Image

For Development Victoria’s (DV) Simon Wilson, the chance to play a leading role in transforming Docklands from an almost “blank canvas” nearly passed him by.

One year before he arrived in Australia from the UK and having worked on the London Docklands project previously, Mr Wilson had applied for a role at Development Victoria (then VicUrban) but wasn’t successful. 

This didn’t deter him from taking a great leap of faith to bring his family to Melbourne, where he landed with seven bags, two children and no real plans.

What he did have was determination and a belief that he would land on his feet.

“I had previously travelled to Australia and thought the lifestyle was great.  I made a decision that Australia was going to be ‘home’ and before long, I began work for AV Jennings delivering integrated housing,” DV’s now general manager, precincts, said.

“This progressed to Urban Pacific (the property arm of Macquarie Bank) and about 12 months later in 2007, I was approached by VicUrban to take on a role as a development director, delivering the vision for Docklands. It was a dream role in Melbourne and I jumped at the chance.”

Mr Wilson recalls being asked during the interview to look out the window of the organisation’s Docklands’ office and describe what he saw.

“I saw almost a blank canvas with incredible potential,” he said. “There were some great partnerships in place with developers but not all that much on the ground.  Taking on this kind of role in urban renewal was exactly the challenge I wanted.”

“Docklands didn’t really fire up until about 2010 – before then we were doing so much work behind the scenes to get it where it is today.”

“I recall one weekend where ANZ, Myer and Ericcson moved into Docklands almost at the same time. Suddenly, we had 10,000 new people working in Docklands. Overnight footpaths were busier, and the vibe changed.”

Mr Wilson’s experience working on the Docklands project in London provided fresh ideas and insight into transforming an under-utilised mass of land near the water.

He reminds us that Docklands, Melbourne, is a long-term project, similar to Docklands in London, which is still evolving.  He believes you must have a vision and patience because these new areas take years to develop.

“There are many reasons why we have achieved so much in Docklands.  Part of this is about partnerships.  An integral part of this journey has been working with our stakeholders – both in the public and private sector.  Docklands cannot be delivered in isolation,” he said.

“We have all worked really hard to get Docklands to where it is today.  Whilst I have played a role in the delivery of over 80 buildings, one of the most pleasing achievements is the work we did with stakeholders to develop the Community and Place Plan.”

“There was a realisation that we had a community in Docklands almost over-night, but we hadn’t really planned for what that community needed.  I am proud to have played a key role in delivering the plan jointly with the City of Melbourne.”

“We stuck to the Community and Place Plan and delivered some fantastic results such as Ron Barassi Snr Park, the Library at the Dock, boating facilities, Baluk Park, multi-purpose sports courts and other open spaces.”

“These community facilities have been built on valuable real estate in Docklands.  We ensured the community were given some of the best sites for amenities and facilities – not just the sites that weren’t going to be developed.”

He is also proud to see the new school becoming a reality, which was the result of years of work with a range of stakeholders.

“The commitment to build a new primary school underlines the fact that Docklands is a community. People may have moved in without children but have stayed and had a family and now have a school on the way.  So much of a community revolves around a school, so it is great to see,” he said.

Mr Wilson’s role at Development Victoria has grown over the years and also sees him responsible for delivering a range of other community-shaping urban renewal projects around the state, including Junction Place in Wodonga, Revitalising Central Dandenong in Dandenong and the former GMH Holden site in Fishermans Bend.

“Being able to bring disused and derelict land back to life gives me a real buzz.  Seeing people and the community walk around and enjoy a place that for years was nothing is just brilliant,” he said.

Mr Wilson is still as passionate about the projects he delivers as the day he started at Development Victoria.

“There’s still more to do and so much more opportunity in Docklands. But for now, I look back and am proud of what we have achieved,” he said.

“More than 80 buildings; over 11,000 residents and almost 60,000 working in Docklands – these numbers speak for themselves and are only growing.

“I’m also fortunate that I have built and maintained a phenomenal team working on Docklands. I hope that I have opened people’s eyes to what a career in urban renewal can achieve.”

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